On 30 September 2011, the European Commission published a Report on an Assessment of the Implementation of the Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU. This is the second of two EU reports this year to find that social networking sites could do more to protect minors’ privacy.
The Commission is currently reviewing the protection of minors online from risks such as grooming and cyber-bullying as part of the objective set by the Digital Agenda for Europe to enhance trust in the internet. The Safer Social Networking report is part of its commitment to support the industry’s self-regulatory initiative. Part of this initiative includes adherence to the seven Safer Social Networking “Principles”. These are:
- Raise awareness of safety education messages and acceptable use policies to users, parents, teachers, and carers in a prominent, clear, and age-appropriate manner.
- Work towards ensuring that services are age-appropriate for the intended audience.
- Empower users through tools and technology.
- Provide easy-to-use mechanisms to report conduct or content that violates the Terms of Service.
- Respond to notifications of illegal content or conduct.
- Enable and encourage users to employ a safe approach to personal information and privacy.
- Assess the means for reviewing illegal or prohibited content or conduct.
The report examines the implementation of these Principles in the European Union in relation to blogging and gaming, platforms, photo and video sharing platforms, platforms that have some social networking functionalities, and platforms that allow the creation of personal profiles with the possibility of uploading blog entries, photos, and updates, such as social networking sites.
The report deals with the extent to which particular social networking sites had implemented its commitments. Nine social networking sites were tested. The assessment showed that only two of these have default settings that make minors’ personal profiles accessible only to their approved list of contacts. However, all services were “very satisfactory” on raising awareness, and the majority were “very satisfactory” on age-appropriate services. The best services in this respect were those that do not allow registration of underage users, have effective mechanisms in place to prevent re-registration, and do not have any “inappropriate content”. Two sites ensure that, as a default setting, minors can be contacted only by friends via public or private messages. However, in all the sites tested, minors can be sent friend requests by anyone, and on six of the sites, minors’ profiles can be accessed directly by friends of friends
Whilst many of the findings were positive, it would appear that the main worry identified by the assessment was in connection with perhaps the most important of the seven Principles, Principle 3: “empower users”. In short, social networking sites could do more to protect minors’ privacy. The problems clearly need to be addressed if the Principles and commitments are to be complied with.
Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda commented:
Young people enjoy and derive great benefits from social networking online but are often not conscious enough of risks such as grooming. Social networking sites need to take seriously their responsibilities towards these youngsters. I intend to address these issues later this year in a comprehensive strategy on making the internet a safer place for children through a combination of protective and empowerment measures.