Seventeen social networking websites have signed up to a European Commission voluntary code of practice. The code is designed to stamp out online bullying of children and raise awareness of how children can protect their personal information.

Social networking providers gathered in Luxembourg yesterday [10 February 2009] to sign up to the code. They included household names such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Microsoft Europe and Yahoo!Europe.

The code requires networking sites to provide an easy-to-use and accessible "report abuse" button on their sites, allowing users to report inappropriate contact from another user with one click.

It also states that full online profiles and contact lists of users registered as being under 18 are set to "private" by default. The private profiles of users under the age of 18 will not be searchable via the social networking website or through external search engines.

The voluntary code seeks to balance the advantages brought by the explosion of popularity of such sites, while protecting minors. Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Internet-related issues, said: "Social networking has enormous potential to flourish in Europe, to help boost our economy and make our society more interactive - as long as children and teenagers have the trust and the right tools to remain safe when making new 'friends' and sharing personal details online".

The EU has warned that if the voluntary code fails to reduce instances of online bullying, the Commission may take action to force social networking sites to change the way they interact with children.