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Some popular interactive websites do not make information on children private by default, report says

Websites with social network functions could do more to protect children's information from being accessed by people they do not know, the European Commission has said.04 Oct 2011

A Commission report found that some websites do not automatically restrict who can see information published about children who are site users.

The report investigated how nine interactive services, including video-sharing site YouTube and gaming network Xbox Live, dealt with information about children under the age of 18 in line with the EU's safe social networking principles.

The principles were agreed by several major online companies, including Yahoo!, Facebook and Google. Signatories are expected to abide by the principles, which include raising awareness of safety education messages and acceptable use policies to users, developing age-appropriate services, giving users control over their own information and establishing easy-to-use mechanisms to report unacceptable conduct or content.

"Results show that in only one of the services tested profiles of minors could be found in internal and external search engines by name searches," the European Commission's report said.

"Nevertheless, in the other services tested the profiles of minors could be found via other mechanisms such as searches for user-generated content or via friends’ profiles. For instance, once a minor’s blog, individual videos, pictures, video channels or photostream are found (e.g. via an external search engine), access to the minor’s profile is granted," the report said.

"Furthermore, only 2 services make minors' personal and identifiable information visible by default only to their approved list of contacts. This means that even if minors add extra information about themselves (not required during registration) to their profiles this information is not displayed to users beyond the minor’s contacts by default," it said. "In 6 services a considerable amount of personal information was displayed to users beyond the minor`s approved contacts list."

"In one service limited personal information was displayed, but it was accessible to friends of friends. It is important to stress, however, that this information did not always lead to the identification of minors and, therefore, it does not necessarily constitute an imminent safety risk," the report said.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president, said the report's findings would be used to form a "comprehensive strategy" on internet safety for children that will be announced later this year.

“Young people enjoy and derive great benefits from social networking online but are often not conscious enough of risks such as grooming," Kroes said in a Commission statement

"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," Kroes said.