July 12, 2010

Facebook Unveils New ‘Panic Button’ Feature

Facebook has partnered with the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) to create a "panic button" application for the popular social networking hub, officials announced on Monday morning.

The "panic button" will appear on a user's profile page when it is added or bookmarked, and is designed to allow users between the ages of 13 and 18 to notify Facebook officials if they encounter "suspicious or inappropriate behavior," according to a report by Reuters' Kylie MacLellan. Furthermore, the application will also give kids and teens advice for staying safe while surfing the Internet.

According to BBC News technology reporter Daniel Emery, "The launch follows months of negotiation between CEOP and Facebook, which initially resisted the idea"¦ CEOP, the government law enforcement agency tasked with tracking down online sex offenders, called for a panic button to be installed on social networking sites last November."

MySpace and Bebo were among the first social networking services to agree to the terms, but Facebook had been resistant to agree to the CEOP's proposal, according to Emery, who wrote, "Pressure mounted on Facebook following the [October 2009] rape and murder of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall by a 33-year-old convicted sex offender, posing as a teenage boy, who she met on Facebook."

"Forty-four police chiefs in England, Wales and Scotland, signed a letter backing CEOP's call for a panic button on every Facebook page," the BBC News reporter added. "The agreement to launch a child safety application is the culmination of months of negotiation between Ceop and Facebook."

The man, Peter Chapman, was sentenced to a minimum 35 years in prison back in March.

All teenage users will automatically see a notice, informing them of the new panic button application, on their Facebook homepages.

According to BBC News, CEOP's chief executive Jim Gamble released a statement, saying "today however is a good day for child protection"¦ By adding this application, Facebook users will have direct access to all the services that sit behind our ClickCEOP button which should provide reassurance to every parent with teenagers on the site."

"There is no single silver bullet to making the internet safer but by joining forces with CEOP we have developed a comprehensive solution which marries our expertise in technology with CEOP's expertise in online safety," Facebook vice-president Joanna Shields told reporters Monday.

"Together we have developed a new way of helping young people stay safe online and backed this with an awareness campaign to publicize it to young users," Shields added. "It is only through the constant and concerted efforts of the industry, police, parents and young people themselves that we can all keep safe online."

Sophy Silver, Facebook's chief of communications in the United Kingdom, said that both Facebook and CEOP were "happy as to where we have got"¦ We still have the Facebook reporting system and by having a pre-packaged application that users play an active part in, you not only help keep them safe, it makes all of their friends aware too, and acts as a viral awareness campaign"¦ Ultimately though, this makes for a safer environment for users and that's the most important part."

In April, an unidentified CEOP spokesperson told CNN.com Paul Armstrong that Facebook's existing system was inadequate because it was too difficult to find.

"We've always said the button needs to be on every profile page so with one click somebody who needs to can report directly to a child protection specialist, who can make a proper assessment," she told Armstrong, adding that their organization received approximately four reports daily that a child was at risk online, many of them originating from social networking websites.

"We know from offenders that a button would be a visible deterrent," she added. "Everyone benefits from this. It is a free independent means of safe-guarding their customers."

Those comments were made shortly after Facebook launched a $7.6 million previous education and awareness campaign, which included a revamped safety center and a 24-hour police hotline to assist with investigations and emergencies when they reared their heads.

"The investments and partnerships we've announced today--in direct reporting, in education and awareness, and in greater support for law enforcement--will transform social networking safety and security," Elliot Schrage, Vice-President of Global Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, told CNN in April. "They represent the most comprehensive public/private safety initiative since social networking began in the UK almost a decade ago."


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