April 19, 2011

Many European Kids On Facebook Despite Age Limits

More than three-quarters of children in Europe have a profile on one or more social networking sites, and about 1 in 5 under the age of thirteen have a Facebook profile despite age restrictions, according to a new survey released Monday by the European Commission (EC).

The EC poll found that 43 percent of young people surveyed overall had an online profile, but that figure shot up to 88 percent for those aged 13 and 16.

The survey, published by the EUKidsOnline network, polled 25,000 children across Europe. Of those surveyed, one in ten said they had a public profile -- with a fifth of these kids saying they display their address and/or phone number.

The findings are a huge concern. Having their accounts set to "public" view means everyone can see their profiles, making them easy targets for child predators, cautioned the European Union's executive branch.

Neelie Kroes, the commissioner in charge of the digital agenda, asked social networking sites to make profiles of children only accessible to approved contacts by default and make them invisible to search engines.

"Growing numbers of children are on social networking sites but many are not taking all necessary steps to protect themselves online," Kroes told AFP. "These children are placing themselves in harm's way, vulnerable to stalkers and groomers."

"Those companies that have not yet signed up to the EU's safer networking principles should do so without delay so as to ensure our children's safety," Kroes said.

Children aged nine to 12 were more likely than those aged 13 to 16 to post personal info in the public domain. But only half of 11 and 12-year-olds said they knew how to change their privacy settings on social networking sites. Thirteen to 16 year olds in Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden were most likely to have more than 100 contacts.

The Netherlands has the most children under 13 with a social network account -- 70 percent. France was at the bottom with 25 percent.

The survey found that Facebook is the most popular social networking site in 17 out of 25 European countries -- used by 57 percent of nine to 16 year olds.

In 2009, 17 web firms, including Google/YouTube, Microsoft Europe, MySpace and Yahoo! Europe, signed up for the first EU-wide agreement to improve the safety of minorities -- under 18 -- using social networking sites.

The agreement established the use of "report abuse" buttons and "private" default settings for profiles, as well as safeguards against strangers searching profiles without permission.

The EC said the new survey showed that some social networking sites popular with the younger generation are not signed up with the safer social networking agreement.

"Given the decreasing age of children using the Internet and social networking services and the fact that more children are accessing the Internet via mobile devices, the commission has launched a review of the current industry self-regulatory agreements in the field," said a statement by the EC.

"Social networking companies, manufacturers of mobile devices and game consoles, internet service providers, mobile applications and content providers, consumer organizations, researchers and childrens' organizations will be invited to join," it said.

On its private policy page, Facebook says that if it learns that it collected personal information from a child under 13, it will delete it "as quickly as possible."


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