Commission confirms disappointment with social networks
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Friday 30 September 2011
Social networks continue to disappoint. After an initial series of 14 websites scrutinised in June, the European Commission finds, in a series of nine other sites, that only a small minority - two (Habbo Hotel and Xbox Live) - provide default settings that make the personal profiles of those under 18 accessible only to the people on their list of ‘friends’. As a result, if minors do not take precautions, their profile is open to all.
It was a similar story in June when, out of the 14 sites examined, only the American sites Bebo and MySpace were the exception. Industry leader Facebook, criticised for problems of privacy violation, was no different. The Commission intends to act on the issue in an overall strategy aimed at making the internet safer for children by the end of the year.
Nonetheless, most sites in the latest series do provide age-appropriate information, advice and other educational content for minors. In addition, “seven sites responded to requests for help, a majority in less than a day,” the Commission said.
Two sites (Dailymotion and Windows Live) ensure that, by default, minors can only be reached by their friends, both for public messages and private messages.
But there are other problems. On all the tested sites, anyone can ask to become a minor’s friend. And on six of them, friends of a minor’s friends have direct access to their profile.
NEW PRINCIPLES FOR EU
In general, this report looks at the implementation of the ‘Safer social networking principles for the EU’ - a 2009 voluntary agreement - by blogging (Skyrock) and gaming (Xbox Live) platforms, photo and video sharing platforms (YouTube, Dailymotion, Flickr), virtual worlds (Habbo Hotel, Stardoll), platforms that have some social networking functionalities (Windows Live) and platforms that allow the creation of personal profiles with the possibility of uploading blog entries, photos and updates (Yahoo! Pulse). The tests were carried out between March and June 2011.
However, the Commission notes, for many of these sites, the profiles of ‘friends’ are not users’ main point of interest. This is especially true for photo and video-sharing platforms. Nevertheless, this report complements the one published in June. With the 21 companies that have signed up to the “EU principles,” it aims to strengthen business practices in order to counter the risks that the youngest face on the web, in particular from adults soliciting them with sexual intentions and harassment. The Commission hopes, therefore, to impose default settings to ensure that the profiles of minors are only available to individuals on their approved list. Its idea is to extend these principles to game consoles and smartphones.
The reports are available at