Facebook Execs To Meet Child Protection Agency

Representatives from the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre are due to meet with Facebook execs amid continuing concerns about the number of children being groomed for potential abuse on the social networking site.

According to reports, the meeting will take place in Washington and will focus on how Facebook works with the CEOP to tighten up its efforts to thwart child abuse from being initiated on the networking site.

CEOP pushing for panic button on Facebook

The announcement of the meeting follows a campaign by CEOP to encourage social networking sites to install a “panic button” to allow suspected abuse to be reported. While some social networking sites immediately agreed to install the buttons, Facebook has been resisting the CEOP button.

The social networking site held off till late last month, but after following a meeting with the Home Secretary Alan Johnson and then only pledged to link to CEOP on its reporting pages, rather than installing the button on every page as CEOP wants it to. “If you’re going to operate a business that encourages people to frequent your public place so that you can advertise to them, then let’s look after them while they’re there,” Jim Gamble, director of CEOP said to the BBC.

Facebook claims that its own tests have shown that reporting mechanisms such as the one suggested by CEOP actually bring about a reduction in reports of abuse, but CEOP is asking the company to provide some more detail of these tests. The site’s resistance has apparently raised the ire of Labour politicians, who wanted full support for the button as part of the government’s nationwide campaign to help their children stay safe online, launched in February.

The government’s campaign to introduce a digital code for online safety – similar to the Green Cross Code for road safety – carries the slogan, “Zip it, Block it, Flag it”. It advises parents to keep their children’s online passwords private, to teach their children to block people who intimidate them, and to regularly check if their children have seen anything online that has upset them.

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) launched the campaign as part of the EU’s “Safer Internet Day” (9 February) – an annual event that aims to help young people across Europe overcome the threats to their online security and privacy. The theme of this year’s event is “Think B4 U post”, encouraging children to consider the consequences of posting personal information online.

Security experts have also warned over the dangers which social networking can poise to company data and personal information. Speaking during an RSA Conference Advisory Board roundtable event at RSA Conference Europe 2009 security, Herbert “Hugh” Thompson, chief security strategist for People Security and professor in the Computer Science department at Columbia University in New York said that criminals are launching “innovative” attacks based on the information which people share online. “People are posting indiscrimently – they throw weird information out there. What has happened is there has been a growth in the technology for information sharing but not a comensarate education in what information we should share,” he said.

Last year, Facebook announced the formation of the Facebook Safety Advisory Board made up of groups including Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). “We believe that the only way to keep kids safe online is for everyone who wants to protect them to work together,” said Elliot Schrage, vice-president of Global Communications and Public Policy at Facebook,” speaking at the time.

Facebook has faced continued criticism over its privacy policies. A recent update to its policies will allow third parties access to some user data without prior consent, and earlier this year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg suggested that people are now more happy to share online no longer expect privacy online

“Facebook uses default settings which are hostile to privacy, said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, at a discussion run by the University of Southampton’s Institute for Web Science last month. “It is a con trick on users. They are being manipulated by social network sites – it is disgraceful and probably unlawful.”

Andrew Donoghue

View Comments

  • This meeting is an opportunity for Facebook to implement a serious and beneficial strategy on security, and in particular, a measure to help prevent the exploitation of children. From my point of view, I totally agree with CEO Jim Gamble about introducing a procedure within the known social network in order to protect young, innocent victims.

    In line with this, recent research conducted by CA revealed particularly worrying results. The findings showed that 63% of GB parents have never discussed online safety with their child or teenager, with 52% of parents not setting up any Internet parental controls to protect children online. The research also showed that young parents aged 18-24 are the most unsecure group, with 61% not having any parental control software installed on their home computers or games consoles.

    This is particularly worrying if we consider that social networks like Facebook and others are becoming more and more popular with young people, whilst at the same time representing an ideal route for internet predators to target innocent victims.

    Needless to say, more needs to be done in raising awareness around this issue and in helping parents and young people to understand Internet threats and how they can best protect themselves.

    Finally, it is also very important to consider the installation of parental control software which can really help and support parents in protecting their child or teenager from internet danger.

    Rossano Ferraris, EMEA Functional Lead, Internet Security Intelligence, CA ISBU

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