Home Secretary Meets Facebook Over Child Protection Button

The social network giant’s sustained refusal to adopt the UK’s Ceop online protection scheme for children has led to a meeting with the Home Secretary today

The Home Secretary met today with Facebook to discuss its continued refusal to adopt the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (Ceop) alert on its social network.

Ever since Facebook changed its privacy settings late last year for users to control who sees what content on their account, its stance on privacy has come under increased scrutiny. At today’s meeting, “frank views” were exchanged, and Facebook may have softened its stance, with Home Secretary Alan Johnson saying later that Facebook had said it had “no objection in principle ” to the Ceop alert button, according to reports.

When the UK government launched a nationwide campaign to encourage parents to help their children stay safe online in February, Facebook’s reluctance to follow the lead of other websites, including Bebo and MSN Live Messenger in adopting the Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 “panic button” add-on developed with Ceop, led to heavy criticism.

CEOP Button won’t help, says Facebook

The site has maintained that such buttons have proved ineffective from past experience and can actually put children off reporting abuse.

Last week, politicians weighed in on the site, which led to comments from the Home Secretary that he couldn’t “see any reason why” for not adopting the Ceop button.

Following eWEEK Europe’s coverage of Labour deputy leader, Harriet Harman’s comments to the House of Commons that ministers would be would be urging Facebook to change its stance, it responded to requests for comment by saying it was scheduled to meet Johnson today.

In a statement it said: “At Facebook, we are committed to maintaining the highest levels of protection for our users. We regularly work with national law enforcement organisations and the world’s leading experts in online protection to ensure we provide the best possible security for anyone that uses the site. We actively seek out opportunities to innovate and improve our reporting systems all the time. We look forward to discussing our thoughts on this with the Home Secretary today.”

In the meantime, comments from the chief executive of the Ceop Centre and the lead for protecting children on the internet on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Jim Gamble are likely to be ringing in Facebook’s ears.

He pointed out that Ceop analysis had found 267 reports were received about activity in Facebook during 2009, of which 43 percent were cases of suspected grooming. “However, 81 percent of those reports were made by people having to go to other sites to make the report,” he said. “We have been asking social networking providers for too long to do the right thing.”

Facebook and Ceop will meet in Washington on April 12.

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