Government Technology

Facebook, Attorneys General Announce Agreement to Make Site Safer for Kids



May 8, 2008 By

The attorneys general of 49 states and the District of Columbia today announced that Facebook has agreed to changes to better protect children from predators and inappropriate content and to participate in a task force on implementation of age and identity verification software.

The agreement (PDF) is similar to one that MySpace reached in January with 49 states and the District of Columbia. MySpace agreed to head a task force, which Facebook has joined, to explore and develop age and identity identification tools for social networking sites.

"As with MySpace, I am concerned that young people communicating through Facebook run into risks of having contact with sexual predators roaming the Internet looking to meet children, teens and others," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. "Many Facebook users are children who are simply too trusting and sometimes too free with the information they make available on their Facebook pages.

Changes agreed to by Facebook include providing automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of giving personal information to an unknown adult; restricting the ability of users to change their listed ages; acting more aggressively to remove inappropriate content and groups from the site and requiring third party vendors to adhere to Facebook's safety and privacy guidelines.

"Facebook and MySpace are showing how to aim higher and keep kids safer. Our ultimate goal is age and identity verification technology -- safeguards against child molesters and inappropriate material. Checking ages and identities is vital to better shielding underage users from predators and pornography," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said.

"Our powerful national multistate coalition will continue fighting to stop predators and pornography on these sites. The sites must recognize their responsibility. This agreement is open-ended -- envisioning advances in technology that enable even stronger safety steps," continued Blumenthal. "We appreciate Facebook's cooperation throughout."

Under the changes, the first time a Facebook user wants to change his or her age, Web site staff will review the user's profile to determine whether the change is appropriate. In addition, companies offering services to Facebook users will now have to implement and enforce Facebook's safety and privacy guidelines.

Facebook also has agreed to regularly sever links to pornographic Web sites. It will remove groups reported for incest, pedophilia, cyberbullying and other violations of the site's terms of services, as well as expel from the site individual violators of those terms.

In addition, companies offering Facebook users services -- called "widgets" -- will now have to implement and enforce Facebook's safety and privacy guidelines.

Under the agreement, Facebook will:

  • Aggressively remove inappropriate images and content;
  • More prominently display safety tips;
  • Require users under 18 to affirm they have read Facebook's safety tips when they sign up;
  • Regularly review models for abuse reporting and perform a test using the New Jersey Attorney General's abuse reporting icon.
  • Restricting searches by over-18 users so they cannot seek under-18 users, along with other significant limits on searches;
  • Limiting certain ads for age-restricted products -- such as alcohol and tobacco -- to users old enough to purchase such items;
  • Identifying and removing profiles of all registered sex offenders;
  • Sending automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of providing personal information to an unknown adult;
  • Providing extensive privacy controls allowing the user to block access to their profile, restrict information available to users not their friends and prevent another user from contacting them;
  • Providing parents with tools to remove their underage child's profile from the site.

Some of these measures have already been implemented by Facebook and are formalized by this agreement.

"This agreement marks another milestone step for social networking safety -- protecting kids from online predators and pornography," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "We are raising the safety bar, first for MySpace and now Facebook, and soon for other sites as we fight for an industry gold standard.

 


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