February 10, 2009 / 2:33 PM / 11 years ago

Social websites sign EU pact vs. "cyber-bullying"

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Seventeen social networking sites in Europe including Facebook and MySpace signed on Tuesday a pact aimed at curbing “cyber-bullying” and protecting the privacy of underage users, the European Commission said.

Makoto, who requested that his last name not be used, poses for a photograph as he looks at his cell phone which became an instrument of mental torture that nearly drove him to suicide when he was a high school student in Tokyo October 22, 2007. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

The Commission, the 27-nation EU’s executive arm, said the agreement will cut the risks of children harassing peers online and curb “grooming” — the practice of adults befriending children online with the intention of committing sexual abuse.

“It is an important step forward toward making our children’s clicks on social networking sites safer in Europe,” Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media said in a statement.

The use of social networks has grown over the past year by 35 percent in Europe and is expected to more than double to 107.4 million users by 2012, the Commission said, warning that this would expose more children to risks online

MySpace owned by News Corp. last week revealed to a U.S. investigative task force that it had barred some 90,000 registered sex offenders from using the site over the last two years.

The Commission said the voluntary agreement was hoped to:

* Ensure that private profiles of users under the age of 18 are not searchable on the websites or search engines.

* Provide an easy to use and accessible “report abuse” software button, allowing users to report inappropriate contact from or conduct by another user with one click.

* Make sure that the full online profiles and contact lists of website users who are registered as under-18s are set to “private” by default, making it harder for people with bad intentions to get in touch with young people.

The British Home Office took similar steps to improve online safety last April, while 49 State Attorneys General in the United Sates have signed similar separate agreements with Myspace and Facebook.

The other sites that signed the EU agreement include: Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Giovani.it, Google/YouTube, Hyves, Netlog, Nasza-klaza.pl, One.lt, Skyrock, StudiVZ, Sulake/Habbo Hotel, Yahoo!Europe, and Zap.lu.

Reporting by Bate Felix; editing by Mark John

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