The European Union is clamping down on cyber bullying by signing a pact with 17 social networking providers including Facebook, MySpace and Google in a move to safeguard children online.
In the deal signed in Luxembourg, the companies agreed to put a report abuse button on their sites allowing people under 18 to report inappropriate contact or conduct by another user by clicking on it.
EU spokesman Martin Selmayr says networking sites are now used by some 42 million people in the European Union, and young users must be protected from abusive behavior.
The move comes in response to high cases of cyberbullying -- where children are harassed on the Internet or with mobile phone messages -- and grooming, in which adults befriend children to abuse them.
The site operators must also make sure online profiles and contact lists of underage users are set to the highest privacy settings.
The sites that signed the deal include Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani.it, Google/YouTube, Hyves, Microsoft Europe, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Skyrock, StudiVZ, Sulake/Habbo Hotel, Yahoo!Europe and Zap.lu.
In Europe alone, there are 41.7 million regular users to these sites, up 35 percent from last year. This is expected to double to 107.4 million users by 2012, according to the EU.
Other changes the Commission is working towards:
• Ensuring that private profiles of users under the age of 18 are not searchable (on the websites or via search engines)
• Guaranteeing that privacy options are prominent and accessible at all times, so that users can easily work out if just their friends, or the entire world, can see what they post online.
• Preventing under-age users from using their services: if a social networking site targets teenagers over 13, it should be difficult for people below that age to register.