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Update: Like MySpace, Facebook signs pact with state AGs to protect kids online

Updating age and authentication tools to protect kids on its social network from sexual predators

By Heather Havenstein
May 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Social networking site Facebook Inc. announced today that it is boosting its privacy protections as part of an ongoing effort to work with 49 state attorneys general to protect children online.

As part of its agreement with the state AGs (minus Texas), Facebook said it will continue to enhance age and identity identification tools on facebook.com and provide automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of providing personal information to an unknown adult.

In addition, Facebook confirmed its participation in the Internet Safety Task Force, created by MySpace Inc. as part of a January agreement with the attorneys general. Under that agreement -- which was hammered out during two years of discussions -- MySpace agreed to implement 60 new features or design changes intended to protect children from online predators.

"Building a safe and trusted online experience has been part of Facebook from its outset," said Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, in a statement. "We are proud to join 49 states and the District of Columbia in affirming our commitment to these principles and to continue improving our technology and policy solutions to keep kids safer on Facebook.

"The attorneys general," Kelly added, "have shown great leadership in helping to address the critical issue of Internet safety, and we commend them for continuing to set high standards for all players in the online arena."

"This agreement marks another milestone step for social networking safety -- protecting kids from online and pornography," Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. "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. Our ultimate goal is age and identity verification technology -- safeguards against child molesters and inappropriate material."

Facebook also noted that it will restrict the ability of users to change their listed ages and will aggressively respond to remove inappropriate content and groups from the site. Facebook also said that it plans to require users under 18 to affirm that they have read Facebook's safety tips when they sign up.

The Facebook agreement comes after a lengthy battle between the AGs and MySpace over turning over the names of registered sex offenders who had accounts on MySpace. In July 2007, MySpace identified more than 29,000 registered sex offenders among its registered users -- more than four times what the company said in May 2007 it had found from an investigation, according to North Carolina AG Roy Cooper.

Under the agreement, Facebook must also:

  • Require companies offering widgets or applications to put into place and enforce Facebook's safety and privacy guidelines.
  • Maintain and continuously update a list of pornographic Web sites and regularly eliminate any links to those sites.
  • Regularly review models for abuse reporting and perform a test using the New Jersey Attorney General's abuse reporting icon.
  • Restrict searches by over-18 users so they cannot seek under-18 users.
  • Identify and remove profiles of all registered sex offenders.
  • Provide privacy controls to allow users to block access to their profiles, restrict information available to users who are not their friends and prevent another user from contacting them.

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