Parents who are concerned about their children’s online privacy should know that only Sulake’s Habbo Hotel and Xbox Live meet the privacy standards established by the European Commission for the Digital Agenda. A new report by the commission found they were the only social networking sites that protected minors’ personal profiles by default, ensuring this information was accessible only to each member’s approved list of contacts.

On a more positive note, a majority of the sites tested for the report provide age-appropriate safety information, guidance and/or educational materials specifically targeted at minors and respond quickly to requests for help. Additionally, they all offer a shorter and child-friendly version of their terms of service.

The report looked specifically at companies’ implementation of the Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU, a self-regulatory agreement brokered by the Commission in 2009 to keep children safe online. It therefore only analyzed the companies that are signatories to the principles: Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani, Google, Hyves, Microsoft Europe, MySpace, Nasza-klasa, Netlog, One, Rate, Skyrock, VZnet Netzwerke, Stardoll, Sulake, Tuenti, Yahoo! Europe and Zap. Member Wer-kennt-wen was not tested in the current assessment.

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said: “Young people enjoy and derive great benefits from social networking online but are often not conscious enough of risks such as grooming. Social networking sites need to take seriously their responsibilities towards these youngsters. I intend to address these issues later this year in a comprehensive strategy on making the internet a safer place for children through a combination of protective and empowerment measures.”

In summary, the study reported:

• Only Habbo Hotel and Xbox Live have default settings which make minors’ personal and identifiable information visible by default only to their approved list of contacts, regardless of how much information about themselves is posted on their profiles.

• In the other seven websites tested results showed that a considerable amount of personal information – including information added by users after registration – was displayed by default to users beyond the minor’s approved contacts list. This information did not necessarily lead to immediate identification of minors, but could do so.

• In six of the services, minors’ profiles could be directly accessed by friends of friends. Unregistered users could get access to minors’ profiles via their blog, or a video or picture the minor had posted online. Once a minor’s blog, individual videos, pictures, video channels or photostream are found (e.g. via an external search engine or via a link sent via e-mail, etc.), access to the minor’s profile is granted.

• Eight out of the nine sites tested provide safety information, guidance and/or educational materials specifically targeted at minors (all except Windows Live). In Windows Live the information provided was aimed rather at parents or guardians, although it could also be easily understood by young people.

•Dailymotion, Flickr, Habbo Hotel, Yahoo! Pulse, Skyrock, Stardoll and YouTube provide safety information for children and parents which is both easy to find and to understand.

• By default, only in one of the nine services tested could profiles of minors be found by name searches either via internal or external search engines

Thanks to GamaSutra for the tip.

Related links:

Safer Social Networking Principles assessment –

Safer Internet Program site –

Digital Agenda website –