Page last updated at 19:39 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 20:39 UK

Facebook agrees child safety plan

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Teenage boy using the internet, SPL
Officials fear paedophiles are grooming children via networking sites

Facebook is to add a slew of new safeguards to protect young users from sexual predators and cyber bullies.

At the heart of the changes are efforts to ban convicted sex offenders from the site and finding better ways to verify users' ages and identities.

The agreement was announced by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a deal along with other attorneys general around America.

"This marks another watershed towards social networking safety," he said.

It will "protect kids from online predators and inappropriate content," he added.

It comes on the heels of a similar comprehensive agreement that 49 states and Washington, DC, made with MySpace last January.

Seeking a gold standard

Mr Blumenthal, who co-chairs a working group of state attorneys general seeking to make social networking safer, said: "We are raising the safety bar, first with MySpace and now Facebook, and soon for other sites as we fight for an industry gold standard."

"Facebook and MySpace are showing how to aim higher and keep kids safer."

The world's second largest online networking site will build in more than 40 measures.

They include more automatic warning messages when underage members are in danger of giving out personal information to an unknown adult.

Facebook will also restrict the ability of users to change their listed ages to less than 18.

Facebook will also monitor a list of pornographic websites and links to such sites, aggressively remove inappropriate images and content, and increase efforts to remove groups for incest, paedophilia, cyber bullying and expel from the site individual violators.

Trawling sites

With MySpace's 200 million users and Facebook's 70 million, there has been a growing concern that such social networking sites are being used by predators to find and groom victims.

This agreement is the latest attempt by law enforcement officers to shield children, following a wave of high-profile cases in which adults have been charged with trawling these sites to meet young members.

"Social networks that encourage kids to come to their sites have a responsibility to keep those kids safe," said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Facebook found itself in the firing line last October when New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed the company, saying an undercover operation found the site responded too slowly to complaints of harassment and inappropriate conduct.

Facebook's chief privacy officer Chris Kelly said the site already had many safety features in place to protect users and that this was another step to enhance privacy.

"We have invested a great deal of effort to build a safer, more trusted environment," Mr Kelly said.

The only state not to sign on is Texas, which also had problems with January's MySpace pact.

"Texas continues to have concerns in the area in general, but we do continue our dialogue with the state of Texas," said Mr Kelly.

Officials said the safeguards in the Facebook and MySpace agreements could be extended to smaller sites as well.

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