Legal Updates

Media and Entertainment – Social Networks – Child Safety


The European Commission has ordered that social networks take steps to ensure that profiles of children using the network are only visible to their friends and must not be retrievable from a search engine.  Following a survey into social networks, age and privacy funded by the Commission, it was acknowledged by the Commission that numerous children were ignoring age restrictions to join social networks.

25,000 young people took the survey across Europe and the findings conveyed that although most social networks restrict usage to children aged 13 and above:

  • 38% of children aged between 9 and 12 have a social network profile;
  • 77% for children aged between 13 and 16 have a social network profile;
  • 27% of children aged between 9 and 16 made their social network profiles public for anyone to view.

The Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, has strongly advised companies owning social networking sites to:

  • Make the profiles of children accessible only to their friends whom they have approved and to make this the default setting for all children’s accounts;
  • Simplify the procedures for children to change their privacy settings on their websites (as it is thought that the high levels of children making their profiles public is due to their inability to change their privacy settings with ease); and
  • Sign up to the EU’s “Safer Networking Principles” (see below).

Safer Networking Principles

The EU’s Safer Networking Principles make companies signing up to it agree to (i) provide clear guidance on the use of the social network site in safe manner, (ii) limit exposure of children to material inappropriate for their age, (iii) deny access to the site to children under the requisite age; and (iv) provide clear guidance and tools for users to block contacts as they wish, report content they believe is inappropriate and alter their privacy settings.  Click here for more information on the EU’s Safer Networking Principles.

Social network owners should be very cautious and make every effort not to ignore the guidance of the European Commission.  Also, website terms and conditions should make clear the company’s position in relation to the issued raised by the Commission.

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© RT COOPERS, 2011. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.


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