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MADISON - In a victory for social networking safety, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen joined attorneys general from 49 other states and the District of Columbia to announce that Facebook has agreed to changes to better protect children from predators and inappropriate content. The agreement includes the creation of a task force on implementation of age and identity verification software.
"On-line sexual predators use social networking sites to commit crimes against children," said Van Hollen. "The intent of this agreement is to make Facebook safer for children, and help parents protect their children. Facebook is one of a number of very popular social networking sites, and I hope other social networking sites will follow our lead and work towards increasing their users' safety."
The agreement is similar to one that MySpace reached in January with 49 states and the District of Columbia. MySpace agreed to head a task force, which Facebook has joined, to explore and develop age and identity identification tools for social networking sites.
Changes agreed to by Facebook include providing automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of giving personal information to an unknown adult; restricting the ability of users to change their listed ages; acting more aggressively to remove inappropriate content and groups from the site and requiring third party vendors to adhere to Facebook's safety and privacy guidelines.
"As I said when we reached our agreement with MySpace, although this is an important agreement and one that I am proud to support, it does not replace the need for parents to parent," said Van Hollen. "The safest way to keep your children safe online is by talking to your children and keeping computers in common areas. Better online safety policies, software programs, and increased responsiveness from social networking sites will certainly help, but active parenting remains the most important Internet safety tool."
Under the changes, the first time a Facebook user wants to change his or her age, website staff will review their profile to determine whether the change is appropriate. In addition, companies offering Facebook users services called "widgets" will now have to implement and enforce Facebook's safety and privacy guidelines.
Facebook also has agreed to maintain a list of pornographic websites and regularly sever any links to such sites. It will remove groups for incest, pedophilia, cyberbullying and other violations of the site's terms of services, as well as expel from the site individual violators of those terms.
A copy of the agreement is available here.
A copy of the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Sites Safety is available here.
Attorney General Van Hollen has placed a priority on law enforcement's proactive response to the growing problem of internet crimes against children. To that end, the Attorney General has directed a 67% increase in the number of special agents assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force within the Division of Criminal Investigation and will also be bringing on board additional computer forensic analysts to support investigations and prosecutions of Internet Crimes Against Children. In addition to expanding investigative capacity internally, Van Hollen and the Department of Justice have continued to add additional local affiliates to the Wisconsin ICAC Task Force. The number of local law enforcement partners to the Department of Justice's ICAC TASK FORCE has more than doubled to 53 in the past year.
According to Van Hollen, there are over 15,000 internet protocol addresses in Wisconsin containing and offering to distribute known images of child pornography. One in seven children are asked by an adult online to engage in sexual activities, sexual talk, or provide personal sexual information.
A description of the investigative activities of the Wisconsin Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is detailed in a May 2007 Department of Justice report, Internet Crimes Against Children, Priority Needs For Our Top Priority: Kids. That report is available here.