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 Thursday, 03 April 2008

A report by the UK media regulator, Ofcom, has reported that 'millions of children are using social networking websites intended for older users.'

Despite the minimum age requirement  of between 13 and 14 yrs set by Bebo, MySpace and Facebook, the report found that more than 25% of UK 8-11yr olds have a social network profile.

The Home Office is due to disclose a set of guidelines for such sites involving best practice, security and privacy on Friday 4th April.

This report by Ofcom showed a "significant difference" between the perception of risks in using social network sites between parents and children.

James Thicket, director of market research, Ofcom stated, "While people are aware of the status of their profile, there is a general lack of awareness of the issues attached to them around privacy and safety". He also added, "People put aside concerns about privacy and safety believing they have been taken care of by someone else".

The lack of child protection in such social network sites is further demonstrated by the following Ofcom figures:

41% of children allowed their profile to be viewed by anyone -

16% of parents did not know if their child's profile could be seen by strangers -

The vulnerability of children (especially younger ones) to online predators cannot be ignored and Mr Thickett goes on to say,

"Children are using these sites with a far lower awareness of some of the issues and rules that these sites entail".

Ofcom  plan to monitor and review the new guidelines agreed by social networks and the Home Office.

Dr Rachel O'Connell, Bebo chief safety officer, said, "We're working with the regulatory bodies. It's critical to our business that we adhere to these guidelines".

For more information see BBC and The Guardian.