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Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, gave her first public speech on social networks at the Safer Internet Forum on 26 September 2008, which confirms the interest of the EU bodies on this topic.
The commissioner emphasized the growth of the social networks in Europe: "56% of the European online population visited social networking sites last year and the number of regular users is forecast to rise from today's 41.7 million to 107.4 million in the next four years. In 2007 9.6 million British belonged to the country's social networking community, with 8.9 million and France and 8.6 million in Germany. In Europe users spend 3 hours per month on average on social networking sites according to comscore.com."
While praising their success in promoting cultural diversity and enhanced interactivity and, at the same time, in bringing new economic opportunities for the European industry, Reading mentioned also the new issues raised by the social networks on data privacy and protection of minors.
On the occasion of this event, the submissions to the public consultation on Age Verification, Cross Media Rating and Social Networking initiated earlier this year by the EC were made public.
Other EU bodies, such as ENISA have called for new legislation that would regulate social networking sites. According to its recent report, ENISA pointed out that social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace need more regulation to protect their users against security risks.
But the Commissioner took the stance of self-regulation in relation to social networking and announced that the Commission wants to act as a facilitator: "For this purpose the Commission has convened a Social Networking Task Force, which held two meetings in 2008 with 17 operators of social networking sites used by under-18s (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Bebo, Hyves, StudiVZ, and Skyrock), a number of researchers and child welfare organisations. The objective is to agree on voluntary guidelines for use of social networking sites by children, to be adopted voluntarily by the European industry."
The European Commissioner speech and announced actions seem to forget about the security and privacy issues raised by the use of the social networks, focusing and involving only child welfare organisations.
The importance of the privacy aspects of the online social networks is emphasized by the European Data Protection Authorities gathered in the plenary of the Article 29 Working Party, that have announced that it is preparing an opinion on online social networks. The working party has sent out a questionnaire on data protection and privacy related issues to Social Network Services and a consolidated version of the opinion is being prepared.
Social Networking Sites: Commissioner Reding stresses their economic and
societal importance for Europe (26.09.2008)
Consultation Age Verification, Cross Media Rating and Social Networking -
The Article 29 Working Party- 67 plenary session (2.10.2008)
EDRi-gram: Social networking sites might be regulated in EU (4.06.2008)