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									                                 European Economic and Social Committee



                                                                                               TEN/390
                                                                                            Impact of social
                                                                                            networking sites


                                                                                                Brussels, 22 October 2009




                                                     OPINION
                                                  of the
                Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society
                                                    on
                     The impact of social networking sites on citizens/consumers
                                         (own initiative opinion)
                                            _____________

                                             Rapporteur: Mr Pegado Liz
                                                  _____________




Document submitted for translation: 16 October 2009




                                                                                 Administrator: Georgios Karageorgos




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       99 rue Belliard - B-1040 Brussels – Tel. +32 (0)2 546 90 11 - fax+32 (0)2 513 48 93 - Internet http://www.eesc.europa.eu

                                                                                                                                  EN
                                                  -1-


At the plenary session held on 26 February 2009, the European Economic and Social Committee,
acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an opinion on

               The impact of social networking sites on citizens/consumers
               (Own-initiative opinion).

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible
for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 12 October 2009. The
rapporteur was Mr Pegado Liz.

At its ... plenary session, held on … (meeting of ...), the European Economic and Social Committee
adopted the opinion by ... votes to ... with ... abstentions:


                                                   *

                                              *         *


1.     Conclusions and recommendations

1.1    The EESC recognises the cultural, political and social importance of Internet-based social
       networking sites (SNS), as a means of communication and interaction between people
       exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

1.2    The Committee also notes the economic benefits linked to the growth of SNS, specifically
       their potential for different types of commercial and marketing communications.

1.3    The EESC wishes to highlight the positive aspects of the growth in SNS, especially their
       contribution to guaranteeing and facilitating freedom of expression in certain political
       situations, creating and developing online communities, enabling people to meet or rediscover
       friends and family members, preventing situations that place minors at risk and providing
       minors with an opportunity to request help through SNS and to share information on health
       issues.

1.4    At the same time, however, the Committee wishes to add its voice to those civil society
       organisations and associations, families and individual members of the public who have
       expressed well-founded concerns as to the risks of the illegal and abusive use of SNS, which
       rides roughshod over a number of basic human rights.

1.5    The EESC wishes to draw attention in particular to the risks linked to the use of SNS by
       minors and other vulnerable members of the public, specifically people with poor digital
       literacy, who frequently fall victim to others who take advantage of them to engage in illegal




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       activities that affront their personal dignity and endanger their physical and mental wellbeing
       and even their lives.

1.6    The Committee welcomes the European Commission's recent initiatives, in particular those
       undertaken by DG Information Society & Media and DG Justice, to facilitate agreements
       between providers of SNS in the form of Codes of Conduct and Good Practice.

1.7    The EESC considers, however, that the EU and the Member States must step up their action
       to ensure that the public is better informed about the risks associated with using SNS and
       about the good practices that should be adopted.

1.8    The Committee also considers that further efforts should be made to provide young people
       with a more comprehensive education on such matters from the earliest school years onwards,
       give better support for families, given the importance of parental monitoring and supervision
       of young people's Internet use, develop access-blocking or filtering tools, ensure better risk
       prevention and crack down more effectively on illegal or harmful practices in this area.

1.9    The EESC considers, in this regard, that young people should be directly involved in defining
       operating models and in moderating and settling SNS-related issues, because it is they who
       will probably be able to understand issues arising in this area most effectively and rapidly and
       propose appropriate solutions.

1.10   The Committee urges the Commission to continue work on its in-depth study of the SNS
       phenomenon, in order to obtain a thorough understanding of the situation, and specifically its
       cultural, social and economic implications and its potential use in promoting the broader
       debate on issues as important as climate change, or the "Communicating Europe" initiative.

1.11   The EESC recommends that the Commission consider, in addition to good self-regulation
       practices, the possibility of establishing co-regulation mechanisms that would enable any
       good practice agreements signed to be properly monitored, in order to prevent breaches,
       stamp out abuses and effectively punish offenders. In the case of criminal activities
       committed simultaneously in all Member States using information technologies, the EU could
       now move towards a system of harmonised charges and penalties managed by the responsible
       national bodies acting in coordination with each other.

1.12   The Committee suggests, therefore, that the Commission, as a follow-up to the public
       consultation it carried out in July 2008, draft a Green Paper on SNS, setting out the main
       options for future work, in which the implications of these sites are analysed. The drafting
       process should also involve hearing the views of the different civil society organisations and
       associations concerned.




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1.13   The EESC recommends that consideration be given to the possibility of extending and
       combining the powers of the existing Community bodies to appoint a Community-level
       Ombudsman responsible for all issues relating to the protection of human dignity, privacy and
       data protection in the electronic communications and audiovisual sectors, with specific
       responsibility for SNS.

1.14   The EESC recommends that the Member States improve coordination of their policies at
       national level, in order to establish a consistent legal framework to address these situations,
       granting powers to be exercised by existing national regulators acting in coordination or
       creating appropriate regulatory mechanisms.

1.15   In particular, the Committee calls on the Members of the European Parliament to place these
       new issues at the top of their political agendas so as to reflect the growing concerns of civil
       society.

2.     Introduction

2.1    The subject of this own-initiative opinion is the impact on the public/consumer of SNS, which
       are essentially online services for setting up and linking communities of people who share
       common activities and interests or who simply wish to find out about other people's interests
       and activities, and which also provide a range of functions enabling users to interact with one
              1
       another .

2.2    Social networking has grown rapidly: 211 million people, accounting for approximately
       three-quarters of all Internet-users – estimated to total 282.7 million2 – supposedly use these
       online services regularly. They are primarily used by young people aged 16 and above;
       despite the growth in the sector, some services have a relatively low loyalty rate3. The
       European Commission4 estimates that SNS attract around 40 million regular users in Europe,
       although it should be noted that last year usage rose by some 35%, and it is predicted that by
       2012 user numbers will more than double, rising to 107.4 million.




1
       http://www.saferinternet.org/ww/en/pub/insafe/safety_issues/faqs/social_networking.htm.

2
       Data published by com-Score, a global leader in Internet audience monitoring, on 17 February 2009, relating to December 2008
       (quoted in Le Monde of 20 February, p. 4 in "Vie privée sur Internet: la polémique Facebook" [Private life on the Internet: the
       Facebook controversy] Catherine Vincent).
3
       According to a study carried out by Nielsen, one of the largest audience monitoring companies in North America, more than
       60% of Twitter users stop using the site one month after signing up, whilst Facebook and MySpace have a retention rate of
       around 70% (quoted in the Public Journal, 30 April, p. 11).
4
       IP/09/232 Brussels, 10 February 2009.



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2.3   In tandem, multinational brands have bought in to the new phenomenon, advertising their
      products and services, sometimes in unfair ways. Judging by Barack Obama's campaign,
      political parties have also decided to use these new services, as demonstrated in the recent
      European Parliament elections. Even the Vatican itself has joined Facebook (Pope2you.net).

                                                                                        5
2.4   In short, the main features of SNS are generally free service , rapid and exponential growth of
      user numbers6, astonishing financial value, ease of use and the availability of functions
      enabling interaction between service users.

2.5   This opinion examines the most recent Community initiatives, takes stock of the current legal
      framework, assesses the opportunities offered by SNS and the risks involved in using them
      and makes recommendations and proposals for measures to improve the safety of users and
      their confidence in such means of communication.

3.    The impact of SNS and the associated risks

3.1   Internet-based SNS constitute a relatively new social phenomenon whose technology is
      constantly evolving, and they are widely recognised to be changing the way in which people
      relate and interact with one another across the Internet.

3.2   According to the ComScore study7, and in order to fully comprehend the phenomenon's scale,
      Facebook alone – which is a social networking service and the sixth most-visited website in
      the world – receives around 275 million hits a month. In Europe, Facebook was accessed by
      some 100 million people in February 2009, accounting for around four minutes of every
      100 minutes spent online and representing more than 30% of all time spent on SNS, in
      contrast with only 12% last year.

3.3   The positive aspects of social networks are undeniable, specifically their contribution to:

      i)         guaranteeing freedom of expression in certain social and political situations8;
      ii)        developing and linking online communities;




5
      Most SNS are free to use, whilst the business model that makes such operations viable generally relies on advertising.

6
      Twitter alone will have grown 700% in one year, with more than 10 million users; in the United Kingdom, its growth rate for the
      same period is 974%.
7
      Source: comScore World Metrix, press release.
      http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2009/4/Facebook_Top_Social_Network_in_Spain.
8
      Note the use of the Twitter network during the recent elections in Iran, as a means of breaking the news blackout imposed by the
      government, and the role of SNS in the spontaneous mass social movements challenging the authorities, such as those that
      occurred in Georgia in November 2003, in Kiev on 22 November 2004, in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005, in Spain following
      11 March and in Moldova on 7 April last year.



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      iii)       finding and meeting friends and family members and providing them with the
                 opportunity to communicate with one another;
      iv)        preventing situations that entail risks for minors and enabling minors to ask for help
                 through SNS, and
      v)         promoting goods and services and boosting e-commerce.

3.4   Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the positive aspects referred to above, it is important to
      bear in mind the risks associated with the use of SNS for illegal or malicious purposes,
                                                           9
      specifically in relation to the development of minors , including:

      i)         psychological trauma caused by insults communicated by means of such services;
                                                                                       10
      ii)        the sexual harassment of children and young people ;
      iii)       the posting of photographs or videos of naked or semi-naked adolescents, either by
                 themselves or by others11;
      iv)        explicit advertisements for prostitution and "escort" services;
      v)         frequent breaches of privacy12, reputation and personal dignity;
                                                                                              13
      vi)        attacks on the physical and mental wellbeing of site users ;
      vii)       incitement to violence, racism and xenophobia;
      viii)      dissemination of totalitarian ideologies which are fascist in nature or advocate
                 Nazism; and
      ix)        suicides by young people, allegedly as a result of certain intimate details being made
                 public through these networks.




9
      On this point, see in particular, the report published by ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency),
      entitled" Security Issues and Recommendations for Online Social Networks" at
      www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/deliverables/enisa_pp_social_networks.pdf.
10
      A report commissioned by MySpace states that 13% of young people, 80% of whom are between the ages of 14 and 17, have
      received online sexual propositions.
11
      According to a recent study carried out by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one in five
      adolescents admits to having engaged in "sexting".
12
      As recently condemned by Commissioner Barrot with regard to Facebook, especially following the announcement by one of its
      directors, Randi Zuckerberg, that he intended to sell access to the personal data of the site's users to a number of companies
      (The New York Times, 27.1.2009); grounds for this fear were set out in a study entitled "Eight Friends Are Enough: Social
      Graph Approximation via Public Listings" by Joseph Bonneau, Jonathan Anderson, Ross Anderson and Frank Stajano,
      University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.
13
      The Guardian.co.uk reported that Baroness Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln college, Oxford, and
      director of the Royal Institution, warned the House of Lords that the exposure of children's minds to Facebook, Bebo and Twitter
      risks infantilising them (www.guardian.co.uk, 24.2.2009).



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3.5    Account should also be taken of the new generation of technologies used on SNS, specifically
       applications enabling users of such networks to be "geotagged", applications that use facial
       recognition technologies enabling them to be linked to SNS accounts and the new
       opportunities for interaction provided by the latest generation of mobile phones.

3.6    There is also the fact that this type of network is easily used for spreading viruses, such as the
       virus that affected Twitter on the weekend of 11/12 April 2009, which automatically posted
       more than 100 000 messages, damaging an unknown number of user accounts.

3.7    As part of the 2008 Safer Internet Forum14, the European Commission submitted a
       questionnaire addressing the issue of SNS for public consultation15, and the answers
       received16 reveal that "cyberbullying", invasion of privacy and "grooming" are perceived to
       be the main and most common dangers faced by minors when using SNS.

3.8    Where cyberbullying is concerned17, 54% of European parents are concerned that their
       children might fall victim to this practice. More than 80% of parents in France, Greece and
       Portugal are worried that their children might be bullied when using the Internet or mobile
       telephones. In certain countries that have a strong tradition of protecting children's rights and
       valuing education, such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland, parents demonstrate greater
       confidence in their children using the Internet safely, with 69% not being concerned about
       potential cyberbullying18.

3.9    In the United Kingdom, according to the conclusions reached in a recent survey targeting
       2000 young people aged between 11 and 1819, one in three young people has been the victim
       of cyberbullying through SNS and text messaging, with girls being four times more likely
       than boys to suffer this type of abuse.

3.10   Protecting privacy is one of the other major problems associated with the use of SNS. At the
       30th international conference of data protection and privacy authorities held in Strasbourg




14
       http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/events/forum/forum_sepet_2008/index_en.htm.

15
       http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/policy/consultations/ageverif_sns/index_en.htm.

16
       http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/docs/pub_consult_age_rating_sns/summaryreport.pdf.

17
       Flash Eurobarometer survey 2008: Towards a Safer Use of the Internet for children in the EU - a parents' perspective,
       http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_248_en.pdf.
18
       In this regard, particular attention should be paid to the Position on Safer Internet by COFACE (Confederation of Family
       Organisations in the European Union) adopted by its administrative council on 16 March 2009, in which the role of families and
       parental control is properly emphasised in a series of eight highly relevant recommendations.
19
       http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/cyberbullying-affects-one-in-three-uk-kids-561171.



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       between 15 and 17 October 200820, a resolution was adopted on the protection of privacy in
       social networking services21, whose recommendations warrant special consideration.

3.11   The agreement between the operators of Europe's main SNS on self-regulation, entitled
       "Safer Social Networking principles for the EU" and signed on 10 February 200922, now has
       20 signatories; it also clearly identified the potential risks to which under-18s using these sites
       are exposed: harassment (the harassment of children on Internet sites or via text messaging),
       psychological manipulation (an adult gaining a child's friendship with the intention of abusing
       that child sexually) and risky behaviour, such as divulging personal information for illicit
       purposes.

4.     The hearing promoted by the EESC

4.1    The very nature of the social phenomenon in question and its rapid development suggested
       that a hearing should be held, as part of the process of drawing up this opinion. This hearing
       took place at the EESC and was attended by some of the most representative stakeholders in
       the operation and use of SNS – NGOs and consumers, as well as representatives of the
       Council, the Commission, ENISA, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the relevant
       national authorities.

4.2    The written responses to the questionnaire that had been sent out beforehand, the different
       opinions expressed and the lively meeting of ideas and proposals23 all made a decisive and
       extremely useful contribution to the drafting of this opinion and clearly demonstrated the
       importance of this type of event, based on the direct consultation of the relevant civil society
       stakeholders when making suggestions and recommendations to political decision-makers and
       also to operators and users themselves, where SNS are concerned.

4.3    It is worth highlighting the agreement expressed by the representatives of the Commission
       and the European Data Protection Supervisor with most of the suggestions made in this
       opinion, in addition to the considerable progress already made by the Commission on
       defining some of the objectives more clearly and putting others into practice, with regard to
       initiatives currently under way and others still at the planning stage, which bodes well for
       highly productive cooperation between the institutions in future.



20
       30th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners
       http://www.privacyconference2008.org./index.php?page_id=1.
21
       Resolution on Privacy Protection in Social Network Services,
       http://www.privacyconference2008.org./adopted_resolutions/STRASBOURG2008/resolution_social_networks_en.pdf.
22
       "Safer Social Networking principles for the EU", available at
       http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/social_networking/docs/sn_principles.pdf.
23
       A summary of which can be found on the EESC Website at: http://www.eesc.europa.eu/sections/ten/index_en.asp?id=7000tenen.



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5.    The measures needed and results that can be expected

5.1   The EESC acknowledges and welcomes the European Commission's work in the field of
      protecting children using the Internet, and reiterates the thrust of its 2008 opinion on the
      proposal then under consideration for a Multiannual Community programme to protect
                                                                       24
      children using the Internet and other communication technologies .

5.2   The Committee also notes the timeliness and value of the initiative for self-regulation referred
      to above, especially the set of measures it contains to minimise the main risks.

5.3   With regard to the process of implementing the Safer Internet Programme (2009-2013), the
      EESC would highlight the need to step up dialogue with the main protagonists involved in
      SNS, namely, young people, encouraging them to be involved in discussing, designing and
      producing solutions to ensure safer Internet use.

5.4   The EESC considers that young people should be directly involved in setting operational
      models and in moderating and settling SNS-related issues, because they are probably better
      placed than anyone to understand quickly and effectively the difficult situations that arise in
      this area.

5.5   The Committee also proposes studying the possibility of setting up an international or
      European course to train specialist counsellors and therapists in providing online victims with
      assistance, especially in situations of bullying or grooming. The EESC suggests that the Safer
      Internet Programme include initiatives for counselling in general, especially online
      counselling, and programmes aimed at children and adolescents to help prevent such
      situations from occurring in the first place.

5.6   Also as part of implementing the Safer Internet Programme (2009-2013), the Committee
      would emphasise the importance of launching initiatives to improve digital literacy,
      specifically as regards the safe use of SNS, targeting not only children and adolescents but
      also the wider population, especially parents, who are responsible for their children's
      education, and also elderly users.

5.7   Furthermore, the EESC considers that social network operators should practise self-
      regulation, in particular to protect minors, with the requirement however that their compliance
      be independently monitored, alongside the possibility of minimum protection standards being
      imposed by law.




24
      Cf. the opinion on "A multiannual Community programme on protecting children using the Internet and other communication
      technologies", unanimously adopted at the plenary session held on 29 May 2008 (rapporteur-general Ms Sharma) and published
      in OJ C 224, 30.8.2008, p. 61.



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5.8    The Committee is in favour of self-regulation schemes being developed with a view to
       ensuring co-regulation at both Community and national levels, involving the regulatory
       authorities so as to ensure full compliance with any agreements concluded, prevent abuses,
       sanction infringements and have rule-breakers punished by their peers.

5.9    The EESC notes and accepts most of the recommendations made in the Resolution on Privacy
       Protection in Social Network Services, adopted at the 30th International Conference of Data
       Protection and Privacy Authorities25 on 17 October 2008, in the recent Article 29 Working
                                                  26
       Party opinion on online social networks and urges the Commission to take these
       recommendations on board and ensure that operators adopt them.

5.10   The Committee also considers that further efforts are needed to enhance information and
       education, from the earliest school years onwards, to improve not only risk prevention but
       also the way in which these SNS are used. To this end, awareness-raising campaigns should
       be mounted at the Community level and in the different Member States. In this regard, and to
       complement the initiatives to be carried out under the "Safer Internet Programme", it would
       be useful to produce an "eYouGuide" specifically aimed at social SNS users: a type of portal
       for the rights of social network users, providing a possibility to report abuses and settle
       disputes at the pan-European level – in other words, a single site where it is possible to
       "manage" users' rights, assess Community coordination, discuss forms of action and policies
       and evaluate cooperation between national authorities.

5.11   The EESC also takes the view that national and Community research and development
       programmes and the operators themselves, should invest further in developing and fine-tuning
       technical tools to filter and block access, enabling families to apply the precautionary
       principle prudently but consistently.

5.12   Aware of the ever-changing, dynamic nature of this phenomenon, the EESC would welcome
       a Commission Green Paper which, taking on board the results of the public consultation
       carried out in July 2008, set out the main options for future developments, analysing their
       impact and holding extensive consultation of the different businesses, professionals,
       academics and civil society organisations and associations concerned.

5.13   In this regard, it would be worth considering the option of establishing a legal framework that
       is consistent throughout the EU, on the basis of closer cooperation and coordination of
       national policies. One aspect warranting special attention concerns the contractual terms for
       joining such networks, in which abusive clauses are the rule, specifically as regards the
       applicable law and the competent authority.


25
       The text of the recommendations is available at
       http://www.privacyconference2008.org/adopted_resolutions/STRASBOURG2008/resolution_social_networks_en.pdf.
26
       Opinion (2009 on online SNS; adopted on 12 June 2009).



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5.14    Because this is essentially an international phenomenon, where the main SNS are subject to
        jurisdictions beyond the EU's borders, the Committee considers it crucial for the following
        measures to be properly promoted:

5.14.1 Setting principles and rules of conduct for SNS at international level, especially for services
       targeting minors;

5.14.2 Institutionalising mechanisms for monitoring compliance with such rules; given the nature of
       these services, this must inevitably be done on a cross-border basis;

5.14.3 Boosting and streamlining EU cooperation with third countries, both European and non-
       European, at political and operational levels, to identify the risks and problems associated
       with the use of SNS, to find the best solutions to address such situations and, as long as the
       international legal framework allows, to effectively eliminate situations where
       people's/consumers' rights could be infringed.

5.15    The Committee also wishes to highlight the need for proper international cooperation and
        coordination between the different parties concerned, in order to maximise the effect of the
                                                         27
        measures needed to ensure safer Internet use . This will require a more pro-active
        international approach to ensure that knowledge is disseminated and exchanged, drafting and
        implementation of legislation is coordinated and that the necessary funding is obtained to
        implement the required measures, both within the EU and beyond its borders.

5.16    The EESC also points out the need for Member States to ratify the Conventions of the
        Council of Europe on Cybercrime and on the Protection of Children against Sexual
        Exploitation and Sexual Abuse28, which would represent a major step towards the European
        Union being able to present a united front on the international stage29.

5.17    Lastly, the EESC wonders whether, in tandem with the initiatives described above, it might be
        worth considering the option of extending and combining the powers that are today dispersed
        across different bodies, to appoint a Community-level ombudsman to address all issues in the
        audiovisual field, such as privacy, data protection, human dignity, the right of reply, freedom
        of expression, etc., also covering social networks, along the same lines, in terms of
        comparative law, as the Canadian model of the "Privacy Commissioner", whose action –


27
        The stance advocated by Janos Tóth, president of the EESC's TEN section, in an EESC initiative entitled "Public Presentation on
        Protecting   children    using    the     internet",  presented   on     5    May    2009      (information      available    at
        http://www.eesc.europa.eu/sections/ten/index_en.asp?id=4300003tenen.
28
        http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/QueVoulezVous.asp?NT=201&CL=ENG.

29
        A concern expressed by Madi Sharma in the EESC initiative entitled "Public Presentation on Protecting children using the
        internet", on 5 May 2009 (information available at http://www.eesc.europa.eu/sections/ten/index_en.asp?id=4300003tenen and
        recently formalised in her own-initiative opinion (SOC/317), adopted at the Plenary Session held in July 2009.



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       demonstrating her extensive powers – against Facebook for allegedly improperly retaining
       personal data recently made the news30.

Brussels, 12 October 2009.

                  The president
                      of the
Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and
             the Information Society




                     János Tóth

                                                              *

                                                        *            *



N.B.: Appendix overleaf.




30
       See http://www.priv.gc.ca/aboutUs/mm_e.cfm#contenttop, on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC). For her
       recent action on Facebook see http://www.priv.gc.ca/media/nr/-c/2009/nr-c_090716_e.cfm.



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                               European Economic and Social Committee
                Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society


                                                      APPENDIX

                                                      Background

1.    Whilst the phenomenon under consideration is a relatively recent one, it has already attracted
      the attention of various European organisations, such as the Council of Europe 31 and the
      Community institutions, including a number of recent initiatives launched by the
      Commission, which should be highlighted and welcomed.

2.    Since the 1990s32, the Commission has adopted a number of diverse and important positions
      on the main issues relating to use of the new audiovisual and information services,
                                                                        33
      specifically concerning the protection of minors and human dignity , the legal protection of
      encrypted services34, the protection of personal data and privacy35 and the fight against
      computer-related crime36. Awareness of the recent social networking phenomena has
      developed and concerns about them expressed, however, essentially as a result of the final
      evaluation of implementation of the multiannual Community Programme on promoting safer
      use of the Internet and new online technologies (2005-2008)37, which sets out a series of


31
      Cf. ´"Human rights guidelines for Internet service providers", Council of Europe, 2008, which reviews the Council of Europe's
      main recommendations and declarations on the subject.
32
      In particular with the Commission Communication on "Europe's Way to the Information Society. An Action Plan".
      (COM(94)347 final, 19.6.1994).
33
      Green Paper on the protection of minors and human dignity in audiovisual and information services (COM(96) 483 final);
      Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the
      Committee of the Regions on the Follow-up to the Green Paper on the Protection of Minors and Human Dignity in Audiovisual
      and Information Services (COM(97) 570 final); Proposal for a Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council
      on the protection of minors and human dignity and the right of reply in relation to the competitiveness of the European
      audiovisual and information services industry (COM(2004) 341 final, 30.4.2004).
34
      Green Paper on the legal protection of encrypted services in the internal market (COM(96) 632 final); Commission
      Communication on "A European Initiative in Electronic Commerce" (COM(97) 157 final).
35
      Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the processing of personal data and the
      protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (COM(2000) 385 final).
36
      Commission Communication on Creating a Safer Information Society by Improving the Security of Information Infrastructures
      and Combating Computer-related Crime (COM(2000)890 final, 26.1.2001); Commission Communication on Network and
      Information Security: Proposal for A European Policy Approach (COM(2001) 298 final).
37
      COM(2009) 64 final, of 18.2.2009 (Commission Communication on the Final evaluation of the implementation of the
      multiannual Community Programme on promoting safer use of the Internet and new online technologies).



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      recommendations to be taken into account in the future, as well as the launch of the
      "Safer Internet" programme, which will be in force in the 2009-201338 period.

3.    To be precise, it was on 26 September 2008 that European Commissioner Viviane Reding, in
      a speech in Luxembourg at the Safer Internet Forum, highlighted for the first time the scale of
      this phenomenon at Community level, considered the risks involved in its growth, especially
      for young people, and set out the main guidelines for the Commission's future action in this
      field. It should be noted that in July of that year, the Commission held an extensive public
      consultation exercise on "Online Social Networking", the data and conclusions of which
      form an essential study base for future developments under the Safer Internet Programme
      (2009-2013)39.

4.    On 17 October 2008, at the 30th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy
      Authorities, a substantial and detailed resolution on protecting privacy in SNS was drawn up,
      the recommendations of which warrant particular attention, due to their relevance, topicality
                          40
      and appropriateness .

5.    More recent events worth highlighting are the campaign launched by the European
      Commission on the "Safer Internet Day 2009" (10 February) on cyber-bullying41,42,

38
      Commission Communication on future networks and the internet (COM(2008) 594, 29.9.2008); Decision No. 1351/2008/EC of
      the European Parliament of the Council, 16.12.2008, OJ L 348 p.118-127, 24.12.2008.
39
      Other Community initiatives include the recent “eYouGuide”, promoted by DG SANCO, which whilst limited in scope and
      adopting a primarily commercial approach, basically geared towards e-commerce, touches on some points of interest in the field
      in question.
40
      See http://www.privacyconference2008.org.index.php. Amongst the recommendations referred to above, it is worth highlighting
      the following: "because these are services that operate in different countries, such as those services with the greatest number of
      users (Myspace, Facebook, etc.), providers operating in different countries or even globally should respect the privacy standards
      of the countries where they operate their services; Providers of SNS should inform their users about the processing of their
      personal data in a transparent and open manner, as well as about possible legal access by third parties. Providers should further
      improve user control over the use of their profile data by community members. They should allow for restriction of visibility of
      entire profiles, and of data contained in profiles, and in community search functions. Providers should also allow for user control
      over secondary use of profile and traffic data; e.g. for targeted marketing purposes. Furthermore, providers should offer privacy-
      friendly default settings for user profile information. Such settings must be specifically restrictive when a SNS is directed at
      minors. Providers should continue to improve and maintain security of their information systems and protect users against
      fraudulent access to their profile. Providers should grant individuals (regardless of whether they are members of the social
      network service or not), the right to access and, if necessary, correct all their personal data held by the Provider. Providers should
      allow users to easily terminate their membership, delete their profile and any content or information that they have published on
      the social network. Providers should enable the creation and use of pseudonymous profiles as an option, and encourage the use of
      that option. Providers should take effective measures to prevent spidering and/or bulk downloads (or bulk harvesting) of profile
      data by third parties; Providers should ensure that user data can only be crawled by external search engines if a user has given
      explicit, prior and informed consent. Non-indexibility of profiles by search engines should be a default setting".
41
      Online bullying is any kind of repeated harassment, verbal, psychological or physical abuse, carried out by an individual or group
      to deliberately upset others. Bullying is always wrong and unacceptable behaviour; it should never be overlooked or ignored.

      Overview available at: http://www.keepcontrol.eu.
42
      http://keepcontrol.eu.



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      associated with local initiatives carried out by Member States to promote safe Internet use, the
      speech given by Commissioner Jacques Barrot in London on 3 March, announcing two new
      proposals for Council framework decisions on the fight against trafficking in human beings
      and against the abuse and sexual exploitation of children via the Internet ("grooming") and the
      major conference on "Personal data – more use, more protection?", organised by DG Justice
      in Brussels on 19 and 20 May.

6.    Due to its importance, however, special reference should be made to the agreement concluded
      by the 17 largest operators of the main SNS in Europe, brokered by the Commission and set
      out in the document entitled Safer Social Networking principles for the EU, adopted on
      10 February 200943, in which these operators recognise their responsibility and identify the
                                                      44
      potential risks for under-18s using these sites . This agreement, which emerged from the
      discussions held at the headquarters of the Social Networking Task Force set up by the
      Commission in April 2008, is a good example of self-regulation in the industry, which should
      be carefully followed up in order to assess and monitor its implementation45.

7.    Lastly, special mention should be made of the political stance adopted by the Member States
      in the Prague Declaration entitled "A new European approach for safer Internet for children",
      adopted on 20 April 200946.

43
      “Safer Social Networking principles for the EU”, available at
      http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/social_networking/eu_action/selfreg/index_en.htm#self_decl.
44
      The recommended measures include:
      i.       providing an easy to use and accessible "report abuse" button, enabling users to report inappropriate contact from or
               conduct by another user with a single click;
      ii.        ensuring that the default for full profiles is set to "private" or to the user’s approved contact list for those registering
                 under the age of 18, thus making it harder for ill-intentioned people to contact these young people;
      iii.       ensuring that private profiles of users registered as under the age of 18 are not searchable (via websites or search
                 engines);
      iv.        ensuring that users' privacy status or settings are visible and accessible at any given time. so that users can easily see
                 whether the material they post online can be viewed only by friends or by anyone;
      v.         taking steps to identify and delete under-age users from their services.
45
      Other, similar initiatives exist in this field, specifically the guidelines drawn up by the United Kingdom's Home Office on SNS
      (Social Networking guidance), of April 2008; - “the Human Rights Guidelines for Internet Service Providers - developed by the
      Council of Europe in cooperation with the European Internet Service Providers Association (EuroISPA); and educational projects
      such as “Teach Today”. Similar initiatives are being implemented beyond the EU's borders, especially in the USA, between SNS
      providers and official bodies such as the "US Internet Safety Technical Task Force".
46
      The Prague Declaration, entitled “A new European approach for safer Internet for children”, of 20 April 2009, is available at
      http://www.mvcr.cz/mvcren/file/news-documents-prague-declaration.aspx and states that the Member States call on the
      Commission “to continue stimulating a dialogue on European level with the private sector, especially internet service providers,
      aiming at encouraging them to adopt self-regulation measures, in a similar approach to the existing examples, the European
      Framework for Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children, signed on 6 February 2007 and the Safer Social
      Networking Principles for the EU, signed on 10 February 2009”, and call on “Internet service providers, mobile operators,
      content providers, SNS and software companies to contribute to the empowerment and protection of minors using the Internet
      and to the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation, in particular child sexual abuse material, through self-regulation,
      development of safety tools, awareness raising, and cooperation with civil society and governments and law enforcement
      authorities”.



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8.    In a number of opinions, the EESC has reviewed and supported the measures and initiatives
      adopted by the Commission47. Of particular merit is the own-initiative opinion drawn up by
      Ms Davison on "A programme for child protection on the Internet"48; the concerns set out
      therein are extremely topical and very relevant to the social networking phenomenon. Also
      worth highlighting is the recent public hearing held at the EESC on 6 May 2009 on "Children
      and Sex tourism".



                                                     _____________




47    See opinions CES 590/97 (IND/593) of 28.05.1997 on the Protection of minors and human dignity in audiovisual and
      information services (Rapporteur, Ms Barrow); CES 283/98 (IND/628) of 25.2.1998 on the Legal protection of services based
      on, or consisting of, conditional access (Rapporteur: Mr Bataller); CES 626/98 of 29.4.1998 concerning the Protection of minors
      and human dignity in audiovisual and information services (Rapporteur, Ms Barrow); CES 1128/99 (SOC/025) of 8.12.1999 on
      the Protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data (Rapporteur: Mr Retureau); CES 48/2001 (TEN/056)
      of 24.1.2001 on Personal data and the protection of privacy in electronic communications (Rapporteur: Mr Lagerholm);
      CES 1474/2001 (TEN/083) of 28.11.2001 on Network and information security (Rapporteur: Mr Retureau); CESE 134/2005
      (TEN/195) of 9.2.2005 on Audiovisual services/protection of minors and human dignity (Rapporteur: Mr Pegado Liz); "A
      multiannual Community programme on protecting children using the Internet and other communication technologies", OJ C 224,
      30.8.2008 p. 61; "Safer use of the Internet programme”, OJ C 157, 28.6.2005 p. 36; "Illegal content – Internet", OJ C 61,
      14.3.2003 p. 32; CESE 1514/2008 (TEN/342) of 18.9.2008 on The Internet of Things (Rapporteur: Mr Retureau);
      CESE 1914/2008 (TEN/351) of 3.12.2008 on Advancing the Internet (Rapporteur: Mr McDonogh); CESE 1915/2008 (TEN/353)
      of 4.12.2008 on Ideas on the universal electronic communications service (Rapporteur: Mr Hencks); Opinion CES 1473/2001
      (TEN/078) of 28.11.2001. Also worth highlighting is the conference held by the EESC on 5 May 2009 on the same subject.
48
      EESC Opinion 1473/2001 (TEN/078) of 28.11.2001. Also worth highlighting is the conference held by the EESC on 5 May 2009
      on the same subject.



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