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EU wants social networks to tighten privacy settings

Commissioner expects companies to do more

The European commissioner for the information society has called for social networks such as Facebook to tighten up their privacy settings to protect children.

A year ago 25 of the most popular sites in Europe vowed to improve their privacy policies to better protect minors. At the time commissioner Viviane Reding warned firms such as Facebook, Yahoo Answers and Windows Live that failure to act would result in new legislation to force the required changes.

A year on, many companies have improved their privacy rules, the Commission said Tuesday. Of the 25 firms involved, 19 now offer instructions specifically designed for children and adolescents to help them decide what personal data they should post online.

However, only 40 percent of networking sites restrict access to kids' personal data to their own network of friends as a default setting, and Facebook has moved in the opposite direction with new privacy rules implemented  at the end of last year.

"I expect all companies to do more. Minors' profiles need to be set to private by default," Reding said. However, she didn't announce plans to initiate legislation.

That would be up to her successor, Neelie Kroes, who from Wednesday takes over Reding's position.

Facebook appears to have moved in the opposite direction by scrapping private by default settings, Since last month it has been making its users' profile photos, gender and location available to games, polls and other third-party software applications that run on the site, even when those users aren't logged in.

The new policy has prompted criticism from privacy groups, which have complained to the US Federal Trade Commission. Facebook's new rules are also under investigation by Canada's privacy commissioner.

Last week Reding said she was astonished by Facebook's move.

"All of sudden there is a complete change of policy," she told journalists, adding: "I can't understand that."

Facebook's old privacy rules were rated among the best among social networking sites by the Commission, partly because restricted access to personal data was the default setting.

In a report published Tuesday to coincide with Safer Internet Day, Facebook scored highly for making personal information visible only to friends.

However, the report was drawn up in December, before Facebook's policy change.

The new rules are not "reflected in the present evaluation report", said an aide to Reding, who added that if the new rules aren't changed Facebook's glowing appraisal by the Commission will "significantly change".

See also: Facebook begins new-look home page roll out

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