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UK.gov demands 999 ads on social networking sites

Herding kids around the wild wild web

Social networking websites could be forced to advertise the 999 emergency number under government plans to make the internet a safer place for kids to surf.

According to the Daily Telegraph, which obtained a copy of the Home Office’s draft guidance, the likes of MySpace and Facebook may soon be required to display ads for the emergency services to encourage children to call the cops if they think they’re being targeted by online predators.

The guidelines, drawn up by the Home Office’s taskforce on online child protection, recommend the sites make it much harder for kids to lie about their age when signing their life away to social networking tomfoolery.

"Most children and young people use the internet positively but sometimes behave in ways that may place them at risk," reads the document. "Some of these actions to them seem harmless but could expose them to harm... A young person can be a victim of online abuse through exposure to harmful content and cyber-bulling.

"Young people may also engage in behaviour that is risky to themselves including cyber-flirting and cyber-sex. These situations can quickly escalate to a point where they may lose control."

The guidelines also suggest that software dished out to parents via a free download could help them restrict the websites kids visit as well as cutting down the amount of time they spend on the net.

The Home Office document leaked as telecoms watchdog Ofcom put out a study which shows more than a quarter of eight to 11-year-olds claimed to have a profile page on a social networking site. That’s despite the fact that age restrictions should be in place to help limit pre-teens from accessing such sites.

It also found that 34 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds were happy to give out sensitive personal details including their mobile number and, or, email addresses.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will publish the 73 page document on Friday, according to the Telegraph. It will be the government’s first report on what it sees as the potential dangers to children from online bullying, sexual "grooming" by paedophiles, and internet fraud.

Under the new proposals, an eight-point safety guide on kids’ use of social networking sites will also be issued to parents.

The Home Office will also be urging social networking sites to change the default privacy settings of under-18s to private. Ofcom reckons millions of children who use social networking sites are exposing themselves to potential danger by leaving their privacy settings open.

The plea for such sites to improve their privacy settings to safeguard the nation's kids follows on from the publication of the Byron Review. Child psychologist Dr Tanya Byron revealed her findings on the effects of the web and videogames on young minds late last month.

She called for cinema-style age ratings for computer games to protect children from violent or sexual content. ®

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