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Facebook battles attack by child protection chief

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Facebook has defended itself against criticism from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) that it has refused to join a reporting scheme.

Jim Gamble, the chief executive of CEOP, today took to the airwaves and newspaper pages to attack Facebook and MySpace for declining to publish his organisation's "CEOP Report" button.

The button, a small icon that links to this website, offers information on bullying, computer security, illegal content and allows CEOP to gather reports of inappropriate behaviour online.

Gamble's public admonishment of Facebook and MySpace follows the announcement yesterday that Bebo will publish the button. The site, which has a young audience, has agreed to insert it in every profile page.

"I do not want my criticism to be taken as a swipe at the online industry. The vast majority of players are doing a good job and doing their best to make the environment safe," Gamble said.

"This is aimed specifically at social networking sites. They are creating a public space that attracts young people, children and adults, so they can make money through advertising. There is a responsibility, a duty of care, to the young and the vulnerable."

He charged there was "no legitimate reason" behind Facebook and MySpace's refusal.

He was backed by Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police officers, who said: "I can see no reason why other sites would not consider adopting the same approach and would encourage them to embed the CEOP Report button for the benefit of all users."

Orde and Gamble formerly worked together in the senior ranks of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, where the former was Chief Constable and the latter in charge of intelligence operations.

A public confrontation between Gamble and social networks has been brewing for some time. When The Register visited CEOP in September, Gamble's frustration at what he viewed as industry intransigence was palpable.

He said an earlier version of the button that included the word "abuse" had been redesigned to allay industry concerns it might cause unwarranted fear.

In response to today's attack, Facebook said it already has a robust reporting system and previous attempts at a universal system had reduced the level of reporting. It said some users aren't sure what is inappropriate content, and it could do a better job by liaising with police itself.

"We also work closely with police forces in the UK and around the world to create a safe environment. Our teams are manned by trained staff in two continents giving 24-hour support in 70 languages," a spokesman said.

Facebook did however seem to suggest Gamble might get his way in future.

"We look forward to hearing about the experience of Bebo using the CEOP button and will take account of their experience in any future evaluation of our reporting systems," it said.

The button has been available to websites since 2006. CEOP said it receives 10,000 clicks per month. ®

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