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Facebook faces Home Sec over lack of 'panic button'

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Updated Facebook will today meet with Home Secretary Alan Johnson to explain its refusal to publish a "panic button" that would refer users to CEOP, the national online anti-paedophile agency.

Johnson has said he sees no good reason for the refusal. Facebook believes its own safety mechanisms are effective.

The meeting follows recent attacks on Facebook last week led by CEOP chief executive Jim Gamble.

Amid reports of the rape and murder of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall, who was tricked into a meeting with a sex offender who contacted her via Facebook, Gamble said the site's policy was "beyond logic".

Other social networks and websites such as MSN and Bebo publish the button on profile pages. Before details of Hall's murder hit headlines earlier this month, Gamble had been publicly and privately lobbying Facebook to fall into line for a year to no avail.

It has been reported that Hall also spoke to her killer, 33-year-old Peter Chapman, who posed as a teenage boy, via MSN, which publishes the CEOP button. It seems she never suspected his approaches.

However, Facebook now faces criticism from the government, and the two opposition parties over its position, which is shared by MySpace. Both sites argue they have effective reporting systems and that education about strangers online is most important.

Facebook's delegation at its meeting with Johnson today will be led by Richard Allan, a former Liberal Democrat MP and Cisco lobbyist.

Ahead of the meeting this morning, Allan said he hoped to have a "constructive discussion" with the Home Secretary. ®

Update

Facebook agreed to consider adding the CEOP button to its reporting pages, a measure some way short of publishing it on individuals' profile pages, which Jim Gamble has lobbied for.

There will be a further meeting between CEOP and Facebook in Washington on 12 April.

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