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Facebook rejects CEOP 'panic button' demands (again)

Mr Gamble goes to Washington

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Facebook has again rejected demands from child abuse investigators to publish a branded "panic button" on its users' profile pages.

At a meeting in Washington DC yesterday, the social network told Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) it would make changes to send British complaints about inappropriate activity directly to his organisation. At present they are funnelled though CEOP's US counterpart.

Facebook reaffirmed that it will not install the CEOP button, however.

While he welcomed the changes - which include a direct link to CEOP in Facebook's safety centre, a £5m investment in education and a new 24-hour telephone hotline - the continued refusal to adopt the panic button provoked more criticism from Gamble today. He charged Facebook had failed to grasp the deterrent effect he believes it would have if prominently published across the site.

"Putting the button in a safety centre is like putting a burglar alarm inside your house," Gamble said.

"People still break in because they don't realise you are in there and at the end of the day your family is still traumatised.

The meeting was organised after home secretary Alan Johnson summoned Facebook to Westminster to explain its resistance to the panic button last month. The row erupted after media appearances by Gamble linked the murder of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall by a man she met on Facebook to the site's refusal to publish the button.

But Hall went to see 33-year-old convicted sex offender Peter Chapman in the belief she had met a teenage boy. She had also chatted with him on MSN, which does publish the button, but had apparently not suspected his motives.

Facebook will have hoped the new safety feature it has announced will head off further attacks from CEOP and child protection campaigners.

"It's not just about a button. There needs to be a safety net, and each website does it in the way that works for them," the site's UK government relations boss Richard Allan told Sky News this morning.

"There are bad people about and we want to get them off our site. And we are going to put CEOP messages right across our site."

But hopes of a truce already appear forlorn. Gamble indicated today he was unsatisfied.

"If they don't adopt the button we are simply not going to go away," The Times reports he warned. ®

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