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Child protection campaigners claim hollow victory over Facebook

Optional 'panic button' agreed

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Child safety campaigners are claiming victory over Facebook in their battle to publish a "panic button" on the dominant social network, but the agreed system falls short of their original demands in one crucial aspect.

Today's announcement ends a rancorous campaign spearheaded by Jim Gamble, the chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), which is responsible for policing paedophiles on the internet.

Under the deal, Facebook will offer young users the option of adding a "ClickCEOP" app on their home page, much as they are able to install the FarmVille or Mafia Wars games if they choose. It's the optional nature of this new "panic button" that makes suggestions that the site has bowed to the campaign wrong.

Facebook's position is substantially the same as it was more than six months since Gamble first went public with his demands. It was happy to include CEOP links in its safety pages, and would very likely have allowed CEOP to publish an app, as it does thousands of other developers.

Meanwhile the pair's joint statement this morning shows CEOP has been forced to drop its insistence that the "panic button" be published on every young person's profile page - the sticking point of the protracted talks.

CEOP has extracted one concession that will give it an advantage over the myriad other optional apps competing for teens' attention on Facebook. The launch will be accompanied by automatic adverts to all users aged 13 to 18 years old, encouraging them to add it to their profiles.

Nevertheless, on balance the victory is Facebook's. It faced down media attacks by Gamble suggesting that by refusing to publish the "panic button" across its site it was "arrogant". He questioned whether it wanted to be "the website of choice for bullies, for dangerous individuals, for rapists and murderers".

It held its postion even when summoned by the Home Secretary over the issue, amid tabloid anger surrounding the murder of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall by a man she met online. Alan Johnson felt compelled to ignore the fact that Hall had also contacted her killer via MSN, which does publish CEOP's button to all users.

Mark Zuckerberg's meeting with David Cameron last week, and Facebook's generally closer links to the coalition (its European policy chief Richard Allan is a close friend of Nick Clegg and had just been ennobled), suggest such antagonistic relations with government are unlikely in future.

Gamble today sought to draw a line under his row with the firm. "Our dialogue with Facebook about adopting the ClickCEOP button is well documented – today however is a good day for child protection," he said.

"By adding this application, Facebook users will have direct access to all the services that sit behind our ClickCEOP button which should provide reassurance to every parent with teenagers on the site,"

The "button" is a link to a CEOP site carrying information for various online threats to children, from bullying to sexual abuse.

Also apparently placated by the optional CEOP app are Facebook's press critics. The Sun, which launched a series of attacks on on the site over its resistance to Gamble's demands, today sounds a flat note as it trumpets its alleged triumph. ®

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