BCS concerned by Facebook's change of rules for young people

18 October 2013

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is concerned by the changes made by Facebook to allow young users to open up their postings to anyone. Experts from the charity, which promotes the study and practice of computing and aims to advance knowledge and education for the benefit of the public, believe this is a retrograde step.

James Davenport, a member of BCS Security, part of the Institute says: “While we welcome the fact that Facebook has changed the default setting for young people joining the service in future to 'friends'”, the decision to enable under 18 year olds to share their personal data with anyone worldwide seems to be rather at odds with public and government opinion, especially in light of the recent call for filters to be put on material which children may access online.”

The Institute believes that although many young people are tech savvy, they are not as savvy when it comes to information sharing and the long-term consequences it can have. Research by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) shows that there is a worrying development in the prevalence of home produced material by apparent minors and it has reported that in one four-week period, 12,224 such images were reported with 88% of these on “parasite” (IWF terminology) websites, i.e. those that harvested such material from the website to which it was originally uploaded.

James explains: “Part of the problem with this move is that young people may not necessarily realise what could happen to their images and information, not just now but into the indefinite future, if they share it more widely than with their friends. Young people do not always understand that information that they post online might stay there forever and could come back to haunt them in later life. They may not appreciate that personal contact details can be harvested by web-crawlers and more seriously, misused by predatory paedophiles.

“It is vital therefore to educate users so that they understand not only what they are doing but also understand the potential implications of their actions and how to protect themselves. It is exactly the same as teaching children how to live safely in society in the physical world - we need to make sure that everyone learns the rules of the (super) highway.”

The Institute works with a number of organisations on initiatives to help educate people including Get Safe Online.

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