October 31, 2008

Keeping Kids Safe Online, from the facebook blog - See also www.netsafe.org.nz

Yesterday the President signed into law the KIDS Act of 2008, "Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators." This law takes an important step in dramatically reducing the opportunities to harm children online, by requiring all convicted sex offenders provide their email and instant messaging addresses as part of their registration with the National Sex Offender Registry. Websites can then voluntarily use the KIDS database and determine how matches would be handled.

At Facebook, we've long barred registered sex offenders from our service. Currently, we work cooperatively with individual states' attorneys general to check users against state-registered sex offender lists. Unfortunately, we both consistently find that these registries lack the essential email and IM data for comprehensive and rapid screening. The process is also less efficient and less effective than anyone, especially concerned parents, would like, which is why we're such ardent supporters of the KIDS Act Registry.

Our goal is to connect people online in a safe and secure environment. We'll add the KIDS Act registry to our many existing safeguards and use the database as vigorously and comprehensively as we can. Specifically, we will check new users at sign-up and review existing users as regularly as the technology allows. Anyone on the list will be prevented from joining Facebook. Anyone already on Facebook who is added to the list will have his or her account disabled forever. End of story.

We see KIDS as an important tool to prevent inappropriate outreach from ever occurring. The penalties and consequences for registrants violating KIDS' provisions are so severe, we hope they'll deter potential predators from coming online altogether. This is a vital step in protecting children online, and it is by no means the end of our efforts. We will continue to enhance our partnership with law enforcement to find and prosecute sexual predators who violate this new law with fake names, addresses or handles.We're constantly looking for innovative approaches, both internally and in full cooperation with law enforcement, to screen and block any individual or group who would use our service to hurt or exploit a child. We believe that safety innovations matter as much as innovations that make our service exciting, fun and useful. Our ability to assure the former strengthens our ability to deliver the latter.

As for what comes after this step, this an industry-wide concern that calls for industry-wide approaches. It's imperative that other websites and services that count minors among their most important users proactively, creatively and responsibly confront this challenge. Predators seldom hesitate to exploit gaps and vulnerabilities in efforts designed to protect children. This challenge requires a new consciousness by entrepreneurial and established companies alike. Protecting children is a global concern, not merely a domestic one.

Chris is hoping that the KIDS Act can be a model for international cooperation in addressing how to effectively deal with sexual predators online.

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