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Internet companies move to protect European children online

Brussels — Seventeen Internet firms, including Facebook and Myspace, have agreed to take steps to protect children in Europe from abuse on social networking sites, the European Commission said Tuesday.

In a pact signed in Luxembourg, the companies agreed to put a "report abuse" button on their sites allowing people under 18 to report inappropriate contact or conduct by another user by clicking on it.

They will also ensure that the online profiles and contact lists of users under 18 are set to "private," making it harder to get in contact with young people. The companies will also prevent the underage from being located with a search engine.

Further, the firms will disallow underage users from accessing their services.

The pact is aimed at stopping cyberbullying, where children are harassed on the Internet or with mobile phone messages, and grooming, in which adults befriend children to abuse them. It is also aimed at protecting personal data.

"With one click, you can easily harass someone, intimidate someone, particularly if they are under 18 years old," said a commission spokesman.

The commission, the EU’s executive arm and which brokered the agreement, estimates that almost 42 million people regularly use social networking sites in the 27-nation bloc and that this number will rise to 107 million by 2012.

The companies involved are Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani.it, Google/YouTube, Hyves, Microsoft Europe, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Skyrock, StudiVZ, Sulake/Habbo Hotel, Yahoo!Europe and Zap.lu.

They have pledged to introduce the measures by April.