Facebook Partners with Attorneys General in Teen Online Safety Campaign

By: - April 15, 2013 12:00 am

Facebook’s logo is reflected in the eyeglasses of a user in San Francisco. Facebook is working with state attorneys general on an online safety campaign for young social media users. (Getty)

Facebook COOSheryl Sandberg will appear with 19 state attorneys general in a public educationcampaign to encourage safer teen behavior online.

Facebook’ssafety team will provide video tutorials and a privacy tip sheet. MarylandAttorney General Douglas Gansler, who serves as president of the NationalAssociation of Attorneys General, announced the initiative Monday at a summiton digital privacy that brought together attorneys general from around thecountry.

“Teenagersand adults should know there are tools to help protect their online privacywhen they go on Facebook and other digital platforms,” Gansler said. “We hopethis campaign will encourage consumers to closely manage their privacy andthese tools and tips will help provide a safer online experience.”

Facebook isused to being in the spotlight over privacy issues, but in a less favorablelight as critics have blasted its practices as invasive and needlessly complex.In August, the social networking giant agreed to make major changes in a Federal TradeCommission settlement over charges that it deceived customers by telling themthat they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedlyallowing it to be shared and made public anyway. The settlement requiresFacebook to undergo regular privacy audits and to give consumers clear andprominent notice and obtain their consent before sharing information beyondtheir privacy settings, among other changes. 

In thepublic service announcements, state attorneys general and Sandberg encourageteens and parents to actively consider privacy issues on Facebook and in thebroader online world.

“AtFacebook, nothing is more important than keeping young people safe online,”Sandberg says in the announcements, which will be marketed online beginninglater this week. “That is why we are working with the Attorneys General toprovide parents and educators with advice and resources about online safety…  I hope you and your family find themuseful in making safe, smart and responsible choices online. The Internet is anamazing place. Let’s help our kids get the most out of it.”

The broaderissue of young people’s right to privacy on the Web was a key focus of theattorneys general summit.

Someparticipants praised an updated Federal Trade Commission rule issued inDecember that expand protections for children under 13 under the Children’sOnline Privacy Act of 1998 but worried about the privacy for teens who falloutside of that age range. The rule requires operators of websites and online apps directedat children to obtain parental consent before collecting or sharing personalinformation, including everything from first and last names and addresses togeolocation data, photos and videos.

Jim Steyer,CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media, urged the attorneys general to go beyondpublic education and take direct action to hold companies accountable for theirprivacy practices.

He voicedparticular concern about the privacy practices in the increasingly popularworld of mobile apps, which he called the “Wild West” of privacy. “A lot of theapps makers don’t care a bit about privacy issues, particularly as they relateto children and teens,” he said.

MarcRotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center,also voiced concerns about the efficacy of public information campaigns absentother action. “Consumereducation is among the least effective things you can do with this particularissue,” he said.

“The reason for that is there is no simple message.”  Safety campaigns asking consumers to fastentheir seatbelts or “reduce, re-use, recycle” work because they are clear andactionable, he said.

He said the onus shouldn’tbe on consumers to keep up with every-changing policy practices. “There is no reason that acustomer should have to go back and check their privacy settings when a companychanges its business practice,” he said.

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Melissa Maynard

Melissa Maynard oversees the Pew state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource, which helps policymakers understand fiscal, economic, and demographic trends affecting their states by tracking tax revenue, reserves, employment rates, Medicaid spending, and other issues important to long-term fiscal health.