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After resisting the idea for months, Facebook has agreed to allow British users to install a so-called “panic button” application that will allow younger users to report harassment or abuse on the social network to a child protection agency. Police forces and child advocacy groups in England, Scotland and Wales have been pressuring the site to add a button that would take under-age users directly to a page of information about how to report abuse. This campaign intensified last year after a 17-year-old girl was kidnapped and murdered by a man who posed as a teen on the social network. Facebook had argued that its existing protections and advice for younger users, available through the site’s Safety Center, were sufficient.
British users will now have the option of installing an application called ClickCEOP, which was created by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, an agency headed by Jim Gamble — the former head of a Northern Ireland anti-terrorist intelligence unit and the former deputy director of the National Crime Squad. The center tracks registered sex offenders and works with police forces throughout Britain to promote child safety and online awareness. More than 44 police chiefs and other authorities signed a letter drawn up by the CEOP Centre asking Facebook to install a panic button for children that it said would make it easier to report abuse.
The current agreement with Facebook stops short of meeting all the agency’s demands, however. The campaign had asked that the social network install the button or application on all its pages, but Facebook resisted this suggestion and users will now simply have the option of adding the app. Some critics have suggested that this makes the idea substantially less effective, since many of the children who might be most in need of protection will likely not install the application. However, Facebook has agreed to advertise the app to users under 18 years old, recommending that they install it.
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