In a move that has already sparked concerns over child safety, Facebook has announced that it has changed the settings on the social network, allowing millions of teenagers to open up their profiles to complete strangers.
Users between 13 and 17 will now be able to open up their posts so that they can be seen by anyone on the Internet. The current system allows only user's "friends" or "friends of friends" to see posts.
Speaking to The Times, Anthony Smythe, managing director of BeatBullying, said: "We have concerns that this age group can now share information in the public domain. Something they think might not be harmful now may come back to haunt them later. This is a move in the wrong direction."
The move was also denounced by Jim Gamble, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), who told The Times he was "concerned" that the move could open up the platform to abuse.
However, in announcing the change, Facebook issued a statement that said it took "the safety of teens very seriously," adding that there would be "an extra reminder before they can share publicly."
The changes, which will take effect immediately, are designed to give the company greater access to data on teenagers, which is highly sought after by advertisers.
When underage users now sign up to the network, strict privacy setting will still be the default, however users will be given the option to go public with their posts, but only after two pop up warnings highlight what the change would means, with one warning that they could receive "friend requests from people they don't know personally."
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Facebook, which has over 30 millions users in Britain, argued that it was offering more choice to tech-savvy teenagers. It also stressed that initial privacy settings for teens under 18 would automatically be programmed so posts are seen only by friends.
It already announced last week that it is removing privacy setting so that anyone can search for a user's profile. A spokesman for the National Crime Agency (NCA), which has recently assumed responsibility for cyber crime, said: "It's important that children and young people manage their online use and understand the consequences of what they share online, especially with anything that is available publicly.
"Robust reporting mechanisms and education messages are vital and we continue to encourage users to report any concerns they have to Facebook, or if their concerns are linked to someone's inappropriate sexual behaviour, to the NCA.
"The NCA welcomes the announcement made by Facebook in relation to the default sharing setting for teens joining Facebook being changed to "Friends", instead of "Friends of friends. This will help young people understand the need to manage their privacy settings carefully and to control who they share their information with."
The spokesman said CEOP, which is now part of the new crime agency, had a "strong working relationship with Facebook and works with them to ensure children and young people are as safe as they can be when using the platform".
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