A.G. Schneiderman And IAC Announce New Safety Agreement To Protect Children And Teens On Newly Acquired Ask.FM Site

Under IAC, Ask.fm Will Install New Policies And Procedures Including Reviewing Complaints Within 24 Hours And Removing Problematic Users

Attorney General Offers Tips For Parents Looking To Ensure The Safety Of Children And Teens Online

Schneiderman: I Applaud IAC For Proactively Working With Our Office To Guard Ask.fm Users From Cyberbullying And Other Harmful Content

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and leading media company IAC today announced a groundbreaking agreement aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment to protect members of Ask.fm, a mobile-optimized social networking website just acquired by IAC operating business Ask.com, which has exploded in popularity among teenagers.  

Under the terms of the agreement, Ask.fm will revamp its safety policies and procedures, including creating a new online Safety Center, hiring a trust and safety officer to act as a primary safety contact, and establishing a Safety Advisory Board to oversee all safety issues. Ask.fm will also review user complaints within 24 hours and remove users that have been the subject of multiple complaints. An independent safety and security examiner will be appointed to examine the changes and report on compliance to the Attorney General’s Office for three years. 

“Today’s agreement shows once again that regulators can work with technology companies both to encourage innovation and protect consumers, including our youngest digital citizens,” saidAttorney General Schneiderman. “I applaud IAC’s leadership in working with our office to design a program that protects Ask.fm users from cyberbullying and other harmful content. We would hope that this collaboration serves as a useful model for other companies in the digital space.” 

“Our acquisition of Ask.fm was predicated on the belief that with the right mix of technology, talent and investment, we could make this site a materially safer place,” said Doug Leeds, CEO of Ask.com, the IAC subsidiary now responsible for Ask.fm. “In A.G. Schneiderman, we found a like-minded partner with a similar vision, and together we’re focused on instilling the right policies and procedures to ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience for millions of users." 

Launched in 2010, Ask.fm has over 180 million monthly active users around the world, 42% of whom are under age 18. The website has become popular because its engaging question-and-answer format allows users to express their identity through the lens of what others want to know about them. Users can anonymously ask questions of other registered users, obscuring their own identity in hopes of getting the most honest answer with the least judgment. While most teenage users trade harmless chatter, some have used the website to anonymously harass and insult classmates and neighbors. 

As part of today’s safety agreement, Ask.fm will: 

  • Maintain a user-initiated reporting mechanism on the site for reporting concerns about (i) misuse of the site, (ii) harassment, (iii) use under the age of 13, and (iv) inappropriate content;
     
  • Remove users who have been the subject of three (3) complaints and take reasonable steps to block those users from creating new accounts under different names. Such steps may include using persistent cookies to identify banned users and blocking users with certain banned email addresses from re-registering;
     
  • Work with an accredited 501(c)(3) suicide prevention organization to address suicide prevention issues, train Ask.fm’s moderation and risk management staff, and provide guidance to resources for Ask.fm users;
     
  • Register with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and comply with all reporting requirements of sexual exploitation images;
     
  • Maintain user abilities to (i) review a question before it is posted on that user’s pages, (ii) remove a posted question at any time from that user’s pages, (iii) block another user from submitting questions, and (iv) require that all questions submitted from another user identify the questioner’s user name;
     
  • Create a global law enforcement liaison position stationed in the U.S. to respond to law enforcement investigations of crimes against children;
     
  • Promptly delete existing accounts and block future accounts associated with users who have self-identified as being under the age of 13; and
     
  • Adopt a tool for third parties or parents to report that a child had created an account or posted to Ask.fm, and to request deletion of the account. 

Ask.fm will also hire an independent safety and security examiner to report for three years on continuing safety issues arising from the site, Ask.fm's compliance with the agreement, the volume and nature of any user complaints, the employees and third-party professionals who advise Ask.fm on safety and compliance issues, and confirmation of compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 6501–6505. 

“I applaud IAC and the Attorney General Schneiderman for working together to adopt immediate and meaningful procedures to protect young people online,” said Parry Aftab, Executive Director of WiredSafety.org. “The policies and procedures established by this agreement provide a new model for protecting children in anonymous online forums and helps address cyberbullying.” 

“We are committed to implementing enhanced safety solutions at Ask.fm that range from technology to policy to process,” said Catherine Teitelbaum, Ask.fm’s new chief trust and safety officer and an online safety expert, who brings more than 17 years of experience in governance alliance and process improvement to her role at Ask.fm. "Online safety is an industrywide challenge, and we believe that companies, non-profits, and government can all work together to create safer digital experiences for all.” 

Under IAC’s leadership, Ask.fm has entered into a similar agreement with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. 

Attorney General Schneiderman also recommends that parents remain aware of their children’s activity online – and especially on social networking sites – to ensure their safety as well as the safety of other users. Parents can follow these tips: 

  • Check your child’s browser history. Although most major social networking websites require that users be 13, research indicates that children often become members by misrepresenting their age. If you see a social networking site listed among the visited sites on your computer, assume your child has an account. 
     
  • Review your child’s privacy settings, and show him or her how to activate the highest level of security.Most sites have customizable privacy settings that allow users to control what content is revealed and to whom. Take the time to learn how these privacy settings work on the sites your child plans to use. 
     
  • Educate yourself about the sites.Make sure both you and your child understand the site’s privacy policy and code of conduct. Find out if the site monitors content that users post, and learn how to report abuse. Consider joining the social network and connecting with your child’s profile as a way to monitor activity.
     
  • Set strict rules for what is and is not appropriate for your child to post online.These rules should include whether your child can use social media and websites, how they can be used to communicate and play, with whom your child can interact (e.g., real-life friends only), and for how much of the day. 
     
  • Instruct your child to think before posting. Your child should not put something up on a social networking site unless he or she is comfortable with everyone in the world seeing it. It’s better to assume that everything posted can be viewed by everyone. Know that even if your child deletes content later, someone may have printed, downloaded, or shared it online with a broader – or unintended – audience. 
     
  • Be smart about the details your child reveals.Never post location or personal information.  Explain to your child that even photographs can reveal a lot of personal information -- for example if they include clearly identifiable details such as street signs, license plates, personalized accessories, or school or team names on clothing. 
     
  • Remind your child that anything created or communicated can be re-distributed and used to hurt your child or someone else. Photos and text can be cut, altered, or taken out of context and used to embarrass or manipulate children, or to damage their reputations or future prospects. This includes unkind or angry messages, compromising photos or videos, and posts about sex, weapons, drugs, and alcohol. Make sure your child is mindful of what he or she posts, since oversharing online can lead to consequences in the real world. 
     
  • Be aware of “anonymous” apps and social websites.Some services, like Ask.fm, allow users to post anonymously, which can lead to a proliferation of inappropriate and harmful content. Most sites provide a variety of settings or mitigation techniques, such as blocking rude posts or posters, or requiring the user to accept the anonymous post. Take full advantage of these settings and report abuse immediately. 
     
  • Teach your child about cyberbullying.It's important to encourage young users to communicate with others online in the same way they would face to face: behaving civilly and respectfully, and sharing positive information about themselves on social media. 
     
  • Talk to your child about the persistence of online content.Your child’s social media presence is just the beginning of his or her digital footprint and should be managed carefully. Content posted today can affect his or her reputation long term and potentially cause later impact when he or she is applying for college and employment. 

This agreement was negotiated by Internet Deputy Bureau Chief Clark Russell. The Internet Bureau Chief is Kathleen McGee and the Executive Deputy Attorney General of Economic Justice is Karla G. Sanchez.

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