New Privacy Act Spurs Web Sites to Oust Children

By Glanz, William | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 20, 2000 | Go to article overview
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New Privacy Act Spurs Web Sites to Oust Children


Glanz, William, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Karen DeMars spent last weekend responding to e-mail messages from young customers angry that her teen-driven Internet company planned to delete the accounts of 20,000 children.

Companies like Miss DeMars' ECrush.com Inc., based in San Francisco, are changing the way they do business because of a new national privacy measure that takes effect tomorrow.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act is intended to protect the privacy of children younger than 13 by requiring on-line companies to get approval from parents before collecting personal information from them.

Privacy advocates say the new law will help protect children from intrusive marketers seeking personal information, even if children, many of whom are Internet-savvy and have grown up surrounded by technology, don't like the measure.

"Kids are uniquely vulnerable consumers," said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the District-based Consumer Federation of America.

ECrush.com, which sends e-mail messages on behalf of anonymous suitors who want to meet a particular object of their affection, will delete the accounts of all registered users younger than 13, a decision that met with some disdain from young consumers.

"Kids who are 12 years old have a big problem with people telling them they can't do something," Miss DeMars said.

About 20,000 of the company's 350,000 customers are younger than 13.

New York-based Bolt.com, a Web portal that markets e-mail, voice mail, message boards, instant messaging and wireless services to teen-agers, went a step further and in February prohibited children younger than 15 from becoming registered users, eliminating about 50,000 of its 2.25 million customers.

Teens.com, a teen Web site run by Massachusetts-based W3T.com Inc., has prohibited children younger than 13 from registering on its site since last year.

The privacy law was prompted by a Federal Trade Commission study in 1998 of 1,400 Web sites, including one where children were asked to give their names, street addresses, e-mail addresses and ages.

In one instance, children playing an on-line video game were told that participation required indicating whether they received stocks or bonds for Christmas and listing the value of the investments, FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said.

The new law will help keep manipulative marketers from preying on young Internet users, Mr.

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