Web Sites Fined over Privacy of Children
Glanz, William, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The Federal Trade Commission yesterday levied its first fines against three Internet companies for violating a new law intended to protect the privacy of children and shield them from unscrupulous marketers.
Meanwhile, an independent study indicated that Web sites are collecting less information from children but urged the government agency to continue enforcing the law.
The FTC said the $100,000 total fine, part of a settlement agreement with the Web site operators, were levied two days before the first anniversary of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
An FTC official said most companies appear to be complying with the new privacy law, despite the violations.
"We are heartened by the fact that industry has gone to great lengths to be in compliance," said Lee Peeler, the FTC's associate director of advertising practices.
The FTC charged the operators of Girlslife.com, Bigmailbox.com and Insidetheweb.com with illegally collecting personal information from children younger than 13 years old without getting the consent of parents.
The agency said each Web site collected children's full names, home addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and charged that the Web sites collected more information than they needed for participation in the activities the children engaged in, also a violation of the new law.
The sites also failed to post privacy policies that comply with the law, the FTC said, and that Bigmailbox.com provided information it collected about children to third parties.
Bigmailbox.com had 547,000 visitors in March and Insidetheweb.com had 545,000 visitors that month, according to Nielsen Net Ratings, which measures traffic to Web sites. Girlslife.com had too few visitors to register on its tracking service.
Yesterday's action by the FTC came on the same day that a report from the District-based Center for Media Education concluded companies are beginning to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
In its survey of 153 Web sites, the center found that 19.8 percent of Web sites are collecting the street addresses of children, compared with 49 percent of sites that did so in 1998. …