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Jewish World Review April 23, 2001 / 30 Nissan, 5761

Lance Gay

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Consumer Reports

Despite new law, sites still get private info from kids -- A year after Congress outlawed the practice, almost 86 percent of Internet sites targeted at children are still collecting identifying information, and as many as 20 percent record home addresses or phone numbers, consumer groups say.

The Federal Trade Commission acknowledges there is a problem getting Internet sites to comply with a federal ban on collecting personal information from kids, and Thursday announced the first civil settlements with three Web site operators for violating provisions of the Children's Online Privacy Act.

Jodie Bernstein, director of the commission's bureau of consumer protection, said many Web sites have stopped collecting information from kids online, but some continue the practice to peddle advertisements or for their own use.

Under a federal law Congress passed in 1998 that took effect last April, Internet sites have to get permission from parents before collecting any personal information from children under 13.

"We're encouraged with the progress industry has made in the past year in complying with (the law), and as the cases announced today demonstrate, we intend to take enforcement action against those who don't," Bernstein said.

Under the settlement, the Web site will pay a civil penalty of $30,000, and and will pay penalties of $35,000 each. Under the civil agreement, the Web sites agreed to destroy the personal information they were gathering as part of their offers of free message boards and pen pal accounts.

The Center for Media Education Thursday released a survey of 153 commercial sites targeted at children, which found there has been a sharp decline in the collection of some types of personal information from kids since the child protection law came into force last year.

The survey found almost 20 percent of the Web sites were collecting postal addresses from children, compared to 49 percent in 1998. Almost 11 percent were taking phone numbers from children, compared to 24 percent in 1998. Only a third of the operators put their privacy policies in a "clear and prominent" place on the Web site, as required under the child protection law.

But many sites continue to collect other types of information that can identify a child - 86 percent compared with 89 percent in 1998.

"The industry clearly is not doing all it can to comply with the new privacy provisions," said Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media. She said some sites have come up with creative ways of tracking what kids are doing online by allowing them to log onto child-oriented Web sites anonymously, and some are clearly violating the law.

The study said children often don't know they can be identified by e-mail messages - 99 percent of the sites studied collect e-mail information - or by sending a message to a Webmaster.

One of the sites the Center for Media examined invited children to click on a Barbie doll's backpack, which then took them to a "backpack page," which was a form for a name and address. The page reads: "Your backpack is your own personal space. Please tell us a little about yourself so it can be all yours. Don't worry about giving us information, we won't share your answers."

The study found only 19 of the sites surveyed obtained parental consent before attempting to collect information from the children.

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