Kids online privacy bill moves ahead

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The first major legislation to define Internet privacy rights and limit what data marketers can collect from children won what may be a swift ticket toward congressional approval last week.

As expected, the bill's sponsors agreed to limit its impact to commercial sites reaching kids under 13.

Approved unanimously and sent to the Senate floor by the Senate Commerce Committee, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act would bar Web sites from obtaining information from kids for marketing purposes without parental permission.

As revised, marketers could respond to a request for information and even send out regular newsletters to kids, as long as the e-mail addresses and any other information obtained wasn't used for marketing and parents were notified about the newsletters requested.


Attempts to use information gathered for marketing would trigger a requirement for "verifiable" prior parental notification and consent. That same notification would be required for any listing of a child's name or e-mail address on a home page, pen-pal service, message board or chat room.

The legislation, which calls for Federal Trade Commission enforcement, also would prohibit marketers from requiring kids to provide additional personal information in order to participate in a game or to win a prize.

The bill not only substantially narrows the sites covered but also bars states and localities from imposing different rules. It also gives the FTC the option of choosing to certify industry codes and then letting compliance with the codes show compliance with the law.


Co-sponsor Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said he believes Congress still needs to go farther on privacy, especially with older kids, but that can wait until next year.

"We will be addressing in the future more and more serious issues, but I am glad we were able to do children," he said.

Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education, which had been pushing for children's privacy legislation, said she wished Congress would act this year on older children, but called this legislation a "good first step."

"It is important to get things moving at the FTC," she said.

Copyright October 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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