Kids' Web Sites Not Meeting FTC Guidelines

Almost a year after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) passed guidelines for protecting children's privacy on the Internet, many Web sites aren't complying with the law, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The center studied how well sites have conformed to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which went into effect last April. The study used data fromNew York-based Nielsen Media Research Inc.'s Nielsen/NetRatings service to determine which sites were most visited by children.

Of the 162 sites surveyed, 17 collected information about the users abut didn't post links to their privacy policies from their home pages. Of those sites that did have a link, 44% followed FTC guidelines by putting the link in a different font; only 6% put the link in a different color, and 68% put the link at the bottom of their home pages.

A key component of complying with the COPPA guidelines is making privacy policies clear and easily accessible for parents, said Joseph Turow, professor of communications and the author of the report. He said most sites still don't meet these criteria.

Steve Schaffer, CEO of Newfront Productions Inc. in San Francisco, which runs several Web sites, including Nancy Drew.com, said the regulations are killing Internet sites geared toward children.

"What is happening now is the legitimate kids' sites are either going out of business or they're turning into teen sites [which don't come under COPPA guidelines], and then the kids are going to those sites," Schaffer said.

"If you follow the policies, you still get called out because somebody interprets the policy differently than you do," he said.

Nancydrew.com is one of the sites singled out by the Annenberg study for not posting a link to its privacy policy on its home page.

Schaffer also argued that the classification of a home page is meaningless, because what users might think is a Web site's home page may not be.

This story, "Kids' Web Sites Not Meeting FTC Guidelines" was originally published by Computerworld.

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