New Site Offers Kid Surfers Safe Harbor

A new Web portal says it has created a sheltered place for kids to surf the Web, in advance of rules from the Federal Trade Commission that will mandate certain online protections for children. This.com is launching its service Wednesday with what it calls a “friendly filter” that filters out Web sites, e-mails and chat rooms that are unsuitable for children.

This.com’s site acts as an intermediate point between the home computer and the surfer’s destination site. As Web pages pass through this.com’s servers, they are scanned for content parents do not want their children to access. “This.com exists to give families and businesses the ability to access the Internet without the worry of accidentally or innocently stumbling across this unwanted type of content,” the company says.

White House “Watchdog”

This.com says it keeps track of the correct domain names for destinations children may be trying to visit, as well as incorrect versions of those domain names, and directs them to the correct place. In explaining the point of its filters, This.com uses on its Web site the example of www.whitehouse.com, one of the Internet’s most-visited adult sites. Children who may think all Web addresses end with .com, rather than .gov or .edu or other suffixes, get an unexpected surprise when trying to find President Clinton.

This.com officially unveiled its site in Washington, D.C., the same day the Federal Trade Commission held a public workshop on implementing the recently passed Child Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). At the workshop, the FTC released a notice of inquiry seeking comments on the financial impacts COPPA may have on small businesses. Comments are due August 6th.

COPPA essentially prohibits deceptive collection and use of personal information from and about children by commercial Web sites and online services. The act tries to encourage parental involvement their children’s online activities, protect children in areas such as chat rooms where they could be lured into posting personal information and limit the collection of personal information without parental consent. “In general, the rule will apply to any commercial operator of an online service or Internet Web site directed to children or a commercial operator of an online service or Internet Web site who has actual knowledge that he or she is collecting personal information from a child,” the FTC said.

Seeking Insight

To get a clearer picture of how the law’s mandate may impact the marketplace, the FTC is asking companies to explain the financial burden of implementing child safeguards and offer any alternatives the commission should consider to ease the burden on small businesses. Under the act, online services and Web sites that attract children must place a notice on the Web site regarding a child’s online protections, obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children, allow parents to review that information before submission and ensure the confidentiality of that data.

The FTC also asks for information on any technological developments that could lower the cost of complying with the law. Further, the commission wants to know if there are any economic benefits to collecting personal information from children, such as increased advertising revenues, profit from the sale of such information to third parties, efficiencies resulting from marketing to a targeted audience or revenue gained from operating a customized site that is appealing to kids.

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