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New privacy rules for kid sites present a cyber puzzle

In late October, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission revealed new privacy rules for children's Web sites, which require that any sites garnering information from children ages 13 and under must first attain 'verifiable parental consent.' To be implemented by April 2000,...
December 1, 1999

In late October, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission revealed new privacy rules for children’s Web sites, which require that any sites garnering information from children ages 13 and under must first attain ‘verifiable parental consent.’ To be implemented by April 2000, the consent-gathering rule will throw a curveball in the way of current on-line marketing, research and advertising initiatives that target kids and involve such interaction.

‘It’s a restraint that, on some level, is unfortunate that it has to exist,’ says Paul Kurnit, president and COO of New York-based Griffin Bacal, ‘but in the time we live, we have to be careful to protect our kids.’

The form the consent takes depends on how the information is used. A sliding-scale verification option allows sites that use info internally only to obtain consent through e-mail, provided that the site follow up with another e-mail or a phone call. But for sites that offer chat rooms or other functions whereby info can be shared with third parties, more stringent methods are required, such as verification by snail mail, fax, though a credit card authorization, or via tamper-resistant digital signatures. In two years, these sliding-scale options will be dumped in favor of tougher requirements involving electronic verification.

‘What this will foster is a lot of creativity to fulfill the law responsibly on the one hand, and it will also give kids and parents options,’ says Kurnit, who is neither surprised by nor opposed to the move. Kurnit points to the creation of e-wallets like RocketCash as an example of how the market responds creatively to barriers-in that case, giving those without access to credit cards an on-line shopping option.

‘I think it’s early days yet,’ Kurnit says. ‘There probably will be mechanisms for verification that don’t exist yet.’ Until then, Kurnit says Griffin Bacal will counsel clients to opt for off-line verification of parental consent. And he points out that the mail is probably the most secure method, ‘which will slow things down.’

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