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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: Child "privacy" law claims another victim: Altavista
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- Subject: [FYI] (Fwd) FC: Child "privacy" law claims another victim: Altavista
- From: "Axel H Horns" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 22:29:22 +0100
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Date sent: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 14:47:19 -0500
From: Declan McCullagh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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Subject: FC: Child "privacy" law claims another victim: Altavista yanks sites
Send reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
AltaVista said today that it "has closed down all of its community
services, which includes all interactive services, such as chat rooms,
bulletin boards and free email. AltaVista is committed to screening
children under the age of 13 from accessing adult content on the
AltaVista Web site."
The BBB's CARU says "it found violations of the Guidelines and/or
COPPA." COPPA is the federal law that applies here, and the guidelines
were inspired by federal action.
COPPA has forced other companies to shut down free services too (funny
how its backers never mentioned its negative impacts when testifying
before an all-too-credulous, not to mention economically ignorant and
technically clueless Congress):
One interesting bit from the BBB statement:
>While some "adults only" clubs required registration, others did not,
>and there was no need to register, or even give one's age, in order
>to view the pictures. Despite statements that one must be over age
>18 to enter, in fact, a child of any age, by merely clicking "OK,"
>could certify that she was over age 18 and gain access to the rooms.
>No request for date of birth or any other personal information was
>required. Even users registered as age 13 were admitted to these
(Let's ignore that fact that a so-called "privacy" law is encouraging
sites to collect "personal information" about their visitors.)
Well, gosh darnit. Wasn't that what the ACLU litigated -- and won --
in the CO-oneP-A lawsuit? An entire section of the district court's
opinion was devoted to "Reorganizing a Web Site to Segregate Harmful
to Minors Materials." See:
Civil libertarians quite properly objected to that
register-or-segregate approach, saying that the government should not
place additional burdens on First Amendment-protected speech. See:
What the censorhappy anti-porn folks failed to accomplish by a law
punishing sexually explicit material, they're managing to accomplish
through "privacy" laws instead.
We'll ban Net-sex not by claiming a child's innocence is being
violated, but that his privacy is. Ain't that just swell?
DECISION TO FOLLOW
CARU NEWS Contact: Elizabeth Lascoutx
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ALTA VISTA MAKES CHANGES TO PROTECT THE SAFETY OF CHILDREN ON ITS
WEBSITE. COMPANY DISCONTINUES ITS "COMMUNITY" FEATURES
New York, NY - February 14, 2001 - The Children's Advertising Review
Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (CBBB) is
pleased to announce that Alta Vista Company (Alta Vista) has modified
its Website in order to protect the safety of children. Until a week
ago, Alta Vista was a full service Internet portal that, in addition
to its search engine, offered such interactive features as chat rooms,
photo albums, personal home pages and free Internet service including
When CARU examined altavista.com in the fall of 2000, the language of
the registration page "tipped off" children that they must be over age
13 to use the interactive services offered on the site by stating
"U.S. law prohibits Alta Vista from registering anyone under the age
of 13 without parental permission. Please verify your age below," and
then asking prospective registrants if they were "less than 13 years
old" or "13 or older..." Those who registered could freely access all
interactive features on the site, including unmoderated chat rooms in
which participants could post personal information and talk to users
of all ages, and personal home pages, on which registrants could post
personal information that would be accessible to other users of the
In addition, Alta Vista failed to prevent children and teens from
registering for chat rooms listed under "romance and relationships,"
which were "adults only" clubs, or to block those under 13 from
accessing pornographic pictures on its chat sites. While some "adults
only" clubs required registration, others did not, and there was no
need to register, or even give one's age, in order to view the
pictures. Despite statements that one must be over age 18 to enter,
in fact, a child of any age, by merely clicking "OK," could certify
that she was over age 18 and gain access to the rooms. No request for
date of birth or any other personal information was required. Even
users registered as age 13 were admitted to these "Clubs."
Alta Vista has recently closed down all its "Community" services
(i.e., all its interactive services, such as chat rooms, bulletin
boards and free email) and now operates solely as a search engine.
The company stated, "AltaVista is committed to screening children
under the age of 13 from accessing adult content on the AltaVista Web
site." There is no longer any registration or collection of personal
information on the site.
CARU's inquiry was conducted under NAD/NARB/CARU Procedures for
Voluntary Self-Regulation of National Advertising. Details of the
inquiry, CARU's decision and the advertiser's response will be
included in the next NAD Case Report. Members of the press who wish
to see a copy of the decision now should email CARU at
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Advertising Review Council (NARC) was formed in 1971 by
the Association of National Advertisers, Inc. (ANA), the American
Association of Advertising Agencies, Inc. (AAAA), the American
Advertising Federation, Inc. (AAF), and the Council of Better Business
Bureaus, Inc. (CBBB). Its purpose is to foster truth and accuracy in
national advertising through voluntary self-regulation. NARC is the
body that establishes the policies and procedures for the CBBB's
National Advertising Division (NAD), the Children's Advertising Review
Unit (CARU), and the National Advertising Review Board (NARB).
NAD and CARU are the investigative arms of the advertising industry's
voluntary self-regulation program. Their casework results from
competitive challenges from other advertisers, and also from
self-monitoring traditional and new media, including the Internet.
The National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appeals body, is a
peer group from which ad-hoc panels are selected to adjudicate those
cases that are not resolved at the NAD/CARU level. This unique,
self-regulatory system is funded entirely by the business community;
CARU is financed by the children's advertising industry, while
NAD/NARB's sole source of funding is derived from membership fees paid
to the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
ALTA VISTA COMPANY
Alta Vista Website
* General interest Websites that have knowledge that children
under age 13 are on their site should not encourage those children to
misstate their ages in order to register for areas that are intended
for those over 13.
* General interest Websites that offer areas with "adult only"
content (for those age 18 and over), should age-screen for users under
that age and prevent children under that age from accessing those
Basis of Inquiry: In the fall of 2000, altavista.com came to the
attention of the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) through its
routine monitoring of the Internet. At that time, altavista.com was
a full service Internet portal that, in addition to its search engine,
offered such interactive features as chat rooms, photo albums,
personal home pages and free Internet service including free email.
CARU monitors Websites for compliance with CARU's Self-Regulaory
Guidelines for Children's Advertising (the Guidelines) as well to the
federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The
Guidelines and COPPA mandate prior parental permission before site
operators can collect personally identifiable information (PII) (e.g.,
first and last name, email address, street address, etc.). Because
age 13 could use its site, the site falls under the jurisdiction of
CARU's Findings: When CARU first examined altavista.com, (AV) it
found violations of the Guidelines and/or COPPA involving the
1. Use of registration language that encourages children under age 13
to misstate their ages. 2. Failure to adequately prevent children from
accessing altavista.com clubs (chat rooms) with "adult only" content.
Use of Language that Encourages Misstatement of Age/Failure to Use
Tracking Mechanism: Despite the following language in Alta Vista's
"Our site complies with the terms of the Children's Online
Privacy Protection Act. We will not knowingly collect personally
identifiable information on users under the age of 13 without parental
consent. Parents have the ability to control what personal
information about their child may be disclosed to third parties..."
children under age 13 could easily register for AV and use its
interactive services, such as chat rooms and free email, without
parental consent. This was true for two reasons: First, children
underage 13 were "tipped off" regarding the age of admission for these
services and therefore could easily register for altavista.com and use
its interactive services by claiming to be 13 or over. AV's
registration page, directly before asking for date of birth, contained
the following statement:
"U.S. law prohibits Alta Vista from registering anyone under
the age of 13 without parental permission. Please verify your age
Prospective registrants were then asked to click on one of the
* "I am less than 13 years old"
* "I am 13 or older and my birthdate is
Month______ Day_____ Year_______"
This type of language is prohibited by the Guidelines, which state,
inter alia, "Care should be taken so that screening questions do not
encourage children to provide inaccurate information to avoid
obtaining parental permission." (Page 9 of the Guidelines).
Further, CARU determined that AV's registration process is also
ineffective because it does not utilize a tracking mechanism (such as
a "session cookie") to prohibit underage users from changing their
ages and immediately reregistering. For example, if a child clicked
on the second option, but gave a date of birth that corresponded to an
age younger than 13, a message would appear as follows:
"We're sorry, but in order to comply with recent U.S.
legislation called COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act),
which is intended to protect the privacy of kids less than 13 years of
age, we cannot register anyone under 13 years old at this time."
Directly below this message, however, the potential registrant is
presented with her previously filled in personal information,
including date of birth. One can now change one's year of birth to
reflect an age 13 or over, and thereby gain entrance to any of the
interactive features offered by the operator. When a CARU staff
member, who had attempted to register as a 12 year old, was given this
message, she merely changed the last digit on her year of birth, from
a 9 (in 1989) to a 6, and left everything else as it was presented to
her, and was easily able to be accepted as a registrant, with full
access to all interactive features. CARU finds that the operator thus
had actual knowledge that there was a child under 13, and therefore is
in violation of the requirements of both the Guidelines and COPPA.
Inadequate Age-Screening for "Adults Only" Chat Rooms: AV contains
several chat rooms, sometimes referred to as "clubs" on its Website,
which are designated "Adults Only." If one clicks on one of the
sites, for example, "! 4-Dates Chat and Matchmaking!" a screen will
"ADULTS ONLY CLUB ! 4-Dates Chat and Matchmaking! Welcome.
The Club you are about to enter has been identified as containing
adult content. Discussions and other postings might not be
appropriate for all users. Before entering this Club or any Club that
contains adult content you must read and agree to the following:
1. You are an adult ( 18 years or
older) and have read and understand the Adult
The user is then asked to click on either "OK" or "Cancel." No
request for date of birth or any other personal information is
required. Even users registered as age 13 are admitted to these
it has children under age 13 on its site, the operator failed to
insure that children under 13 could not register for the chat rooms
and failed to screen those under age 18 from registering for its
"adults only" clubs. Anyone using the AV Website (even those who have
not registered, and therefore, regardless of age) is able to access
pornographic pictures on the site. While some "adults only" clubs
require registration, others do not, and there is no need to register,
or even give one's age, in order to view pornographic pictures.
In light of the fact that AV has knowledge that some of its users are
13 (or even younger, as seen by their first attempt at registration),
and acknowledges that certain clubs should only be available to those
age 18 or over, CARU finds that the failure to screen out users under
18 from these clubs is a violation of CARU's Guidelines and COPPA.
Advertiser's Position: When contacted by CARU, the operator readily
agreed to change its registration page by removing any reference to
the necessity of being age 13 or over to register and substituting the
"U.S. law requires that we ask your birthdate. Please verify
This change was made by mid-December of 2000. The operator explained
that it had used the original registration statement because many
adult users were reluctant to give their correct age and were entering
a year of birth that would result in an age of less than one year.
Further, AV stated that it expected to shut down its "Community"
services (i.e., all its interactive services, such as chat rooms,
bulletin boards and free email) in the very near future.
In addition, when it was brought to the operator's attention that the
AV Website made pornography and inappropriate chat accessible to those
under age 18, and even those under 13, AV acknowledged the problem,
stating that "anonymous users may enter the adult areas of our
community services by confirming their age as over 18." The operator
asserted, however, that because the company intended to close down all
its "Community" services (i.e., all its interactive services, such as
chat rooms, bulletin boards and free email) by the end of January or
mid-February 2001, it did not need to add the use of a tracking
mechanism in the interim.
CARU is pleased that Alta Vista was willing to make expeditious
changes in its registration in order to avoid encouraging children to
misstate their ages. Although the site still offered pornographic
chat rooms on January 23, 2001, when CARU sent the operator its
decision (including an admonition to employ a method to prevent
children under age 18 from accessing pornography), CARU confirmed
that, on February 6, when CARU received the advertiser's statement, AV
had closed down all of its community services and offered no
interactive features on its Website. CARU is gratified that AV has
taken all the above-stated actions.
Advertiser's Statement: "Alta Vista has closed down all of its
community services, which includes all interactive services, such as
chat rooms, bulletin boards and free email. AltaVista is committed to
screening children under the age of 13 from accessing adult content on
the AltaVista Web site."
* 2001. Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
(#0000 pbs closed 2/7/01)
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