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Last fall, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which directs the Federal Trade Commission to develop rules governing the types of information that can be solicited from children over the Web. And according to FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson, it was with good reason. “People would be surprised to learn how much information is being secured from children over the Web,” he warns. “There are some sites that inquire about children’s ages, addresses, hobbies and even gather information about their parents’ spending habits. In some cases, kids have been asked to submit photos. This information could enable someone to contact the child off-line.”
Although Thompson doesn’t want parents to fear using the net, he does think families need to set some safety guidelines. He advises Internet users to first visit the FTC’s Website (www.ftc.gov). He also offers these helpful hints:
- Talk to your children about Internet safety. Help kids distinguish between advertisements and entertainment. Younger children may not realize their favorite cartoon characters are soliciting them for marketing information. Tell them not to give personal information or use their real names in chat rooms or when posting messages on bulletin boards.
- Monitor your child’s surfing habits. Don’t allow your child to participate in unsupervised Web surfing. Instead, explore the Internet together. Also, consider using blocking or filtering software programs for added “parental control.”
- Beware of sweepstakes and other Internet contests. Before you or your children fill out entry forms, mailing lists or respond to personal questions, find out how the information will be used and whether it will be passed on to other companies.