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IP: U.S. COPPA privacy law hurts children, censors web sites
From: Dave Farber <farber () cis upenn edu>
Date: Sat, 13 May 2000 13:11:09 -0400

Date: Sat, 13 May 2000 12:00:49 -0400
To: politech () vorlon mit edu
From: Declan McCullagh <declan () well com>

Also see:
  Parents Remain Unclear on Online Privacy Law

If a relatively affluent company -- a $20 million Thomas movie is opening 
in U.S. theaters in July -- says it doesn't have the manpower or money to 
comply with COPPA, how can startups and smaller firms hope to do so? --Declan


   COPPA Lets Steam out of Thomas
   by Declan McCullagh (declan () wired com)

   3:00 a.m. May. 13, 2000 PDT
   A wildly popular children's television show has disappointed millions
   of young fans by halting their regular email bulletins.

   A U.S. law makes it illegal for the Thomas the Tank Engine show to
   continue sending email, the "Fat Controller" character sadly informed
   his readers recently.

   "I am sorry to say, dear friends, that I have had to suspend all
   mailing list operations as a result of a new on-line privacy act,"
   Thomas's website says.

   Call it the law of unintended consequences: The Children's Online
   Privacy Protection Act, which Congress said would help children, in
   some cases has had precisely the opposite effect. The law took effect
   last month.

   In response to the new law, online matchmaker Ecrush.com decided to
   say goodbye to some 2,000 under-12 subscribers, and NBCi angered its
   pre-teen clientele in February when it canceled their email accounts
   because of COPPA.

   The law requires firms to obtain parental consent for all the kids who
   use their site, which U.K. firm Britt Allcroft, owner of the Thomas
   show, said would cost too much.

   "We haven't got the manpower or the finances," said Anthony Evans,
   head of marketing for Britt Allcroft.

   Evans said 40 percent of the site's 500,000 monthly visitors are from
   the U.S., where the show appears on the Fox Family channel.

   Judging from the disappointed emails he's received from kids and
   parents, he said, most of them are pretty upset.

   "He's important to children worldwide. There's nothing really harsh
   about his world," Evans said of the show's flagship character.

   "Congress rushed into this without considering the impact of indulging
   in privacy technophobia on consumers and small businesses," says
   Solveig Singleton, a lawyer specializing in privacy issues at the
   free-market Cato Institute. "This will happen more and more as the
   Federal Trade Commission gets on the privacy bandwagon and decides to
   treat legitimate businesses as stalkers."

   A major motion picture, called Thomas and the Magic Railroad and based
   on the TV show, will be out in U.S. theaters on July 26. Starring Alec
   Baldwin and Peter Fonda, the film mixes live action and model
   animation and features the story of a girl who takes the wrong train
   and travels to a toy world where she meets Thomas the steam engine.

   Supporters of COPPA say most children's websites should be able to
   comply with the law.


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