Baltimore-based girls' magazine settles FTC case over Web privacy

April 24, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-based Girls' Life magazine has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the publication's Web site improperly collected personal information from its young readers.

Two other companies that provide e-mail and message boards for young people also agreed to pay $35,000 each as part of the settlement of the FTC's first case accusing Web site operators of violating a year-old law aimed at protecting children's privacy online.

Karen Bokram, editor and founder of Girls' Life, said the magazine requested addresses and telephone numbers online for change-of-address forms or when girls submitted poetry to the magazine. She said both now must be faxed or mailed to the magazine's Harford Road offices.

The magazine also stopped providing links from its Web page to BigMailBox.com Inc. and LookSmart Ltd., which together offered children free e-mail and access to message boards and other online features.

"We apologize a million times for having to yank this stuff, but we had no choice," the magazine now tells its readers - mostly girls ages 9 to 14 - at www.girlslife.com.

Bokram said yesterday that the magazine settled the case to avoid a costly legal battle with the federal government. She said Girls' Life, launched in 1994 by Monarch Services Inc., "never did anything the least bit dubious."

"I'd certainly advocate keeping children's safety and privacy paramount," Bokram said. But she added, "I think using us as a test case, they could have done a lot better."

FTC officials announced the settlement last week in connection with the one-year anniversary of the effective date for the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The law requires Web sites to post privacy policies and to notify parents before collecting personal information from children or sharing it with others.

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