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Monday, November 17, 2008

Age verification: An attorney general's concern

The headline chosen by the European Commission's QuickLinks blog certainly cuts to the chase: "No Adults Allowed. (Marketers Welcome)." What it links to is a timely New York Times piece about the potential unintended consequences of the age verification that state attorneys general are calling for (consequences that would not please many parents). What the headline refers to is the alleged business model of some of the 2 dozen+ companies who want to help (and involve US schools in helping) verify American children's ages - apparently for the purpose of protecting them online but also reportedly to make a business out of selling data they gather on kids to marketers. Kids' social sites, virtual worlds, and other services would pay the age-verification vendor a "commission for each [child] member" a school signs up; "the [kids'] Web site can then use the data on each child to tailor its advertising," the Times reports. One of the age-verification companies the Times talked to, eGuardian, says kids are exposed to ads anyway (well, in some, not all, kids' sites), it just makes sure they're appropriate. The question is, how can that "appropriate advertising" be guaranteed? There's a pretty sexualized media culture and a lot of obesity in this society anyway, to name only a couple of issues. One of the remarkable things about this piece is the quote at the bottom from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a leading proponent of age verification, saying that verifying kids' ages online to promote marketing to them would be very concerning. This is the first qualifying statement about age verification we've seen from the attorneys general since they started calling for its implementation more than two years ago.

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