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AOL to post photos of missing kids

America Online teams up with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to launch a "digital milk carton."

America Online (AOL) today teamed up with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to launch a "digital milk carton."

The new program brings to AOL the type of information already on the Web site, which is supported by corporate sponsors such as CompuServe, Micrografx, Pizza Hut, Polaroid, and Pepsico.

AOL's site seeks to unleash the power of the online world to help find missing and exploited children by posting their pictures and information on both AOL and Digital City, its localized content guide on the online service.

Pictures of children and accompanying information will run both internationally on AOL and locally through Digital City.

The program "takes advantage of the terrific immediacy of this new medium, coupled with AOL's ability to bring access to millions of eyeballs," said AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose. "It's a perfect marriage of an organization that needs assistance, that needs another weapon in its arsenal."

It also comes at a time when AOL could use some good publicity. The announcement has been in the works for weeks, according to Primrose. But whether it's coincidental or not, it comes as a good time for the company, which is still stinging from the public relations bruising it got over its intended policy to give out members' phone numbers to its business partners. AOL averted an all-out uproar by rescinding the policy. But the incident left members and watchdogs alike wary of the online giant. (See related report)

The "digital milk carton," as the program is being labeled, also couldn't hurt Digital City in its pursuit to become the place where both AOL members and Web browsers go to get localized content. About a half dozen heavy hitters, including Microsoft, US West, and CitySearch, are competing in that arena. Analysts have said there's only room for one or two players at the top.

The Kid Patrol program is another example of how organizations are increasingly turning to the Internet for its immediacy and multimedia capabilities.

Earlier this month, for instance, gay Web sites banded together in an effort to get the word out about serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who later killed himself. Like the FBI, the sites were trying to use the power of the Internet for public good.

In addition, Florida residents can use the Net to look up the addresses of sexual predators released from prison.