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Children-targeted marketing under fire

The Federal Trade Commission may examine the use of the Internet for marketing to children.

The Federal Trade Commission may examine the use of the Internet for marketing to children, a move prompted by critics who say some Web sites are exploiting them.

Chief among those crying foul is the Center for Media Education (CME), a private group that yesterday asked the FTC to investigate KidsCom, a Web site aimed at children aged 4 to 15.

The FTC has planned a June conference on Internet privacy that will include an entire day devoted to children's issues. Although the agency has not yet said whether it will look into the complaint against KidsCom, the media center's executive director, Jeff Chester, said "it's very likely" that the FTC would investigate.

Although KidsCom bills itself as a "communication playground," the center charges that its developer, SpectraCom, designed the site to monitor children's online behavior and collect information to sell to other companies. SpectaCom officials have denied the charge, according to a report in today's San Jose Mercury News.

In a report released in March, the center charged that marketeers are using devices such as cartoon-character pitchmen and prizes to establish one-on-one marketing relationships with kids. "Having identified how children use their online experience to meet developmental needs," the report states, "The advertising industry is learning how to exploit young computer users more effectively."