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Bush Signs Bill To Create Kids-Safe Domain On The Internet

by Heather Newman

The creation of a new type of Internet address Wednesday should make parents with Net-savvy children happy - and create a new set of headaches for companies posting sites for kids.

President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that created a new type of domain name, or basic Internet address: .kids.us. It would work the same way as traditional Internet .com addresses - a site posted by Disney, for example, could be www.disney.com or www.disney.kids.us - but all material posted on the new sites is required to be appropriate for kids under 13.

Sites that broke the rules would get their addresses yanked.

"The legislation will establish a children-friendly section of the Internet, free from pornography," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who cosponsored the bill. "Earlier this week, I met with more than 100 different elementary school kids from Kalamazoo and Berrien counties. Virtually every one of these children had seen something inappropriate on the Internet. Those days will end."

The bill passed the House nearly unanimously in May and sailed through the Senate Nov. 13. Assuming that companies and individuals who want to post material for children use the new addresses, it could be a real benefit for harried parents.

People who don't want their children to stumble across offensive material online now have to use filtering programs that look for objectionable words or pictures on the pages to be displayed.

Those types of filters aren't foolproof, and often block innocuous sites that mention body parts or allow suggestive material that's not labeled clearly to get through.

If the .kids.us addresses become popular, it would be a snap for the makers of Web-browsing software to let parents limit their children to just those sites.

The catch may be how much material is available at the new addresses. Exact standards of what is and isn't allowed haven't been set yet. The rules will be enforced by NeuStar, the corporation that administers all .us addresses. The basic guidelines posted at NeuStar's Web site (see below) are likely to take effect with a few minor changes.

Those guidelines include a list of seven words - no, we aren't going to print them here - that aren't allowed on the Web pages or in the site address itself. Sites will be required to have some kind of educational or informational content for children, much like the current Children's Television Act requires for broadcasters.

The sites will be required to follow existing laws about collecting information from kids, including names and addresses. Ads must conform to standards set by the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Better Business Bureau, which basically says they cannot be misleading or inaccurate.

Depictions of sex acts or contact will not be allowed on the sites, nor will "content that features revealing attire." No material that displays, sells or advocates weapons will be allowed, and neither will game sites for teens and above, sites that advocate drugs, gambling, alcohol, violence or smoking.

How exactly those lines will be drawn is still being set.

The original guidelines suggested that sites with the new address only link to places that also met the new standards, so kids couldn't accidentally be dumped into a set of pages that weren't appropriate. But that would mean the end of any links to popular search sites, such as www.google.com or www.yahoo.com , whose results include sites that aren't approved for children under 13.

If the linking requirement were enforced, it would basically require most children's site designers to create new versions of their pages to post at .kids.us addresses, which would be a headache for designers and might slow movement to the new address.

Sites would be reexamined periodically to make sure they were keeping up with the rules. The funding this ongoing effort would require wasn't immediately obvious, but people wanting to register .kids.us names will be footing part of the bill. Like all Internet addresses, these are expected to carry an annual fee.

Registrations for the new names aren't available yet. They'll most likely be ready in mid-2003, NeuStar executives said. For information, visit www.neustar.us


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