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Online Privacy Act Proves ECrushing Blow for Some Preteens

Dozens of young Internet users expressed outrage last week as one of the nation's sweeping new privacy laws took effect — the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which bans Web sites from collecting information from children under the age of 13.

ECrush.com, a Web site that matches teen-age heartthrobs with their secret crushes, reportedly received several complaints. The site claims 350,000 registered users, most of whom are under 21.

“When we heard about the legislation, we stopped accepting registrations from users under the age of 13,” said Karen DeMars, president of eCrush.com, San Francisco. “However, there were already a sizable number of preteens registered on the site, so we sent an e-mail to all accounts registered to people under that age informing them that their accounts would be deleted and why.”

DeMars said her company supports the legislation and believes it to be good for business in the long run because it provides legal boundaries to keep children from being exploited. However, she said 12-year-olds who can no longer use eCrush don't see it that way, noting that a large group responded as one might expect — with name-calling.

Among the most popular names used were poop, stupid, idiot and some expletives she said were anything but juvenile. But she said most of the youths “who swore at us backed down when they realized that there was a reason for the law and a person behind the e-mail. Some actually apologized for their language.”

She said one remarked that the “Constitution protects us from being prosecuted and isolated and/or punished in any other way by new laws.” Another ostensibly technologically savvy preteen threatened to “make a Web site to protest against this.”

The staff at eCrush said not all responses were negative. “We had a bunch of kids write back saying they were sorry their accounts had to be deleted, but that they really looked forward to their 13th birthdays,” DeMars said.

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