Local Group Files FTC Complaint Against Channel One – Personal Information Sought From Children Without Parental Knowledge, Other Problems

June 11, 1998
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June 11, 1998 (Birmingham, AL)

Obligation, Inc., a local child advocacy organization, filed a complaint today against the Channel One Network with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They are owned by PRIMEDIA, Inc. (formerly K-III Communications), which is majority-owned by Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts.

Obligation alleges that Channel One’s web site:

· solicits personal information from children without parental approval, 

· inadequately warns children of the dangers of its chat rooms and message boards, 

· deceptively blends advertisements with editorial content to confuse children, and

· inadequately screens advertisers on its site and sends children to adult-oriented sites.

Channel One is the controversial in-school current events TV show. In exchange for the use of a TV network connecting all classrooms, schools agree to broadcast the Channel One show which contains two minutes of commercials. Most educational organizations have expressed opposition to Channel One.


In 1996, Channel One created a web site – www.channelone.com. This site acts as an extension of the TV show. The site is daily advertised to children on the in-school TV show. On-screen graphics encourages children to visit the site. The youthful anchors implore children to log onto the site and to specifically use the Channel One chat rooms. Children learn about this site, only, through the classroom TV.

Because children see the ads for the web site during school, they believe the school endorses Channel One. Obligation believes the FTC should hold channelone.com to the highest standard of conduct because of the environment in which it is introduced and promoted to children. 

Channel One had a section on their site called “Fresh Faces.” Entries were solicited from children, and if chosen, their picture and other information would be posted.

Channel One’s statement to kids: “Want to be featured in an upcoming edition of ‘Fresh Faces’? Send an e-mail to Peggy Li (e-mail address) with some basic information about yourself including your name, age, school and hometown.” There was no mention of parental permission or warning about the dangers of posting your picture and personal information on the Internet.

To sign up for Channel One’s “Message Boards” children are asked for ‘optional information” including: e-mail address, URL site, and a description of “your online persona.” Channel One states on that registration page: “Personal information that you supply to channelone.com will not be shared with other community members or other third parties..” They do not state why they need this information or what they will do with it. In an obscure page on their site they mention that this type information is gathered simply to improve the site.

For many months, Channel One asked the same information from children when they attempted to sign up for the chat rooms that the TV show urged them to use. In addition, they asked for a child’s URL site “specify a URL where people can find your picture.” They also asked for a phone number. The warning given? “Please note: Your contact information and description, if provided, may be made available to other users online.” Nowhere on the registration page were children encouraged to seek parental guidance.

Channel One advertisers also solicit personal information from children. Intel asked children for their name, home address, and e-mail address in exchange for a free CD. Neither Channel One nor Intel told children they needed their parent’s permission to give such information. Indeed, using the child-supplied information, Intel e-mailed a 32-line pre-Christmas poem to the child’s mother, on behalf of the child, requesting a new Pentium II computer. The last two lines: “Run to the Web or run to the store, A Pentium II processor is what I adore. With Love, Billy”

“Band of the Week” looks like a Channel One article but is a paid advertisement. The typeface and headline is in the same format as editorial material. To a child it looks like Channel One is reviewing a CD and offering a contest. It is actually an ad for “The Ultimate Band List” web site. This ad is completely blended with the rest of the Channel One site. When a child links to it from the home page it is not a banner ad but rather an ordinary feature link. Children are asked their name, e-mail address, modem speed, home address, age, “How often do you buy music?”, “Where do you buy music?”, “What influences your purchasing?”, “How did you hear about the contest?”, and then the child is given the option of being put on their mailing list. (The default answer is “Yes”.) Although, there is a “Brought to you by Ultimate Band List” under the feature headline “Band of the Week Contest”, children can easily believe this is Channel One content and not an ad.

Kids visiting channelone.com can click on the banner for Videoshoppers, an online video store. Channel One apparently does not screen their advertisers because the covers of adult videos, such as Naked Dolls, Busty Biker Babes, All Nude Glamour can be inspected by young visitors and if they have access to a credit card they can order adult videos. Obligation contacted Videoshoppers by e-mail and asked what safeguards they have in place for underage-purchasers. They did not respond.
 
Clicking on Channel One advertiser “The Mining Company” is even worse. One mouse click enters a child into a site that has direct links to hardcore pornography. Jim Metrock, Obligation president said, “The pictures you can easily get to from this Channel One advertiser are as hard core as you will find anywhere on the Net. Again, Channel One shows its insensitivity to children. It began with Channel One reviewing and promoting R-rated movies and explicit-content CDs. It is truly a very bizarre ‘children’s web site’.” 

Obligation urges the FTC to make a complete study of Channel One’s web site. Schools that signed up with Channel One years ago never agreed to this web site. As far as we can tell, no Channel One contract informs school board members of Channel One’s intention to constantly promote this controversial web site. Children as young as eleven are often required to be shown Channel One during school.

Obligation has a significant file of Channel One web pages from late 1996 for the FTC’s use.

Jim Metrock said, “Channel One bills itself as a major Internet site for children. They are the only site allowed to advertised on TV in public schools. For this site to treat children in such a manner is reprehensible. There is inadequate disclosure of their information gathering practices, virtually no requests for parental permission to be sought before supplying information, and what is promoted as a child-friendly site is in actuality a web site loaded with age-inappropriate material.”

 

Other information sources: Channel One Network, David Tanzer, president, 212-508-6800

Obligation web site for extensive information on Channel One: www.obligation.org

The Center for Commercial-Free Public Education – 510-268-1100

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