Net Buzz

FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - Riordan, whose verbal claim to be 37 is good enough for Buzz, works as a computer technologist for a group of school systems in New Jersey. Yahoo Inc. has been threatening to pull the plug on the grown man's Web-mail account because its records indicate that he is younger than 13; more precisely, according to Riordan's check of his online account, Yahoo believes him to be 2 years old. How this happened remains unclear, but Riordan believes the mix-up stems from Yahoo's acquisition two years ago of Rocketmail, the Web-mail service he originally established the account with without being asked about his age.

Whatever the genesis, Yahoo insists Riordan must provide a Visa, MasterCard or American Express number to them or wave good-bye to his free e-mail account.

"At this point, there is no other means, other than a valid credit card, that Yahoo uses to verify if the user is an adult," Yahoo explains in an e-mail to Riordan. "We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause."

Interestingly enough, Yahoo puts the onus for this predicament on the shoulders of Congress, which as you know writes federal legislation and personifies the law of unintended consequences.

"Congress recently passed a law, called the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, that requires sites that target kids or know that a visitor to their site is a child under 13 years old to follow certain Federal Trade Commission rules," Yahoo says. "One of the rules is that a site must get parental consent in order to collect personally identifying information from kids under the age of 13. "That explanation doesn't impress Riordan.

"So instead of stopping the collection of personal information, they're collecting even more personal information," he says of the demand for his credit card number.

It's a conundrum, all right . . . But might he have considered actually asking his parents to contact Yahoo and vouch for his adulthood? Yahoo allows parents to open so-called "Family Accounts" that can empower the under-13 set.

"I've talked to them, but they said they're not taking responsibility for my e-mail."

"What's worrisome to us is that we're going through our second round right now, so [market volatility] makes the money a little more expensive," says Mark Lederhos, vice president of marketing at UDU World, a start-up with roots in Australia. "We're hoping this settles down because we're looking to close on that second round in June."

Lederhos isn't fearful that the money guys will cut his company off, but says, "It's going to be a tougher negotiation as to how much of the company they want" in return.

UDU World - pronounced "You Do World" - makes client/server software called ActiveInBox that works with standard e-mail packages to let enterprises and service providers produce customized menus of miniature "go fetch it" applications. End users activate these applications with a click on a menu, which forwards a request to the UDU server, which in turn gathers the information from an intranet, the Web, an enterprise resource planning system or whatever, and returns the data packaged in an e-mail. The idea is to let people fetch stuff they really need without leaving the comfort of their in-boxes. Lederhos swears the things are a big hit Down Under.

The concept looks interesting, but fashioning those applications had better be as easy as he claims.

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