Geocities Goes (Too) Public

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WASHINGTON: Wall Street darling GeoCities got its first black eye Thursday: Federal agents say the Internet company has been misusing children's personal information by making it available to third parties. Rather than fight the Federal Trade Commission, GeoCities has agreed to settle, promising to modify its web site according to FTC strictures and provide a link to the commission's own guidelines on web privacy.

The dust-up is over "GeoKidz Club," directed at children aged 12 and under, and could give the Santa Monica-based company -- which provides free web pages to cyberspace homesteaders -- a bad name with paranoid parents. But not with Wall Street: After skyrocketing from 17 to 45 points since Tuesday's IPO, the stock was wavering Wednesday in the low 40s -- standard behavior, says TIME Wall Street columnist Daniel Kadlec, for a white-hot IPO. "A drop that small is just normal profit-taking," says Kadlec, and is presumably unrelated to the FTC complaint. As for the longer term, Kadlec believes Thursday's trouble will be soon forgotten. "On the Internet, there's not that high an expectation of privacy anyway. This won't distinguish them from anybody else." On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog after all.