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Health Highlights: Sept. 28 2012

Online Privacy Rules for Children to be Tightened: Report New SARS-Like Virus Linked to Animals

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Online Privacy Rules for Children to be Tightened: Report

New rules to protect the privacy of children when they're using the Internet are expected to be introduced within a few weeks by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Children's advocates say major corporations, app developers and data miners appear to be collecting information about the online activities of millions of youngsters without their parents' awareness, The New York Times reported.

Personal details such as children's photographs or the locations of their mobile devices have been collected by some sites and apps, leading to concerns that the information could be used to identify or locate specific children and put them at risk, the newspaper said.

While these data-gathering practices are legal, they have alarmed FTC officials and many experts.

"Today, almost every child has a computer in his pocket and it's that much harder for parents to monitor what their kids are doing online, who they are interacting with, and what information they are sharing," Mary K. Engle, associate director of the advertising practices division at the FTC, told the Times. "The concern is that a lot of this may be going on without anybody's knowledge."

The FTC's proposed new rules would increase the need for websites targeted at youngsters to obtain parental permission for some currently common practices such as using cookies to track users' online activities.

Marketers contend that would result in companies reducing their online offerings for children.

"Do we need a broad, wholesale change of the law? The answer is no. It is working very well," Mike Zaneis, general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry association, told the Times.

Another of the FTC's proposed changes would require children under age 13 to get parental consent before they submit photos of themselves to websites.


New SARS-Like Virus Linked to Animals

A new respiratory virus seemingly related to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus is most closely linked to bat viruses, according to an early genetic study of the virus published by Britain's Health Protection Agency.

The new virus may also be linked to viruses in camels, sheep or goats. Global health officials suspect that two people from the Middle East who were infected with the virus may have caught it from animals, Associated Press reported.

"It's a logical possibility to consider any animals present in the region in large numbers," said Ralph Baric, a virus expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Biologists now need to go into the area and take samples from any animals they can get their hands on, including camels and goats," he told the AP.

It's important to determine how widespread the virus is in animals and what kind of contact might put people at risk, he added.

SARS killed hundreds of people in a 2003 global outbreak, but officials say there are no signs that the new virus will be as deadly or that it is easily transmitted from person to person, the AP reported.

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