In the wake of reports that some internet sites collect personal information on children without their parents’ permission, President Clinton’s top internet adviser, Ira Magaziner, called on technology industry leaders to find a solution to the problem of privacy in cyberspace—or risk having the government do it for them.

“Right now,” Magaziner said, “privacy is not adequately protected on the internet—and it has to be.” He called on consumer and business groups to agree to standards for telling internet users what will be done with any information they provide.

Magaziner’s remarks followed a report by the Federal Trade Commission in December warning of the data-gathering practices involving children.

In a snapshot survey of 126 web sites listed by “Yahooligans!,” a popular directory of internet sites for children, the FTC found that fewer than 30 percent of the sites collecting data post either a privacy policy or a confidentiality statement, and only 4 percent required a parent’s authorization.

The snapshot survey was not meant to be a comprehensive study. But the FTC plans a systematic review of internet information-collecting practice in March for a report to Congress. It will check how many internet sites—including children’s sites—are posting privacy policies.

Magaziner suggested that nonprofit watchdogs be set up to police the industry, granting a seal of approval to web sites that comply and taking action against those who fail to honor the industry’s code.

Magaziner addressed his comments to about 100 software and electronic commerce executives at the Internet Law & Policy Forum’s 1998 conference in Seattle.