Bud.TV Comes Under Fire

ST. LOUIS Attorneys general of more than 20 states have written to Anheuser-Busch, asking the brewer for better tools to make sure underaged viewers aren’t accessing its new Bud.TV site.

The Web site launched earlier this month after the Super Bowl broadcast and streams beer-themed shows, sports events and musical acts 24-hours a day on the Internet.

The attorneys general “strongly encourage” A-B to use a more effective age-verification tool. They wrote Thursday that while Anheuser-Busch asks for a name, zip code and birth date to check the user’s age, any underage youth who knows basic information about an adult could plug it in to access the site.

They request that at a minimum people should have to enter their name and full address, or a driver’s license number, exactly as it appears on a government-issued ID before a person could access the site.

They propose several other possible safeguards, like sending a postcard to the home or making a phone call to check that a legal-aged adult, and not a child below the drinking age, is checking out the site.

The St. Louis-based brewer, in a statement Friday, called itself the first in its industry to adopt independent age verification for the company’s Web sites. It said it has even faced some criticism that the age checks were too cumbersome and turning away some adults.

“Despite the fact that this software has turned away tens of thousands of visitors, we have continued to use it to show that we’re serious about wanting to prevent illegal underage drinking,” said a company representative, Francine Katz, in a statement.

“Despite these extraordinary efforts, some have urged us to make the age verification process more difficult and even more invasive of people’s privacy,” she said.

Maine attorney general G. Steven Rowe, who helped to spearhead the effort along with Louisiana’s attorney general Charles Foti, said he didn’t have any evidence that underage children are accessing the Web site, but said it’s clear that more could be done to safeguard children from entering the site.

The concern is based in part, he said, on the fact that A-B is venturing into new territory with Bud.TV, different from putting ads on television. Because the brewer creates the programming and controls the Internet-based network, it has a higher responsibility to make sure youth aren’t exposed to the alcohol-related marketing, the officials wrote.

Rowe said the letter, sent to A-B’s general counsel Lisa Joley, was a follow-up in response to previous communication on the matter.

He and his office said they didn’t think the fact that more attorneys general hadn’t signed on was related to their level of support, so much as the quick turn-around time on the letter.

He said normally attorneys general have at least a few more days to sign on to a group letter, but this one was sent quickly because the Web site just launched.

The attorneys general also proposed several other safeguards in their letter related to concerns that users could share passwords or send a downloaded video from Bud.TV to a video file-sharing site.

A-B said it has several programs in place to prevent illegal underage drinking, including work last year with 28 attorneys general on a radio campaign against underage drinking and drunk driving.

The attorneys general who sent the letter are from Maine, Louisiana, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.