October 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

Trouble in Wal-Mart’s Toyland

Although Wal-Mart Stores Inc. insists it’s only a web-based version of the traditional Christmas list, the interactive and child-focused Toyland section on Walmart.com intrudes on parental control, a consumer group contends.

Who could find fault with two friendly elves presiding over Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Toyland microsite? Well, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, for one, a child advocacy group that charges the retail giant is “ruthlessly coming between parents and children and actively encouraging kids to nag for their holiday gifts.” It has called on its 7,000 member to write Wal-Mart to urge that the site be shut down.

At the site, elves “Wally” and “Marty” give running commentary as a wide array of toys parade past on a conveyer belt. “If you show us what you want on your wish list, we’ll blast it off to your parents,” the elves say. “We’ll help plead your case.”

When a child clicks a ‘Yes’ button indicating he wants the toy, he hears applause and the toy is boxed and put into a spaceship. Children are periodically asked to enter their parents’ e-mail addresses so the spaceship carrying the wish list can be sent to mom and dad.

On its site, the child advocacy group notes that many of the toys are expensive or may be in conflict with parental values. “Yet children do not need a parent’s permission to enter Toyland, there is no age requirement to use the site and kids are encouraged to submit their parents’ e-mail addresses in order to send their wish list,” the group says.

For its part, Wal-Mart defends the program as a modern version of the Christmas list. “Making a list for Santa and sharing it with parents is a tradition that goes back as long as Santa,” a spokesman for Walmart.com says. “Today’s parents certainly remember going through the Christmas catalogs and circling every other item.”

Wal-Mart adds that parents “have the same control that they’ve always had over what to do with that information.”

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