Sale prices from Wal-Mart and Target may not seem like big secrets, especially since they're plastered all over newspapers, but big retailers nonetheless cried foul last week after their post-Thanksgiving sale prices leaked onto the Internet.

"This is proprietary information that could have a serious adverse impact on Staples' business," said Staples Vice President Paul Capelli. "It can telegraph to your competitors your plans for future business."

Staples was among six retailers that sent notices to FatWallet.com, a bargain-hunter site, demanding it remove posts by visitors on a community message area revealing specials to be advertised for this week's "Black Friday" sales. Since it's the kickoff of the holiday shopping season, the day after Thanksgiving is a highly competitive time for retailers. Other complaining merchants included Target, Jo-Ann Stores, Wal-Mart, OfficeMax and Best Buy.

FatWallet (www.fatwallet.com) removed the sales data, even though its president, Tim Storm, said he believed the information violated no copyrights. "It's very expensive to be right," Storm said.

"We feel that prices are public facts" and therefore shouldn't be subject to copyright, added Dan Baxter, who runs DealCatcher (www.dealcatcher.com), another site asked to remove sales data. Like Storm, Baxter said he had little choice but to comply.

OfficeMax and other merchants were irked; although they routinely publish sale circulars on their Web sites several days before delivering them to shoppers, last week's leaks occurred more than a week in advance.

People posting the information were identified only by their screen names, and several merchants said they are pressing FatWallet, DealCatcher and other sites to cough up the leaksters' contact info so they can take "appropriate action" against them.

Lest you think nobody cares about advance peeks at Barbie and Lego discounts, check out the Yahoo discussion group that formed Wednesday. By Friday more than 6,000 people had joined the "Black Friday Ads" group (groups.yahoo.com/group/BlackFriday), where people were publishing long lists of sale prices said to be offered in stores Thanksgiving weekend.

AOL Blocks Teen Shopping

America Online has temporarily banned most people under age 18 from shopping on its service. The company took the measure after receiving complaints that material inappropriate for youngsters was turning up in the search results of its shopping area.

AOL's shopping section normally bans alcohol, tobacco and pornographic products, but some offensive material managed to squeak through. While it figures out how to block that material completely, AOL decided to lock out anybody whose screen name has been set to an under-18 category by AOL's parental-control software.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham didn't say if access would be restored during the holiday shopping season. "This is a priority to us and we hope to fix it in the very near future," he said.

Deal of the Week

EBay announced a free-shipping special on high-tech gizmos to tout its new electronics area, which offers about 700,000 used, new and reconditioned items. The free shipping deal is a first for eBay, allowing people to search for all merchants who have agreed to waive shipping fees during the holiday season.

www.ebayelectronics.com

E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.