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Britney hits girls' pockets

Parents should worry less about their daughters copying singer Britney Spears' skimpy tops and overt sexuality, and more about the star's hold over girls' pocket money, according to researchers.

"Tweenies", girls aged nine to 12, logging on to official fan sites full of merchandise and promotions, meant consumption and marketing outweighed the number of porn sites using her name, according to a report on the singing phenomenon.

Moral panics over sexualisation of young girls and Britney's effects on them paled in comparison to the "commodity fetishness" surrounding her image, it concluded.

Fans, rather than those looking for porn, were responsible for the greatest number of hits under her name in the Google search engine. She has been the most searched-for keyword on the internet for five consecutive years, with 5.34 million sites devoted to her or including her name.

Fifth on the Google search was, bafflingly, Britney's guide to semi-conductor physics - featuring only a picture of the star at the top of the guide.

Candis Steenbergen, who presented her findings to the international Digital Generations conference in London this week, found Britney maintained her ambiguous image between girlhood and womanhood, despite being a 22-year-old engaged to be wed for a second time.

"Since her emergence in 1999, Britney Spears has sparked more moral panics around girls and their bodies, sexuality and dress than any other pop personality," said the report.

"The moral panics are misplaced," said Ms Steenbergen, of Concordia university, Canada. "The figure that emerges is a hot market, this is commodity fetishness." Sites had even been set up devoted to the ways her name has been misspelt, she said.

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