Dear Subscribers:Over the past couple of weeks, you've emailed us some great resources and comments, which we're featuring this week. One of you even sparked some useful research that we think will answer questions many parents have. Thank you, all … and here's that lineup for this third week of March:
- Family Tech: Your own domain
- New online-safety tool for IM
- Subscribers write: Communicating kids/IM in South Africa, Illinois; For bugs & 'spyware'; Help with bullying; On Netsmartz.org….
- Web News Briefs: Suit filed against filtering law; Net pedophilia exposed; UK schools' online-safety resource; Americans online; Public access; Surfing in UK, Ireland, Textbook publishers online; PC spring cleaning….
Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software, housewares,
PC hardware, music CDs, etc. Examples this week:
Internet Activity Center K-4 (Reg price $29.99, FREE after rebate)
Complete Bible (King James) on CD-ROM (Reg price $39.99, $4.99 after rebate)
Swiss Army-style Pocket Knife (Reg price $37.99, FREE after rebate)
Family Tech: Your own domain
SafeKids.com's Larry Magid suggests there's a new way to maintain an identity these days: Get your own domain name that looks something like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Larry writes in his Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News that registering and maintaining one's own personal domain (in cyberspace, identity and address are bundled) is even getting cheaper - from $35/year not so long ago to as low as $8.95/year with some registrars now. He tells you where the best bargains are for registering as well as for setting up a personal or family Web site. Read to the bottom so you don't miss his advice on the privacy issues to consider in publishing a family site.
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New online-safety tool for IM
One of you emailed us this week asking, "Is there some software that will keep a record of the IMs my children send and receive?" Thanks, Liz. It's a logical question that growing numbers of parents are probably asking. We did some research and found a brand-new software product that represents a very creative solution to instant-messaging users' safety concerns - though it doesn't do exactly what Liz's email appears to describe.
Besides loading up a PC's hard drive, recording all incoming and outgoing IM messages isn't possible right now because of the nature of the technology and the way the Internet works, Lonnie Parrish told us in a phone interview. Lonnie is senior software developer for Security Software Systems, Inc., makers of Cyber Sentinel filtering software. Several calls led us to Security Soft. Another call, to AOL, revealed that its Parental Controls have no IM-protection mechanism except restricting the Buddy List in "Privacy Preferences" or blocking a child's use of IM altogether.
Lonnie explained that IM makes it tough to create solutions because it's not "open standard" technology (unlike the World Wide Web, which is open-standard, explaining the proliferation of filtering products). Each instant-messaging provider - America Online, Microsoft Network, Yahoo!, etc. - has its own proprietary code and standard, making it very difficult for any software maker to make a product that monitors IM-ing using all standards.
But Security Soft has developed a new product - Predator Guard - that tackles the problem in another way. It scans all text on the computer screen, in any software program (Microsoft Word, Outlook Express, or any IM application), "notices" when that text could be threatening to the user's well-being, and ends the IM or chat session if the user tells it to. The software also captures and logs "violations" - messages that contain language a sexual predator would use - for use as evidence by law enforcement. Lonnie explained that there are two pieces to the product that allows it to do these things: 1) a "library" or database of about 250 terms and phrases typically used by sexual predators or pedophiles (e.g., "Are you home alone?") when they're trying to engage chatroom participants and 2) technology that monitors, detects, and logs that text, checking it against the database.
To develop its database of pedophile language, Security Soft worked with computer-crime experts in police departments for about two years, Lonnie told us. Besides picking the law-enforcement experts' brains, he said, his company went through thousands of chat logs that had been used as evidence in successful prosecutions of sex offenders, looking for patterns in how the offenders had gained victims' confidence.
Those are the features unique to Predator Guard. It also does what many other online-safety products do: monitors and blocks any personal information a child might send out, such as home address, phone number, email address, or school name. Security Soft also says it "works as a stand-alone application or with all existing filtering … (AOL Parental Controls, MSN, Cyber Patrol, Net Nanny, Cyber Snoop, Bess...) to fill the protection gap left by these programs."
[Editor's Note: We do not endorse any particular online-safety solution; we just report on what's available. Our position is that each family and school or district should be allowed to arrive at its own best solutions, technological or human. But if any of you like a particular solution - especially if you'd tried it! - we'd love to hear from you about it.]
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Subscribers write: Communicating kids/IM users in South Africa, Illinois; 'Spyware' countermeasure; More bullying resources; Netsmartz.org feedback
- Karen in South Africa: SMS messaging at school
"Hi. I am a teacher at a South African high school for girls. I am also a parent of two teenage children. I teach computer literacy to a group of children between 12 and 18 years old. The computer center is open during breaks at school and after school and is frequented to capacity with children sending text messages to cell phones (SMS messages) via the Internet.
"As a school, we understand the need for this process to be monitored, so each computer center has two patrolling monitors and a teacher on duty all the time. Most intercepted messages seem harmless, but we have found kids buying and selling drugs in this manner. Also, many girls appear to be too trusting when it comes to online chatting, another favorite activity. It is my opinion that parents and teachers should be much more vigilant."
- Laura in Illinois: IM at home
"In response to teenagers' use of IM: I have a 13-year-old who actually told us he really did not need a screen name anymore, since AOL has the IM user page now. At our house, we have the computer in our kitchen in view of us at all times. We are using Parental Controls and stick to their guidelines regarding age groups. And we limit phone use to 30 minutes a night. This includes IM. I really prefer not to have IM available to the children because this site can never be secured. I have seen addresses come up on his name of people he does not know. The rules are reinforced about never answering or giving any information out to unknowns, and still we have a problem with this being followed when using IM. My vote is, I see it as unnecessary and prefer to see the computer utilized as a learning and resource tool. Thanks for listening."
- Kate in California: Solution for bugs & 'spyware'
"About bugs and other spies: I downloaded some software called 'Ad-aware' that automatically ferrets out and deletes spyware. This stuff gets installed on my computer with games on CDs, or when downloading free software, etc. Ad-aware is free and gets updated.
[We emailed Kate back asking if she could tell us where she downloaded Ad-aware. She kindly replied:]
"I found out about Ad-aware and other useful stuff in the newsletter from www.langa.com. Ad-award can be downloaded at Lavasoft." Here's their main Web site.
- Sherryll in Colorado: Help with bullying
"You missed a great resource for parents and a new program for elementary schools that addresses bullying in a whole new way. Please check out www.safechild.org. Go to the bullying section."
[We've since found some other links as well: Look for "Where school shooters get their guns" when you get to this page. The article says "43% of American homes with both guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm."]
- Teacher/consultant Anne in California: Software known to help with bullying
"Here's a San Francisco-based company (an all-women leadership team) worth checking out - they produce social learning software titles called "Relate for Kids" and "Relate for Teens." They claim they are highly successful in changing behaviors in kids when it comes to bullying - being bullied or observing someone being bullied - because they attack it on all tiers. As you can imagine, they are getting lots of publicity these days, with so many school shootings. They were one of the Codie Award entries that I judged last year. You can find them at RippleEffects.com."
- Researchers Berson in Florida: Netsmartz.org feedback
"Our family had the opportunity to explore the NCMEC Netsmartz site. The activities were very engaging and age-appropriate for our elementary school children. We especially liked the 'Who Wants to Be Your Friend on the Internet.' The ending provided a great discussion point for our children. This site should definitely be incorporated into training by families and educators. Based on our experience, we will be promoting its implementation in the Internet Safety initiatives in which we are involved."
- Drs. Ilene and Michael Berson, Internet Safety and Child Advocacy Researchers, University of South Florida.
[We asked, and received, the Bersons' permission to identify them fully because their credentials as both parents and Net-safety researchers make their endorsement fairly weighty!]
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Web News Briefs
- Suit filed against school-filtering law
Three dozen plaintiffs led by the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union took the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to court this week, reports Reuters (via TheStandard.com). The National School Boards Association was among them. CIPA is the third attempt by the US Congress to tackle children's exposure to sexually related Internet content (the 5th paragraph of an Internet World article tells how CIPA's different from the first two). The law, passed in December, requires the use of filtering on connected PCs in US schools and libraries that receive "e-rate" federal connectivity funding. Wired News reports on the perspective of the law's authors and supporters. Here is earlier coverage in this newsletter - "ALA & the filtering law" - and this week's scenesetters at a number of Web news outlets: Newbytes.com, the New York Times, and CNET.
Earlier this month, in a related case, a state appeals court decided that a California library cannot be sued under state law for failing to filter Internet content. According to CNET, a mother had been seeking damages over pornographic material obtained by her 12-year-old son on library computers. If that library has received federal e-rate funds and if the sued had been filed later, CIPA and the challenge to it might have been factors in this case. We welcome your views on this law - and whether it helps or hinders schools and libraries and their constituents. Do email us.
- Net pedophilia exposed
Many of you have already seen this Newsweek cover story, "The Darkest Corner of the Internet." But in case you haven't, we're highlighting this investigative piece on Net-based child pornography and an Italian priest's crusade against it. Newsweek says that four years' work on Father Fortunato's part has "helped investigators break a major international ring of pedophiles, based in Russia, leading to a series of crackdowns that is expected to continue shortly in the United States. Within the next few weeks, the US government plans to announce a wide sweep against alleged consumers of child pornography in more than a dozen cities across the country." The story, which is also about the hard work of many individuals and organizations, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and US Customs, makes the important point that the Internet is both a tool for and a powerful weapon against pedophilia, and articles like this are good exposure for criminal activity that thrives on anonymity, silence, and denial.
- Internet in school: UK
Britain's government has put up a great online-safety Web site specifically for schools, we learned from TheRegister.com. Dubbed the "Superhighway Safety pack", it provides guidance for school-based email addresses for students, setting up a school Web site (that includes, e.g., students' photos), safety in chat, filtering, firewalls, intellectual property & plagiarism, and acceptable-use policies/contracts. One of the best features, we think, is a list of "examples of good practices" in filtering, email in school, chat, and student photos. Another Register.com piece this week, "Is this the man that [sic] will make it safe for kids to surf the Net?", profiles Stephen Balkam, providing an update on the work of the Internet Content Ratings Association, which Stephen runs (please see our "Web ratings relaunched!" profiling ICRA last November).
- Americans online
Market researchers say the Internet - at least as it's used in the US - is "a moveable feast of different kinds of people seeking different types of online experiences," according to Nielsen/NetRatings research cited by Demographics.com. Which means it's a "moving target" for marketers and Web publishers struggling since the dot-com meltdown to find better ways to serve surfers. The study shows that 56% of Americans, nearly 154 million people, accessed the Net in November 2000, a 30% increase over the previous year. US surfers' average age is 39 and rising, and their education level (only 38% with a college degree now) and socio-economic status are falling (the "fastest-growing segment of Web newbies" is Americans over 55 "with working-class incomes and middlebrow tastes"), reports Demographics.com. CNET's report on the Nielsen/NetRatings numbers says they indicate that "the so-called digital divide is starting to narrow with the availability of low-cost personal computers and free Internet service providers."
- Public access
While we're on the subject, the nonprofit DigitalDivideNetwork.org now has a searchable database of more than 20,000 public Internet-access facilities in the US. So anyone, whether connected at home or not, can type in a zip code and get results that include organizations' names, addresses, phone numbers, and maps showing their location! Our thanks to the USIIA Bulletin for pointing out this useful service.
- Surfing in the UK, Ireland
Net use is growing rapidly in Great Britain, with 700,000 new surfers just in the first two months of this year, according to a Jupiter Media Metrix study cited by TheRegister.com. "The massive rise was attributed to punters who bought a new PC for Christmas and those who thought they'd save a few bob waiting for the January sales," The Register reports. All told, 1 million Britons started using the Internet (from home) since last October, making the total home Net population 13.5 million. Kids aged 2-14 are the largest group of new adopters, representing 15.2% of the UK home Net population, up from 10.7% last October.
In Ireland, the numbers are smaller, but growth is significant. According to NUA Internet Surveys, the number of Irish households with Web access increased by more than 400% between 1998 and '00, but "Internet penetration in the country remains low by European standards." NUA cites research by the Ireland's Central Statistics Office showing that 20.4% of Irish households are online and nearly a third have computers.
- Textbook publishers & online ed
They're both called "Learning Network," but the similarities stop right about there. According to the New York Times, two of the largest textbook publishing companies - McGraw-Hill and UK-based Pearson PLC - are taking very different approaches to dealing with the Internet. They're still very much feeling their way as they work through how simultaneously to exploit the Internet and to protect their businesses from it. The Times reports that McGraw-Hill is taking it pretty much textbook by textbook - creating interactive versions of print products - while Pearson with its LearningNetwork.com aims to be one-stop information and resource shopping for kids, parents, and educators.
- PC spring cleaning
At least in the Northern Hemisphere, it's that cleaning time of year again, and ZDNet has a nice little twist on the theme for computer owners. Nice because its five ways to put a PC in order are short and to the point. And in "Talkback" at the bottom, readers offer their own tried-and-true tips.
- A threat via email
Thousands of students in Santa Ana, Calif., stayed home from school because of a threatening email that had been sent to them, according to the Associated Press (via CNET). Two teenagers were arrested for allegedly making terrorist threats.
- Napster's compliance
Just to keep Net music fans up to date, here's this week's Napster coverage. CNET reports that the average number of tunes now available on the MP3-file-swapping service has dropped by more than half. That's part of the court order requiring Napster to block 135,000 songs identified by the record industry. Wired News reports that, consequently, Napster users are using the service less. They may be wise because TheRegister.com reports that the recording industry has some "big brother" software that can watch individual file-sharers.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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