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The newsletter will be on summer vacation next week and the following. We'll be back in your In-Box August 31. Here's our lineup for this first full week of August:
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Online Kid Quote of the Week

"Dad, can I go on the Internet? I'm sick of watching TV."

-- Will, 9, USA

[Readers, send in things you hear online kids say about the Net and digital media. Please include only first name, age, and country of residence. Of course, Quotes can certainly be written (in emails) as well as verbal. Kids can send them in too! The address:]

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Family Tech: The PC's birthday

Twenty years ago's Larry Magid took on the job of writing the manual for EasyWriter, the word-processing program for IBM's first personal computer. As Larry puts it in his column for the Los Angeles Times, "that was the beginning of my long and often tumultuous love-hate relationship with the PC" and the launching of "an entire industry and plenty of supplemental industries that employ millions of people around the world [and] ... changed the world as we know it." In reading the column, it was amazing for us to remember what the world of computers was like "way back" in 1981!

Writers and readers at ZDNet join Larry and the PC's birthday celebration with their own thoughts on the past 20 years and on where personal computing is headed.


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Next-generation filtering & monitoring

As many parents know, there's no single "right way" to protect online kids. There are probably as many good solutions as there are kids, and they're most likely combinations of software tools, family rules, and parental monitoring. We try to keep you up on the latest online-safety technologies so you can fold them into ongoing family discussion and policymaking on Internet use (there is no replacement for parental involvement!).

Here we highlight the most interesting features (from a parent's perspective) of some next-generation tools and services.

  1. Innovative filtering service: Updates never needed

    Those of you who aren't subscribers of America Online can now get AOL's cutting-edge filtering another way - by subscribing to Cerberian's filtering service. It works with any Internet service provider. It's not a filtered ISP itself, such as Integrity Online or FamilyClick, but it is more service than product. It includes downloadable software (paid for by a $49.99/year subscription fee) that communicates across the Net with the continuously updated filtering server at Cerberian (the filtering part is on the server rather than on your home PC).

    That server uses RuleSpace's just-patented filtering technology, which is what AOL now uses (see "Web News Briefs" (#3) in our May 11 issue). Put very simply, it's context-recognition filtering as opposed to the keyword filtering tech found in many consumer filtering products now on the market, and it filters dynamic Web pages as they're downloaded. Dynamic pages are like those a search engine builds "on the fly," right on your screen after you type in a word and hit "Enter." RuleSpace says 30% of the Web's pages are dynamically generated, and "traditional" filtering that uses databases doesn't work on these. Cerberian says pornography sites are particularly adept at using dynamic technology.

    If you're interested in a bit of detail on how the tech works, RuleSpace's Chris Robison used the phrase "proximity mapping" - word-pattern recognition based on words' locations relative to each other - in describing to us how the technology recognizes words in context. It "learns" how to recognize these patterns by being fed "very large samples of representative content - for example, porn," Chris said. After being given a lot of these samples the technology starts to "boil them down" to a "category model" that has unique features and patterns the technology can instantly identify. The tech also uses a sample of "what we call 'anti-content' - things that are absolutely not porn, for example, 'chicken breasts'," he added. It then "analyzes" and rates content based on this information that it has "learned."

    The benefit of all this to parents is not perfect filtering (perfect filtering doesn't exist), but more flexible "filtering-as-you-go" and a continuously updated database of rated Web pages - no more downloads of updates, no additional fees. This is filtering that keeps up with the Web's phenomenal growth.

    However, it is only Web filtering; it doesn't provide safeguards for chat, instant-messaging, or email (see No. 2 for help with those). As for other features, though an afterthought in the design of this service, there is a monitoring piece to it: the family's Net-use data that the Cerberian server collects. Cerberian's Scott Nelson explains: "A customer can go to, type in her user name and password and see what's been happening [with a child's online activities] that day. You can run reports on the past day, three days, 30 days, 60 days - however you want to configure it - and it includes specific URLs."

    Here's the Cerberian/RuleSpace press release on this new service.

  2. Monitoring (and filtering) that honors a child's privacy

    There are a lot of monitoring products out there, but what sets Security Soft's products apart is the way they allow parents to honor a child's privacy while protecting her online. The home products we're talking about are Cyber Sentinel for filtering, mentioned in "Family Tech" last week, and Predator Guard for monitoring. (See below for more on the school front.)

    In a past issue (see "New online-safety tool for IM," 3/23/01), we mentioned how this company's products work for instant-messaging and chat, as well as Web use - very helpful for multitasking young technophiles - but what we're highlighting here is how it tackles a concern parents have recently mentioned. A mom and dad who are trying to figure out the best online-safety mix for their household told us they don't open their children's regular mail, so they'd like to respect their kids' privacy when they're online too.

    Cyber Sentinel and Predator Guard are unique in that they alert parents only to online-safety "violations," such as sending out personal information, downloading sexually explicit content, or chatting or IM-ing with a stranger who's using phrases typical of those sexual predators use. The software neither logs everything a child does online nor takes random screen shots of whatever s/he's doing online (see below for that type of monitoring product).

    For schools: If administrators are concerned about filtering's flaws but have an acceptable-Net-use policy that students need to uphold for their own protection, monitoring really is a viable option now with Security Soft's "Policy Central." With it installed on the school network, the first thing students see when they go online is the school's own Net-use policy. Before they can go further on the PC, they have to agree to comply with it. The school's system administrator has both an acceptance log and a violation log. S/he can't see anything a student does online except activities that violate the school policy - because the software only logs violations. It's like an airtight "honor system" with no invasion of student or teacher privacy.

    [As for whether "Policy Central" is all a school needs for compliance with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), the jury's still out. Few people have studied the new law more than public-policy counsel and subscriber Liza Kessler, and even she says, "It really depends on the local community's understanding of the term 'filter'.... The CIPA statute reads 'filter OR block." Liza, who's been traveling around the US this summer conducting CIPA-compliance workshops for schools, says some technologists have argued that "packet-sniffing-technology monitoring products 'filter,' in that all material passing through their systems gets classified [or filtered] by their technology, although nothing gets blocked." However, she said one monitoring-tech company, Pennsylvania-based Pearl Software (makers of CyberSnoop), lobbied hard, to no avail, to get one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), to change his bill to allow monitoring. "I've been telling people in the workshops that this is something they should consult with local school attorneys about," Liza adds, "if that's the solution they want to implement in their school districts."]

    What we like about Security Soft's monitoring approach is that, in both school and home environments, 1) school and family acceptable-use policies govern online activity more than some software company's values or standards, 2) adults can show kids their privacy's being respected, and 3) useful Internet material is not blocked by over-zealous filtering products.

  3. Monitoring & family privacy protection

    What stands out about BeAware monitoring software by Ascentive is its simplicity - of both concept and use. "Filtering is the 80% solution," said Adam Schran, Ascentive's CEO, explaining why he feels monitoring is much more effective.

    If a parent's main interest is in providing a deterrent - being up front and letting kids know their online activities can be "spot-checked" anytime (even when parents are at work) - BeAware, a simple "screen capture" program, is a lean, mean little monitoring machine. Parents set the times when it takes "snapshots" of what's on the computer screen, whether it's an email message, image, Web page, or chatroom. They can look at those snapshots, or "screen grabs," from another computer, at home or work. But just having a monitoring product on a child's computer (and letting him/her know it's there!) is probably the product's best feature, blended with random, in person peering over the kid's shoulder when everybody's at home. Of course BeAware can also be used secretly, but we truly don't recommend this approach, which does nothing to foster trust and good family communications. Adam told us that's his company's philosophy as well.

    There are other screen-capture programs like BeAware (such as Spector, Big Brother, and Spy Agent, which have some additional features), but this one works well with Ascentive's ActivePrivacy, which might meet another common family-online-safety goal. ActivePrivacy stops companies' and Web sites' "cookies" from gathering family members' personal information and tracking their Web surfing habits.

    Ascentive itself is unique in that it's owned and operated (profitably!) by a 25-year-old CEO and a 14-year-old chief technology adviser (Adam's brother). "We started the company together," Adam told us. "Andrew is my brother. He couldn't get DSL [because of the house's location relative to the ISP] and needed to speed up his Internet connection." So, when then-university student Adam was home on vacation, they started working on a software solution. "Andrew did the programming in Visual Basic and we launched Web Rocket on his 12 birthday." He was the main code writer for Ascentive's first two products, but "after sales really started to go up and Andrew was in 8th grade pretty much full time, we had to hire some older software engineers to create the next products."

Editor's Note: These are not product reviews or tests; they're meant to bring to your attention milestones in online-safety tech development. Your experiences with these or any other such tools are valuable and most welcome (please email us)! For a software engineer's picks of products he's tested, see the very helpful

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Book review: Parents should read Michael Lewis

All parents, we suggest, not just our subscribers (many of whom already have a good feel for what being online means for kids). We're referring to the latest book by best-selling author and New York Times Magazine contributor Michael Lewis, "Next: The Future Just Happened." It's the print companion to the BBC's television documentary "Next," which aired on the A&E cable network this week. Michael gathered a lot of his material for the book from his worldwide travels for the BBC, which got him talking with mostly-young "digerati" and Netheads who have conquered many areas of cyberspace.

Michael doesn't delve deeply into the implications - for themselves, their families, or their societies - of some of these young pioneers' exploits. He's more interested in the impact, for example, that 15-year-old stock manipulator Jonathan Lebed had on the SEC, the stock market, and society than on Jonathan's own life. Both sides of the story need to be told, and "Next" is the important first half. As for the personal side of these stories, when other parents read about how these teens' own parents dealt with their children's expertise, they will either be grateful they're engaged in their kids' online activities, or (we hope) they will scramble to be so.

Here are links to excerpts from the book on two powerfully Net-literate teenagers: faux lawyer Marcus Arnold and stock manipulator Jonathan Lebed (our 3/2 item links to it). And here are two good reviews of "Next," at BookPage and the Christian Science Monitor, and an interview with Lewis at Lewis's own Web site is here.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Child porn sting

    One hundred people were arrested this week in an undercover investigation into what US federal officials describe as the largest-known commercial child pornography business ever uncovered. As the Associated Press reports (via CNET), the two-year investigation began with Landslide Productions, a Texas-based company owned by Thomas and Janice Reedy, convicted last year and sentenced this week to life and 14 years in prison, respectively. Landslide, which provided e-commerce services to porn operators in Indonesia and Russia, "charged customers $29.95 per month for access and netted more than $1 million between 1997 and 1999," AP reports, adding that the service had a staggering 250,000 subscribers. Because even possession of child pornography is illegal, the subscribers themselves are criminals. The 100 people arrested this week were among those subscribers. "Authorities tracked down some of them using electronic and credit card information gathered in an investigation conducted by the postal inspection service, US Customs Service, the FBI, and the Dallas Police Department," reports the AP.

    A Wired News report shows how much tougher it is to prosecute overseas porn ring members - because of "loose laws governing the Internet and pornography" in other countries. Indonesia, for example, has no laws banning child porn. Here's the New York Times's coverage.

    If anyone ever encounters child pornography (sexually explicit material involving minors), advises that they call the US Customs Service at 1-800-BE-ALERT. But please note this too: Downloading or making a copy of child pornography for any reason - even as evidence for law enforcement - is a crime in the US. If you run across what you believe to be child porn, just record the URL (Web address) and report only that.

    Another very helpful organization concerning kids at risk is the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It has both a Web-based (where you type information into a Web form) and a phone hotline (800.843.5678). For details on how the NCMEC can help, see our report last February.

  2. SC: New law tougher on child porn

    South Carolina recently enacted a law that "requires all computer technicians to report potential instances of child pornography to police if they see it on a computer," according - including school tech coordinators. The law, partially intended to raise awareness of online child pornography, expands an old law that requires photo finishers to report child porn they find to the police. But the new statute reportedly lacks teeth: It "doesn't provide for penalties for technicians who do not report what they see - neither does it specify how the law will be enforced." Here's's report on this .

  3. Kids as (viral) marketers, aka 'alpha pups'

    If you want to read about 1) what is likely to be one of the "absolutely must have" toys of the coming holiday season, 2) how toy companies turn kids into supremely effective, unpaid, nationwide virtual marketing departments of millions, 3) why these young viral marketers are boys not girls, and/or 4) whether you might have latent "alpha pups" at your house or school, check out the New York Times Magazine's story about "Pox," the new electronic game by Hasbro. We were fascinated with the observations made and studies cited by writer John Tierney about boys and girls at play and about games and violence.

  4. 65 million online kids

    That's 65 million (ages 5-17) just in western Europe and North America, where the survey by Datamonitor was done. The study, cited by CyberAtlas, also found that, by 2005, 74% of the youth population in western Europe and North America will have regular access to the Internet, and they will spend increasing amounts of time online as they become more familiar with the medium. In Europe, teenagers now account for 12% of the online population there, according to Jupiter Media Metrix study reported on by Nua Internet Surveys. This study, too, said they're spending more time online: "In June those aged 12 and 17 spent an average of nearly eight hours online," an increase since January of two hours in the UK and France and three hours in Germany.

    In the UK, at least, these young surfers are also getting smarter about online privacy and safety. Nua cites yet another study, by NOP Research Group, showing that 60% of 7-16-year-olds say they would not give out their email address or home address on the Internet, up from 40% in November 2000. "Of those who would not divulge personal addresses, 42% said it was because their parents told them not to, up from 33%."

  5. Debunker of virus myths

    If you ever want to find out if a virus you've heard about is real or a myth, check out, Wired News suggests. Wired gives the background on Rob Rosenberger, the candid curmudgeon (and experienced programmer and systems administrator "with high-level CIA security clearance) who runs the vmyths-debunking Web site.

  6. Not everyone likes IM

    The numbers don't bear it out (AOL claims 1 billion instant messages get sent daily on its service alone), but some people don't like IMs. We suspect they're not teenagers. gives us a look at some of the IM detractors' grievances, suggesting that "these people's complaints ... are worth listening to as we move toward an increasingly interruption-driven world of constant communication." Meanwhile, even as we calmly consider the downside, the next generation of IM is ready to take off, and CNET tells that story. Here's our interview with the mom of a teenager who likes IM very much indeed.

  7. New P2P service from Netscape alums

    Move over BearShare, Morpheus, Aimster, etc. Here comes Kontiki, a peer-to-peer (P2P) startup formed mostly by Netscape alums which "will offer a way to speed downloads over the Internet, with a focus on video files," according to CNET. The story operates on the assumption that if some of the original people at pre-AOL Netscape are working on a technology, it's worth following. This article is a useful snapshot of where Napster-like P2P file-sharing is going and why it's here to stay - important to know about because this is the technology many of our kids are using to swap music, image, and video files (see our July 13 report for more).

  8. Napster now will cost ya

    The online music service will soon start charging users $5 a month, reports , to pay for musicians' copyrights. Everything else, Napster claims, will be just like it was before (except maybe the number of users!).

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CIPA Clarity

An attorney's precision can be very helpful, especially to schools and libraries these days. Public-policy lawyer Liza Kessler (mentioned above) emailed us about a bit of vagueness in our item on the Children's Internet Protection Act last week . Referring to our statement that CIPA requires libraries and schools receiving federal e-rate funding to install "online-safety technology," Liza wrote: "The language of the law ... is not technology neutral. It doesn't require schools or libraries to use an 'online-safety technology' - it specifically requires 'filtering or blocking technology' ... that 'blocks or filters' access to 'visual depictions' that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors."

Liza goes on to point out something else worth noting: that the law, interestingly, does not require similar blocking/filtering technology for sexually explicit material or contacts that come via email, chat, or instant-messaging, should those be available in schools and libraries. It only requires an acceptable-use policy addressing those technologies. "One of the specific things [schools] have to address in the AUP (now called 'Internet Safety Policy') is direct contact, including chat, IM & email, with minors," Liza wrote us. "CIPA doesn't say what the school has to do, but it does require that there be a policy addressing the subject." So the law really only addresses Web surfing, and there are many other online technologies kids might use at school or the library.

Our point is, CIPA - probably like any law or any single online-safety measure - is very limited in its ability to protect kids, which means that experts like Liza have to travel all over the country helping schools and libraries figure out how to be in compliance with the law. "CIPA really wound up phenomenally complicated," Liza reports. Here's an article she wrote for to help schools wade through the complexities.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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