October 26, 2001
Dear Subscribers:Thank you for any and all feedback you send in, including survey responses. You're a wonderful readership, and we always appreciate hearing from you. Here's our lineup for this last full week of October:
- Family Tech: Upgrade to Windows XP?
- US kids speak: Their online activities, their parents' involvement
- Web News Briefs: Web ratings leap; Scotland's maximum sentence; Teens & Net 'hotel'; US's anti-terrorism bill; 'Virtual child porn' case; Anthrax film for kids; Children's own Halloween stories; Multimedia IMs....
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Family Tech: Upgrade to Windows XP?
There's been a lot of hype about Microsoft's newest operating system, so SafeKids.com's Larry Magid kindly cuts through it. In his column for the Los Angeles Times, he suggests that "if Windows 95, 98 or Me works just fine - and they do for many people - there's no truly compelling reason to trade up to XP," but "it is perhaps Microsoft's best operating system, full of significant improvements over previous versions of Windows."
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US kids speak: Their online activities, their parents' involvement
Since early 2000 Harris Interactive has talked to approximately 3,000 kids (8-17) at least every six months about their online activities. As promised last week, here's just a sampler of the questions Harris asks. Some of the findings might raise an eyebrow or two or, even better, a review of family online-safety policies. For example, that third one down alerts us all to the importance of establishing this rule: that kids must not give out personal information online, especially in user profiles or chatrooms.
The parental-involvement set of questions all start with "Your parents..." and continue as follows, with percentages showing the number of "Yes" answers:
...know where you are going online:
8-9 years old: 86%
10-12: 77% (up 11% since first survey in April '00)
13-15: 47% (no significant change from 4/00)
16-17: 26% (down 22%)
...put limits on how long you can be online (all except 10-to-12-year-olds saying restrictions have decreased from 4/00): 8-9: 61% (down from 75% in 4/00)
13-15: 30% (down from 40%)
16-17: 16% (down from 40%)
...don't allow you to give out personal information:
...don't know much about the Net (this and the following two Qs were not asked of kids under 13):
...think they know where you're going online but really don't:
You can easily prevent your parents from knowing where you go online:
The next category of questions is about meeting people online:
You have made a new friend online
: 8-9: 3%
You've met someone online who you think was pretending to be someone they're not:
You have met in person with someone you originally met online (this and the following Q were not asked of kids under 13):
A stranger has tried to arrange an in-person meeting with you:
Editor's note: There were other questions asked of the kids - too many for this space. But if you'd like to ask for more info or, even better, share your own family's practices and perceptions, do email us - via firstname.lastname@example.org!
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Web News Briefs
- Good Web-ratings news
AOL Time Warner, the Microsoft Network, and Yahoo announced this week that they're labeling all their Web sites under the voluntary rating system of the London-based Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA). According to WashingtonPost.com, "the system allows the companies to describe [or label] the content available on their Web sites based on a common set of categories - such as whether the sites include sex and nudity, violence, gambling, or promotion of drugs." Netscape (pre-Version 6) and Internet Explorer Web browser software can be set to "recognize" ratings and block content that parents tell the browser not to accept (click on "Parents: How to Use ICRA" on ICRA's home page for instructions). Even better: Next spring ICRA plans to make free ratings-recognizing filtering software available for downloading at its Web site. Here's CNET on the story. And here's our interview with ICRA director Stephen Balkam about a year ago. See also educator and CIPA expert Nancy Willard's recommendation of the ICRA Web-rating system for schools in our Oct. 5 issue (under "All grade levels").
As many of you know, this online-safety measure is for kids' access to Web content. If software is the route parents have chosen to take, other types of it are needed for instant-messaging, email, image file-sharing, and other Internet activities kids enjoy. Wired News this week went so far as to say the ratings system "leaks like a sieve" - which we doubt even ICRA would deny, actually. This week's developments are a step of progress in the long-term development of an international, voluntary self-regulatory system that doesn't involve government censorship but rather enables individual family choice. Internet industry buy-in has a ways to go, as Wired points out.
- 12 months max in Scotland
To the dismay of children's advocates, a panel of three appeals judges in Scotland has ruled that people convicted for downloading child pornography should not be sentenced to more than a year in prison, the BBC reports. The decision "conflicted with Scottish ministers' plans to increase the maximum penalty to five years," wrote the BBC, adding: "However, the judges also rejected an earlier ruling that the offence could be viewed as a victimless crime, which received a broad welcome from campaigners."
We asked National Law Center senior counsel Bob Flores what would be comparable in the US, and he told us that the statutory maximum sentence for downloading child pornography is 10 years - but a typical sentence, if no other crimes or factors are involved, is 18 months. He told us he feels that a 12-month cap "would be a problem" if judges are not provided with an opportunity to consider other factors in sentencing (e.g., prior arrests or the number or egregiousness of images downloaded). Here's an understandably passionate column in Edinburgh's The Scotsman about the "laughable brevity" of a such a sentence for consumers of child pornography.
- Teens & Internet 'hotel'
British teenagers are "rushing home from school to indulge in virtual but explicit sexual encounters in Internet 'hotel rooms,' according to the Sunday Times of London. One hotel Web site, HabboHotel.com, "attracted" more than 400,000 teenagers, the Times reports. "Their activities are censored as long as they remain in public spaces, such as the hotel's clubs, bars, and lobbies, but restraints are lifted when they head for the bedrooms," says the Times. "They are encouraged to deck out their rooms with virtual furniture, including double beds and shared baths, costing up to £1 per item. But some of the girls offer cyber sex in exchange for gifts of virtual furniture."
We asked Childnet International director Nigel Williams in London about this phenomenon, and he said, "I think this company wants the best of both worlds - lots of traffic from teenagers, but also to look good in the general public eye. HabboHotel need to think again about the kind of environment they are promoting to teenagers. Inevitably, virtual 'bedrooms' for chat will lead to sexual banter between teens. The problem lies when someone abuses the system, and especially when an adult tries to contact a younger child. It is a hard balance to strike, but we must protect kids and yet not cocoon them from talking about real issues."
- US's new anti-terrorism bill
This week the US Congress passed an anti-terrorism law that gives law enforcement new and in some cases unprecedented access to email and phone communications in the United States, reports WashingtonPost.com. The Senate voted 98-1 to pass the bill Friday, after the House approved it 357-66 on Wednesday. Civil liberties organizations told the Post they're concerned about the "unprecedented expansion of police surveillance powers" the bill represents. Here's Wired News on the new law.
- 'Virtual child porn' case at Supreme Court
It's the second major lawsuit concerning the First Amendment and the Internet to reach the US Supreme Court, according to the New York Times. The court will begin hearing oral arguments in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition Monday (10/30), and Internet law experts, children's advocates, and free speech lawyers will be watching closely. "Under the old federal laws, child pornography was largely limited to images of actual children engaging in sexual acts," the Times's cyberlaw columnist explains, adding that "under the new definitions, however, any visual depiction [e.g., computer-generated images or composite images] that 'appears to be' of a child engaging in sexually explicit conduct or that 'conveys the impression' that a minor is involved is deemed child pornography ... even though no real child was involved or exploited in its production."
- Anthrax film for kids
To clear up kids' questions about the disease, BrainPOP.com put an animated film about it on the Web, Wired News reports. It its own press release, BrainPOP says it created the film to reassure kids with clear answers because its Q&A email service was swamped with questions from 8-to-14-year-olds such as "Can I get anthrax at school?" and "Is it safe to open mail?" BrainPOP is a New York-based producer of short, teaching-aid films about science and technology. Here's their page with the film, which might best be used as a discussion point for families and schools.
- Kids' own Halloween stories
Kidscom.com this week announced the winners of its "Ghoulish Ghost Stories" contest for young authors. The winners are 9-year-old Katy for "The Haunted House", 12-year-old Olivia for "Poor Richard", and 13-year-old Charlotte for "Running with Autumn". The contest attracted more than 500 entries.
- South Carolina's 'Bridge Builders'
South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) created an online discussion board for students to help them share their thoughts about terrorism with peers in other states, eSchoolNews reports. The program, called Bridge Builders, is designed for students in grades 8-12. So far participants have discussed religion, discrimination, and chemical warfare and have evaluated President Bush's handling of the terrorist attacks, according to eSchoolNews. For online safety and message appropriateness, posts are reviewed by SCETV staff before they appear on the board.
- Multimedia IMs
Yahoo's latest version of instant-messaging software allows users to stream popular music, play games, and create cartoon backgrounds to their messages, according to Wired News. "Yahoo's goal is to build a real-time entertainment portal," Wired reports, adding that this is Yahoo's effort to win the "high-end" broadband users (a lot of these will probably be our early-adopter kids!), while its IM competitors, AOL and the Microsoft Network, dominate the dial-up market. Wired offers some mixed up but impressive figures, saying Microsoft instant messaging has 42 million users (presumably registered users), while AOL handles 1.1 billion messages a day and Yahoo "at its peak" handled 5.5 billion messages a month.
- Student's nasty site a free-speech test
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case involving a former middle school student who created a personal Web site in 1998 "that made derogatory statements about a math teacher and a principal in his school," reports Newbytes.com. The site also made solicitations to raise money for a hit man to kill the teacher, the article adds. "The student was permanently expelled from the school system, and a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the school district's decision in a split ruling in July 2000." No date has been set for the state Supreme Court's ruling, but cyberlaw experts will be watching for any precedents it might set in the area of freedom of speech on the Internet.
- AltaVista.com getting dated
The results being turned up on the popular AltaVista search engine are getting out of date, CNET reports. "Most search engines refresh their databases every month," CNET says, adding a quote from AltaVista management acknowledging that they'd fallen behind schedule. Google.com's popularity is cited as part of the reason.
- Browsers demystified
In his very readable style New York Times tech columnist David Pogue does us the service of explaining what is and isn't new and wonderful about the latest versions of Netscape's and Microsoft's browsers. As an example, we couldn't resist quoting him here when we read: "If you're a Netscape fan..., the upgrade [from 6.0] to 6.1 will probably include a period of running through the halls throwing confetti. Netscape's sweeping work on this version remedies almost every deficiency that made 6.0 such a universally reviled piece of bloatware." David says Internet Explorer's upgrade from 5.5 to 6.0, on the other hand, represents "only a few touchups."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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