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November 2, 2001

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Here's our lineup for these first few days of November:


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Family Tech: Disclosure vs. censorship (and other developments)

  1. The Internet/kid-safety conundrum

    It truly is a balancing act, a long-term one: protecting kids on the Net while protecting free speech on the Net.'s Larry Magid gives it a fresh look in his column for the San Jose Mercury News this week, and thereby helpfully frames the issues. He looks at US online-child-protection laws currently under review in the courts, at Internet industry educational programs aimed at keeping censorship at bay, and at Internet ratings - by far the most internationally feasible of child-protection efforts to date and, as such, the one with the farthest to go (simply because global adoption by all Web sites is its difficult goal). [See No. 3 just below for more on online safety in Europe.]

    Larry clarifies that Web site rating is not about censorship or even self-regulation. "It's all about disclosure," he writes - about publishers labeling their Web content so that browsers instantly "know" what's there and block as configured by parents who've decided what's appropriate for their kids. Please see the column for details, and here's our coverage of last week's breaking news on Internet ratings.

  2. Image file-sharing and kids

    Here, too, the free-speech/kids'-safety balance is being tested. In its just-issued report "Peer to Peer Opportunities: Keeping an Open Mind on File-Sharing Networks," the Benton Foundation is trying to balance child-safety concerns - raised by a US congressional report last summer - with the opportunity to identify and develop noncommercial, public-interest applications for peer-to-peer file-sharing on the Net.

    Very basically, the Benton report suggests that before Congress legislates or the publishing industry litigates, the upside of file-sharing should be given a chance. Benton gives fair treatment to Reps. Waxman and Largent's message (see our coverage), as well as parents' concerns (see those of a Kansas mother's experience in our 7/13 issue). For example, parents should definitely know what file-sharing Net users know - that many of the files available on the new file-sharing networks that include image and video files are pornographic and that "teens and children made up a significant portion of the user groups for these file-sharing programs." Both Benton and the earlier congressional report cite a December 2000 Pew Internet & American Life study finding that 53% of US Internet-using teens ages 12-17 (about 7 million), had downloaded music from the Internet, and many of them are now using the new, multimedia file-sharing services.

  3. How filtering looks in Europe

    The European Commission spent good money to find out what we all already know: Web filtering is flawed. But to be fair, the study, "NetProtect", was a necessary means to an end: The EC's Safer Internet Action Plan's goal of developing a European prototype multilingual filtering system for parents and teachers.

    Besides the best-known flaws - inappropriate blocking ("most frequently cited one") and under-blocking, where children gain access to pornographic content - language is another major obstacle to truly useful filtering worldwide. According to, the study found that filters "cannot decipher non-English, and therefore most European, Web sites."

    NetProtect looked at 50 filtering programs, including the "10 most popular": BizGuard, Cyber Patrol, Cyber Sitter, Cyber Snoop, Internet Watcher 2000, Net Nanny, Norton Internet Security, Optenet, Surf Monkey, and X-Stop. The two with the highest overall ratings "were far from the best at blocking harmful sites." One blocked only 65%, the other 46%. Even the best site in the blocking category blocked only 79% of "harmful sites." (Please follow the Newsbytes or Net-Protect links to find out which product did what.)

    To see what types of content inadvertently gets blocked, there's another new study about (and list of) "Sites Blocked by Internet Filtering Programs," by Harvard College student Ben Edelman. His research is part of expert testimony in the case of "Multnomah County Public Library et al., vs. United States of America, et al.," in the American Civil Liberties Union's challenge of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Our thanks to the Bureau of National Affairs Internet Law newsletter for pointing out this resource.

  4. Earthlink joins filtering fray

    It took Earthlink more than a year of mulling, but this Internet service provider to 4.8 million subscribers has just announced it will offer them the option to filter, reports Wired News. The filtering comes in the form of SurfMonkey's children's browser , which Earthlink has licensed. "The basic filtering service is free to subscribers. Additionally, Earthlink offers a premium service for $2.95 a month that gives parents greater control over their children's Internet tracks and lets children access specialized e-mail and chat rooms," Wired reports, adding that the browser allows kids access to a "white list" of 15,000 SurfMonkey-approved Web sites. The images at the top of Wired's story show, when clicked on, what a page looks like when it has and hasn't been filtered.

Readers, do share your own experiences with these technologies and issues! We always appreciate getting your comments - via

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After 9/11: What can the Internet do?

That's the question being asked especially of young Internet users by Childnet International in its forum at, suggesting that in "this time of conflict we need to think how we can use the Internet to create hope and peace in our world." Childnet would like kids' input on this, in the form of statements, pictures, poems, and stories that tell "what they love about the Internet and their dreams for how it could be used for good." See what children have sent in so far here.

Childnet emailed us this week about another interactive project you should know about -, launched last week to expand links between US students and their counterparts in countries with Muslim populations. The project is that of a consortium of like-minded educational organizations pulled together by iEarn (the International Education and Resource Network), a New York-based non-profit organization "made up of almost 4,000 schools in over 90 countries that empowers teachers and young people (K-12) to work together online at very low cost through a global telecommunications network."

Don't miss "United in Sorrow and Hope", with loving post-9/11 messages to American peers from students and teachers literally all over the world. Another great resource linked to in this site is the US Department of Education's "Teacher's Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet."

Readers, tell us how you use these and other great resources for international interactivity!

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Web News Briefs

  1. Terrorism = less Web content

    The war on terrorism spells less information on the Web. The New York Times cited a number of examples this week: "the location and operating status of nuclear power plants, maps of the nation's transportation infrastructure,... [and] information on chemicals used at 15,000 industrial sites around the country. focused on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's decommissioning of Web databases detailing the state's reservoir system and hazardous chemical sites. Free-speech advocates are concerned all this might go too far, leading, for example, to censorship of content having little to do with security risks. Wired News cites examples such as radical Internet radio programming and Jihad Web rings, linking to a tally of shut-down Web sites kept by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

  2. The new ICQ (IM)

    ICQ (a play on "I Seek You") - the pioneering instant-messaging network that now claims 110 million users - this week unveiled its "Version 2001b." Writes ZDNet columnist David Coursey, "this release - the first big one in about a year from ICQ, an AOL subsidiary - is an excellent showcase for what's happening in instant messaging right now, especially on a global basis." David cites a multilingual spell-checker, a new wireless capability (allowing for IMs over pagers and cell/mobile phones), and a new keyword search tool for the user directory that enhances community by helping users find people of similar interests (where ICQ "really shines," David says). He cites other features and improvements in the article.

  3. 'Cam girls' asks, "Teen girls flash some skin on their 'cam sites,' and fans shower them with gifts. Who's exploiting whom?" Good question! To get gifts as small as a CD and as extravagant as a digital video camera from friends and perfect strangers, teens are registering their "wish lists" at online gift registries like those of and Abercrombie & Fitch. It's the materialistic and potentially even darker side of online diaries, which we've touched on before (see our 7/27 and 9/7 issues), but worth another look - maybe even serious thought and research. Our thanks to eCME for pointing out the Salon piece.

  4. Net togetherness: Study

    "The online world is a vibrant social universe where many Internet users enjoy serious and satisfying contact with online communities," writes John Horrigan, a senior researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The project's latest study, reports, found that...

    • 84% of US Internet users - or 90 million Americans - have at some point used the Net to contact or get information from a group.
    • 79% stay in regular contact with at least one group.
    • 50% percent of "cybergroupies" surveyed said online communities helped them meet people they otherwise would not have met.
    • 40% said the Net helped them become more involved with groups they are already members of.
    • The most popular online communities are trade or professional groups (belonged to by 50% of those surveyed); hobbyist groups (also with 50%); sports fan groups (31%); and entertainment fan clubs and local associations (29% each).

    The Pew study "runs counter to research that showed the Net's antisocial effects," reports Interactive Week, pointing to a widely covered February 2000 study published by Stanford University's Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society. The study can be found here.

  5. Music ed program for kids online

    Something besides a lawsuit is coming out of the Recording Industry Association. That's too cynical, and this is good news: The RIAA this week debuted a music appreciation program for kids, reports Wired News. The program presents 365 songs of the past century's great musical movements. It's co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, says Wired, adding that the teaching guide was developed by Scholastic, and AOL Time Warner is hosting the streaming audio and distributing it through its AOL@School service. (You can click right to "Songs of the Century" from the Wired piece.)

  6. Kids' Web site now porn

    It isn't the first time it's happened, but this is one of the more high-profile examples of porn purveyors taking over the URLs of educational Web sites. In this case, it was a financial ed site for kids run by accounting/consulting firm Ernst & Young. According to the New York Times, the firm's math and money game site is still available at, but the alternative address,, is now a porn site, much to Ernst & Young's embarrassment. Its registration of the dot-org address had expired after the employee who was the contact for the registration left the company, and Ernst & Young has been trying to contact the new owner to fix the problem, the Times reports.

  7. Marketing to kids: Marketers' view

    It's not news to parents that e-tailers are targeting younger and younger kids with their "branding messages," but a recent article at E-Commerce Times offers insights into the latest marketing strategies for appealing to 'tweens (preteens). A twist on this is the way Disney is using its cable TV programming to persuade young people not to share files on the Internet, Wired News reports. Detractors say Disney is just protecting its assets in a recent episode of its show, "The Proud Family."

  8. Complaint against 'Yahoo Clubs'

    The American Family Association, a Christian group promoting family values, says is hosting online clubs that promote sexual violence against women. According to Reuters (via, Yahoo has said it "has a policy of not allowing abusive or obscene material on its site, but the company was not immediately able to say how that policy had allowed pages of content on Yahoo Clubs and chat pages to be posted related to such topics as gang rape, torture and forced sex."

  9. Australian state's tough online-safety legislation

    The government of New South Wales is introducing legislation that would extend into cyberspace Australian national classification of content in films, publications, and computer games. Australian IT reports that if the material would be classified as X-rated, R-rated, or refused classification in those media, it would be illegal and subject to significant fines. The new legislation will be introduced to parliament before the end of the year.

  10. UK kids study raises privacy Qs

    The way a Sunday Times of London study of children's online activities gathers data has drawn flak from privacy advocates, reports The study, Surfsafe 2001, asks parents to download "a free piece of software" that the Times said will record children's movements online. The problem, critics are quoted as saying, is that all activities of anybody on the computer are recorded, including passwords and credit card data, and in such a way that participants' data are not secure. The critics don't seem to be suggesting that the Times's intent is to invade privacy or misuse personal data, but the study does have negative side effects.

  11. Unsavory 'cookies'

    Cookies of the electronic sort are way too easily consumed but leave a bad taste in many mouths. More helpfully, explains that cookies are "user-specific information transmitted by the Web server onto the user's computer so that the information might be available for later access by itself or other servers." In short, they're stealth technology. And there's help for anyone concerned at The European Commission is considering outlawing the cookie altogether, reports Reuters (via Wired News). The very concerned Interactive Advertising Bureau UK (IAB) said "British companies could lose 187 million pounds ($272.1 million) if the directive is ratified," Wired says, adding that the IAB has put together a pan-Europe lobbying effort it calls "Save our Cookies."

  12. iPod: MP3 dream machine?

    It is and isn't just another portable music layer, says David Pogue of the New York Times. It "may be the finest portable music player ever built," he writes. Quite the statement! So we provided this link so digital-music fans at your house can find out why, and you can potentially add it to that holiday shopping list (providing there's a Mac at your house - Apple's still only thinking about making it compatible with Windows PCs). As for other electronic hankerings, here are ZDNet's picks for top products of '01 - desktops, notebooks, software, games, mobile products, games, etc.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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