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March 29, 2002

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The newsletter will be on spring break next week. The next issue will arrive in your in-box April 12. Here's our lineup for this final week of March:


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Family Tech: New Australian study on filtering; CIPA on trial

  1. Australian study on filters' effectiveness

    The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) this week released the results of a study that tested 14 filtering software products. Parents working through whether filtering software would work at their house or which product to use might find this report useful, because the study was done with home users in mind. "Almost 900 Web sites in 28 categories were used to conduct the tests," says the ABA's press release, which links to the full, 90-page report, available to anyone on the Web in pdf format. Two-thirds of the report is made up of thorough, multi-page reviews of individual products, done by researchers at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization.

    The report doesn't seem to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of filtering overall, but the ABA's press release does offer a few general observations:

    • White lists work best (especially for little kids): Products that use "inclusion filtering" (which blocks sites not included on "white lists," or databases of Web sites deemed appropriate by the filtering company) "are the most efficient at blocking offensive content," the press release says. The problem is, the ABA continues, they also block "a significant amount of content that may not necessarily be offensive." As for age-appropriateness, "products and services that employ this technique are likely to be most suitable for families with younger (primary school age) children, for whom access to the wider Internet may be less important than ensuring they are protected from harmful content," the release reported.

    • Keyword and Web-address filtering (less effective, better for older kids): "Products based on URL and keyword 'black lists' are effective in blocking particular types of unwanted content in most cases. The research indicates that products that employ human verification of black lists [when software company employees look at sites the technology blocks and verify they should be blocked] tend to be the more accurate in blocking offensive content, and are less likely to block access to suitable content. Filters of this type are likely to be more suitable for families with older children, with requirements to access a broader range of content."

    • Family rules needed too: The study's authors "also emphasized that filter software was most effective when used in conjunction with household rules for Internet access, and parental supervision."

    The 14 filtering products or services tested by the study's authors were AOL Parental Controls (AOL version 6.0), Arlington Custom Browser, Cyber Patrol 5.0, Cyber Sentinel 2.0, Cyber Sitter 2001, Eyeguard, I-Gear 3.5, Internet Sheriff, N2H2, Net Nanny 4.0, Norton Internet Security 3.0, Smart Filter 3.0, Too C.O.O.L., and X-Stop 3.04.

    The BBC's coverage of this report this week, "Net filters fail the children," drew its own conclusions, reporting that the study "casts doubt on the effectiveness of filtering software." Here are filtering flaws the BBC cites from the study:

    • Some of the products tested allowed access to more than 50% of the sexually explicit sites they were designed to block.
    • Many filtering products are English language-based, so they do not block objectionable content in other languages.
    • Filtering products, many of which use keyword technology, miss pages that are primarily images or graphics (e.g., pages that describe and link to objectionable content with/from an image rather than text).

  2. CIPA on trial

    The Australian study's release was timely, as a US federal court in Philadelphia this week heard arguments from librarians and expert witnesses about filtering's flaws. They were opening arguments in US civil liberties organizations' case against CIPA (the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000). Here's a Reuters piece (via Wired News) focusing on the testimony of two witnesses for the plaintiffs (the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association): Christopher Hunter, a communications doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania (who estimated that software filters blocked benign Web sites 21% of the time while successfully stopping objectionable material 69%, Reuters reports), and Stanford University linguist Geoffrey Nunberg. They were speaking to filtering's effectiveness for US public libraries. This case challenges CIPA only where it concerns libraries. The law requires that some sort of filtering or blocking technology be installed on connected computers in public schools and libraries that receive federal funds for Internet connectivity. "The Justice Department, which is arguing the case for the government, has postponed compliance until July 31 because of the litigation," Reuters reports.

    The US government began its defense of CIPA in arguments that began yesterday (Thursday). Reuters reports via Yahoo News. Here's the Christian Science Monitor's overview of the week's proceedings in Philadelphia. If either side appeals the court's decision, the next step for this case is the US Supreme Court.

    Young Net users' perspective

    Meanwhile, on the eve of the case's opening arguments, the Kaiser Family Foundation "re-released a months-old study's findings, showing that nearly two-thirds of high school students queried favor use of the filtering technologies," the Washington Post reported.

    "According to the survey, which queried teens aged 15 to 17, 76% of respondents with Internet access at school said there is already filtering or blocking technology installed there. Sixty-three percent said they favor legislation requiring Internet filters in schools and libraries. [The Kaiser study's director, Vicky] Rideout said she was surprised to see what she said was 'consistent' support for filtering legislation, even from the 46% who reported being blocked by filters from non-pornographic sites when looking for health information." Rideout suggested that policymakers might want to take high school students perspective into account.

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Great Web sites: Some new, some just new to us

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Web News Briefs

  1. Hate filter updated

    The Anti-Defamation League has upgraded its free software for blocking hate sites. "With the ADL HateFilter 2.0, the league has dropped software provider Cyber Patrol and turned to technology from the Internet Content Rating Association, CNET reports, adding: "ICRA is not charging the ADL for the new technology; previously, the filter cost $29.95 a year." Here's the ADL site's page on HateFilter 2.0. The software allows parents to add sexually explicit, violent, and other categories of objectionable material to the filtering list (for more on the ICRA filter, see "New filtering tool from the Net-ratings folk" in last week's Web News Briefs).

  2. A caring chat room?!

    We don't often get a positive view of online chat. But a suicide attempt in Bruges, Belgium, was recently foiled by participants in a chat room, according to the BBC. "A 34-year-old man was found unconscious but still alive in his house in Bruges after concerned fellow surfers informed police," the BBC reports. Apparently the man's fellow chatters were alerted to his mental state when he confided that he could no longer cope with his loneliness and asked for information on "how many pills to take to commit suicide." The BBC quotes a University of Bath psychologist in saying that people, particularly men, can be a lot more honest in a chat room, where - because they're anonymous - they feel they won't be judged.

  3. Whither Net users' rights

    The San Jose Mercury News paints a gloomy future in a thought-provoking column this week on our basic online rights. Included in it is columnist Dan Gillmor's reaction to the just-introduced legislation of Sen. Ernest Hollings (D) of South Carolina, which Dan says "would lead us down a control-freak path of putting copy protection in every digital device." Here's Wired News's "primer" on Hollings's bill, "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act" (S.2048), and a look at its potential impact on software companies and programmers.

  4. Swords to plowshares, 21st century-style

    A very heartening solution for former child rebels is being worked on in Sierra Leone. According to the BBC, "a Sierra Leonean entrepreneur, Francis Steven George, is planning to set up a vocational training centre to teach computer and programming skills to the former rebels," what he hopes will be a first step toward developing West Africa as "a regional hub for the computer industry" and providing future work for the thousands of children who were taken out of school during the war. "It is estimated that as many as half of the 15,000 former rebel fighters in Sierra Leone are children," the BBC adds, providing background on this phenomenon and the man proposing this solution.

  5. 'Digital literacy essential for students'

    That's the conclusion of a recently released study funded by the Bertelsmann and AOL Time Warner Foundations. The study, "21st Century Literacy in a Convergent Media World," suggests that "the world needs to set new standards for what it means to be literate," eSchoolNews reports. The two foundations staged a summit in Berlin earlier this month in order to get a transatlantic dialogue about digital literacy started. The eSchoolNews article includes priorities that the study suggests schools set for 21st-century teaching, learning, and digital literacy. Here's the white paper on 21st-century literacy (in pdf format). It's also available in German here.

  6. More on 'Net addiction'

    This story's transatlantic. It's a BBC article about an Internet-addiction counseling center in Redmond, Washington, with feedback at the bottom of the piece from readers mostly in the UK. The people who set up the Internet/Computer Addiction Services center in the Seattle area recommend the 12-step approach to treatment pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. They point to users of Net-based multi-player games and pornography as most vulnerable to online overdosing. The BBC piece links to three resources on the subject, including that of the practice featured in the article. We would add an piece about whether this is an addiction and a New York Times interview with psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle (see the question, "You have often said that you dislike the phrase 'Internet addiction.' Why?").

  7. Computer lab to computer club (for girls)

    A middle-school girl in Madison, Wisc., didn't like going to the computer lab after school because it just wasn't fun and she didn't learn anything. According to Wired News, she was the only girl and middle school boys aren't interested in explaining stuff to middle school girls. It was simply a negative experience. So - to this girl's credit - this 10th-grader wrote an essay about it. "She shared her paper, 'Helping to Bring Girls and Computers Together,' with staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District, which helped her found" the Lilith Computer Group, which now has clubs in 10 of Madison's 11 middle schools and holds an annual spring computer fair. And that 10th-grade founder is now a junior at Yale University, Wired News reports.

  8. Outer space in cyberspace

    Sixteen-year-old Ryan Hannahoe in Pennsylvania has basically given students and amateur astronomers everywhere real-time views of outer space. According to eSchoolNews, before Ryan helped create a Student Telescope Network that puts pictures of space on the Web, about the only way most of us could view the Horsehead Nebula (a popular target of amateur astronomers) "and countless other formations" was in a book or magazine (because so many of us live near city lights, "light pollution" that dims views of space, and we don't have access to powerful telescopes in remote places). Now, as Ryan demonstrated for eSchoolNews, he punches in coordinates on a keyboard, "waits a few moments for a telescope under crystal-clear New Mexico skies to swing toward the dramatic dust cloud marked on astronomical charts as M33," and downloads "enough data to create a magazine-quality image of the horse-like formation in the constellation Orion." He manipulates the New Mexico-based telescope, creates the images it provides, and publishes them - all via the Internet.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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