May 3, 2002
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for these busy first days of May:
- Major report on Net porn & children
- Family Tech: iMacs, eMacs, Pixters; Transportation information (on the Web)
- Web News Briefs: Virtual-child-porn law, Take 2; Talking with thumbs; Klez Qs answered; Email scams; Student privacy....
- Safe e-playground needed?
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Major report on Net porn & children
The US National Research Council study released this week - "Youth, Pornography, and the Internet" - confirms what many parents already know, or at least sense:
There is no quick technology fix or any other single solution for protecting kids from sexually explicit material on the Internet.
In fact, the study's authors warn, "technology solutions seem to offer quick and inexpensive fixes that allow adult caregivers to believe that the problem has been addressed." Laws are another partial solution both parents and policymakers have sought, but the authors found: "There is uncertainty about the effectiveness of enforcing obscenity laws, due to the limited number of obscenity prosecutions during the last decade and the increasing amounts of sexually explicit material in all media. Also, the Internet's global reach makes these issues even murkier, because legal control over domestic sites does not necessarily protect children from sites based overseas."
The authors concluded that "the most important step adults can take is to supervise and be involved with their children's use of the Internet. Parents can start by gaining a basic understanding of what is on the Internet and being willing to have sometimes-uncomfortable conversations with their children."
A good deal of that basic understanding can come from the report itself (available online in its entirety here). The 402-page document explains how the Internet works (with simple lists of devices, technologies, and locations for Net access) and how various filtering and monitoring technologies work, and it offers strategies for educating kids to use their own internal "filtering" - critical thinking - the best protection that could be developed (to editorialize a bit). Watching one's children surf and communicate on the Net, with their support and maybe even guidance, is another great way for parents and teachers to educate themselves.
The authors were a committee of 16 experts in child development, technology, law, ethics, psychology, library science, education, online safety, children's media, and the Internet (former US Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chaired the project). We appreciate their candor in the report's conclusion: "After more than a year of intensive study of the issue, the committee was struck by its extraordinary complexity."
Here's coverage of the report at CNET, Wired News, and the New York Times, which called it "one of the most thorough reports ever produced on protecting children from Internet pornography" and said the report "will be the basic document for judges and lawmakers approaching these issues for the foreseeable future."
Consistent with its findings and unlike a recent study done by Australia's government, the US report does not review filtering products or any other online-safety technologies. (See our March 29 issue for the Australian study's review of 14 filtering software products.)
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- The new iMac
Remember that little warm-up film before Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story 2" featuring mom- and tot-size animated desk lamps that hopped? If you do, you'll probably agree with us that comparing them to the new iMac is just right. That's the comparison drawn by SafeKids.com's Larry Magid in his review of the new iMac. With its flat screen that can move every which way, attached to a half-globe base, the iMac "hardly even looks like a personal computer," Larry writes, and it doesn't act like one either. "The hardest thing about setting up the new iMac is getting it out of the box. It took me less than five minutes to set up." He likes the software - "the crown jewels of the bundled software are the multimedia applications" - as much as the hardware.
- Slightly controversial eMac
No one involved in education - students, teachers, administrators - would have any problem with the eMac. It's people who can't buy it who find Apple's 17-inch, all-in-one G4 desktop controversial, reports Wired News - because it's priced lower for the education market (starting at $999). CNET adds that "Apple has good reason to use a flat CRT monitor, which is thinner than traditional CRT monitors but thicker than the flat-panel liquid crystal displays (LCDs) found on notebooks and on Apple's latest iMac. They typically cost less than LCDs, and cost is all-important in the cash-strapped education market."
- Kid tech
The popular little Pixter is being billed as a "Palm for kids," Wired News reports. "It doesn't store phone numbers or receive email, but it does have a touch-sensitive LCD screen that lets kids draw pictures and play games." And the five-year-old child of one Wired News reporter didn't put it down for the entirety of Bring-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day.
- Transportation information (on the Web)
That the Web is a great tool for getting to distant cities is fairly well known. A less well known fact is that it's also useful for figuring out how to get around those cities - in advance. We figured that out on a trip to Paris last month for the Cable & Wireless Childnet Awards. There were lots of Metro maps on the Web, and we found just the right one to figure out (from the US) how to get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to a hotel on the opposite side of the city.
SafeKids.com's Larry Magid had a much tougher task. His college-bound daughter was visiting multiple cities to check out schools for her decisionmaking process. "Thanks to Google, Yahoo, and Switchboard.com," Larry writes in his latest Family Tech column, "I was able to come up with listings of local cab companies, inexpensive hotels, and shuttle and public transportation systems.... We were able to minimize costs, by finding out the exact distances and, when appropriate, finding alternatives to cabs such as public transportation and shuttle services." The piece is full of ideas for other parents seeking to do the same. But Larry wasn't sure about one thing: "Does anyone know of a product that can help anxious parents relax and accept the fact that their children are growing up? I didn't think so."
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Web News Briefs
- Virtual-child-porn law, Take 2
Congress was quick to come up with an alternative to the virtual-child-porn law struck down by the US Supreme Court just over two weeks ago. This week lawmakers and Attorney General John Ashcroft introduced new, more specifically worded legislation that they hope will clear the constitutional hurdles the Supreme Court cited in its ruling. One of the bill's dozen sponsors told the Washington Post that the new legislation represents a "substantially narrowed" version of the 1996 law. The now-defunct Child Pornography Prevention Act outlawed the possession or distribution of pornography containing computer-generated images that showed children apparently engaged in sex acts. Under the new bill, "digitally generated pictures of prepubescent children would be banned outright," the Post reports. "While images depicting older children would also be banned, the bill creates a new legal safe harbor for pornographers who can prove that they did not use real children to create their images." The Post adds that the bill also would prohibit the sale or purchase of child porn images, even in cases where no such images exist, and would make it illegal to show pornography to minors. It would also "compel the FBI to create a database of known images of child pornography that prosecutors could use in criminal cases against suspected child pornography traffickers." Please see the Post report for legal experts' reactions to the new bill. Here's the Associated Press's coverage, via Wired News.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children assisted lawmakers in developing the new bill. Here's NCMEC chairman and CEO Ernest Allen's May 1 testimony about the implications of the Supreme Court's decision for children to the House of Representatives's Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime.
- 'Talking' with thumbs in Japan
Japan's "thumb generation" is the most advanced group of mobile phone users in the world, the New York Times reports. About 50 million Japanese use email-equipped cell phones (about 40% of the population), up from 10 million just two years ago, according to the Times. With their thumbs, some of them can tap out messages faster than 100 words a minute (usually accomplished with all of a typist's fingers), and some without even looking at the keypad. These observations came from a recent international study the Times cites: "On the Mobile" (all 80+ pages of which can be downloaded in pdf format). The study - of mobile phone users in Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Peshawar, Dubai, London, Birmingham, and Chicago - looks at levels of competency with the devices, behaviors, rules and rituals of use, levels of tolerance around that use, etc.
- Klez Qs answered
The number of virus-bearing emails we've received has diminished, thank goodness (we hope for you too!), while the amount of information about this strangely personal attacker has grown. According to the New York Times, the Klez virus is a real chameleon, randomly selecting new subjects and senders all the time (in other words, don't even open attachments to emails that appear to come from friends). Coverage later in the week from VNUNET in the UK says the virus has taken a destructive new tack, allowing other, older and nastier viruses to piggyback on it. "Multiple combinations of Klez and other older viruses have been reported as producing very dangerous combinations," says VNUNET. Meanwhile, 7.2% of all computers in the world have been infected by Klez - as of a week-old (4/26) report at Internet Wire. "This makes Klez more rampant world-wide than Sircam or Nimda were," reports Internet Wire.
- Beware the email scam
A different sort of online attacker is the scammer. The Washington Post tells how a middle-aged, prosperous Washington entrepreneur was duped out of $750,000 via an unsolicited fax. He was the target of a get-rich-quick con, dubbed the "Nigerian Letter Scam" by authorities, that "operated out of Toronto and Nigeria from 1994 to 2000 and swindled more than 300 people, including about 20 in the Washington area, out of approximately $20 million." Please note: The Post article adds that similar scams, including appeals purportedly from Nigeria, are increasingly coming via email.
- Student privacy questions in Ohio
Ohio's Education Department has a student database and is asking public school districts for 43 pieces of data on each of the state's 1.8 million students, the Washington Post reports. Although the new database, called the "statewide student identifier" "seeks to include a student's eye color, mother's maiden name, and Social Security number," students' names would not be available to viewers. The Department's goal for the database is to track student performance in aggregate to see what is and isn't working in curriculum and teaching methods. But some Akron public schools officials are concerned the database puts students' personal information at risk.
- Porn-to-child law hobbled in VT
The ruling sounds similar to the Supreme Court's majority opinion on virtual child porn last month, in that broad wording of the law was the main reason for its defeat. US District Court Judge Garvan Murtha last week ruled that a year-old Vermont law prohibiting the online transmission to children of certain sexually oriented images and text violates the First Amendment, the Washington Post reports. The judge agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union and "groups that included the publishers of sex-education Web site SexualHealth.com" that the law "trampled on First Amendment rights with a broad definition of nudity and sexually explicit material summed up as 'harmful to children'."
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Safe e-playground needed?
The "dot-kids" debate - whether children should have their own safe "playground" on the Internet - is relevant to any parent or teacher of online kids, and it's a snapshot of the ongoing experiment of Internet governance. It would also be a great subject for any classroom or dinner-table debate.
This week we're presenting opposing views on a dot-kids space, something that the US Congress is now quite likely to make happen in the form of a sub-domain under the brand-new dot-us country domain (over which the US government has control). [If the law passes, kids' Web site addresses, or URLs, would look like www.pbskids.kids.us or www.disney.kids.us.]
We think you'll be interested in the perspective of KidFu.com, which would have a presence in that space (featured in this newsletter last week), as well as an opposing view from ISP-Planet.
"I know there is plenty of opposition to the dot-kids idea, but my belief is that it's better to have a well-meaning work in progress that does some good - and has potential to do more - than to have nothing. We have to start somewhere. People who are concerned that a family in L.A. and a family in Terre Haute may not have the same standards of what's suitable for kids would all agree (I hope) that it's not suitable for kids to be hit on sexually via instant-messaging by adult perverts, or to receive dozens of spam email messages daily with subjects suggesting things that would make Larry Flint blush and photos that are even worse. Other media are regulated to protect kids, and the Internet should be regulated as well for the same purpose. Creating kids.us will allow this sort of government regulation without infringing upon the rest of the Internet.
"As with any legislation, it has to be done properly or it will just end up a royal mess. If the standards aren't rigorous and sites that are dangerous or otherwise seriously inappropriate are allowed into kids.us, all that will happen is that a lot of families will be misled, thinking it's a safe area and relaxing their own involvement. If the government is going to claim that kids.us is safe for kids, then it had better well be.
"And while I think the standards will have to be rigorous, I also hope that they don't take the easy way out and simply prohibit things that are hard to do safely. Just because chat is hard to do safely doesn't mean it can't be done. Kids growing up with kids.us should have chat with training wheels, so that when they graduate they won't encounter such a significant disconnect."
The article, "Representing the Kids of America", calls the dot-kids legislation "faulty" and details its reasons - including the view that it will fail because, with it, Congress is trying to assert control over the very process it had earlier privatized and internationalized - domain name registry - in handing it over to the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The piece also questions whether parents care that much about a dot-kids space on the Net - where there is even a market for it. So let us ask you.... Would you like to see a dot-kids space on the Web happen? And, whether your vote is yes or no, please tell us why! We would love to get your vote and - with your permission - publish it for the benefit of all our readers. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more perspectives, here are:
- The Center for Democracy & Technology on a dot-kids domain
- Comments by Rep. David Markey (D) of Massachusetts, co-sponsor of both the 2001 and 2002 forms of dot-kids legislation (March 2002)
- Testimonies from non-congressional experts given before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce last November.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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