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March 5, 2004

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Here's our lineup for these first days of March:

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Detective Williams's Tip No. 4 - 'Don't let your kids have your master screen name.'

"This may seem a little obvious, but in these days of kids wearing the family Chief Technology Officer hat, a lot of parents have less control than their kids over Net use in their homes," writes Det. Bob Williams.

"With the big Internet service providers (AOL, MSN, EarthLink) that many families go with because of their user-friendly parental controls, there are two types of screen names: the master screen name of the account holder ( and the sub-screen names your kids get. The master screen name is the "key to the Internet kingdom" at anybody's house, and parents need to have exclusive use of that key (and any password associated with it) to prevent children from changing parental controls or preventing parents' access.

"After an Internet safety presentation I gave at a PTA meeting one night, a parent came up and told me she had brought a new computer home, handed her 12- year-old son the credit card, and told him to open an account with a popular ISP. The young man gladly did what he was told and obtained the master screen name. His parents were unable to set parental controls for their son until they got around to doing their own exploring with the account set-up information, and figured out what the child did. She told me she was glad she attended the presentation! She was going directly home to change the master screen and set the parental controls for her son."

Det. Bob Williams is a father of two high school students and Youth Officer in the Greenwich, Conn., Police Department (see Part 1 of this series for more on Bob).

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Dot-kids: Sloooow start

Remember dot-kids, that 2002 US law creating a "safe online playground," or "walled garden," as our friends in other countries call it? It now has nine sites in its directory.

But dot-kids was in the news this week because its Congress-designated administrator, NeuStar, finally announced who will manage the content in this kid-safe zone on the Web: Kidsnet, which seems a very logical choice. It's a Florida-based online safety company with a huge database ("white list") of Web pages, all reviewed by actual people and labeled for the types of content on them (more on Kidsnet in a forthcoming issue).

The only other news about dot-kids this year was that, as a law, it seems about as successful as the CAN-SPAM Act. "A little more than 1,500 people have plunked down $100 to $160 to buy a dot-kids address since the addresses went on sale last June, but only eight [we count 9] are attached to live Web sites," the Washington Post reports, adding: "That compares to the more than 2 million dot-info and dot-biz addresses, two domains that were only added to the Internet's addressing system in 2001."

But maybe this is just a slow build. We asked Kidsnet COO Bob Dahlstom about it in a phone interview this week, and he said, dot-kids is "not something with a big brand and a lot of marketing like AOL's KOL" (see our coverage, 9/26/03). It's hard to generate a lot of excitement about, say, the children's section of the public library, which is what Bob likens dot-kids to. He suggests that, as the number of sites in the domain grows, there will be a kid viral effect, or online word-of-mouth element, to its growth, as with some of kids' favorite game sites on the Web - in addition to parents urging kids to use the area.

Actually having sites in there for kids to like and parents to push - critical mass - is the key to dot-kids success. The Post says Nickelodeon, Disney, and PBS have dot-kids sites in the works, and AOL, even with its own "walled garden," said it hasn't ruled dot-kids out. It's just a lot less attractive for the "little guys" - the dot-orgs and dot-edu's - to get excited about.

A perfect example is, whose experience is described in an article by author Erica Wass at CircleID, a professional community site about the Net's infrastructure." The St. Nick site's experience showed Wass that it's the very regulations Congress created to keep dot-kids safe that make it not so fun for kids, "turning a rich communications medium into just another example of one-way communications." Those regs include no linking out of the dot-kids area, no chat or discussion boards.

Kidsnet's Bob Dahlstrom has some ideas to improve dot-kids for kids, while acknowledging that NeuStar, the domain's administrator, is "bound by the legislation and its limitations including a lengthy (what I consider lengthy [he says]) process of getting 'approval' from the Department of Commerce to do anything." His ideas include:

  1. "Petition to allow links outside the space if the links are to content that is appropriate for children 13 and under" (Kidsnet would be able to streamline links selection because of its database of 175 million Web pages already screened for kid-appropriateness by actual people - maybe the government would allow links out to pre-screened sites).
  2. "Kidsnet could provide the search engine or directory" (it already has a search engine, Hazoo, on top of its database).
  3. "Kidsnet is integrating information about the space into our search" (based on the premise, we guess, that every little bit of publicity dot-kids can get out on the uncensored Web has to help).

These make a lot of sense. Just about anything would help. Besides the dot-kids law's restrictions, its biggest challenge is the chicken-or-egg conundrum. To draw kids, you need cool Web sites. But the Web site publishers are looking for evidence of kid interest, or at least of competitor interest. Maybe Disney, Nick, and PBS Kids will break the logjam, provided that their offerings out on the rest of the Web don't remain more attractive to kids than what they put inside the walled garden.

Here's the editorial part: We still don't see any great advantage to parents or any real attraction for children - who like to communicate and click all over the place, unrestrained - of this brainchild of Congress's. But we may be missing something, so tell us what you think of dot-kids. Would it be a helpful addition to the online-safety mix at your house? Email us at!

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Web News Briefs

  1. COPA back at Supreme Court

    The Child Online Protection Act - the US Congress's 2nd attempt to protection online kids (after the Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act) - was passed six years ago but never enforced. A federal appeals court has struck down the law twice, on separate constitutional grounds, and this week the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning COPA for the second time. "Neither side got a free ride from the justices in the discussion," the New York Times reports.

    "The case is important to the future development of the Internet because it could set ground rules for government regulation of the Web," the Christian Science Monitor reports. For one thing, "COPA puts pornographic Web operators on notice that they can be sent to jail and/or fined if they don't take special precautions to prevent minors from accessing adult material on their Web sites. In effect, Web operators would have to set up a special screening page to prevent underage visitors from viewing any adult content." Reuters reports that a decision is due by the end of June.

  2. Web: The people's medium

    Nearly half of US Net users have published content on the Internet, according to a just-released Pew Internet & American Life study. "Fully 44% of Internet users in the United States - or more than 53 million people - have had at least a minimal hand in the content available online," Wired News cites the study as finding. "The most common form of content creation is posting photographs online" - 21% of Net users said they had done so at least once. As for other media, 20% had allowed "others to download music or video files from their computers"; 17% have "posted written material on Web sites"; 10% had posted to newsgroups; 7% had contributed to the websites of organizations they belong to (church or professional groups); and 6% had posted artwork online." USAToday led with the finding that "somewhere between 2% and 7% of adult Internet users in the United States keep their own blogs." Wired News added that "most people who post content online are highly educated and highly paid, and post infrequently." Here's Pew's report.

  3. Britons love their computers

    Across the Atlantic, another study found that "people in Britain are spending so much time with their computers that they have developed a personal attachment to them," The Guardian reports. According to the study by the MORI polling organization, 28% of adult users and 60% of children "were extremely fond of their computer"; 33% of adults and 44% of children "even went so far as to class their machine as a 'trusted friend'"; 16% of adults and 13% of 11-to-16-year-olds said, "I often talk to my computer"; and "spending time on a computer often made 8% of adults and 17% of children happier than if they had been with a partner or friend." Furthermore, 37% of children and 34% of adults among the 2,500 Britons surveyed said they thought that, by 2020, "computers would be as important to people as family and friends." (Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this piece out.)

  4. Help with filtering spam

    "The anti-spam filter built into my email program does nothing to keep [spam] messages from clogging my inbox," writes's Larry Magid. But there are effective ways to filter out the spam built right into many email programs. "Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora and the free e-mail programs that come with the Netscape and Mozilla browsers all support filtering, sorting, and color-coding email, Larry says. Then he tells you how - in detail. [While we're on the subject, this month saw the first CAN-SPAM lawsuit, with an ISP in California suing an online marketer for spamming, the Associated Press reports.

  5. Getting 'spimmed'

    If people at your house have turned to instant-messaging to get away from spam, it no longer works. "SPIM" is now all over the IM services. "Unsolicited pitches [called "spim"] for porn sites and concerts have become unwelcome intrusions for millions of computer users who spend time on instant-messenger services," USAToday reports. Citing Ferris Research, the article adds that "more than 1 billion spims were sent last year - roughly four times the amount sent in 2002. Another 4 billion are expected in 2004, Ferris Research says." Spimmers pose as fellow IM users, so one thing parents and kids can use is to go into their IM program's preferences or options and make sure that messages from anyone not on a child's buddy list are blocked, and disallow anyone from sending their buddy lists to the child.

  6. Teachers & Net plagiarism

    It's come to this: "Need a paper on the Cuban Missile Crisis? Done, for $10 a page. Want it custom made? Add another $5 per page. Just go to sleep and it'll be in your inbox by morning," reports the Christian Science Monitor. One clever, low-tech way teachers are combating such tactics is this: On the due date, right after papers have been turned in, students are asked to write a few paragraphs on the subject of their paper. With these, the teacher can see if students have actually thought the subject through and can compare the writing styles of the summary and the paper that was handed in. The Monitor also discusses tech solutions (, for which schools pay a licensing fee of 60 cents per student, per year, and that age-old tool: codes of ethics. (For the bigger picture on this important topic, see "Critical thinking: Kids' best tool for research" (and online-safety)," 5/30/03.)

  7. Trash-talking virus writers

    Families and businesses were "caught in the crossfire" of dueling viruses this week, the Washington Post reports. "In the space of about three hours early Wednesday morning, five new variants of widespread bugs MyDoom, Bagle and Netsky were spotted roaming the Web," according to the Post. Our PCs, if infected, were basically "collateral damage" in a war the virus writers were having with each other! As CNET put it, the virus writers were "trash talking" each other - "placing insults and threats against each other" in the actual code of the viruses' latest versions. The writers of MyDoom and Bagle apparently teamed up against NetSky's author in what's beginning to look like online theater of the absurd.

    But beyond the absurdity, it becomes increasingly important for home Net users to protect themselves from these pests. We've covered this before but can't say it enough: these worms turn infected PCs into "spam spewers" and families into spammers. Here's the latest from the BBC. See "Virus protection for cheapskates," 2/13/04, for further help.

  8. Senators' move to protect kids' data

    US Sens. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon and Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska introduced a bill this week to prohibit companies from selling the personal information of children under 16 without their parents' consent, Wired News reports. The bill, called the Children's Listbroker Privacy Act, is part of a larger package of legislation aimed at helping parents fight commercial impositions on their children. According to Wired News, "Companies spend about $12 billion annually on marketing aimed at children, often using targeted lists from brokers who sell data not only on teens but on preschoolers as well. The lists can include a child's name, address, age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sports activities, hobbies and family income level."

  9. File-sharing foil

    Apparently there's a new solution in the works for stopping illegal file- sharing, and the RIAA is very interested. Los Gatos, Calif.-based Audible Magic "claims to be able to automatically identify copyrighted songs on networks like Kazaa and to block illegal downloads," CNET reports. With the door-opening help of the RIAA, Audible Magic has been "making the rounds of Washington, D.C., legislative and regulatory offices" demo'ing technology it claims can "sit inside peer-to-peer software and automatically stop swaps of copyrighted music from artists such as Britney Spears or Outkast." CNET suggests the RIAA will soon be pressing Congress for legislation requiring P2P services to use this technology to keep file-sharers from stealing copyrighted music. In the past the services have argued that no such technology exists. Audible Magic suggests there's no privacy problem because the technology "simply blocks the copyrighted songs, and does not link specific trades to specific computer users," according to CNET.

  10. Update on the 'Copy Left'

    The so-called Copy Left is a broad group of intellectual property lawyers, scholars, and activists who object to media companies' "distortion" of copyright law. According to the New York Times, their view is increasingly mainstream, and a step closer to being so with the release of a new study by the Committee for Economic Development, "a Washington policy group that has its roots in the business world." According to the Times, the study found that "the entertainment industry's pursuit of tough new laws to protect copyrighted materials from online piracy is bad for business and for the economy." It's "upsetting the balance between the rights of the content creators and the rights of the public," the Times quotes the study's authors as saying. It's notable that the Committee for Economic Development has gotten involved in this debate. "The 60-year-old organization left its intellectual mark on initiatives like the Marshall Plan and the Bretton Woods agreement, which created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund." (This is a follow-up to our "Bigger picture on file-sharing," 1/30/04.)

  11. Mousetrapper jailed

    For the record, the man who owned thousands of misspelled Web addresses so he could make money by trapping Net users in bunches of porn ads, has been sentenced by a US federal court to 2.5 years in prison. "Prosecutors say the charges and plea were the first brought under a provision of the 7-month-old federal Amber Alert law," the Associated Press reports. Because kids tend to misspell URLs more than adults, most of John Zuccarini's victims turned out to be kids. He made money on every ad that popped up, and the ads were difficult to escape; users exposed to them usually had to close their browsers to "get away" from the multiplying pop-ups. In its case against him, the US government claimed Zuccarini made as much as $1 million on the scheme. Here's The Register's coverage and previous coverage in this newsletter.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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