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May 14, 2004
Dear Subscribers:Great news: We now have a blog! Not because we want to be trendy, but because we want to 1) make NetFamilyNews more interactive (easy for our readers to comment) and 2) experiment with daily news. To post, just click on "comments" under every news item, then on "Post a comment" on the page you clicked to. Reading the blog, you'll notice that it's basically our weekly "Web News Briefs" provided daily, as stories break. Do let us know what you think (in the blog or via firstname.lastname@example.org) - we always love hearing from you.
Here's our lineup for this second week of May:
- On kids and Net porn: Moms' accounts
- Web News Briefs: Sasser kid did it for mom?!; Daughter's blog; Web hate growth; Educator's view on cyberbullying; Firewall flaw; 22 million US teen Net users; P2P risks; iTunes prices up; Latest news on games....
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On kids and Net porn: Two more moms' accounts
Two more subscribers have written us about their own experiences with children accessing Web-based pornography since we featured Cindy's comment on this in the April 30 issue. I think you'll appreciate, as I did, the candid, practical parenting sense reflected in these emails. As Michelle points out: technology adds "a whole other dimension" to the already difficult job of parenting.
Readers, this story in The Register this week about browser-hijacking software probably explains what Tammy's describing: "Malware such as CoolWebSearch can change browser start-up and search pages and generate pop-up pages - often [placing] illegal pornographic Web sites [child porn as well as the adult variety] - on infected PCs. The program exploits Internet Explorer vulnerabilities to slither onto unpatched PCs. Users would normally have to visit [porn] Web sites to get infected but it's easy to see how x-rated spam email ... could result in unwitting infection. The end result would be the URL of borderline-criminal Web sites appearing in the history file of Net users." The solution? Keep those Windows PCs patched and consider using Eudora or other non-Microsoft email software, the article suggests.
- From Michelle in Illinois
"I had the same experience with my son, who was in 8th grade at the time. Cindy is not alone. I was equally surprised and shocked that without paying a dime my child could access porn that is way, way beyond Playboy, including under-age, incest, animal images, among other things. It is disturbing for me, but how does a child process this stuff? Do they understand the extremes and how do they reconcile these images with real life relationships requiring respect and love?
"As Cindy wrote, it is the ongoing communication that is important. I'd like to caution Cindy and other parents that my discovery and reprimanding did not end the situation. It took tenacity and a lot of further talks to get through to my (straight-A, conscientious) son. Just as he learned how to access these sites from his friends, he also learned ways to get around the filters. I soon realized I could not keep up with my extremely tech-literate child. I think it became a fun challenge for him to outsmart me. He was even able to download spyware to find out my passwords for parental controls!
"By remaining diligent I discovered most of this, but I was becoming more frustrated and saddened. Aside from subscribing to your newsletter and threatening to rip out the computer, I didn't know what to do. Even if I succeeded in getting that junk out of my house, they have access to it in other places. That's when, like Cindy, I decided to get off the defensive and sat my child down and tried to explain to him the dangers of porn, and why I was personally offended by it, and why trust affects all aspects of his life. There have been other issues to discuss and reprimands to give involving the computer, including [P2P] downloading and online auctions. I continue to try to have an open dialog with him about relationships, trust, ethics, etc. It's not easy being a parent, but this adds a whole other dimension to the challenge. I wonder also if programs need to be implemented for children about responsibility and citizenship online in addition to the online safety. Thank you for keeping us informed."
- From Tammy in Ontario
"I had a very similar problem with my 12-year-old son. He went to the extent of getting a hold of my credit card and signing himself up on 2 different sites for $50 each a month. When I found out and called and complained that they allowed a 12-year-old to join, they wouldn't give me back that month's charge but did stop all other charges.
"We have had to move the computer into our living room and haven't had any problems with this type of viewing since we discussed our concerns with or son.
"I have found that quite a lot of the child-appropriate sites have porn pop-up [advertising] associated with them. For the first 3 months after this incident I was getting [porn] Web addresses attaching themselves to my Favorites, and [Canadian ISP] Sympatico was showing [ads for] the Paris Hilton xxx info constantly. The only way I found to stop all this was to erase my hard drive and reinstall everything....
"My son said all his friends were emailing each other the Web addresses for the best porn sites they would find. Needless to say, his computer use is now strictly controlled."
Send your comments and experiences any time! They're a lot more helpful to fellow parents than any how-to info we could think up! The address, as always: email@example.com.
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Web News Briefs
- Sasser kid: He did it for mom?!
Here's hoping no other mother's teenage son supports her career in quite this way! The Verdun, Germany, prosecutor's office said it was possible that 18-year- old Sven Jaschan's motive for creating the Sasser worm that "caused chaos around the world ... may have been to drum up business for his mother." Sven's mom and stepfather run a computer tech-support business, Reuters reports. The boy, who was arrested last Friday, "could face trial in June on charges of computer sabotage which carry a maximum five-year prison sentence. But the punishment may be less severe because ... [Sven] was 17 when the crimes were committed." The boy's tech teacher told the media he was very skilled (German police believe he also wrote all 28 variants of the earlier Netsky worm) but should've understood better the implications of his actions.
The fifth Sasser variant, discovered within hours of Sven's arrest last Friday, appears to have been an effort on his part to limit the worm's damage, backing up the idea that this kid is more misguided than malicious. In its code is a warning to users "whose computers are vulnerable that their systems have not been patched," CNET reports. Here's the BBC on the boy's arrest. It followed a tip from acquaintances of Sven to Microsoft, which offers rewards to people who turn in virus writers. As of Thursday, German police were searching for Sven's "accomplices," Australian IT reports.
- Daughter's blog, mom's dilemma
"Not long ago, a friend sent me an unsettling email," writes a mother in the Washington, D.C., area in a commentary at the Christian Science Monitor. "She'd discovered the Internet links for her daughter's and my daughter's online journals. Was I interested in reading my daughter's?" Would she end up doing so? You'll see that arriving at the answer was neither simple nor applicable to all parent-child relationships. Do email us (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you've faced a similar question - we'd love to hear what you and your child worked out.
- Rapid growth in Web hate: New study
To a parent, that translates to: Our kids can encounter hate and bigotry - sometimes graphically depicted - on the Web as easily as pornography. SurfControl, a UK-based Net-filtering company that monitors thousands of Web sites in this category, found that the number of hate and violence sites has increased 25% just since January, and 300% since 2000, The Register reports. SurfControl says it was monitoring about 2,756 Web sites that "promote hatred against Americans, Muslims, Jews, homosexuals and people of non-European ancestry, as well as graphic violence." By last month it was monitoring 10,926 such sites. SurfControl "went on to claim that some existing hate sites have expanded in shocking or curious ways, such as the inclusion of graphic images of dead and mutilated human beings. Another example given by the company was a white supremacy Web site that included a dating service and a $1,000 scholarship contest for a student that could write the best essay on 'actionable, practical solutions' for dealing with anyone who is not white."
- Cyberbullying: Parenting problem
As some of us know only too well, technology's instant and macro-level results (via the Web, IM, etc.) mean two things to pranksters and the grownups in their lives: They've "all but erased the reflection time that once existed between the planning of a silly prank - or a serious stunt - and its commission" and "made it nearly impossible to contain a regrettable deed - because once committed, there's almost no way to retrieve and destroy all evidence of it in cyberspace," writes Mark Franek, dean of students at Philadelphia's William Penn Charter School, in a Christian Science Monitor oped piece. A mean instant message to 140 kids on a child's buddy list can not only hurt a child but can also be archived for Googling by future acquaintances and employers. An inappropriate photo taken by picture phone in a school locker room and posted in a blog can be found and circulated around the Net indefinitely by total strangers who could be criminally prosecuted for doing so. "Schools, technology companies, and parents need to educate themselves and take responsibility for getting this growing problem under control," Mark writes. He provides some helpful examples for schools and parents. Our street smarts can help protect tech-whizkids from making big mistakes with technology that not only enables but magnifies and broadcasts those mistakes.
For our email conversation with Bill Belsey, Canada's top expert on this, see "The growing cyberbullying problem in the 2/6/04 issue.
- Symantec firewall flaw
If you have this company's firewall on your family PC, read this article in The Register, which tells you how to get the flaws patched. At the bottom is a link to Symantec's update page.
- 22 million teen Net users
...in the US by 2008 is the latest figure from Jupiter Research, up from 18 million right now. Jupiter got its figures from working with a core group of "teen influencers" who represent 17% of online teens in the US and who spend about eight hours a week online, CNET reports. "During the estimated seven hours a week they spend online, most teenagers regularly use instant messaging and browse online content like personal pages and blogs. Recent Nielsen/NetRatings research found that, overall, 204.3 million Americans have home access to the Net.
- P2P crackdown in Japan
This story is really a reminder to parents that anonymous file-sharing exists, and - fearing record company lawsuits - a lot of kids have migrated from the well-known ones like Kazaa to more obscure P2P services because of the anonymity feature. Also, regardless of how well known the software is, its use can mean risks to family privacy - and not just in Japan. The Register reports that the creator of Winny, a P2P program popular in Japan, has been arrested because it "aids and abets copyright infringement and piracy." Winny first got Japanese authorities' attention when investigation records from a Kyoto Prefecture Police officer's computer and Japanese military files were shared on the Winny network. [Important point for parents: This could've just been a mistake - a police officer sharing music or other files at the office inadvertently sharing other parts of his hard drive (see "Tech-literate dad on file-sharing" in our 1/16/04 issue for how this can happen with tax forms, emails, and other personal info on home PCs anywhere).] Since the police and military records were found on Winny, Japanese police said its creator was arrested because the software allowed people to illegally download pirated games and movies. It'll be interesting to see if they have a case in Japan, because file-sharing services elsewhere in the world have successfully argued that they can't be held responsible for their members' use of the software.
BTW, video is a rapidly growing category in the file-sharing spectrum. "The number of Internet users who illegally download films and TV series has tripled over the past year," the BBC reports, citing a British Video Association survey. "An estimated 1.67 million people [in the UK, presumably] download illegal film or TV files, compared with 570,000 last year.
- Japan's biggest Web community
At a traffic level of 5.4 million visitors a month, Channel 2, or Ni-Channeru, is Japan's biggest bulletin board, the New York Times reports. Why so popular? "In a society in which subtlety is prized above all, face-to-face confrontation is avoided, insults can be leveled with verbal nuances, and hidden meanings are found everywhere, there is one place where the Japanese go to bare their souls and engage in verbal combat: Channel 2." Because people say things there they'd never say in public, or even to close friends, it's a powerful - possibly unprecedented - gauge of Japanese public opinion, checked often by the media, corporations (to monitor how their products are portrayed and received), and the police (who "react immediately to threats posted on the site - as they did recently when someone wrote about wanting to blow up the Chinese Embassy, prompting a sudden increase in security around the building").
- iTunes price goes up
No more 99 cents for songs from the major record labels. Apple "has now signed agreements with EMI, Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), Sony, Universal, and Warner that will see prices on some songs rise from 99c to $1.25, an increase of over 26%" - lower, at least than the $2.99 the labels had been pushing for, The Register reports. As for album prices, some will remain $9.99, others are already $16.99, a 70% hike, The Register adds. Of course one impact will be increased revenue for the labels. But they will also be sending more and more fans to indie labels and new bands Another much more Between this news and ever-burgeoning anti-piracy lawsuits, the record industry must either be in very difficult straits or want to send more and more fans to the indie labels.
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There was a big electronic games convention (E3) in Los Angeles this week, so a number of stories of interest to parents were in the media...
- Embedded ads in kids' games
You've certainly seen how it's done in movies - the latest-model BMW in a James Bond film, a certain brand of cigarettes on the table as a lovely actress lights up. Well, advertising watchdogs are now concerned about this: "Advertisers have discovered that videogames are a cool way to get their products in front of impressionable kids," as Reuters reports. The example the article gives is ex-cop Nick Kang, "cool Charles Bronson-type antihero" and pitchman for Puma sportswear in the videogame world of "True Crime: Streets of LA," from Activision. This might be a good subject for family discussion on what kids are noticing in the games they play.
- Help in picking video games
The Education Arcade - a consortium of educators, policymakers, game developers, and gaming publishers - wants to help parents looking for value beyond entertainment. The group has launched a "games for learning" seal-of-approval program, the Toronto Globe & Mail reports. "Beyond labels, the group hopes to persuade game companies to make more educational games. It could be a tough sell, though, in an industry that favours low-risk, high-profit sequels built on established franchises," according to the Globe & Mail.
- Gamers not just kids
The majority of video game players are over 18, Reuters reports, citing an Entertainment Software Association survey. "In fact, the average age of game players was 29 and the average age of buyers was 36, with men making up 59 percent of the playing audience," ESA found. Their game playing is at the expense of watching TV and going to the movies, and 43% of them play games online an hour or more a week, up from 31% two years ago.
- Game Boy: Grown women vs. teen boys
Game Boy is not going away any time soon. The number of people using handheld game players will grown from 23 million last year to 43 million in 2009, when they'll be a $2.7 billion market, CNET reports, citing a Jupiter Research study. "The study looked at users of game devices ... as well as people who play more than five hours per week on PDAs (personal digital assistants) and cell phones - a group expected to grow at an average annual rate of 16% through 2009," CNET adds. The most interesting figures, though are the age and gender breakdowns: Of the 17% of online adults who own handheld game devices, nearly two-thirds are women. Teens are "almost the opposite": of the 34% of teens who own handheld game devices, nearly two- thirds are boys. Game devices were a major draw at this week's huge game show, Electronic Entertainment Expo, E3, in Los Angeles.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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