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September 23, 2005
Here's our lineup for this third week of September:
- Kids in MySpace: A musician and a librarian write
- Web News Briefs: Firefox fix!; Phones & drivers-in-training; Hacked home PCs; P2P services go 'legit'; Kids' privacy; Phone firms soften on porn; MI court rejects P2P suit; Va. gets it; Games' shadow economy; 'Star Wars' worm in P2P; Why blog?; Hacking's cool at Lego....
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Kids in MySpace: A musician and a librarian write
I've recently received emails representing two very interesting perspectives on teens blogging at MySpace - one from a 20-year-old musician in Florida who blogs there himself and one from a librarian in the Midwestern US (she asked that the state not be named) about blogging happening at her library.
- On MySpace, Xanga, Multiply.com, etc.
"Hi, Anne. I ... have come to find that I have the same problem with MySpace.com and other Xanga sites as most parents do, and I'm not even a parent. I'm a young musician and it saddens me to see that these websites that are starting up all over the web seem to have no regard for inputting a simple system to keep anyone below the age of 18 out.
"I have noticed that there are 2 main problems, the 1st being the system in place with most of these sites. Most kids have realized that all they have to do to get an account is lie about their birth date in the sign-up systems. The 2nd is that the websites, though they have all these rules, seem not to care about something as serious as that."
I asked the writer what concerns him about teens using these sites.... "The main problem I have with it is that obviously it's not meant for people under the age of 16 at the least... I've been following these networks and watching how they grow, and what scares me is [teenagers] start off with their group of friends ... and then they begin to join groups and look up people and don't seem to mind having people who are admittedly 20 or older on their lists. I know because I've asked a few of them about it.
"As a musician, I try not to upset them but I warn them about being on a website like this, putting up pictures of themselves and talking about what schools they go to, with links to their friends. If someone dangerous wanted to find them, this effectively makes it much easier. I mean, they don't give out any home addresses in their information, but when you have under-16s who have posted what school they go to, where it is, and their interests, correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel this is a potential breeding pool for predators.
"I mean, I'm about building a good fanbase and networking with other musicians, but there are a lot of kids just wasting time on there, being on as late as 3 or 4 am, I know this because they put up bulletins on the bulletin board, and this is where most of us musicians keep in touch and keep everyone informed about what we're doing, and they're passing along chain letters about all sorts of subjects, including alcohol and sex. It's just not right in my perspective. I mean I'm 20 years old and, I feel I was raised better than that, and I wouldn't be helping them by standing by and letting this go on. It's not right....
"One of my fans, who it turns out was under 18, even tried to send me her phone number, and that is reckless behaviour. I obviously deleted it, told her not to ever send that to me or anyone else she finds online, and after that I just never spoke with her. I don't think most of the kids signing up realise how dangerous that kind of behaviour is. Just a month ago our network had to deal with a person who was trying to build up racial negativity, and we effectively managed to get their account deleted by passing around bulletins that this person was leaving racist remarks.
"I like this website and its counterparts like mylocalbands.com for what they can do for the musicians and people who are old enough and responsible enough to use them properly, but the thought that there's all this other stuff going on really scares me, and I'm just really afraid for all these kids. They seem to think they know what they're doing and it's becoming apparent that they don't. Something definitely has to be done.
"I would like to appeal to all people who consider themselves responsible and caring to think about this sentence: 'All it takes for darkness to reign is for good people to do stand by and do nothing.' Another site coming up to look out for is Multiply.com [at which kids can post and store videos as well as text, photos, music, and classified ads. For a mom's account of a daughter solicited by a porn film producer in MySpace, see my 8/26 issue]."
The writer urges readers to pressure these blogging/social-networking sites to establish age or ID verification systems to protect minors.
- A librarian's view
"I am a public librarian in a large downtown library.... I thought I should tell you what we know about [MySpace]. We seem unable to filter it out at all. Why do we want to filter it? Porn - a good bit of it.... When use of Myspace is seen, porn is usually involved somewhere.... I think there are links on the site that get you into private Web sites.... Our IT department is not happy with MySpace either. Our patrons with a MySpace membership get into things we really do not want visible to minors....
"Oh - it's not PG porn either. And the users we see are generally well over 21. I have never seen a kid using it here.
"Another thing. Take a teen into a large main library and let him or her see for themselves who is in all the chat rooms for long periods of time. That might tend to turn a stomach or two" (and maybe help the teenager decide s/he doesn't want to talk to people in online chatrooms, I think this librarian is suggesting).
For parents' perspectives, see this recent Seattle Times article about MySpace.com.
Readers, I always appreciate hearing your views on all aspects of kids 'n' tech - especially family experiences, policies, and solutions. Email them anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Web News Briefs
- Get the Firefox fix!
If Firefox is your browser, do not hesitate to download the latest version. Two reasons: 1) Because it patches some serious security flaws, CNET reports, and 2) because the computer code that can exploit those flaws, letting someone into your computer to take "complete control" of it, has been put up on the Net for any hacker to use, the Washington Post reports. "This is not your run-of-the-mill proof of concept exploit code," reports the Post's security writer Brian Krebs. "It appears to be quite comprehensive, and would allow any attacker to use it with only slight modifications. Brian tells you the best way to get the update right in Firefox (click here for the exact steps), or download the latest version at GetFirefox.com. See also the Post's "Video Guide to Securing Your Computer."
- Phones & drivers-in-training
The US National Transportation Safety Board is proposing a ban on cellphone use by teenagers learning to drive, Reuters reports. The Board added the proposed restriction to its "most wanted" list of safety improvements for the coming year. The list "also includes older appeals for more states to impose limits on teens' night driving and carrying of passengers," according to Reuters, which adds that 11 states and the District of Columbia "have imposed some limits on wireless technology while driving. Most prohibit cell phone use by drivers who are getting their license."
- Hacked home PCs...
...are the explanation for a surge in online criminal activity of "almost every variety" in the first half of 2005, the Washington Post reports. The article's reporting on a study by Symantec showing that home PCs are being "hacked into" via vulnerabilities in Web browsers, including Mozilla Firefox. "Security researchers uncovered 25 security holes in Firefox during the first half of 2005, nearly twice the number found in IE [Internet Explorer]," though Mozilla "tends to issue security patches to mend problems much sooner than Microsoft does for IE," and "hackers are still focusing their efforts on IE," ZDNET cites the study as saying. [Firefox users need to check Mozilla.org often for updates.] What hackers do through those browser vulnerabilities is take control of home computers and - without their owners knowing - turning them into zombies or "bots" to create "botnets," which account for "a massive increase in the number of 'denial of service' attacks" against Web sites (from an average of 119 a day to 927 a day in the first half of this year, Symantec found) - often for purposes of extortion (hackers are now in it for the money, not just for "glory"). As for the number of active bot computers used daily, the number went from 4,348 to 10,352 in that six-month period. Here's The Register on the Symantec report. Meanwhile, keep those PCs patched and firewalls running (see ZDNET on ZoneAlarm)! See also "What if our PC's a zombie?!"
- P2P services going 'legit'
The end of an era is upon us - the "Wild West" of file-sharing, its decline spurred on, of course, by the US Supreme Court's decision last June (see 7/1/05). "At least five online file-sharing companies have started trying to reach an accord with the music industry to convert the free trading of copyrighted music on their networks to paid services," the New York Times reports, citing Grokster (which had the title role in the Supreme Court case), eDonkey, Morpheus, LimeWire, and iMesh. Grokster, furthest along in discussions, has agreed in principle to be acquired by MashBoxx. The latter, which is backed by Sony and says it'll be up and running by the end of the year, will use technology developed by Shawn Fanning (founder of the original Napster) - a "system of digital fingerprinting to track songs," USATODAY reports. Meanwhile, WinMX too ceased operating, Reuters reported Thursday, The Register says eDonkey closed its doors, and four of Israel's most popular P2P services were shut down this week, Israel's Nana Net-Life magazine reported. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing out some of this news.]
In another anti-piracy development, six major film studios have formed a joint-venture to develop "new technologies to stop the unauthorised distribution of films, particularly via the Internet," the BBC reports. Called Motion Picture Laboratories, or Movielabs, it'll be L.A.-based.
- Privacy experts on kids' privacy
It's an unusual subject for the Washington Post's computer-security expert, but it was probably the school bomb threats that got Brian Krebs writing about kids' privacy, as well as security on a whole different level. "After the fourth bomb threat within a few weeks ["up north" of D.C.], the county sheriff held a town meeting where he urged the parents to check the logs of the online chat conversations of their children to see if any of them had discussed planning the bomb threats." Few of the parents knew how to, Brian reports. He talked to a couple of privacy experts, one of whom is a dad, and - even more interesting than their comments - are all the posts from parents Brian's article elicited. A full spectrum of parenting views. Some of them offer advice (see if you agree) or their own Net-use policies, some just family experiences good and bad. Brian seems to have hit a chord! I hope you always feel free to email me your experiences with kids' privacy online.
- Anti-porn: Phone firms soften stance
"The major American cellular carriers have so far been adamant in their refusal to sell pornography from the same content menus on which they sell ring tones and video games. But there are signs that they may soften their stance," the New York Times reports. The softening appears to coincide with the phone content-rating system the cellphone industry is developing (see 5/6/05). The industry is in a tight spot between not wanting to alienate the parent market and not wanting to walk away from revenues from porn content (in Europe, "consumers already spend tens of millions of dollars a year on phone-based pornography, so sales are expected to grow with the uptake of video-enabled phones in the US). The Times says children's advocacy groups are mobilizing.
- MI court rejects P2P suit
Could it be a precedent - a court tossing out a lawsuit against a parent who didn't know anything about file-sharing? That's what happened in Michigan, according to BNA Internet Law's email newsletter. The Recording Industry Assoc. of America (RIAA) withdrew its suit against a woman "when it became clear that the woman had no experience or knowledge of computers. The court denied an attempt to relaunch the case against the woman's 13-year old daughter." Here's the decision in pdf format. I've seen no statistics showing what percentage of the RIAA's some 14,000 lawsuits to date are against parents of file-sharers, but I suspect it's a significant portion. Here's MP3newswire on the growing "club" of parents who've decided to go to court instead of settle with the RIAA. "Not one person has ever been found guilty of file-sharing, or of anything else," writes Jon Newton. "And that's because, until Patricia Santangelo [in New York] came along [as the first parent to go to court], not one person had been willing to risk going up against the labels. This in turn has meant no one has appeared before a judge and no alleged case of 'file-sharing' has ever been taken to its conclusion." The Michigan case BNA cites hasn't yet been reported.
- Cyberbullying: Va. gets it
It's a savvy community that recognizes that "these days bullying has no face." That's the lead of an article in the Roanoke (Va.) Times about how Northside High School and other Roanoke County schools are helping students deal with bullying of all kinds, including the anonymous kind that occurs via instant-messaging and cellphones, that can be particularly tough on children because it's faceless, traceless, and 24x7 - tough to get away from. "Bullying, including cyberbullying, is gaining welcome emphasis in Virginia. The General Assembly passed laws earlier this year requiring school divisions to develop local policies to address bullying," the Times reports, and the state's Department of Education and Virginia Commonwealth University have "implemented a new statewide anti-bullying effort that employs a holistic approach - administrators, staff and students - to combat bullying." One catalyst was, basically, self-published child porn: "Two Northside High School girls took nude pictures of themselves and emailed them to their boyfriends, who apparently emailed them to other people. The photos spread to schools throughout the Roanoke Valley and were posted on Internet sites," according to the Roanoke Times. For more on this see "Cybersocializing, cyberbullying" and Cyberbullying.ca.
- Games' 'shadow economy'
True story: A retiring "successful Jedi knight" gets $510 in real money for his identity/game character, "a top-notch light saber, a speeder bike, a nice chunk of real estate on the planet Lok, and a bank account containing millions of Imperial credits," the Washington Post reports. We've seen stories about the darkside of videogames' not-so-virtual alternate economy (including the murder of a Chinese gamer), but we haven't seen such an interesting explanation of how it all works. It's no more complicated than what happens at eBay, but a little different: "a simple trade of cash for the product of someone's labors, except that all the goods exist only within the confines of a computer game," the Post explains, adding that more than 20 million people play these games worldwide and probably spend more than $200 million on virtual goods. Examples of game-trade sites the Post points out are GamingTreasures.com and TheMMORPGExchange.com, and GameUSD.com tracks game currency prices.
- 'Star Wars' worm in P2P
Tell any file-sharers at your house to beware the "Star Wars" worm. "Some downloaders hoping to snare free Star Wars games are unwittingly finding themselves installing the worm P2Load.A that spreads on P2P networks using the file-sharing programs Shareza and iMesh," Internet News reports. What it does is copy itself as a ".exe" file into the "Shared" media directory that, for example, the iMesh software creates on your hard drive. Then the worm configures your browser so that, if you try to go to Google.com, you're redirected to a fake Google page that returns search results that include sponsored links that make the page's creators money when you click to those pages. P2Load also spoofs other popular Web sites. It's the kind of capability that tricks people into going to sites that automatically upload Trojan or hijacking code that takes over their PCs.
- Why do they blog?
Basically for therapy, was the biggest answer to a recent AOL survey of 600 bloggers. "About 31% of bloggers said that, in times of high anxiety, instead of seeking any counseling, they either write in their blogs or read blogs of others facing similar issues," according to CNET's report on the survey. It's gratis, virtual group therapy - provided others are "listening" and posting. Other reasons cited by respondents: because of an interest in journalism (16%), to stay on top of news and gossip (12%), and to expose political information (8%). As for teen bloggers, I suspect AOL Community VP Bill Schreiner got closest to their motivation in his explanation for the findings: "In a way, blogs serve as oral history. When it comes to sharing blogs and reading other people's blogs, we like to connect with people, learn about their lives, and find common ground. There's no pressure to write about a particular subject or keep blogs maintained a certain way, and it's not necessarily a popularity contest" (see AOL's press release.
- Hacking's cool at Lego
Lego's taking an open-source approach to product development these days. "When Lego executives recently discovered that adult fans of the iconic plastic bricks had hacked one of the company's new development tools for digital designers, they did a surprising thing: They cheered," CNET reports. They saw that their products' biggest fans weren't trying to rip them off but rather make improvements the company's designers hadn't thought of. But the hack wasn't an improvement on the product so much as its delivery process (and pricing). It's a neat story - check out what I mean at CNET.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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