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January 20, 2006
Here's our lineup for this third week of January:
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Teen photos & a police officer's story
The other day I heard from Det. Frank Dannahey of the Rocky Hill, Conn., Police Department about a tragic teen-blogging (and cell phone photo-sharing) case he wants parents to know about. "This case is one of my few that did not get media coverage," he wrote me. "We tried to keep it low-profile, since both the victim and suspect are minors (under 16). We also didn't want to bring the incident to the attention of students who may not have known about it. My fear was that this could have some people looking for the photos." Here's what Frank emailed me:
"I am a police detective in Connecticut who has been doing Internet safety education programs since the late '90s. Boy, have things changed since then! I do Internet safety talks throughout Connecticut to students, parents, school staff, and law enforcement. I have also worked in an undercover capacity to detect online predators who travel to meet teens. That was truly an eye-opening experience....
"I recently began to see more and more incidents involving blog sites. Last year I predicted to parents that cell phones, especially cell phone cams [picture phones], were going to be the next big problem. Cell phones are now becoming mini PCs with portability. What a new challenge for parental supervision!
"At the start of this school year I investigated a case that ... started my investigation into blog sites as the new threat to teen privacy issues. Last spring, a 13-year-old girl emailed explicit nude photos of herself by cell phone cam to her boyfriend. When I say explicit photos I mean explicit! An acquaintance of this boy had the boy's password for his email account. If there's one thing I tell students, it's: 'never give your passwords to anyone!'
"The boyfriend never deleted the girlfriend's explicit pictures from his inbox. The acquaintance found the photos of the girlfriend, downloaded them and in turn showed them to another boy. This boy knew the girl but did not like the boyfriend. As an act of vengeance, he took the photos - 13 of them - and created a free Web site and posted them. The heading of the Web site announced that these photos were of ______ and actually named the boy.
"Some of the girl's photos had her face showing, so identifying her would not be impossible. To make matters worse, the boy went on his MySpace site and posted the link for the Web site with the explicit, and illegal [because they're child pornography], photos. It was not long before word spread to other students in our local high school that the Web site existed. Fortunately, a friend of the girl's saw the photos and notified our police department. The website was taken down very quickly, but not before the photos were out there for several days.
"The girl in question was devastated and knows that the photos may be in the hands of someone who may resurface them at a later date. The persons responsible for this incident were all subsequently identified. I don't think that those involved truly knew the implications for this young girl. In investigating that case, I found evidence of another girl, slightly older, doing the same type of thing. I'm just finishing up on that case.
"From that point on," he continued, referring to the first case, "I was truly amazed at the widespread use of blog sites among teens and the power, and danger, that these types of sites potentially have. I am now getting many calls from parents as they discover the abuse the sites may lead to. We have a large group of young teens and preteens lying about their ages to establish their own blog sites.
"It was interesting to see Amanda's answer to your interview question [last week]: 'How much do you share - pretty private stuff? Do you use privacy features in the sites?' Her answer - 'I put a lot in them. When I am angry with someone, that goes in' - does not surprise me. I don't think teens truly understand the privacy issues.
"When I was doing the undercover assignment, predators would spend weeks talking to me online [believing Detective Dannahey to be teen] to understand my likes and dislikes. The goal in the 'grooming' process is for the predator to fully understand the child. The more information the predator has, the easier it is to get into that child's world. Today's blog sites must be a predator's wildest dream. What took weeks or months [in a grooming process] can now be done in 15 minutes. By that I mean, a predator can now read a teen's blog site or sites and know literally everything about him or her. As a police detective, I could go on most blog sites and get all the information I need to determine where that child lives. And that is with sites that don't list the teen's full name. That scares me.
"I will certainly be using this [13-year-old's] case as a teaching tool in my [Net safety] programs," Detective Dannahey added, "and I am rapidly developing new programs focused just on teen blogging."
Readers, I appreciate all perspectives on teen blogging and all Net-safety issues, so please don't hesitate to email your stories, comments, questions, and family policies - via firstname.lastname@example.org. So often, they help fellow parents. For blogging stories around the country, see the news sampler in last week's issue.
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Web News Briefs
- Child protection law revisited
The big story this week was only a piece of the ongoing saga about whether the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) of 1998 will ever be enforced. This week's big news was about Web user privacy - that of all Web users, not just kids. As it gets ready to defend COPA again before a federal appeals court in Philadelphia, the Bush administration has been gathering information, among other things, on how people use search engines and what percentage of search results is pornography. Months ago the administration subpoenaed several search companies for data on millions of Web searchers' results, and Google is the one such service that has completely refused to comply (saying this would reveal trade secrets and is a form of harassment) - see this clarifying post at a San Jose Mercury News blog. So this week the administration asked a federal judge in San Francisco to force Google to comply, reports CNET and major news outlets throughout the US, UK, Romania (interestingly), and a number of other countries. What all this also says is that the full-blown trial on COPA that the Supreme Court required of the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia when, in 2004, it again sent the case back down to Philly, is nearing (it'll be next fall) and the world is watching. The law has been tied up in the courts ever since early '99, when a federal judge first issued an injunction against it on constitutional grounds.
The basic COPA question is whether a law or filters protect online children better (provided the law doesn't violate free-speech rights), and the Supreme Court required a full trial in Philadelphia so that filtering's current effectiveness could be thoroughly examined. COPA makes it a crime to publish sexually explicit content for commercial purposes that's accessible to minors; it requires porn producers to use age verification or some such technology to block children's access. So far, courts have ruled that COPA violates the First Amendment because its wording (i.e. "harmful to minors") is vague. The Philadelphia federal court's objection: "The judges said that even portions of a 'collection of Renaissance artwork' could be viewed as harmful to minors if a prosecutor was sufficiently zealous," according to a meaty FAQ at CNET on this week's news and COPA. Here's my item on the Supreme Court's most recent COPA decision. CNET later reported that the next day (Thursday), in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, senators "blasted what they called an 'explosion' in Internet pornography and threatened to enact new laws aimed at targeting sexually explicit Web sites."
- Teen exploited in online gaming
This is the first report I've seen of predation in the gaming environment, which only further confirms that wherever kids are, online predators soon will be too. A 26-year-old man in California has been accused of grooming a 14-year-old gamer via Xbox Live, Microsoft's service for real-time game chat (voice and text). "Microsoft says that the safety and security of Xbox Live users is 'a top priority' and that it works closely with global law enforcement to ensure child safety," reports Eurogamer.net. "Grooming" is when a pedophile makes contact with a minor and tries to establish an online relationship with the goal of sexual exploitation. In the California case, "police say that in November the [14-year-old] gave [26-year-old Ronnie] Watts his home address and phone number and they met in a Santa Rosa park, where the molestation allegedly took place." Eurogamer adds that the new Xbox 360 has a "wide range of parental controls [that allow] parents to disable Live access entirely on specified profiles and limit access to games and DVDs based on particular ratings." The forthcoming Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Revolution will also have parental controls. The Nintendo DS, available now, "took a different tack when launching Wi-Fi Connection, the new service that allows DS owners to play online. Players must swap their 'Friend Code' - a series of digits unique to their DS unit - offline before they can play together over the Internet, and there is no way of communicating directly with others," Eurogamer earlier reported. To understand how grooming works, see pp. 7-8 of the British Home Office's "Good practice guidance for the moderation of interactive services for children."
- DC-area schools: Action on blogs
Facebook.com has been the main focus of schools' actions against student blogging, the Washington Post reports, but MySpace.com and Xanga.com have also gotten school officials' attention. So far, private schools in the Washington, D.C., area have been the most aggressive: Sidwell Friends School "prohibited students from using their school email addresses to register for access to Facebook"; the Barrie School "asked a student to leave over the misuse of a blog"; and, before the holidays, Sidwell, Georgetown Day School, and the Madeira School "wrote to parents to warn them" about Facebook. But area public schools are now joining ranks, with blog-focused Internet safety meetings for parents. Examples of blog posts schools want parents to know about, according to the Post: "an Alexandria girl with an abusive mother confides that she wants to have a baby, even though it would 'most likely make everything 5,000 times harder'; a girl from a Fairfax County school posts photos of herself in a bikini, inviting boys to comment." Page 3 of the Post's article looks at the attraction of these blogging sites for teenagers. Here's Sports Illustrated's "A Quick [2-pp] Guide to Facebook.com," as in "Sure, there is a lot of posturing on Facebook. It's the college bar scene [although there are high school Facebooks], and you want to send out the right vibe."
- Porn 'revolution' & teen girls
Remember the desktop publishing revolution? "Anybody" could publish "content" because it could all be done on a personal computer and the Net? The only problem was, not everybody could actually write - content quality was an issue. But production values are no barrier where porn is concerned, and of course all the digital-video enabling tools are in place, so porn is literally everywhere, parents! USATODAY spells it all out - including the part about how there is now no lack of teen porn stars. "The world of teenage-girl 'models' ... is huge. Suzy parades around in her underwear, someone takes a lot of photos, and men pay $10 or $20 or $30 a month to look at them. Creeps me out, and I don't even have a teenage daughter. These girls have found a niche and they're all over it. No magazine, porn or otherwise, would publish photos of 15- and 16-year-old girls, let alone the 10- and 11-year-olds who also have such sites." Teenage boys are not exempt, of course. See "Kids & Webcams" and "Results of Webcam kid going public." With all the free Web services, from blogs to video-hosting to payment systems to wish lists, there just are no barriers to anyone of any age to post, view, solicit, or be solicited.
- Portable poker
Handhelds are becoming quite the grownup gaming devices, with plenty of adult content now available. Playboy was an early player, now the World Poker Tour videogame will be available for the PlayStation Portable March 15, CardPlayer.com reports. The Game Boy Advance, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 versions are already out. "Since the PSP is equipped for wireless gaming, World Poker Tour gamers will have the ability to connect wirelessly or through the Internet with other players playing the game on both the PSP and the PlayStation 2," according to CardPlayer.com. But PSP players get more: "Gamers who are able to build their career earnings can unlock custom clothes, accessories, and invitational events found only in the PSP version. Players can also create more than 4,000 custom variations of poker."
- School news: Via P.A. or iPod?
Edgewater High School in central Florida wants to make tech work for students. Principal Rob Anderson podcasts his daily announcements, the Orlando Sentinel reports, and "within a few months, about a dozen teachers will begin podcasting lectures," as well as taking InterWrite SchoolPads (wireless keyboards) home to do "virtual tutoring" - "so students at any computer can get real-time answers. Connected by the school's network, they'll converse by instant message or email," reports the Sentinel, indicating that podcasting, blogging, and virtual tutoring, which started at the university level, are now "creeping into elementary and secondary schools across the country." Edgewater High School has a science, technology and computer magnet program. Across the country, here's the Arizona Republic on the technologies teachers are testing - iPods, handheld computers, and blogs - and how it's working.
- P2P legal news update
The word from IFPI, the London-based, global umbrella for all music-industry trade associations, is more lawsuits to come. Paid music downloads passed the $1 billion mark last year (triple the 2004 figure), but most of those sales are from people new to the digital-music scene, not file-sharers, the Financial Times reports the IFPI as saying. So the organization said it would step up the lawsuits, though it has reported that "illegal downloading was static, despite a 26% rise in broadband [Internet] use" in 2005." For file-sharers in the US (or any country), if the IFPI is saying this, it's likely that its member organizations, such as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), will follow suit.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and courts are revisiting copyright laws and - in France and South Korea, anyway - protections for file-sharers are in the works. The distinction between file-sharing for personal use and doing so for money is being considered. In Korea, personal file-sharers "will not be accused" under guidelines issued by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, the Korea Times reports, while "Internet users who share music files for commercial purposes will be subject to criminal charges." Net users who encourage illegal file-sharing "will also be punished," the Times adds. In France, a new digital copyright-protection bill is being reworked "to notably enshrine the right of consumers to make private copies of music and film disks and mete out smaller penalties to small-time downloaders," Agence France Presse reports. The changes came on the orders of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and follow a surprise effort last month, on the part of a small group of both ruling-party and opposition members of Parliament, "to legalise peer-to-peer file-sharing." [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing these stories out.]
- AOL issues a patch
Yes, you read that right - AOL, not Microsoft. "America Online today released a free software update to plug what experts are calling a 'critical' security flaw in software used by millions of people to surf the Web," reports Washington Post PC security writer Brian Krebs, adding that "the problem affects AOL version 8.0, AOL version 8.0+, and AOL version 9.0 Classic." The good news, Brian says in an update to that reports, is that users who log on to AOL at least once a month probably automatically got the patch. But if you want to be sure, go to Brian's post for instructions on how get the patch. In a separate special report, Brian also looks at how Microsoft is doing with its patching process. The one-word verdict? "Better." He explains why.
- MySpace: Parents, parent company
To a lot of MySpace's 43 million members and some 660,000 member-artists, the presence of parents can put a real damper on things. That would go for parent companies as well, most likely. Reuters reports that MySpacers are nervous that News Corp.'s acquisition of MySpace last year will make it more like News Corp.'s space (after all, the company, "one of the most powerful news conglomerates on the planet," as Reuters put it, did pay $580 million for it). Co-founder Chris DeWolfe, now "making the rounds of News Corp.'s European territories," is trying to assuage those concerns. Clearly, the social-networking/blogging site has growth plans. It'll be interesting to see if that growth has an adverse affect on MySpace's atmosphere and regulars, since its ambience is supposedly a cross between a virtual bar, MTV, and "an online version of a teenager's bedroom, a place where the walls are papered with posters and photographs, the music is loud, and grownups are an alien species," as the New York Times put it last fall (see also "MySpace, the new MTV"). At least one 14-year-old Web publisher, gamer, and podcaster I know says MySpace has peaked already (see "Teen's-eye-view of tech in 2006").
- Teen tech expectations: Study
Did we parents not know this? Teenagers are "completely comfortable with rapid technological change," MIT found in a survey of Americans' attitudes toward innovation. Among the findings, 33% of US teens predict the demise of gasoline-powered cars by 2015, 26% expect CDs to be obsolete by then, and 22% say desktop computers will be out of the picture. They're also optimistic about invention and innovation being able to solve global problems like hunger, disease, pollution, and needs for energy and clean water. However, Merton Flemings, head of the Lemelson-MIT program that conducted the survey, told USATODAY that he "wonders whether enough of today's teens are in position to invent such solutions, noting that engineering was teens' third-most attractive career choice, picked by 14% as the field that most interested them -- and just 4% of girls. Only 9% of all teens said they were leaning toward science." Teen respondents' top two career picks were the arts and medicine (each got 17%).
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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