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May 18, 2007
Here's the line-up for this second week of May (for the 5/25 issue, please click here):
Protect Your Kids From Internet Threats on Their Cell Phones!
RADAR, Your Kid's Mobile Watchdog, is a parental control service for phones. It alerts
you to any call, email, text message or instant message to or from your child's phone
from anyone not in the address list you create. Learn more: MyMobileWatchDog.com.
Profile of a teen online victim
David Finkelhor, one of the US's top experts in online youth victimization, called her "Jenna" at the briefing on Capitol Hill where he was presenting his research. In what he described as a fairly typical predation case....
Jenna was 13 and "from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chatrooms, had the screenname 'Evilgirl.' There she met a guy who, after a number of conversations admitted he was 45. He flattered her, sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And eventually he drove across several states to meet her for sex on several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested, in her company, she was reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement authorities."
The picture Dr. Finkelhor - director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire - was painting as he related this actual case was very different from the impression most of us have somehow arrived at about sex crimes against kids on the Internet.
It concerns him, he said, that somehow the American public has gotten the idea that criminals are tricking kids into disclosing personal information by pretending to be peers and lying about their sexual motives, then stalking, abducting, and raping them. Parents deserve to know that that is not what's going on.
Finkelhor's research shows that, "in a representative sample of law-enforcement cases, only 5% of these [online child victimization] cases actually involved violence. Only 3% involved an abduction." Almost no deception was involved. "Only 5% of the offenders concealed the fact that they were adults from their victims; 80% were quite explicit about their sexual intentions."
Here's his conclusion: "These are not violent sex crimes. They are criminal seductions that take advantage of common teenage vulnerabilities...." Let me interrupt him just to say that here is where parents' and other caregivers' focus needs to be - teenage vulnerabilities. Finkelhor continues: "The offenders play on teens' desires for romance, adventure, sexual information, understanding." Note that last word: "understanding." This is a question that long predates the Internet: how to make sure teens with a lot of stresses and variables in their lives don't turn to strangers, online or offline, for understanding, sympathy, or escape?
"Jenna" thought she was in love with the man she was with when he was arrested. Finkelhor says she didn't want to cooperate with the police. And this was not the first time she'd met with him for a sexual encounter ("in 73% of these crimes the youth go to meet the offender on multiple occasions for multiple sexual encounters," Finkelhor told policymakers; that's 73%). And this is the typical scenario for teen online victimization.
Seeing these facts, a lot of parents can breathe a sigh of relief, I think. The vast majority of teenagers simply don't match Jenna's high-risk profile and behavior. But here's where psychologists, social workers, and educators who do work with young risk-takers and run-aways come in. This emerging reality is calling on them to fold the Internet into their screening and treatment programs.
And we all need to be addressing teens more (and parents less) with our "prevention messages," Finkelhor suggests. "So much of what we've been doing has been directed primarily at parents, but parents' credibility and authority have worn thin," he said, "among the kids who we found to be most at risk for this kind of victimization. These are kids who have substantial conflict situations in their family." In the Q&A period following presentations, Dr. Finkelhor said he thought this group only represented "probably 5%" of online teens.
There is a bottom line for parents, though, now that we understand the facts better. The message to our kids is really not the old "don't give out personal information" or "keep your social-networking profile private." The most basic message is: "Don't talk about sex online with strangers." If they're not doing that, they're going to be just fine online - as far as "predators" are concerned, anyway. Then there's the peer-to-peer problem, cyberbullying. But that's another story....
- "Just the Facts About Online Youth Victimization" - the May 3 briefing presented at the Capitol by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee in Washington. You'll find links on this page to a video of the whole session as well as a transcript in pdf format.
- "Responsible social networking: Mounting evidence" - the latest research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, presented by Amanda Lenhart at the same May 3 briefing
- "What Adults Should Know about Kids' Online Networking" - an interview with social media researcher danah boyd of the University of California, Berkeley, in Alternet. See further research by danah represented in "Friends, Friendsters & Top 8" in FirstMonday.org, December 2006. She also presented on Capitol Hill May 3.
- "Behaviors to Avoid" in CrimeLibrary.com, by Katherine Ramsland - is about recent research by Michelle YBarra, David Finkelhor, and other researchers that found "don't post personal info online" is actually not the correct message to send kids. From their study, Ramsland drew "five specific behaviors that stood out among those who had reported an encounter with a sexual predator: 1) making contact with people in a variety of online venues; 2) talking specifically about sex with strangers; 3) allowing strangers to be part of their personal buddy list; 4) making rude comments online; and 5) intentionally visiting x-rated sites." These behaviors combined are what would put online socializers most at risk.
- "Predators vs. cyberbullies: Reality check" in the March 16 issue of NetFamilyNews
- "Internet Safety Line: We Must Teach Our Children How To Make Intelligent Choices When Using The Web" in the Hartford Courant
* * * *Web News Briefs
- MySpace & the attorneys general
Eight state attorneys general Monday sent a letter to MySpace requesting that, by the end of the month, the social-networking site turn over data on registered sex offenders who use the site," CNET reports. MySpace responded Tuesday that it was prepared to work with the attorneys general, but "its cooperation hinges on whether the state officials follow the law and subpoena the names, a step that a leader of the state attorneys general said was not necessary," the New York Times reports (MySpace was referring to a federal law basically barring disclosure of criminal records without a subpoena). The social-networking site also said it had "already taken down the profiles of thousands of sex offenders since the beginning of May when it began running its own database check." In an earlier statement, Nigam said MySpace "had launched software in early May to proactively identify and remove any known sex offenders from the site." The company's doing so using a national database of sex-offender data that it created with the help of ID-verification company Sentinel Tech. But even with that national list, finding all registered sex offenders is difficult without a law requiring them to register their email addresses and other online contact info. MySpace lobbied for such a law last year, and Sens. McCain and Schumer introduced legislation to this effect early this year (see my 12/8/06 item). The legislation's still pending. Although eliminating all sex offenders on any social site would certainly help, not all pedophiles have been arrested and convicted. Too, MySpace is not the only social site where they could be active, and I wonder if the attorneys general plan to send similar letters to the many other social-networking sites that have teenage members.
- Can online kids be verified?
This question keeps coming up because politicians keep insisting it has to happen and ID verification professionals keep saying it's not possible. And it's not, actually, unless or until personal information on minors is as available as personal information on adults. By personal info, I mean credit records, mortgages, mother's maiden name, social security number, etc., all pulled together in the kind of database credit bureaus have. There is no such database on minors for any ID or age-verification technology to check against. And does this society, particularly parents, want such a national database on children to exist, given all the database hacking and theft in the news in recent years and given the attractiveness of squeaky-clean minors' credit records to ID thieves? In fact, there is a federal law that protects children's personal info in the US. So, certainly, online adults' ages and identities can be verified, but not children's. Jacqui Cheng recently blogged about this in ArsTechnica.com, referring to a one-day conference that thoroughly vetted the options and aired many perspectives, hosted by the Washington-based Progress & Freedom Foundation; here's the transcript. And speaking of children's privacy and databases, check out "Half a million kids' DNA on UK police database" in the UK's The Register. It reports that the DNA data of 4.1 million people are now in the database, more than 520,000 of them people under 16. Britons can have their info removed (and presumably their children's), but only 115 did last year. The comments at the bottom of the article offer a good look at the privacy implications.
- Cough-med abuse sites
One in 10 teenagers (2 million+) have abused cough medicine, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "Both in liquid and gel-cap forms, they're highly accessible and cheap and come with little social stigma attached. But, like other over-the-counter drugs, they can be dangerous when abused," US News & World Report reports. It adds that "thousands of Web sites promote the abuse of cough medicine" and detail ways to use it. Abuse of its active ingredient, dextromethorphan, can cause "serious cognitive problems, including psychosis and paranoid delusions," according to US News, which adds that some abusers are taking 25-50 times recommended dosage. Parents should also know that there are no treatment programs or FDA-approved treatment specific to cough-medicine abuse.
- Rein in food marketers?
Fast-food companies trying to be "friends" on social-networking sites; placing funny, grainy, homemade-looking clips on video sites for people to share around; developing advergames for kids' sites - these are what a new 98-page report on food marketing in digital media is about. The report, by the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy, will be presented to "the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday [today], the eve of an FTC deadline for public comment on food marketers' tactics to reach children across all media," CNET reports. It adds that the Center "instigated the enactment of the federal Child Online Protection Act [COPA] with its digital marketing study in the mid-'90s." Meanwhile, CBS News took a thorough look at the very immersive advertising in sites like Neopets, Whyville (where Toyota's promoting virtual cars in this online world for tweens) - see "Advergaming: Online Games Chock-Full Of Products -- From Skittles To SpongeBob."
- Technically speaking a sex offender?
A news story about proposed legislation in Connecticut that would revise the state's statutory rape law brings out the tragic, unintended consequences of labeling some people sex offenders. The Hartford Courant tells the story of a man who, at 18, was convicted of having sex with his then-15-year-old girlfriend, "who told investigators she was a willing partner." Her mother knew of the relationship. It appears that the girl's non-custodial father turned him in. The Courant explains that if the age gap between the two teens had been less than two years, "he wouldn't have been arrested under the state's second-degree sexual assault statute." The Courant also reports that "attorneys and legislators have complained that the two-year age difference is too narrow and that teenagers experimenting with sex can be treated like sexual predators because of it. Others say a felony conviction stigmatizes teenagers who wouldn't otherwise have been arrested and makes it difficult for them to find work," which is the case for this young man now 22. Legislation is now being considered in the state legislature that "would increase the allowable age gap between sexually active teens from two to four years."
- Piracy genie won't return to bottle
Heard of 1Dawg.com? It's a video-sharing site that claims to be growing 40 times faster than YouTube, Forbes reports. Then there's DailyEpisodes.com. Its users "vote for their favorite portal, so that when lawyers manage to shut down one copyright-breaking link site, viewers can quickly flock to the next best," according to Forbes. But far more than these or US-based YouTube as a media-companies' headache is Sweden-based ThePirateBay.org, which is basically the global nexus for copyright infringement. This "world's largest repository of BitTorrent files ... helps millions of users around the world share copyrighted movies, music and other files" for free, with the help of Sweden's easygoing copyright laws. The Pirate Bay has also "distributed its servers to undisclosed locations and is even soliciting donations to purchase a small island where it can avoid copyright laws altogether," Forbes says. It's a fascinating, well-reported article that illustrates very effectively how tough it is for laws, governments, companies, or parents to control what users do on the Internet. Meanwhile, CNET writer Declan McCullagh reports that US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is "proposing a new crime: 'Attempted Copyright Infringement'." Here's a San Jose Mercury News blog's tongue-in-cheek version of the story.
- Web access from phones
Given how much texting goes on in the UK and Europe, I was surprised to see this finding that the US isn't far behind Britain in Web access by phone. Researchers Telephia and comScore say 19% of Britons (ages 15+) access the Web via mobile phone (5.7 million compared to the 30 million who use the Web on computers). That compares to 17% of Americans, with 30 million on the Web via cellphone compared to 176 million via computers. The fact that mobile access in both countries is nearing one-fifth of Web users indicates how mobile the Internet is getting, especially for its earliest adopters: youth.
- Youth: Cellphones not landlines
More than a quarter of US 18-to-24-year-olds don't even have landlines, and even more - 29% - of 25-to-29-year-olds are cellphone-only users, the Associated Press reports. That's according to a just-released study by the Centers for Disease Control. "The percentages declined with age after that, with 2% of those 65 or over having only cellphones." Youth shares this move away from landlines with one other demographic group: the poor. "Twenty-two percent of the poorest adults had only cellphones, double the rate for those who are not poor," the CDC found. It told the AP that "the trend away from landline phones affects the telephone industry, 911 emergency service providers, and government and private polling organizations, which rely heavily on random calls to households with wired telephones."
- Facebook's new classifieds
The US's 6th most high-traffic site introduces classified ads today. Facebook's new ad section, called "Marketplace," "will allow users to create classified listings in four categories: housing; jobs; for sale, where users can list things like concert tickets and used bikes; and "other," a catch-all that could include things like solicitations for rides home for the holidays," the New York Times reports. Users of the 22 million-member site will probably like the privacy and delivery options built in. They can show an ad to friends only on their profile or send them out in a "feed" ("the automatic updates that appear when users log in to the site"). They can also choose to make their ads available to everyone on their network (their high school, college, company, or regional network that's closed off to Facebook users in other networks). The emphasis is on privacy right now, with no anonymous classifieds, Facebook says, though the company might eventually charge for broader ad distribution. MySpace has had classifieds for nearly a year and Friendster has announced it will add them.
- Celebrity prince on social Web
Britain's Prince William's Facebook profile will spark some interesting questions about privacy on the social Web! For one thing, a whole lot of people are going to be wondering what network he's on (St. Andrews University's probably) so they can see his profile and be his "friend." So far he has 44 friends on his list, "including Alexandra Aitken, daughter of disgraced Tory politician Jonathan Aitken, along with many of his fellow students from Scotland's St. Andrew's University," AllHeadlinesNews.com reports. It adds that "one of William's pals, Edward Blunt, has posted a photo of the prince playing polo, next to which the young royal has written 'Think that's more like it, although I didn't pot it.' His friend replies: 'You will never beat me till you work on your technique.' Clarence House refused to comment on what they said was a 'private matter'." I wonder if Clarence House is having as much of a challenge with changing definitions of "public" and "private" as parents are.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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