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Friday, June 04, 2004

Snapshot: Online safety in US homes

A third of US parents are not concerned about their children's online safety, according to a nationwide survey for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The study, conducted by marketing services firm ADVO, Inc., found that 40% of parents (whose children under 18 use the Internet) are "very concerned," 28% "somewhat concerned," but - interestingly - the number of unconcerned parents is up significantly, from 20% to 33% over the past year. Parents have absorbed one cardinal online-safety rule, apparently: More than 80% of households have the connected computer located in a shared space (rather than in child's bedroom or other place where parents are less aware of kids' online activities). For further findings, please click to this week's SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter.

Beware Harry Potter worm!

Tell any Harry Potter fans at your house not to open any Potter-related attachments in emails from people they don't know. A computer worm that was thought to have been long gone has made a comeback with Harry's help,
ZDNet UK reports . UK software company Sophos reported that "infections by the three-month-old 'P' variant of Netsky have risen dramatically over the past week, thanks to the worm's ability to disguise itself as a Harry Potter game or book." The latest Harry Potter film opened in Britain earlier this week and opens today in the US.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

'Friends with benefits'

It's unsettling but important reading, this week's look inside "the [US's] under-age sexual revolution, where causal sex is common, online ratings are scrutinized, everybody wants to be so detached, and boys still get what they want on Saturday night" in the New York Times Magazine. Here are some observations writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis makes just about the role the Internet plays in this "revolution":

  • Teens flirt online first, then decide whether to continue in "real life."

  • They spend a lot of time in sites like (1.2 million members), (4.3m members), and, rating each other, updating their profiles, chatting, "asking the questions they might not dare to in real life," and deciding whether or not to "hook up" (for no-strings sex) with someone local they meet in the site.
  • Cell phones and the Net offer teenagers "an unparalleled level of privacy, making hooking up that much easier...."
  • A teenage boy says, "Who needs the hassle of dating when I've got online porn?"

  • The Internet has made it possible for heterosexual teenagers to act the way "most of straight society assumes gay men act."

This is a thoughtful piece, with plenty of anecdotal material, some statistics, and historical context, finding some parallels between this generation and teenagers in the 1930s and '40s. It addresses gender questions, and factors in feminism, the abstinence movement, the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, perceptions about marriage, and other influences on teenagers' social lives. As for the rating Web sites teens reportedly flock to, here's another Times article focused just on them, the most innocuous of which is Some are more cruel than others, one psychiatrist told the times, adding that these sites feed on the narcissism increasingly pervading US culture.

Net blamed in Tokyo school killing

In Japanese society's search for answers in the killing of a 12-year-old girl by a classmate, "Japanese media have turned to the Internet as a culprit," Reuters reports. It cites Japanese media coverage as saying the 11-year-old girl who confessed to the murder told police that she'd asked the victim not to post messages about her appearance on an online discussion board, but "her friend had refused to stop." Reuters also quotes Hosei University media studies Prof. Tatsuo Inamasu as saying that, though it can be a factor in escalating emotional reactions, the Internet can't be blamed for a murder. He suggested that parents and teachers tend to blame technology because they don't understand it, but a great factor is "the inability to communicate skillfully with another human being." He pointed to the extra care needed when communicating online, without the benefit of seeing the face and body language of the person receiving the message. Reuters adds that the Net is part of everyday life for Japanese children - over 60% of children 6-12 use the Internet. As for this week's tragedy, the 11-year-old girl "will appear before a family court, which could send her to a special reformatory. Children under 14 cannot be prosecuted in Japan." [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this story out.]

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Credit card firm drops online porn business

Porn doesn't pay, apparently, at least for one e-commerce company. Citing business reasons, Colorado-based Cardservice International announced it was dropping all of its online adult industry clients, Web Host News reports. The company processes "more than $12 billion in annual credit card volume with more than 125 million transactions annually in 140 languages."

A teenager & the tool of anonymity

If this weren't a story told by a wire service, picked up by news outlets in other countries, it would be hard to believe. But it's the true story of a 14-year-old boy, "Boy B," attempting suicide by inventing a case for his own murder in online chat. The self-created victim used the anonymity of the Internet to create and pose as various participants in an elaborate story that persuaded a 16-year-old boy to attempt his murder. "The older teenager was eventually persuaded that he had been recruited by the British Secret Service to kill Boy B, after which he would be rewarded with a job as well as a sexual relationship with [a] 39-year-old female 'spy'. In June last year, Boy A carried out his 'orders' and stabbed his online friend - who, he had also been told, was suffering from a cancerous tumor," he told the court, according to Agence France-Press. The would-be victim did not die, and police investigating the case pieced the story together from "56,000 lines of computer chatroom text between Boy A and his various real and invented correspondents." The police told AFP they didn't know why Boy B wanted to die. As for sentencing, "Boy A was given a two-year supervision order ... after pleading guilty to attempted murder." Boy B will receive three years' supervision for "for perverting the course of justice and incitement to murder" and may not use online chat.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

IM has grown up

All you parents out there know that instant messaging isn't just text anymore, right? It's games, bots, videos, photo-swapping, tune-sharing, ringtones, individually customized "skins," etc. All of which makes it really attractive to kids and therefore yet another thing on which parents need to be up to speed. The BBC recently published an update on some of this, including a little history on this phenomenon that started in Israel in 1996 (with ICQ, bought by AOL in '98 for nearly $300 million) and has grown to pandemic proportions. With IM-forwarding to cell phones now, it will really take off in Europe and Asia, where text-messaging, or SMS, on mobile phones is way ahead of North America. The BBC's numbers are limited, but 2 billion messages a day on AOL's service and 19 million users of Yahoo Instant Messenger in the US alone give you a feel for IM's popularity. But parents also need to know that all these additional, kid-friendly features come with PC security risks - viruses, spyware, porn "spim" (IM spam), and strangers on buddy lists. Text, audio, still images, and video also use different ports, or access points into the family, so it's good for parents and kids to configure the IM software program's Preferences together - or at least talk about how aware everyone is of the risks (to kids and computers) that can be associated with instant-messaging. As a talking point and for some great perspective on all this, here's "Instant messaging risks and tips" from a tech-literate father of six.