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Friday, June 11, 2004

Rethinking 'stranger danger'

Janis Wolak is a mother of two (17 and 20), sociologist, and research professor at UNH's Crimes Against Children Research Center. I recently heard her present her latest findings on Net-based sexual exploitation of children and found them very pertinent to parents. I'm sharing them with you - in a two-part series in the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter (starting this week)- because I haven't seen Janis's fresh perspective represented anywhere in the media or other public forums.

What stood out to me in Janis's findings (soon to be published by the Journal of Adolescent Health) was that "stranger danger" is not the right warning message for teenagers who spend time in online chat, where they are nonetheless most likely to encounter strangers. Young victims of online sexual exploitation don't think of their assailants as strangers. In 50% of cases involving online exploitation, investigators believed the victims were in love with or felt close to offenders. (For perspective, parents should know that Net-initiated sex crimes against kids represent a fraction of overall sexual exploitation of children in the US - in 2000, there were 500 arrests for Net-related crimes vs. 65,000 overall.) For more on this, click here.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

One teen's very easy summer job

It's one of his summer jobs, anyway. In the last few weeks, a 15-year-old in Atlanta has made almost as much money on the Internet as he expects to make all summer working at a local restaurant. He's been selling hard-to-obtain Google Gmail accounts on eBay. "An upcoming free email service from the popular search engine has people so eager to get an account before all the catchy email account names are swept up that they're willing to pay for one of the relatively few test accounts available," the Washington Post reports. Pierce noticed that one eBay seller was selling multiple accounts, so he bought a bunch for "a little under $30 apiece," according to the Post, and turned around and resold them for around $60 each. His highest bidder paid him $102.60, and he'd made over $1,000 as of June 6. Alas, these eBay niche markets can be short-lived. Four days later we read in Wired News that "the bottom had fallen out of the market for Gmail invitations." As of this past Wednesday afternoon, sellers were lucky if they got $20 per.

International police patrols in chat

Police in individual departments, agencies, and state-level Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces have been monitoring chatrooms to catch Net-based sexual predators for years. Now chatroom monitoring is a multinational project. Hoping to introduce a "24/7 presence on the Internet," police in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the US are planning joint chatroom patrols, the Associated Press reports. Not pretending to be able to have a presence in every chatroom, the officers say they're hoping to have a deterring effect for pedophiles, the way patrolling cops do on neighborhood streets, according to the AP. The agencies involved are the UK's National Crime Squad, the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Australian Federal Police.

Net-enhanced 'learning'

Just about any kid knows that instant term papers can be acquired for a fee at Web sites like,,, and "Some even sell admissions essays for college applications," the Sacramento Bee reports. The article sites a study finding that "50% of 4,500 students surveyed at 25 high schools said they had engaged in some level of plagiarism on written assignments by using the Internet." Besides the ethical issues, there are serious risks to the academic careers of students who use these services, because many educators are on to this services and know how to detect purchased work and cut 'n' paste plagiarism. And now legislation - in California, at least - may ensue. A lawmaker there wants to send a message to these sites catering to academic laziness, according to the Bee. "Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, fed up with online cheating, has proposed legislation to bar profiteers from selling, distributing, or writing term papers for buyers to submit for high school credit." An assemblywoman on the Democratic side of the aisle agrees that these sites are cheating children out of education. Civil libertarians disagree, and the resulting debate is one of the typical free-speech vs. regulation discussions that the Internet stirs up at every level of government.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Marketing to the digerati (teens)

Does your kid have a special relationship with Procter & Gamble? If so - to marketers, anyway - there's method to this madness. Procter & Gamble's experimental teen marketing unit, Tremor, has established relationships with more than 200,000 teen movers and shakers - "people who operate in multiple social circles and are likely to talk openly [including online, of course] about the products they use," reports. The teens like the arrangement because they get free samples and they're "flattered and excited to be among the first to get a look at the product." Another marketer, BrandPort, pays teens to watch its ads - $5 for every 10 ads watched (their reactions are part of the deal). In both cases, the idea is to get the young person - who spreads the word via chat, IM, email, blogs, journal sites, etc. - to "engage with the brand." These extraordinary measures are increasingly needed, advertisers say, because media consumption has changed, and young people not only watch less TV and use the Web more, they multitask, using both or more media simultaneously. Which means they're slightly distracted in any single medium like TV. Marketing now is more targeted and more assertive, and "viral" online communications have to be part of the media mix, these marketers say. Either scary or simply marketing evolution, depending on one's point of view - send your anytime via, or post right here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The patch all Mac users need

This is the computer security story that keeps needing updates. This time it looks as if Apple has issued a patch that really covers all known holes. Wired News reported today that "Security Update 2004-06-07, released noiselessly on Monday morning, closes major gaps in the way OS X handles browser helper applications. The fix is the first acknowledgment from Apple of the vulnerabilities, although they have been discussed publicly since late May." Apple recommends that all Macintosh users download this patch and provides details here on the security problems it fixes.

Leapster: For parents or kids?

Our family may be unusual, but in our case the LeapPad latptop-like system was more for us than for our son. He played with it on his own about three times and that was the end of it. We didn't feel inclined to force it on him, though I suspect most parents would justifiably want more of a return on their investment. Judging from this Washington Post piece, the same may not be true for the Leapster and Dylan, 5, and Anna, 8, who tested this newer, Gameboy-like product by LeapFrog for their mother, Post writer Hope Katz Gibbs. They liked it, is seems, but it's not clear whether or not they were playing with it of their own accord, and Hope suggests the jury will be out until more (educational) games are available for it. We'd love to hear your family's experiences with these extremely popular LeapFrog products, experiences which I have a feeling will confirm my family's in the minority. The address, of course, is

Monday, June 07, 2004

BT to block child porn

Internet service providers have been saying the technology isn't available and such filtering wouldn't be economically feasible. But this week British Telecom, the UK's largest high-speed ISP announced it would soon start blocking all child pornography, The Guardian reports. Child pornography is illegal in most countries. The move "would not have been possible a year ago, but improvements in computer processing speeds means that the company is now able to block Web sites, offensive pages, and even individual images of abuse" with a technology called Cleanfeed that BT's been testing in consultation with the British Home Office. BT is talking with other ISPs about adopting the technology and will license it to them as wholesale customers, the BBC reports. The BBC adds that this development, however, will have little impact on pedophiles, who will still have plenty of avenues available to them for child-porn trafficking, such as newsgroups, chat, file-sharing, and IM. An analysis at The Register, which explains how Cleanfeed works, adds that the technology isn't even a complete solution technically - "it only looks at port 80" on subscribers' PCs, and port 80 only deals with Web surfing, not email, file-sharing, IM-ing, etc.

As for the free-speech angle, The Guardian suggests that BT's move "will lead to the first mass censorship of the Web attempted in a Western democracy." Filtering at this level had been "associated only with oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and China, which have censored sites associated with dissidents. But many in the field of child protection believe that the explosion of paedophile sites justifies the crackdown," according to The Guardian. Nobody ever said that online child protection is simple - especially at any level beyond the household, and it isn't even simple there!