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Friday, June 25, 2004

One mom's online-safety formula

In response to my 4/30 and 5/14 features on the challenge of kids accessing porn through online image searches, mother and educator Krista in North Carolina emailed us: "I have to laugh out loud whenever I hear parents tell me they don't know how to stop their children from going into porn sites or various chat rooms they don't approve of. In our home the rule is clear: If I find out, or you get caught, then you lose all privileges to use the Internet at home. I take the keyboard with me to work as well as the mouse - that way, they can't use the Internet even when they figure out how to bypass the security I have installed. Children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and I take no chances with mine.... (For more, please click to this week's issue of the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter.) Have a great weekend!

Librarians: Better than Google

Contrary to what avid Googlers may think, we need librarians more than ever. To help us find information and to help us evaluate it. We need to help our children see this too. "While the accuracy of online information is notoriously uneven, the ubiquity of the Web means that a trip to the stacks is no longer the way most academic research begins," the New York Times reports. Then there's all the solid information not available to a Google search (or that of any other search engine) - some 500 billion pages, according to estimates cited by the Times. "The biggest problem is that search engines like Google skim only the thinnest layers of information that has been digitized. Most have no access to the so- called deep Web, where information is contained in isolated databases like online library catalogs."

In other library news, New Hampshire libraries are refusing to use filtering software and are willing to forgo federal connectivity subsidies from the e-Rate in order to provide Net access without filters, the Associated Press reports. Instead, libraries explain to patrons that the Net is not filtered and require children under 18 to have a parent or guardian's permission to use the Internet. Under the Children's Internet Protection Act, upheld by the Supreme Court a year ago, libraries that receive federal e-rate funds have until the end of this month to install Internet filters on their computers.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Phone-enhanced sleep-overs

Actually, the sleep-over part is just one application of a phone-based dating service used in Singapore. Nineteen-year-old Gracinia Kim uses the "BEDD" service on her phone to scan strangers' phones for their personal profiles. She told Reuters that, with it, she has become close to people she wouldn't have otherwise met and developed a tight little group of friends with whom she "chills out," has sleep-overs, and goes for late suppers. Users download the BEDD software into their phones and complete a short profile of themselves, including a description of who they want to meet. Then BEDD searches for and exchanges compatible profiles and phone numbers with other mobiles within a 65-foot radius. Nightclubs and other hangouts are where these spontaneous introductions happen. BEDD has more than 1,000 users in Singapore and hosts get-togethers in coffee bars. "Other mobile-based dating services in Asia — such as Singapore Telecommunications' MyCupid and Bharti Airtel of India's TrackUrMate — exchange information through a central database," Reuters adds.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Solstice's share of P2P lawsuits

Parents of digital music fans, please note: Summer's official arrival brought another batch of 482 file-sharer lawsuits from the RIAA. The litigation campaign against "music pirates" started a year ago this week, but the question remains about whether these apparent ritual purgings of the most prolific pirates are having the effect the recording industry seeks. "The number of users on Kazaa, still the most popular file-swapping network, has declined somewhat over the past year, while showing considerable seasonal fluctuation," reports CNET, citing analysts. "However, the popularity of other online networks - particularly a newer rival called eDonkey - has grown substantially over that time." Then again, file-sharers are said to be very aware of the lawsuits, now amounting to nearly 3,500. The two biggest impacts of the litigation, according to a CNET source at a company that "seeds" the file-sharing services with fake files in order to downgrade file-swappers' experience, are 1) a lot more swappers downloading but not sharing music on their hard drives (which certainly eats away at the source of all this music, as well as the networks' whole business model) and 2) the most popular service, Kazaa, is losing users to other, lesser-known networks that file-sharers probably see as "safer" or more lawsuit-free.

Smartest mobile users: Kids

It's not a huge surprise. UK kids 10-14 are quickly becoming the most sophisticated cell-phone users, according to the latest study by British research firm Teleconomy. "Even toddlers are able to tell the difference between incoming phone calls and text messages," the BBC reports. Seventy-one percent of kids are aware of video phones, compared to 54% of adults, and some 66% know about Java applications like games, as opposed to 44% of adults. Here are some other findings: For kids, phones are more like computers here in the US - more for downloading things "such as pop news, games and ringtones" than for communicating. "Phone functions" is what they zoom right in on, so they can personalize their phones. Because one's mobile can be a ticket into certain social groups, the study found. Also, "in some cases the phones themselves are becoming 'virtual playgrounds,' as children fill their free time with texting their friends and playing games."

Family-friendly phones

Parents and kids generally like different things in cell phones. For teens they're as much fashion statement as communications tool. Of course, parents aren't immune - I love my ringtone (handpicked by my son). This week CNET compares four phones that are strong in the design area as well as in the features they offer, and they're easy on the wallet to boot. And for those family roadtrips, also from CNET: 10 games for the cell phone (don't forget to pack your battery recharger!).

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Hollywood's looking for bootleggers

Do you know any kids who are taking videocams to the movies they go to? If so, they need to be aware of the legal and ethical implications. The former just got a lot more tangible this week. The US movie industry is now offering movie theater employees rewards of up to $500 for every person they catch recording films in their theaters and report to the police, Reuters reports. The Motion Picture Association of America has decided that the vast majority of bootlegged films that turn up on the Internet for free downloading (via file-sharing networks like Kazaa) are from video cameras recording in theaters. "Overseas labs then use the pirated films to create illegal DVDs, which are distributed en masse on street corners around the world," according to Reuters. And that cost the film industry about $3.5 billion last year, according to the MPAA.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Kids confused about Net risks

Parents aren't the only ones not helped by scary stories about online risks to kids. Children, too, need a balanced, level-headed approach to Net safety training, the University of London's Institute of Education found. Its researchers asked UK students 8-18 about what "dangers they face online," and the students replied, "bomb-making, blackmail, HIV, asylum seekers, aliens, and blindness," according to The Guardian. "Some children confused paedophiles with hackers or thought they sent viruses via 'spam' or junk emails.... Teaching children to think critically and behave responsibly when using the Internet enabled them to gauge what risks the technology really poses, and how to handle those problems, said the researchers." More and more educators are pointing to the importance of helping children develop critical thinking skills and media literacy. Tech literacy without these skills - along with excessive parental fears - weights the balance on the risks side. "Parental fears about the Internet mean that children are not being given the information they need to behave safely and sensibly online," according to The Register. "Unfounded fears that children are meeting murderers online and that chatrooms lead to sexual abuse mean that real and more frequent dangers of Web use are ignored. Blanket restrictions on Internet use leave children unprepared and unable to protect themselves."