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Friday, July 30, 2004

'My daughter's Xanga'

Anyone close to a teenager is probably seeing what we are: there's an important online component to the teen social scene - blogs. A Net Family News subscriber and mother in the northwestern US (who wished to remain nameless) recently emailed me: "I read my kid's Xanga, and kept track of it. She was writing dark poetry and disclosing stuff, so I cut her off, initiated passwords and monitored computer usage, and things started to change for the better to stay off of the junk online. [Socializing online] does not let them learn interpersonal skills. Xanga is bad news, parents! Be aware!" (Click here for more from this mom.) On the other hand, another parent, Craig in Pennsylvania, emailed me last December that blogs can be "a powerful tool of insight for parents." That's if the parent doesn't have qualms about kids' privacy issues, as this mom did. What do you think? I'd love to hear from other parents who have experience with this.

Keeping marketers honest

Children's watchdog CARU (the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council
of Better Business Bureaus) got two companies to fix some kid-confusing
marketing practices this week. The Wrigley Company agreed to make its contest
rules (and the part about "no purchase necessary") much more prominent on the
Web site for its Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape sweepstakes. And the Upper Deck Company
agreed to make its directions for kids clearer in its Sports Illustrated for
Kids ad, which advertised "2004 Power Up! Baseball Collect Play and Win!"
sweepstakes. It's great to know organizations like CARU are looking out for our kids. CARU is also one of the Federal Trade Commission-designated watchdogs for the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Phones that track kids

It probably makes sense that South Korea - where 75% of the people carry at least one cell phone - would be one of the first countries to have mobiles that keep track of kids' whereabouts. According to Reuters, the SK Telecom phones, which cost about $90, tap into the global positioning satellite network (GPS). Reuters adds that "the phone has four buttons to save phone numbers of key contacts, such as Mum and Dad. The GPS technology works even when the phone is turned off." Some child advocates wonder, though, what would happen if people other than Mom or Dad should use this tech to track children (see "Monitoring kids by mobile phone"). Where kids are concerned, technology is never either all positive or all negative. [An alternative to mere tracking is the idea of parental controls on cell phones, which is in the works in the UK and US (see my feature on this, 5/7.]

Meanwhile, cultural differences in cell-phone behavior have already emerged, the BBC reports, citing a Surrey University study. For example: "In Paris and Madrid, users are happy to stand in the street and talk. But Londoners prefer to create a temporary phone zone where several users, unaware of each other, stop to speak in the same place."

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Too young for tech?

It's an ongoing debate with few answers and no definitive research: whether exposure to technology is good for the littlest tykes. The Associated Press recently did a good job of framing the debate. On the one hand, "some parents and scholars see no benefit, and a handful even warn of a hindrance to child development." On the other: "Developers of the kids site - not to be confused with the search engine - say their games and songs promote self-esteem. Scholastic Inc. says its Clifford products teach reading and music - not to mention computing. Others say they can't possibly quell their kids' curiosity for a machine their parents - and older siblings - are using so much." The only thing that's clear: "More research is needed, proponents and skeptics agree." And besides that, some numbers gathered to date, such as these from the Kaiser Family Foundation: 31% of children 3 and under are already using computers; 16% percent use them several times a week; 21% can point and click with a mouse by themselves; and 11% can turn on the computer without assistance." In the end, as usual, it's up to parents to decide what's best for their children. We'd love to hear from you about that - via!

SD gov yanks teen site

It's not that surprising that politics entered into what a public library has in its Web site, but we've not seen this before: South Dakota's Republican governor, Mike Rounds, shut down the teen section of the state library's Web site, eSchoolNews reports. Though the State Library Board last spring rejected a request to remove a link to Planned Parenthood in the section, on July 9 the board reversed itself and agreed to remove the link. "Rounds opposes abortion; Planned Parenthood lobbies to keep abortion legal," according to eSchoolNews. Governor Rounds "said the removal of the Web links does not amount to censorship, because Internet users still can go directly to those organizations' sites. State government sites should not feature links to advocacy groups that are politically active, he said." ESchoolNews adds that most of the links in the section were related to teen culture, but there were links to Columbia University's Go Ask Alice!, "which provides answers to health concerns and some explicit sexual questions" and to " 'It's Your (Sex) Life,' which includes information on pregnancy, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases."

New online Amber Alert

Using the Web will only get the word about an abducted child out faster and to more people, "including ordinary citizens who can receive text messages on their cellphones," the New York Times reports. The new Net-based Amber Alert system is being tested in 13 states this summer. The Times cites figures from the National Center for Missing & Ecploited Children showing that 250-300 Amber Alerts are issued nationwide each year (the alerts were named in memory of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1996). The way it works is, a local police officer enters a description of the kidnapping, "including information like location and license plate numbers, and photos of the victim," into the secure Web site. "The alert then goes out to other police departments, state agencies and broadcasters, and to cellphone and pager users who have signed up to receive them." The new system does even more than blanket an area's media with info; it calculates the abductor's location and targets media and communications devices in that area, according to that timing.

Kids & politics, online/offline

Personal as well as national politics, judging from Children's PressLine's coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Boston (at Connect for Kids). Three CPL reporters received media credentials to report from the convention floor - Gabriel Decker-Lee, 10; Laurence James, 13; and Nily Rozic, 18 - but a lot of people's good thinking backed them up: "We know we won't be the only journalists there. There'll be like 50,000 other reporters trying to get [politicians' comments] too. But ... because we are small and because we're kids, politicians will be more open to talking. We won't be surprised if we hear a lot of other reporters complaining, 'Oh, I can't believe I lost another interview to those kids!'" When they report on politics, Children's PressLine news teams focus on issues that affect people under 18. Here's more on this at It's important work - for both kids and the grownups who support them, because, according to USAToday, "experts see a critical need to engage America's youth since the percentage of adults who vote continues to decline. Even worse are voter participation rates among younger Americans. While about half of college-age students are registered to vote, only one in five actually does. By comparison, three out of five people over the age of 55 vote, according to the US Census Bureau." For more on teaching kids about the democratic process, see and KidsVote2004. "A search for "politics" on AOL's KOL channel, which screens out inappropriate sites for kids under the age of 13, turns up more than 820 Web sites," USAToday reports, linking to some of them too.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Kids gambling online

A 16-year-old UK girl was able to register at 30 gambling Web sites after lying about her age, The Guardian reports. "Only seven sites requested verification of her age when she claimed to be 21." She used her youth debit card to register. The Guardian cited children's charity NCH as the source of this information. "NCH claims the findings show it is possible for children as young as 11 to register with gambling Web sites, because some banks issue debit cards to 11-year-olds." NCH called for more age verification by gambling sites. Britain's minister for gambling promised to ensure that banks and the industry work together to that end. "Around 675,000 (45%) of 16- and 17-year-olds own a debit card," The Guardian reports. "This figure does not include the number of 11-to-15-year-olds with a Solo or Visa Electron card."

To avoid this week's worm

It's just the latest version of an old worm called "MyDoom," and it's the reason why Google and other search engines slowed down or didn't work this week. The Washington Post tells how to avoid infection and - if your child does open the attachment that launches it - provides links to free fix-it tools offered by several computer security companies. Here's the BBC with more on what this worm's like and what it does. Also, see our "What if our PC's a zombie?!" if you think your family computer's infected.

Back-to-school tech: Cheaper now

Good news for students and parents: Prices are dropping and quality improving on tech products that have been around for a while, Reuters reports. That includes laptops, DVD players, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and little data storage devices. Reuters cites market research company NPD Group as saying prices have dropped 5% to 10% from last year. And the article points out that Taiwan-based Elitegroup Computer Systems's notebook computers start at $598 at Wal-Mart. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a similar story, reporting that: "DVD players were about $30 cheaper than reported in April." It added that 15-inch notebook PCs have dropped an average of $65.

File-sharing paid-for tunes

It has become a trend: More and more pay-per-tune services are offering file-sharing of tunes their customers purchase. MusicMatch is the latest to join in, the Washington Post reports. "Like Napster 2.0 [and unlike Apple's iTunes], MusicMatch subscribers can share playlists with fellow subscribers and others who don't subscribe to the service," according to the Post. "Unlike Napster, which only allows nonsubscribers to listen to 30-second song snippets, MusicMatch allows songs to be played three times before the songs lock. Then only 30-second cuts can be heard." This is quite likely the direction iMesh will take later this year, after its recent $4.1 million settlement with the RIAA that included an agreement to shut down free file-sharing altogether.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Oz porn watchdog: No bite

Once famous for its unusually tough approach (for a democratic country) to Internet porn, the Australian Broadcasting Authority has been found "powerless against offshore [porn] operators," Australian IT reports . The article adds that the ABA shut down only four Australia-based sites last year. But Aussie adult sites aren't the primary problem, apparently. The international, borderless nature of the Internet is. "The ABA said it was powerless to shut down most obscene Web sites because the sites were located overseas." The ABA reported that about 52% of all content it defined as prohibited - child pornography, pedophilia, bestiality, sexual violence, and terrorism instructions - came from the US, 22% form Russia, and just 4% from Australia. Australian IT cites investigative reporting by the Sydney Daily Telegraph as its source.

File-sharers to be 'unmasked'

This may be a little scary to young music fans and file-swappers, and possibly their parents, because the RIAA sues minors too. A federal judge just made the RIAA (Recording Industry Assoc. of America) very happy by granting its request to "unmask anonymous file-swappers accused of copyright infringement," CNET reports. US District Judge Denny Chin ruled that Cablevision, a broadband Internet service provider in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, has to provide the RIAA with the names of customers it's suing for copyright violations. Legal experts say the ruling is "the most detailed so far in any of the many 'John Doe' lawsuits brought by the [RIAA]." The good news for lawyers on the anti-RIAA side was that Judge Chin's analysis of the case ensures that anyone filing suit "must prove they have a real case and aren't merely on a fishing expedition for someone's name."

Monday, July 26, 2004

Google glitch

Actually, it wasn't just Google, but just having Google down can affect a lot of family and corporate Net researchers. If you tried to do a search and couldn't at Google, AltaVista, Lycos, and possibly Yahoo today, it's because they were attacked by a worm, CNET reported. In a separate article, CNET said that this week's version of the MyDoom worm, working on home and business PCs that had been infected by it, slowed or knocked out those particular search engines just by using them to search for more email addresses. It uses (or "harvests") these addresses to send spam or to launch denial-of-service attacks on major Web sites and corporate computer networks. One infected computer can do thousands of search queries, so hundreds or thousands of them can really slow search engines down.

Bin Laden virus

Tell your kids not to open any attachment or go to any Web site that's supposed to show pictures of Osama bin Laden. It's just another attempt by some malicious hacker to take control of your family PC. Reuters cites computer security experts saying that the virus was written by someone who runs a "zombie network" - a huge network of PCs that have been infected by a "trojan" virus that allows its code writer to take over people's computers (turn them into zombies - see my 7/16 issue). "The zombified computers can then be used to distribute spam [and make money] or launch denial-of-service attacks [and make trouble]." Anti-virus companies have updated their services, so be sure your family PC's anti-virus software or service is right in step with your anti-virus provider. For more on "zombie networks," see "1 very illegal summer job." Here's more on the bin Laden virus at the BBC.

Games & girls

Not film, not digital music, but - at $7 billion in sales last year - video games are "the world's fastest-growing entertainment industry," the Washington Post reports in a thoughtfully researched update. Women make up 39% of gamers, a significant proportion, but that large industry - with all its male game designers - has a long way to go before it figures out how best to appeal to that large group, which some analysts say is just as sophisticated and diverse as male gamers. Some girls and women like shooter and sports games, some like the very popular Nancy Drew-based games such as "Secrets Can Kill" by Her Interactive. Her's Megan Gaiser had a hard time getting a publisher, so she promoted "The 3D Adventures of Nancy Drew" through Her's Web site and sold them on "Since 2000, the Nancy Drew franchise has sold 1.8 million units." A couple of Nancy Drew game reviews can be found at ("Message in a Haunted Mansion" is one of their favorites).