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Friday, September 10, 2004

Cybersocializing, cyberbullying

For kids and teens, the online social scene is a little like what happens when 18-year-olds go off to college. Suddenly there's a lot of freedom; people get experimental socially. Most of what happens is relatively harmless, some not. What's different about the online scene is, the experimentation starts at a much younger age and - to an even greater degree - there are no grownups around. What I mean is, so far: 1) Parents and educators have "few clues" about what's going on in the free- wheeling world of teen cybersocializing (,,, chat, email, IMs, file-sharing, etc.); 2) There's an unwritten rule there that what happens online stays online (teens are reluctant to fill us in); and 3) Some of us parents even agonize about whether we should respect their privacy and not even go there (see "Daughter's blog, mom's dilemma").

The thing is, there's nothing private about it. It's all going on in a public forum, the Internet, and the youngest online socializers (kids 9-14) generally don't understand the implications. They don't understand that when they post text and pictures involving peers in a public forum it can be even more hurtful, it can spread far beyond their circles, and it can be nearly impossible to take back. That's why parents need to know what's going on and help our kids get some street smarts. To that end, I interviewed Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (CSRI). Nancy is also a mother of three, has taught children with behavioral difficulties, and has a background in computer and copyright law, as well as education technology. [Please see my newsletter this week for background, solutions, and links to cyberbullying stories around the country.]

Mobile phones & porn

In Europe and Asia, kids' exposure to pornography on mobile phones is becoming as big an issue as their access to Web-based porn is in North America. And it's only a matter of time in this hemisphere, as more and more US families have picture and video phones. Regs are in the works overseas. "Governments in Japan, Germany, Australia, and Taiwan are proposing or passing legislation that requires mobile operators to protect minors from pornographic or violent content on phones and to put controls on cellular chat and dating services," the International Herald Tribune reports, adding that "cellphone operators in Britain have voluntarily adopted a code of conduct and agreed to implement filtering systems by year-end." So far, the problem with Net-connected cell phones, according to one of the Herald Trib's sources, is that there are no password-protected or administrative access controls that parents can put on the phones the way they can on PCs. Phone companies in Europe are beginning to offer some parental controls, and in Asia "the Japanese government has set aside around $2 million to help finance development of new mobile phone filtering technology," according to the Herald Trib. In the US, parental-controls technology for cell phones exists, but the phone companies haven't yet bought in and offered it to customers (for more on this, see my 5/7 issue). Meanwhile, the popularity of "smart phones" - with email, multimedia messaging, camera, games, video and music player, and more - is taking off, the BBC reports. For more on all this, check out London-based Childnet International's hard work on this front.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Video games past & present

Ever wonder how we got here - to twitching thumbs, PS2- and GameCube-style? Or how they make these games that children (and adults) find so compelling? This week PBS premiered "The Video Game Revolution," and there's lots in its companion Web site about all this too. The show "takes viewers back to the early days of the first gamer and provides insight into how the art and economics of the creation of video games have changed over the years," the Washington Post reports. "The PBS documentary features interviews with key industry participants, including Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, Nintendo's lead designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of such hit games as 'Donkey Kong' and 'Super Mario Brother,' 'SimCity' creator Will Wright, Microsoft’s Xbox developer Seamus Blackley, and Tim Moss, lead programmer for Sony Computer Entertainment. The show's producer, writer, and host, Greg Palmer, discussed his project with people all over the US at the Post site (URL above).

Retro tech for 20-somethings

Forget sleek and minimal. More and more 20-somethings prefer their technology to come in big, bulky and retro packages, the New York Times reports. For example, 21-year-old John Henry Flood said no thanks to PS2. For him, cool is the 1977 Atari 2600, with its wood-grain paneling. And 27-year-old Eugene Auh is psyched that he snagged a Motorola DynaTac, "a 1980s-era 'brick' cellphone that fits more comfortably in a backpack than in a suit pocket" for just $25.95 on eBay. To appeal to such esthetics, two market-savvy teenagers in New York are literally "retrofitting" old toasters and radios by putting computers inside them. A company called Verbatim is making inky-black recordable compact discs that look like miniature 45-r.p.m. vinyl records. Turntables are back too, so are wooden radios, and remember the color avocado? It's chic again too (sigh).

Teen hackers' exploits

If you believe what he claims, and the police seem to, the 19-year-old in Germany who took over eBay Germany couldn't even be called a hacker. He happened upon some Web sites that described how to do a DNS (domain name server) transfer and "just for fun," he requested a transfer for a handful of sites, including,, and, CNET reports. Most of his requests were denied, but the one for eBay wasn't. "It is unclear how the domain could have been transferred without the consent of the owner," CNET adds. "The teenager said he did not want to cause damage. Indeed, according to [police], he was shocked when he was told that he had become the new owner of the Web address." is now back in eBay's hands. Meanwhile, a real hacker, Sven Jaschan, the 18-year-old who admitted he created the Sasser worm that infected PCs worldwide, has been formally charged with computer sabotage, data manipulation and disruption of public systems, the BBC reports. Sven Jaschan, like the eBay hijacker above, lives in Lower Saxony. If found guilty, Jaschan faces up to five years in prison.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Teen-only PC: the 'hip-e'

Hmmm. Will teenagers want a PC just for them called the "hip-e"? That's the $64 thousand-(or million-)dollar question for Digital Lifestyles Group, the Austin-based company that makes it. Like an iPod, it's mostly white and, like a cell phone or an IM service's graphical interface, it has customizable "skins" (e.g., fuzzy pink faux fur, a leopard or graffiti look), CNN reports. To get to a teen level of hipness (after talking with a bunch of teens), the company set out to "Apple-ize" or "iPod-ize" the PC. Quite naturally, the hip-e's a communications hub and entertainment-media tool, not a work station. It's wi-fi enabled (for wireless connecting), can be synched with a cell phone (on the Sprint network) and connected to a video game console, a TV tuner, and a MP3 player/keychain data-storage drive, and it has a huge hard drive for tune and video storage. For young consumers, it includes "a prepaid debit account that teens or their parents can put money into, to fund the cell phone, online shopping, or music downloads." Digital Lifestyles reportedly has done of ton of teen-focus-group testing, but we wonder if teens will go for something actually designed to be cool. The company's smart about this, for sure, though: they know that if the thing's designed for 16-year-olds, 14-year-olds (and anybody younger who's heard about it) will probably want it more. It's pricey at $1,699; the company explains in its marketing message to parents that they save by not having to buy a TV, MP3 player, video player, boombox, and PC separately (if the child doesn't already have most of those things). Here's gadget blog Gizmodo's take, and the hip-e's own Web site.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Pro-anorexia sites: Parents' heads-up

They're community sites, often run by anorexics themselves, in which participants encourage each other to "stay strong" and stick with often false and dangerous weight-loss practices, the BBC reports. Many of the sites offer "advice and handy hints to users to enable them to dupe their [doctors]." Some help participants pair up - meet a "buddy" who can keep them focused on "their quest for the body 'beautiful'" and fend off therapists and others whose aim it is just to "make us fat," according to what experts say about the paranoid mentality expressed in many pro-anorexia sites. Parents may also want to know that a lot of these sites are underground - password-protected - so they can't be found and shut down. UK-based "online counsellor" Greg Mulhauser reports that "there is a growing quantity of material that is pro anorexia on Xanga" in particular. is a blog community popular among teens. For more on Xanga, see "Xanga and other hangouts" and "Teens' blog life."

Monday, September 06, 2004

Libraries & filters: Fresh reports

After the arrest of an alleged child molester who was accessing porn in a Phoenix, Ariz., library, the city is pushing for regulations that would "bar adults from disabling filters designed to block objectionable Web pages on library computers," the Arizona Republic reports. Opponents say the city's regs would violate people's free-speech rights. "Previously, such stances, whether at the state, local or national level, have been contentious, uphill battles, marked by emotional rhetoric and standing-room-only crowds. And more often than not, the cases have ended in high-profile lawsuits," the Republic adds, saying the mayor and a majority of the City Council are ready for the fight. Meanwhile, in Portland, Ore., Molly Raphael, director of the Multnomah County libraries, is proposing that all Internet searches by children 12 and younger be filtered unless parents or guardians want them to have unlimited access, the Associated Press reports. Patrons 13-16 could access anything under the proposal, which Raphael said tries to introduce flexibility and a choice for parents. A critic, Stephanie Vardavas, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Library, said that filters "aimed at blocking X-rated material also screened out a link to Shakespeare's complete plays and the full text of Jane Eyre. One filter even blocked a search for the site for the 30th Super Bowl because it was listed as Super Bowl XXX, she said." Library officials' response was that every filter is different.