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Friday, November 05, 2004

Spyware defined!

Are you mystified by this phenomenon we're hearing more and more about? You are not alone. It's one of the most pervasive - and misunderstood - problems family PC users face. recently unveiled its "Spotlight on Spyware," which describes spyware symptoms and the most devious examples, and provides six tips for preventing it from overrunning your family PC. There is also a page listing and linking to a number of Internet service providers' tools for detection and removal of spyware. I would add that there are free scan-and-remove tools not mentioned on GetNetWise's page. A couple that have gotten excellent reviews are Ad-Aware and SpyBot Search & Destroy.

The page on spyware prevention would be a good talking point for a family PC security discussion (if a tech-literate teenager in your house doesn't already have this nailed). In working with kids, I'd zoom in on the first two tips (and take care of the rest about PC security myself) - about being skeptical about downloading strange or free software and paying attention to your computer's security warnings. The best policy might be to have kids ask you about installing or downloading anything and, when a security warning pops up, "come get me before you do anything" (don't "x" it out till Mom or Dad checks it out). As for file-sharing programs, which are reportedly riddled with spyware, have that anti-spyware software installed (maybe even the industrial-strength version that'll cost you $30 or so) if there's P2P activity on the PC.

Email me about how your family is working through the spyware challenge. Are your kids part of the solution yet?

Answered: Burning Qs about cell phones

Suddenly there's plenty of meaty help for families bewildered by all those cell-phone plans and options out there. CNET put together a comprehensive cell-phone-buying guide (flip phones, camera phones, smart phones, candy bar-style phones, you name it!) that includes lots of information on the carriers too. On the latter, with each company - Sprint, Cingular (just acquired AT&T Wireless), Nextel, Verizon, T-Mobile - the guide asks the questions, "Where can I use this service?" and "What should I know about this carrier?" It even looks at phones by personality type - teen/fashion, commuter, gear head, etc. At the Washington Post, techie writer Rob Pegoraro is a little more DC-specific in his just-released "How to Make the Right Call on Cell Plans," but he asks some great questions everyone should hear if they're considering new or different phone service. Questions like: Do you want to make calls from rural areas or overseas, or what service do your friends and relatives use? He notes, too, that if you want to use your phone to go online or if you want a phone with lots of bells and whistles, these criteria may affect your choice of carrier. Here's the Guide itself.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Good anti-spam news

Though the flood of junk email in our in-boxes continues unabated, anti-spam efforts are getting tougher. For example, there is the first criminal prosecution of spammers - against a brother and sister in Virginia who'd "amassed a fortune" in sales via spam, reports the BBC and many other tech news outlets. And the US's Internet giants - AOL, EarthLink, MSN, and Yahoo - teamed up for the second time this year to sue spammers in several states, CNET reports. CNET adds that one of AOL's lawsuits is the first to target junk messages our IM-ing kids are probably seeing more of: "spim," "unwanted messages sent through instant-messaging programs or chat rooms."

Torrent of file-sharing

The low-key P2P service that file-sharers at your house have at least heard of is true to its name. BitTorrent's users are trading a veritable torrent of data online, accounting for "an astounding 35% of all the traffic on the Internet" and more than all the file-sharing services combined," Reuters reports. Citing the findings of UK Web analysis firm CacheLogic, Reuters adds that this P2P traffic "dwarfs mainstream traffic like Web pages" - giving us a feel for how much file-sharing is a part of online activities. The content in that very active data stream is both legal (e.g., video game promos, Linux software code, garage band music) and copyrighted material (movies, tunes, software), according to Reuters. BitTorrent's also true to its name because of the way it works - users don't download whole movie or TV show files, for example, they download fragments of them from other users who have asked for the same collection of fragments that the show or movie represents. The BitTorrent software knits the fragments together so you can see the whole show on your screen. That innovation is what makes this third-generation P2P service so "fast," in other words able to traffic in such huge files as films so efficiently. EDonkey, another popular 3G file-sharing service, reportedly works similarly. The fact that there's so much legal content being shared on BitTorrent is what experts are saying could provide it with more legal protection than older services like Kazaa have enjoyed. At the bottom of the article, Reuters lists four all-legit sites for downloading movies and music.

In other P2P news, the RIAA announced another round of lawsuits, this time against 750 alleged copyright infringers, the Los Angeles Times reports (the movie industry is set to follow suit shortly with as many as 200 lawsuits of its own, The Register reports). On the carrot side of anti-piracy efforts, Sony BMG - in a surprise move "breaking from the rest of the entertainment industry" - announced it would cooperate with the Grokster P2P service on "a venture that combines free music sampling with paid downloads," the L.A. Times also reports. They're calling the venture "Mashboxx."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Juice Box, not juke box

For those of us packing lunches with juice boxes, Mattel's version is a cute play on words. USATODAY calls the new, pocket-size Juice Box video player - which comes in red, blue, or green - "anything but a toy." Because it plays color video and music and displays digital photos, it's being sold in both electronics and toy stores. The price is right for the tweens and teens Mattel's targeting: It "costs $70 and its MP3 Starter Kit, which is needed to transfer MP3 tunes and photos from the PC, is $45. That adds up to $115, which is a good deal for a gadget that works as video player, a photo viewer and an MP3 player," USATODAY reports. But it's music videos they're talking about - not full-blown films, unfortunately. At $115, that would be too good to be true.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Concert on a phone

On a 3G cell phone, that is. The band is Rooster, and their 45-minute concert (probably right about now, Tuesday evening, London time) is the first ever to be "phone cast" in the UK, the BBC reports. It's available to about 1,000 fans paying five pounds each (about $9) for the privilege of listening to Rooster on their phones (definitely says something about the band's popularity!). "3G technology lets people take, watch and send video clips on their phones, as well as swap data much faster than with 2G networks," according to the BBC. "People with 3G phones in the UK can already download football and music clips on their handsets." Concerts will soon be coming to a phone near you - wherever you are!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Taking teens beyond text

That is Virgin Mobile USA's intention. According to CNET, the "wireless operator for teenagers" (about 2 million of them) just announced a new super-speedy cell phone that is "more in line with a teen's short attention span and mercurial mood." [Hmm, that sentiment, which CNET says were from a Virgin Mobile USA representative, seems a bit demeaning.] The Audiovox Flasher V7 phone uses Sprint's wireless network, "which operates at about 70 kilobits per second, or more than twice as fast as Virgin Mobile USA subscribers are used to." That means much faster send and receive time for new features like "My Pix, a photo-messaging and online picture-storage service, and VirginXL, for buying downloadable, full-color games, wallpapers and screensavers," taking them beyond texting, which is what 60% of its customers like to do. Virgin Mobile USA is also trying to be sensitive to its subscribers by recognizing "teenagers' fluid financial state" and offering service without requiring them to sign a contract.