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Friday, June 10, 2005

A mom takes issue with MySpace

Kathy in California recently emailed me:

"Hello Anne, I would love to correspond with other parents about this subject. Perhaps if we all shout loud enough someone just might hear us! I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have three children and have cancelled two accounts. Their ages are, 13 and 15. Boys. They weren't exactly 'happy' about the cancellation, but they are good kids and comply with our rules.... I did some research.... I wanted to get an address and name of a CEO or someone other than 'Tom' [the contact provided at]. I've emailed Tom, and he does not respond. Anyway, you will be interested to know that I found out the names and addresses of the CEO, the president, and the founding member of the venture capitalist company. I intend on writing to them to express my feelings, most notably their lack of responsibility where children are concerned. If I could single-handedly shut them down, I'd do it in a heartbeat!" Please see this week's issue of my newsletter for Kathy's full email and one from another mother Feel free to post your own comments just below or email me thoughts, experiences, family Internet policies, etc. anytime.

On Net predators' trail

The Washington Post's description of what goes on at the Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., is not easy reading for a parent, but it's good to see what's being done to protect children around the world. The Center is a "state-of-the-art forensic computer lab run by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency [ICE]," the Post reports. Its investigators "are cracking the most sensational, horrifying, gut-wrenching criminal cases involving children, pornography, predators and the Internet." The Post quotes Ernie Allen, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, as saying that 10 years ago even he didn't think there was a significant market for this material, but what we all now know is that it's a "multibillion-dollar industry around the world." But progress is being made in fighting it, with law enforcement agencies using the very technology that predators use as a tool against them. In the two years since ICE launched Operation Predator, "more than 5,700 people have been arrested in more than 100 countries, with crucial support from the Cyber Crimes Center."

Legal music's next step?

Watch out iTunes and Yahoo Music Unlimited, here comes MSN's music subscription service. "The tentative features of the new service - which is still under development - include advanced community aspects and playlist-sharing," CNET reports. But here's where MSN will really up the ante: It wants subscribers to be able to play any song purchased at iTunes on music players other than the iPod, what a lot of digital music fans have been waiting for. To that end, MSN is seeking rights from record companies to create a Microsoft-formatted version of any song people can find at iTunes.

P2P networks' dilemma

File-sharing networks aren't the only channel for traffickers in child pornography, but they're definitely one of them. Which puts the P2P networks in a tight spot, the Dallas Morning News reports: They want to help law enforcement find the illegal pornographic content without sending the signal that they can track all illegal activity, including music copyright infringement. "The [P2P] companies don't want to appear to have too much control over what users trade." And law enforcement does agree that if pedophiles come to believe the file-sharing networks are no longer anonymous zones, "they'll simply move to darker corners of the Internet where they're more difficult to catch ... chat rooms, newsgroups, email and even Web pages," the Morning News adds. The article goes into the types of tools now available to both media companies and law enforcement for identifying file-sharers. It's also good background for the US Supreme Court decision on MGM v. Grokster expected this month. In that case, entertainment companies are asking the court to hold file-sharing companies responsible for users' infringement of copyright laws.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Net-savvy school

Here's an enlightened school, where tech's concerned: The William Penn School in Philadelphia sees cyberspace as an extension of its community, reports in a thoughtful article, "Cyberbullying: No muscles needed." "The school community doesn't begin and end at the door." Though traditionally schools saw anything happening off of school property as beyond their reach, this may have to change as, increasingly, everything happening at school spills into a constant swirl of instant messages. To get students thinking about the possibility of consequences, Penn even had local police officers come in and alert them to the fact that "electronic messages such as IMs and emails leave 'fingerprints' - nine-digit numbers recorded with your ISP (Internet Service Provider)." CFK adds that "violations of the school's honor code land a student in front of the community council, leading to suspension or expulsion. But small things can tweak a student's conscience," Penn has found, too. "For example, the school's director of technology put a mirror up in the lab, bearing the caption 'Are you a cyberbully?,' with action steps for kids who think they're victims as well." For more on this, please see "Cybersocializing, cyberbullying: Where are the parents?"

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Help for file-sharers' parents

London-based Childnet International today released a leaflet and companion Web site, "Young People, Music and the Internet: A Guide for Parents about P2P, file-sharing and downloading," the BBC reports. The leaflet, which was printed in eight languages and will be distributed in 19 countries, describes the little-known risks associated with using the global peer-to-peer (P2P) networks - pornography, viruses, spyware, and loss of personal privacy, as well as the legal risk. Here's the site at Childnet (Net Family News contributed to the project). The launch coincided with a lot of digital-music news this week:

* A Los Angeles Times story about the benefits of file-sharing to many independent record labels, 125 of which have just started their own trade association, CNET reports
* A new study cited by CNET finding that Apple's iTunes is as popular as many P2P networks
* Another CNET piece about a new, legal ("instantly gratifying") option in the free-music scene that combines P2P with legal Internet radio - something besides the 30-second sampling clip, a 99-cent download, or signing up for a subscription service.
* A new law in Sweden banning the sharing of music files online without the payment of royalties - Swedish news site The Local reports.

Candid teen-protection campaign

Many parents have heard that one in five children received a sexual solicitation online in 1998 and '99. It's a figure from a study done for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (and right now being updated) by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. Meanwhile, the number of US kids online has grown to 87% (or 21 million, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project), so what better time to launch a fresh nationwide ad campaign to alert girls in particular to the risk of online sexual predation (two-thirds of the children surveyed for that original study were girls)? "Created to coincide with the designation by the United States Senate of June as national Internet safety month, the campaign is the second joint effort in two years by the Advertising Council and the center, a nonprofit organization that works with the Justice Department to prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation and to help find missing children," the New York Times reports. The print, radio, and TV campaign, launched today, is hard-hitting. One of the TV ads "shows a disheveled apartment being searched by police officers, as one of them puts a computer keyboard into a plastic bag. A teenage girl warns in the voiceover, 'Before you start an online relationship with a guy, think about how it could end'." Here's the National Center's press release about the campaign.

Tragic end to gamers' dispute

A gamer in China killed a fellow player for selling something that never really existed for real money. "Qui Chengwei stabbed Zhu Caoyuan in the chest when he found out Zhu had sold his virtual sword for 7,200 Yuan [about $870]," the BBC reports. Qui had loaned Zhu the sword. It was a "gaming artifact," a weapon that Qui's character had won in the process of playing the popular multiplayer online fantasy game "Legend of Mir 3." "Attempts to take the dispute to the police failed because there is currently no law in China to protect virtual property," according to the BBC. South Korea, on the other hand, does have a law enforcement unit that investigates "in-game crime." Qui has been given a suspended death sentence for killing Zhu, who was 26. Here's's description of the game. This is probably indication enough of how much gamers value gaming artifacts, but the BBC reports that they are "a booming business on the Web," eBay's Internet games section having seen revenues of $9 million even as far back as 2003.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mobile bullying

Watch out for the picture phones! In the UK, where cellphone use by young people is much higher than in the US, one in five 11-to-19-year-olds have been bullied by mobile phone or via the Net, 14% have been threatened or harassed using text messages, and 10% have been intimidated or embarrassed by bullies using images taken with camera phones, the BBC reports. It's citing research by UK children's charity NCH, which also found that "some 26% of digital bullying victims did not know the identity of their tormentor." The BBC added, however, that "in terms of the proportion of children affected, the problem would not appear to be getting worse."

'Camp Unwired' appeals

Unplugging kids is becoming a selling point for US summer camps. "The number of new camps that limit gadgets and electronic communication is on the rise," Business Week reports. "While 9 in 10 camps allow parents to send e-mails, almost none allow kids to write back over the Internet. Some 90% of camps don't allow cell phones." Farm & Wilderness in Vermont, "a Vermont cluster of six camps," is an exapmle - its cabins have no electricity, which makes it really hard to charge up one's cell phone! But that's not to say that new friends from camp aren't IM-ing soon after they get home.

Monday, June 06, 2005

New resource for movie-swappers

The release of "RatDVD" file file-sharing software out on the Net is just the latest example (for parents as well as corporations) of how workarounds keep bobbing up whenever there are efforts to control online activity. "A group of anonymous programmers has released a new software tool online that threatens to raise the stakes for Hollywood studios fighting Internet movie-swapping," CNET reports. It's impossible to tell how popular RatDVD will be because it has just been released, but CNET says it offers something extra: the little extras that come with movie DVDs you buy which don't come with movies swapped on the Net (alternate endings, outtakes, directors' comments, etc.). Here's Media Week on recent legal activity by the Motion Picture Associatio of America against file-sharers.