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Friday, July 08, 2005

Disney's family phone plan

Disney is out to capture the family cellphone market with its very own wireless service, Disney Mobile, the Wall Street Journal reports (as well as sports fans with ESPN Wireless). This is not a kids' *phone*
like the Firefly (see the San Jose Mercury News), but a kid-targeted phone service. Yes, Verizon, Sprint, etc. have family phone-add-on plans, but Disney (using Sprint's network) plans the first service to appeal to children (who just might try to influence Mom or Dad's choice of carrier). It will appeal to parents with "features specifically designed ... to ensure the safety of their kids and to keep in contact with them," but Disney wouldn't elaborate, the Journal reports. Certainly it will include Disney content. For kids in Europe more interested in art, there's Etch-a-Sketch on your mobile (no, you can't
erase by shaking the phone), if you use Orange's service, the Washington Post reports. For info on phone parental controls, see my 5/6/05 and 5/7/04 issues.

Net at libraries: High demand

Where Internet use is concerned, demand is exceeding supply in America's libraries, and this is where the digital divide is most apparent. The American Library Association recently surveyed US
libraries and found that 99.6% are now connected to the Net (up from 20.9% in 1994), but for the first time its survey asked libraries
about how they were doing with meeting demand," the Associated Press reports. "Seventy percent of libraries said there aren't enough computer terminals during peak periods, while another 16% said there's always a shortage." The solution is time limits. On the surface they make sense, but low-income patrons are the ones losing out. "Shortages are most common in high-poverty and urban areas, the study found." For example, "libraries in California's Fresno County impose a half-hour limit during peak periods, but one branch reported that patrons needed two hours or more of computer time just to fill out online job applications for a new Home Depot store."

More LAN party locations... good news for videogamers, who like battling it out in person, in groups, and with unlimited bandwidth (provided by a LAN, or "local-area network," that connects them all for playing tournaments). Thus this logical new use for strip-mall space: gaming centers, where - for around $6/hour - gamers can have their LAN without having to mess with dragging in and setting up their own CPUs. One example is X30 centers in the Washington, D.C., area. The first such center opened in May. In it, "23 personal computers line sloping walls painted a deep blue and lime green. Couches and oversized beanbags provide resting spots for spectators, while the gamers sit in cushy executive-style chairs," the Washington Post reports
. "The goal was to create a distinct but easily replicable design ... referencing Starbucks, master of that concept. On a recent weekend, 40 teenage boys - and one girl - crammed in to compete in a marathon Counter-Strike tournament."

Porn on gamerplayers, phones

It's all about privacy, Newsweek's sources say. Making pornography portable (as in magazines maybe?!) is an easy way for a publisher or a device maker to expand its market because viewers like their privacy. "For the past 30 years, each of erotica's new formats - theater, VCR, PC, laptop - has proven more private than the last. And what's a pocket multiplex, say its proponents, if not the ultimate in privacy?" So, some parents will feel, it's a good thing Sony's PlayStation Portable has parental controls on it, since Japanese adult-DVD makers H.M.P. and GLAY'z just joined Playboy on the PSP. They're releasing "eight of their top-selling hardcore titles on Sony's Universal Media Discs - the 2-1/2-inch, plastic-encased 'DVDs' designed for exclusive use with [Sony's] hot new PlayStation Portable device. But that's not the only mobile-porn platform, Newsweek adds. "Some mobile porn is almost mainstream already. The most popular category in podcasting - downloadable digital audio - is erotic instruction and entertainment." Newsweek cites a recent study by Boston-based Strategy Analytics showing that pornographic cellphone content "raked in $400 million worldwide last year and could reach $5 billion by 2010. Vivid Entertainment Group, the world's largest adult-film 'studio,' already peddles cellular-phone erotica in 20 countries - and it's targeting the PSP next."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

ID theft's upside?

It looks like all the news about identity theft has been good in one way: People are getting smarter about PC security. That's the conclusion Washington Post tech writer Robert MacMillan drew from the latest Pew Internet & American Life study. [Robert's article includes a "two-word glossary" of "spyware" and "adware."] Pew found that "91% of Internet users have changed their online behavior for fear of becoming victims" of spyware. Other key findings:

* 81% of Net users say they have stopped opening email attachments unless they're sure the docs are safe.
* 48% have stopped visiting particular Web sites they fear might install unwanted software on their PCs.
* 25% have stopped downloading music or video files from file-sharing networks to avoid getting unwanted software programs on their computers.
* 18% have started using a different Web browser to avoid spyware.

More Net on mobiles

The signs are everywhere that the Internet - with all its capabilities, pluses, and minuses - is about to arrive on a cellphone near you (including your child's). First, video: "To fill those awkward moments when no one is calling, texting, or emailing us," as Internet News put it, soon there will be "video snacks" on our cellphones. Two Minute Television, specializing in "entertainment for teensy attention spans" and very small screens, will soon be providing "a free, ad-supported mobile TV channel featuring shows like 'Adventures in Speed Dating' for mobiles. Users can subscribe directly via SmartVideo's video-programs catalog, but SmartVideo will also be doing deals with mobile phone companies, who may allow you to pay them as well. ;-) SmartVideo also offers ABC News, NBC Universal, Fox Sports and The Weather Channel, Internet News adds. Musicians, too, are "going mobile" to reach fans directly, the BBC reports. "Sony Ericsson is bringing out a range of Walkman-branded phones, while Motorola is working on an iTunes-compatible mobile with Apple." Here's the New York Times today on phonemakers' shift to music. In Europe, phone services are increasingly opening up to the wide-open spaces of the Net. T-Mobile, which used to restrict customers to the "T-zones walled garden ... is to offer subscribers full Internet access via Google," the BBC reports, and "rival Vodafone has joined forces with Microsoft to allow people to exchange instant messages between its messaging service and MSN Messenger." The BBC cites analysts as saying these are just further indicators that "the Net is becoming an integral part of mobiles." Here's more on the everywhere Net from Forbes.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Do-not-email-kids registries

Parents in Michigan and Utah will soon be able to put their children's email addresses on the two states' new do-not-email lists. "Send a raunchy email to a minor, and you may wind up in jail" is the gist of the states' new laws creating the registries, CNET reports. "Anyone who goes ahead and sends email deemed to be off-color or 'harmful to minors' could be imprisoned for up to three years." Sounds good on the surface, CNET says, but the legislation is poorly written (say civil rights organizations) and could soon be challenged in court on First Amendment grounds. The Federal Trade Commission rejected the idea of a do-not-spam registry in 2004 because it couldn't stop overseas or illegal spam. Another problem is that businesses that market (legitimately) via email don't know about the laws (which apply to anyone sending email *into* the two states) and, when they do, costs will mount ("the monthly fee would be $120 to keep a million-person mailing list scrubbed and current"), though that won't concern kids or parents. The FTC already addressed the issue about illegitimate businesses, and let's hope no malicious hackers gain access to the databases of children's email addresses. CNET explains the laws in greater detail, concluding that they "could become a harbinger for the rest of the nation." The Salt Lake Tribune later reported that Utah's anti-spam law, scheduled to go into effect July 1, was delayed two weeks. Here's the Detroit News and a somewhat sarcastic report from The Inquirer that would give all child advocates pause.

Tech teachers: Help kids compete

While motivated young techies in India, South Korea, and so many other countries compete for top tech jobs in the First World and their own developing "Silicon Valleys," US kids have to wait till college to learn anything about computer science. And the number of Americans majoring in the subject is declining. Technology teachers and coordinators say state education departments and school districts need to "embrace the idea of training sophisticated computer users at a younger age," the Associated Press reports. "States have few developed standards or required courses in computer science - a field that goes beyond basic literacy to encompass hardware and software design, real-world applications and computers' effect on society." It's a tough sell, the AP continues. "Computer science, like other subjects, is fighting for time on student schedules and a place on the political agenda, where reading and math dominate." [The AP talked to the newly formed Computer Science Teachers Association last week at the 143rd Annual Meeting of the National Education Association, the US's largest teachers' union.] Meanwhile, tech executives are telling Congress how much they're having to go overseas to find the tech skills their companies need.

P2P and media firms' eyes on Sweden

Even a law criminalizing file-sharing - Sweden's new one - isn't likely to put a serious dent in it. The Associated Press reports that "Swedes are among the most prolific file-sharers in the world. Industry groups estimate that about 10% of Sweden's 9 million residents freely swap music, games and movies on their computers." So, the AP continues, "unless Swedes have suddenly changed their habits, about one in 10 became a criminal on Friday." That's when Sweden's new law banning the sharing of copyrighted media (following an EU directive) took effect. The country's justice minister said, however, that chasing down file-sharers won't be a priority for Swedish police unless their file-swapping's egregious. Meanwhile, while BitTorrent and eDonkey users are swapping movies, pay-per-film sites - the film versions of iTunes and Napster - are set to take off, the New York Times reports. "The [film] studios will most likely make downloads available to a wide range of online distributors. Those that are preparing to offer the movies include Movielink, MSN, Sony's Connect service,, and CinemaNow, an online movie rental store." Prices will probably be similar to those of DVDs. See also the San Jose Mercury News on "file-sharing's new era" and the Los Angeles Times's "Big Labels Have Digital Trust Issues" about what paying customers can do with their MP3s. "The music is the same, and the sound quality is hard to distinguish. But there is a wide gap between what buyers can do with a CD and what they are allowed to do with a legal download."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Kids' cellphone costs

A little article in The Register cites a very big number for what UK kids spend on mobile phones: $1 billion pounds, or $1.77 billion, a year. It's not clear how old the children are, but presumably they're under 18. Parents surveyed said they "are so concerned about the spiralling cost of using mobiles, they want operators to do more to help them control their children's spending," according to a survey by mobile billing company Convergys, but 30% feel the phone companies "aren't interested in their concerns." A whopping 90% have opted for prepaid cellphone service "to try and keep a lid on their kids' spending." Half of those who don't have their kids using prepaid phones want to be alerted when their children's spending nears a designated limit. Meanwhile, 25% of parents say their kids have wasted money on premium rate services such as ringtones, and 16% feel they spend too much of their pocket money on their phone. The US has kid-phone-debt issues too - see "Cell-phone digital divide?" in my 3/4 issue and "Prepaid phone service: Getting hot."