Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, August 19, 2005

Spotlight: Brazil's child-porn hotline

This week I heard from subscriber, parent, and Internet-security Tito in Portugal. He wanted to highlight the work of in Brazil, a "National Campaign to Combat Pedophilia on the Internet." The service includes a child-porn hotline, which looks to be Brazil's equivalent to the US's significantly more well-funded (that's a guess) at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and in Canada. For more details from Tito, please click to my newsletter this week. The CyberTipline and do, however take and process reports about other forms of online child exploitation as well. Please check out their home pages for the categories.

N.J. teen sentenced for DoS attacks

Computer crimes by teens are being taken seriously. Seventeen-year-old Jasmine Singh was sentenced to five years in youth detention for taking part in a denial-of-service, The Register reports. He apparently was hired to launch the attacks against online sporting goods stores, causing damages of $1.5 million. Judge Frederick DeVesa of New Brunswick, N.J., Superior Court "also ordered Singh to pay $35,000 in compensation. Singh used networks of compromised machines [zombie computers taken over by Trojan viruses]" to take out the Web sites "at the alleged behest of Jason Arabo, 18, of Southfield, Michigan, who ran competing Web sites."

The age of remixes, mash-ups

Maybe we parents start to understand a little of what's behind cut-'n'-paste plagiarism and the link between it and music mash-ups when we read "cyber-punk/sci-fi" author William Gibson's "God's Little Toys" in Wired magazine. Gibson talks about what a revelation it was for him at 13 in 1961 to run across the work of William S. Burroughs, who "incorporated snippets of other writers' texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism." But Gibson called it Burroughs's "interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot" and proceeded to do something like it with his Apple IIc. "Everything I wrote, I believed instinctively, was to some extent collage."

But I really zoomed in on this in his essay: "Our culture no longer bothers to use words like *appropriation* or *borrowing* [emphasis his] to describe those very activities. Today's audience isn't listening at all - it's participating. Indeed, *audience* is as antique a term as *record*, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical…. The remix is the very nature of the digital." A perfect example of this need to participate, to mash stuff up together, was cited by CNET this week: "What do you get if you cross Google Maps with an online gas-price tracker? A shift in the way the Web works," CNET reports, referring to "Cheap Gas." "Now, clever programming tricks that use data from public Web sites are letting developers mix up that information to suit consumers' particular needs.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Impasse on violent games?

At least a temporary stand-off in the latest research on this subject, the Washington Post reports. On one side there's the just-released University of Illinois study finding that "'robust exposure to a highly violent video game' did not prompt players to project violent tendencies into real life," according to the Post. On the other side is the American Psychological Association's statement this week that "exposure to violence in video games increases aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and angry feelings among youth," according to the Associated Press. At least the impasse is good if it keeps the subject in the public's face and gets us parents thinking about things like checking ratings before buying. The Post piece has some good background. Here's more coverage at in the UK.

iPod insights

Descriptions like "a window to your soul," a little box of "personal emotions and memories," and "a powerful identity technology" are not to be taken lightly. They come from, respectively, a software professional, a graduate student and human rights worker, and a university professor (Sherry Turkle, who directs the Initiative on Technology and the Self at MIT), quoted in the Washington Post. It's not the only MP3 player, but the iPod is the new "free toaster," according to the New York Times, and 22 million own one, many of whom are playing back parts of their lives along with all those tunes.

N.Y. mom to fight RIAA

Like many parents of file-sharers, I suspect, this one didn't even know what Kazaa was until she was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). But there are a couple of unusual things about the case of Patricia Santangelo, single mother of five between the ages of 6 and 19: 1) She says the name on the lawsuit is a friend of her children's (using Kazaa at her house), and 2) she's actually going to court with this case, reports, a paper in the New York City area. The article offers some good context and raises some interesting legal questions (e.g., a lawyer who has defended about 15 clients in similar lawsuits saying that the record companies' case is weak because they're "suing people who made songs available to others, whether or not there is any proof they ever illegally copied a song," and he claims there's no copyright infringement without copying). Despite the suing of more than 13,000 US file-sharers (or their parents) to date, this is a legal area that hasn't been tested in the courts. The vast majority have settled out of court with the help of the RIAA's settlement center, "which was designed to facilitate Internet users' paying penalties to the record companies before they were sued. Santangelo said the settlement center bullied her, trying to get her to accept a settlement offer" for her to pay $7,500. This case will go to US District Judge Colleen McMahon, who said she "would love to see a mom fighting one of these." See an earlier story about a family in Ohio suing a P2P service for being sued by the RIAA. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this story out.]

Schools & wired students

Schools are in quite the quandary these days, where kid tech's concerned. "As classes resume this month, schools across Texas are struggling to create and enforce technology policies that keep pace with today's children - a generation dependent on cellphones, text messaging and digital music players," the Houston Chronicle reports, and Texas educators are not alone. Some schools ban cellphones and MP3 players outright, others require them to be turned off during school hours, but - since the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and then the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York - schools have needed to strike a balance between potential class disruption and parents' wanting their kids "to have access to cell phones in emergencies," according to the Chronicle. In other school-tech news, the York (Pa.) Daily Record reports on tech as a "cheating tool"; CNET on "classroom clickers," "handheld gadgets, which look and work a lot like TV remote controls, [for responding] to classroom polls and quizzes without ever raising their hands or voices" (helpful to shy students); CNET also reports on how three UK secondary schools are testing the value of computer games in learning; and, on the remedial side, the Washington Post says online tutoring has gone mainstream, with "millions of students logging on to get assistance with reading, writing and arithmetic."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Online child porn a growing problem

Over the past four years, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has seen a 400% increase in reports of child-porn Web sites to its CyberTipline, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "Law-enforcement officials are particularly disturbed by the increased number of commercial sites that offer photos of exploited children in return for a credit-card number," according to the Monitor. So one way law enforcement worldwide is fighting the problem is at the financial "chokepoint" - trying to shut down the use of credit cards in child-porn transactions. Visa International has been helping for two years, Mastercard is reportedly about to jump in. But smaller, illicit credit-card-billing services are another key link in the chain. Police two years ago shut down Regpay, one such company in Minsk, Belarus, with 50 child-porn sites as clients. Those sites had 270,000 subscribers - "4,000 in New Jersey alone," the Monitor says. "Because the membership pool was so large, law-enforcement officials have broken the prosecutions down into two phases. The first phase was to dismantle the financial apparatus…. The second phase, which is ongoing, is to arrest individuals who subscribed to the sites," such as respected members of communities who work with children, the Monitor adds. [Thanks to the NCEMC for pointing this story out. To report child-porn activity, go to or call 800.843.5678.]

Parent-child 'tech gap'

Fortunately for kids, tech gadgets from phones to laptops are for safety and productivity as much as communications and entertainment. That makes them a lot easier for parents to buy for their kids. Parents look at how "PCs with broadband connections can be used to research papers on the Internet, write term papers on word processors and run a wide variety of educational software," reports. But parents need to be aware (if they're not already) that a connected computer can be any device a kid wants it to be, including a phone and gameplayer, and they need to know what sort of device it is, when, and if kids actually use it as a productivity tool. The other part of all this that's interesting is that tech gadgets are not just tools to *use*, but also tools of self-expression. Teenagers are just as like to care about what the device looks like - and whether they can customize its look - as about what they can do with it.

PC 'virus season' starts

The headlines are saying things like "Worm wreaking havoc," and dubbed this the start of the PC virus season. But if your family Windows PC has the latest patch , you should be ok (see my alert). [Households with broadband connections should never hesitate, however, to get the latest patch or turn on Microsoft's automated patching, and should always have anti-virus software and a firewall running.] What appears to be happening this week, as Reuters reports, is a kind of gang war in cyberspace. Citing Finnish security firm F-Secure, Reuters says "worms that have brought down systems around the world in recent days are starting to attack each other." One worm gets into an unprotected PC and destroys a rival worm! F-Secure says three "virus-writing gangs" are "competing to build the biggest network of infected machines." Not comforting news, but Reuters also reports that Microsoft and top anti-virus companies Symantec and McAfee said damage to systems had been limited and "was unlikely to cause widespread havoc." Meanwhile, Apple has patched more than 40 critical vulnerabilities in its latest patch, ZDNET UK reports. For more on all this, see "Hackers and crackers out to enslave your machine" in the Sunday Tribune (in South Africa) and my "UK: No. 1 in family 'zombie' PCs."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

RIAA shift to CD-burning

Move over file-sharing. The RIAA has decided that CD-burning is now the biggest threat to the recording industry, the Associated Press reports. Copying music to CDs now accounts for "29% of all recorded music obtained by music fans last year," compared to 16% for downloads from file-sharing networks, RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol told the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, citing new figures from market researcher NPD Group. The research also showed that half of all music obtained came from "authorized CD sales" and about 4% from paid music downloads. As a San Jose Mercury News blog put it, "he assumed, as one would expect an RIAA heavy to, that those burned CDs are largely illegitimate. No chance that they're a burn of music purchased via iTunes or a backup copy of a legitimately purchased CD for play in the car, apparently." Brainwol mentioned that copy-protection technology on CDs (also known as digital rights management, or DRM) is the solution to the problem. What he didn't mention was whether the number of lawsuits against file-sharers (another solution the RIAA has taken) would go down. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.]

New spam trend: Appealing to fears

"Spam is taking a nasty turn," ZDNET UK reports, as spammers switch away from porn as a lure to "capitalize on computer users' fears of crime, terrorism, and sexual predators." They send around emails trying to grab us with Subject lines like: 'Protect your child from sex offenders!', says ZDNET UK, citing a report from email security company Clearswift. Of course, faux pharmaceuticals are still a popular topic: "The 'Viagra market' remained high at 40%, while porn-related spam had dropped to its lowest-ever level of 3.6%." ClickzStats has big-picture figures on spam, viruses, and phishing.

Put 'ICE' on kids' phones

Parents, this is a really good idea, especially for kids' cellphones. It was a British paramedic's idea - to have an emergency contact number (listed as "ICE") in every phone's address book or contact list, USATODAY reports. "Accompanying that acronym would be the name and phone numbers of the person who should be called if something has happened to the owner of the phone." Even if a child just loses the phone, the number can be used to get it back to its owner, but we can all see what a great help this would be to anyone trying to help a child for any reason - instant access to the people who care about this child most. The idea is in fact a full-blown campaign in the UK. "The ICE campaign was launched in Britain in April, but people really started paying attention after the July terrorist bombings in London that killed 56 and injured hundreds," according to USATODAY. Paramedics in the US have picked up on the idea and are also now promoting it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Blogs, Facebook for making friends

If you're the parent of a college-bound person, you do know about TheFacebook, don't you? S/he probably does, because it's about more than social networking. It also eases the transition for growing numbers of incoming university students nationwide. "Before college classes start later this month, thousands of freshmen in South Florida will have moved into their dorms, made friends, joined clubs and planned parties - all without setting foot on campus," the Miami Herald reports. The Herald says more than 10,000 University of Miami students "are registered on Facebook … nearly 8,000 at Florida International University; 1,000 at Nova Southeastern; and hundreds at Lynn and Barry Universities - not to mention the legions of local high school students heading out of state." TheFacebook has around 3 million registered users on their way to nearly nearly 900 campuses nationwide. Read the Herald piece to understand how useful a tool this is for students. Read an article at (our of Phoenix) to see how high school and college students use blogs and TheFacebook to meet people, and specifically how "Adam Norris, 18," uses his blog to "meet girls." "Norris, a self-described geek with a slight frame … says he has more than 300 'friends' on his MySpace[.com] account, and he has communicated with each of them."