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

Friday, December 16, 2005

For bloggers of all ages

It's simple, in name and mission: And it's about blogging smarts on the personal, online-journal (as opposed to the news) side of the blogosphere.
Created by Larry Magid of with help from NetFamilyNews, BlogSafety offers advice on safe blogging for teens and their parents, teachers, and other caregivers.

But it's not just about online safety. Larry wants young bloggers to think about the implications of public blogging for applying to schools and seeking jobs in the future, as well as maintaining good relationships (at home and beyond) right now. What people say in the very public space called the Internet is nearly always impossible to take back. There's also the school part of the blogging scene, so check out the Teachers' page. The site welcomes your views and recommendations - go to its blog (click on "comments" under any post) or email anytime at

More moms on monitoring

It was great to hear from four more parents after last week's feature, "A mom on monitoring," uploaded: one who basically agreed with Heather's approach, three who decidedly didn't. The three who didn't - Ann in Minnesota, Kathy in Connecticut, and Nancy in Oregon- are a youth librarian, an educator, and a children's online-safety expert, respectively. As Ann puts it, we definitely hit "a vital nerve" in the online-parenting community - not a bad thing, right?! Here's this week's issue of my newsletter, with their views. [Don't miss Nancy's helpful "three stages of monitoring" (Nancy Willard is director of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use).]


First there were social-networking sites; now there are social-bookmarking sites. Call it online group think: "Social bookmarking and social content sites rely on the opinions of users to determine what Web sites are most worth reading," as puts it. Take is the prime example (Forbes focuses on this pioneering glorified-bookmarking site because Yahoo just acquired it. Sounds rather culinary, but is as general as its 200,000 registered-user group (the figure before Yahoo started marketing it). Then "there's Digg, Memeorandum, Flock, NewsVine, RawSugar and Wink … (all in various preproduction phases)," Forbes adds. Different bookmarking, or "tagging," sites focus on different things. Digg is about collaborative newsmaking. "Users submit and either promote or demote tech-news stories via a voting system called 'digging'," according to Forbes. "The more people who 'digg' a story, the higher up on the Web page it goes. About 500,000 people visit the site daily."

Gamers 'outsourcing'!

They're like gamer sweatshops - and they're serious, in some cases exploitive, business. There are "well over 100,000 young people working in China as full-time gamers," often in 12-hour shifts and meeting strict quotas, the New York Times reports. Why? Because "from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online guamers [among the some 100 million worldwide] who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese to play [online games' boring] early rounds for them." The practice is controversial - "many hard-core gamers say … [it's] distorting the games," the Times reports. The article provides fascinating insights not only into gaming in developing countries (China has some 24 million gamers) but also into the maturing worldwide "industry" of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games). In this alternate world, people are making real six-figure incomes for designing virtual clothes and selling virtual real estate, and less but real money selling advanced-level characters, weapons, pets, armor, etc., in games like The Sims and World of Warcraft (see "Lively alternate lives"; "$100k virtual land," 11/4 and 10/28; and "Games' shadow economy").

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Toddler tech: Educational?

Healthy skepticism is in order when it comes to tech-toy and baby media makers claiming their products will give your child a headstart or "stimulate his cognitive development." That's my takeaway from a just-released study by the Kaiser Family Foundation: "A Teacher in the Living Room?: Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers." As attractive as titles like "Brainy Baby: Left Brain" and "Math Circus" are to many parents, there just isn't enough research backing up the claims on this genre's packaging, the study found. In addition to videos, it looked at software and videogames (29 products in all, to check for educational claims and whether they include parental guidelines) and lists of best-sellers in the category. Then Kaiser conducted a "systematic review" of the research available and interviews with representatives of the top 3 makers of videos, software, and videogames. For its report on the study, the New York Times actually found an 11-month-old, Jetta, who "has it all" - LeapFrog, Baby Einstein, even a grownup laptop computer, her mom told the Times. Like many parents, probably, she figures it can't hurt, and there's a chance Jetta will be smarter because of her ed-tech collection. The Times provides a range of views that make up the current collage of (or should I say experiment in?) toddler tech.

Kids' high-tech wish lists

Oh, the lengths they go to when they want something! There's the 11-year-old who, the Washington Post reports, wants a virtual snowboarding game and a chocolate fondue fountain so much she put links to them in retail Web sites into a PowerPoint presentation. And the 11- and 13-year-old brothers who changed Mom's screensaver to say "I love you" over and over again, ending with "a request for a video game." And the 16-year-old who emails parents and relatives her wish list "with links to specific CDs" to avoid the embarrassment of walking around a mall for hours with her parents, showing them what she wants. In this fun article, the Post also describes how hard some retailers work to earn "one of the coveted spots on kids' wish lists."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

'Happy [media] Meals'

Instead of toys, McDonald's-style Happy Meals of the future will come with parts of movies, if Disney has its way. The Register reports that, according to a patent application Disney has filed, each time a family visits a restaurant, more of the movie will be downloaded automatically (via the restaurant's wireless Internet connection) to the special branded media players the restaurant will be selling. The New York Times adds that "earning a large file, like a movie, might require five trips - a compelling incentive for a customer to return to the restaurant." McDonald's, which the Times says began outfitting its restaurants with wireless Internet connections in 2003, now has wi-fi connections in 6,200 restaurants worldwide.

Mobile porn coming... a phone near you. We know this because content-filtering is now being offered by Cingular Wireless. "The nation's largest cellphone service provider, quietly has launched filtering devices and password-enabled blockers that help thwart underage consumers from buying adult content," USATODAY reports. Besides filtering, the availability of video-enabled phones is what will make mobile porn happen in the US (as usual, there's a downside to exciting new tech features, for which kids are often the earliest adopters). Worldwide mobile porn sales for 2005 are projected to be $1 billion, up 175% from 2004. "US sales [projected for '05] are just $30 million, mostly because carriers, fearful of a backlash, haven't provided easy access to X-rated theater. Still, a Cingular spokesman told USATODAY it's up to parents to control kids' access, which is why Cingular's making parental controls available. Of course, though, parents can't control what children see on other people's phones, e.g., those of kids whose parents don't know filtering's available filtering. Meanwhile, USATODAY says "scores of marketers are lining up to tap the US market. Xobile, a content provider for Web-capable wireless devices, will offer 50,000 video clips."

Home PC security: Still lax

We're getting better, but home PC users are still slackers where PC security's concerned. A survey of US households by AOL and the National Cyber Security Alliance found that 81% of us lack "at least one of three critical types of security," CNET reports. Those three critical things are firewalls, updated antivirus protection, and anti-spyware software. The survey also found that 56% of us have no antivirus software, or hadn't updated it within a week (ideally, you have an antivirus *subscription* service, because daily updates is barely enough); 44% didn’t have firewall software properly configured, and 38% lack spyware protection. The good news is, the number of family PCs with correctly configured firewalls "rose to 56% from 28% a year ago" (attributed to the firewall installed by Windows XP Service Pack 2), and 44% have virus protection, up from 33% a year ago. See also InformationWeek's "Microsoft's OneCare goes live" and, in NetFamilyNews recently, "PC security in a nutshell" and "New PC security tips."

Fresh patch needed!

If you have a Windows family PC with patches automated, you should be fine (you can always check at Microsoft's site). Anyway, Microsoft has just issued a fix for a "critical security flaw in Windows that is being exploited in online attacks against Internet Explorer users," ZDNET reports. The patch also fixes other security flaws in the Explorer Web browser and "tackles part of the fallout from Sony BMG Music Entertainment's rootkit debacle." ZDNET is referring to the "digitial-rights management" (or DRM) software on many Sony CDs that makes PCs playing them vulnerable to malicious hacks (see "Sony's risky CDs" and "Death to DRM?").

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Move over, MySpace?!

Specialty spin-offs are already emerging. The MySpace "juggernaut," as the Philadelphia Inquirer puts it, is just two years old but already has 41 million+ registered users, making it "the prime gateway to marketing's dream demographic: 14-to-30-year-olds." [According to the Inquirer, "MySpace says it already carries more than 10% of all advertising viewed online. The ads range from cola and cell phones to dating services ('eSpin-the-Bottle: Search for Hotties near you')."] But watch out, MySpace, an upstart is now on the scene with the message that it's for *real* music fans. CNET reports that launched this week with "support of a core group of popular indie rock groups, including The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie." It, too, is about social-networking around music, designed to harness the combined power of blogging with music, text, photos, profiles, and "tags" (a way of ID-ing oneself by flagging and organizing one's favorites sites, films, music, celebs, etc.).

Giant scrapbook in cyberspace

Watch out, Flickr. This new service does a lot more than let families share photos - it may even give Google Base some competition (you know, the Google project that intends to be the world's own multimedia database?). It's nearly as ambitious. The service is called "Glide Effortless," I guess because they say it allows you to glide (i.e., upload), store, and share your photo, music, video, etc. files effortlessly onto the Web via its site, The New York Times's David Pogue took the time to kick the service's tires, mentioning that, "for all of Glide's genius, it's also tainted by some profound problems," which you'll need to read about. But the basic concept is "unassailably fresh and useful," David adds: a multimedia "Web-based scrapbook." Once users can really customize its look and feel (and express themselves beyond the family videos they upload), it'll at least have a very decent-sized built-in market: all those scrapbook maintainers out there!

Braincandy for cellphones

Just what parents need: something that makes kids (and adults) want to spend *more* time on their cellphones. I'm talking about Digital Chocolate, which is not actually chocolate but rather a company that makes games that are meant to make cellphones just as "addictive." As USATODAY reports, this cellphone gamemaker is pretty smart, and not just in its marketing. Its games' key ingredient is interactivity, not fancy graphics. Why? Because, CEO Trip Hawkins thought about it ans decided that, as people become ever more busy and mobile, they need more connection and community (thus, possibly, the rapid rise in popularity of massivly multiplayer online games). "If you're going to make games, make them social and mobile," was Digital Chocolate's decision. So far the two-year-old company is in the Top 10 of mobile gamemakers, but it's a brand-new "industry." Watch this space.

Monday, December 12, 2005

File-sharer loses case

The operative word in that headline is "loses." This is one of the rare cases in which the defendant didn't settle with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). But it's interesting that the defendant was mainly identified as a mother in the coverage: Nearly all of the 100+ news sites and papers around the world that picked up the story have "mom" in their headlines. In this case, Syliva Gonzalez, not her children, was the one doing the file-sharing, according to the Associated Press. Ms. Gonzalez, who was among the first 261 file-sharers sued by the RIAA back in 2003, "contended she had downloaded songs to determine what she liked enough to buy at retail. She said she and her husband regularly buy music CDs and own more than 250. However, the appeals panel [the federal court that last week upheld the original decision in favor of the recording industry] said Gonzalez never deleted songs off her computer she decided not to buy." The AP adds that this case "represents one of the earliest appeals court victories by the music industry in copyright lawsuits it has filed against thousands [some 17,000]." Here's the decision at We'll keep watching for the results of a case in which a parent or guardian was sued for a child's file-sharing (see this story). Meanwhile, another tactic the industry used to discourage file-sharing (by sharing millions of fake music and movie files on servers around the world) is going away. Seattle-based Loudeye is "shuttering its Overpeer division … in an attempt to bolster the parent company's bottom line," CNET and the BBC report. [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.]

ID theft risk 'overblown': Study

Rarely do we hear good news on this subject, but people who've had their credit cards or personal info stolen are at little risk of becoming identity-theft victims, a just-released study found. Even in cases where thieves get social security numbers and other sensitive information, "only about 1 in 1,000 victims had their identities stolen," Reuters cites the researchers, ID Analytics of San Diego, as saying. The fraud detection firm analyzed "four recent data breaches involving a total of 500,000 consumers," including an unidentified "top 5 US bank." As for reasons why fears about stolen credit cards are overblown: people usually cancel them quickly, and it's "hard work" to piece an identity together just from info on a credit card. For link redundancy, here's Reuters at USATODAY too. But it's still important to protect our privacy. Here's the New York Times on "proper data destruction" on the family PC.

New Firefox: Parental point

It's a very brief, positive look at the latest version of the Firefox browser (for Mac, Linux, and Windows) in the New York Times. Sounds great: powerful, fast, stable, easily customizable, etc. But parental antennae go up upon reading this: "One valuable new feature for those browsing on shared computers - or at work - is a one-click 'Clear Private Data' function that flushes out any record of browsing, downloading, or saved passwords." You see it too, right? Kids able to erase where they've been on the Web, hide passwords, or cover their downloading tracks at the click of a mouse? Firefox is a great browser that keeps getting better, but sometimes there are kid-protection and PC-security downsides to new features in any Net-related software.