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Friday, February 10, 2006

Parents on kids' privacy

Thoughtful emails and posts to this blog,,, and me are multiplying. In this week's issue of my newsletter: a comment from a mom and teacher in Kentucky on the risks of online anonymity and two comments (one from dad in North Carolina and one from a parent activist in Wisconsin) on a forever-hot topic among parents and teenagers – a subject under which the Net's newest phase (of multiplatform, multimedia, homemade, self-published content) has further turned up the heat.

Videogames: The view from N.C.

Check with your child's teacher "before purchasing any computer games or programs to see if [they're] relevant to the child’s current stage of development," is some advice cited by the Jacksonville [N.C.] Daily News in "Videogame technology more than just recreation." For this 4th piece of a five-part series on videogames' evolution, the Daily News talked to Jenita Shephard, coordinator of instruction technology for Onslow County Schools, who said the "critical difference between a game and learning" is assessment – educational software, though it can be plenty fun, assesses "at what level a child may be performing academically, helps the child excel in a subject, and then evaluates what the child has learned." The other parts in the series: "As the audience grew up, so did their videogames," Part 1; "Gamers inhabit a virtual world of reality," Part 2; "Industry numbers show she's got game, too," Part 3; and "Games molding military minds," Part 5. [On that last subject, see also "'America's Army' morphs" in NetFamilyNews .]

MySpace's 13.5 million teens

"MySpace officials" told the San Jose Mercury News that "75% of its members are over 18." Doing the math based on "54 million members," alone surpasses the number the Pew Internet & American Life Project gave last November (12 million) for the overall number of US teens who "create content for the Internet." The number is probably growing so fast, no researcher could keep up with it and have a life. The Mercury News piece is really about something more important, though: how kids posting on sites like MySpace, Xanga, DeadJournal, Blurty, etc. "could do lasting damage to [their] reputation, and now more parents and school officials are taking action." One smart parent the Mercury News cites got her own space and used the messaging feature "to send gentle warnings to teens who post pictures of themselves drunk or half-naked." [A warning, though: They might just move on to lesser-known blogging services.] It's as if that northern California mom knew about a story this week in Michigan, about how "15-20 students at East Grand Rapids High School face possible disciplinary action by the school after parents reported seeing Internet photos of them drinking alcohol at parties" (from the Associated Press).

Teens getting Tagged(.com)

Watch out, MySpace (I'm sure they are watching)!, a social-networking site specifically targeting people 13-19 got its second million members in just three months. Is this a sign that early-adopter teens are moving on from the more general social-networking sites to more "vertical" ones (by "vertical," I mean narrower in terms of age, interests, or location)? I'm thinking of sites like Dallas's Buzz-Oven, St. Louis's, and the poised-for-launch (see Here's a press release about the $7 million the company just received in venture-capital funding, showing how seriously the business community is taking young Net users, and here are's own site stats . Another, newer up 'n' comer:, launched in November and now with "viral video," it says. The site, which already boasts "nearly half a million registered users" is all about user-produced media (photos, music, video, etc.), was recently mentioned in a PC World blog.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Texting's power

This isn't just about kid tech, but undoubtedly many young Muslims are involved in this latest subject of global activism both online and off. The Washington Post calls them "mass-mailings," but they're really mass-messagings and -postings, via cellphone and blog that have "helped turn an incident in tiny Denmark into a uniting cause for protesters around the world in days or even hours." The incident referred to, of course, is the publication five months ago in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. And the timing, in launching individual protests and boycotts online and in locations around the world, has in many cases been less than "hours," according to the Post. For example, a rumor (that the Koran might be burned), started by Mohammad Fouad Barazi, a prominent Muslim cleric in Denmark (unintentionally, he said), spread so fast that Danish Prime Minister held a press conference and said that authorities don't have time to "correct misinformation" before it's acted on. And the Post cites a moderate Muslim lawmaker as saying that Barazi's mere mention of the possibility concerning the Koran "encouraged attacks on the Danish Embassy in Syria on Saturday." Another amazing example of the power and reach of electronic communications, for good and bad. [See also "Young bloggers & France's riots," 11/11/05.]

Police helping online teens

Sometimes it helps to have a disinterested 3rd party in a parent-teen discussion - at least the town of Murrysville, Pa., appears to see it this way. The town will hold its "first in a series of parent/teen discussions with the police department" at the community center next week to talk about Internet safety, the Murrysville Star reports. Police say there haven't been any teen-predator face-to-face meetings in Murrysville, but the town wants to head any such possibility off at the pass – for example, what happened in the Tampa, Fla., area recently. A 42-year-old Seminole High School teacher tried to meet in person with a 14-year-old Tampa girl he found and contacted in, the St. Petersburg Times reports. Some online-safety experts tell kids not to respond to messages like this, to just tell their parents. This girl did both, which worked fine in this case. She replied to the man saying "she thought it was strange that he would want to be friends with her since he was so much older than she, and then informed her mother about [his] message, investigators said." The mom called the police, who, it turns out, had been corresponding online with the man for four months posing as naïve teenage girls. They arrested the man in a sting operation.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

PC smarts, school performance linked

"Regular computer users perform better in key school subjects," according to a new report by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The No. 1 "key subject," cited in the OECD's press release, was math. "The study, 'Are students ready for a technology-rich world?' [which compared 15-year-old students' performance in multiple countries], provides the first internationally comparative data in this area," the presser states. In other findings, almost 75% of students in OECD countries "use computers at home several times each week" (90% in Canada, Iceland, and Sweden). At school, the figure is 44%. The discrepancy between home and school use is especially marked in Germany. "Germany has the lowest percentage of frequent computer users at school among OECD countries (23%) but a high proportion of frequent users at home…. The number of students needing to share a computer in a school in Germany … is three times higher than in Australia, Korea, and the US." The study also found that "Greece, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Turkey are among the OECD countries where 15-year-olds have the lowest access to computers at home." [Thanks to for pointing this news out.]

OneCare's PC security pricetag

Next June Microsoft will start charging $49.95 a year for Windows OneCare Live, the Associated Press reports, and that price will cover up to three PCs. "Anyone who signs up for the test by April 30 can buy the paid service for just $19.95 per year." OneCare Live is free right now because it's still in beta testing. Some 200,000 PC owners are trying it out, according to the AP. Microsoft says it's not trying to run the likes of McAfee and Trend Micro out of business, it just wants to meet the security needs of the 70% of Windows users who don't have those security services – or anything besides what comes with Windows XP and 2000. Meanwhile, speaking of security, Microsoft warned of new Windows security flaws yesterday, ZDNET reports (Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs says a patch is probably coming in Microsoft's regular monthly security update due next week) and, in a separate article, ZDNET also reports that Firefox users need to make sure they have the latest version of that browser.

Tweens' impact on music world

It's significant and growing. The soundtrack for a made-for-TV movie targeting people under 15 – Disney's "High School Musical" – is the No. 1 album in iTunes and has the No. 1 song ("Breaking Free"), Reuters reports. But tweens' clout goes beyond online sales: Nine of the soundtrack's songs are on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, without any airtime on radio, which is usually a big influence on the Hot 100. The soundtrack's popularity has remained steady since the movie first aired on the Disney Channel January 20, Reuters adds. Since then some 20 million people have seen it. According to Reuters, the soundtrack's phenomenal sales are due partly to all the iPods tweens received as holiday gifts. Clearly, electronic gadgets instead of toys in kids' hands is great news for producers of all forms of media. "Music targeting kids age 14 and under is emerging as a growth segment for labels," Reuters reports. Here's more on changes in the music world from the Washington Post - including how singles, "which were on the music industry's endangered-species list at the turn of the 21st century, have come roaring back to life in the digital age."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Anti-child-porn update: UK

Timed to the EU's Safer Internet Day, marked in a number of countries today, UK Internet Service provider BT announced its Web servers are blocking 35,000 attempts to view child-porn Web pages every day, the BBC reports. It adds that only .3%, or 20 out of every 6,000 such pages are hosted in the UK – the rest are on servers in many other countries. Here's how the system works: "People who discover a site that harbours suspicious content are invited to report the site to the Internet Watch Foundation," which has a report-illegal-content button on its home page. The IWF passes the reports on to the UK's National Crime Squad for analysis. "Any UK-based site hosting child pornography can be traced quickly and easily, despite elaborate attempts to hide the unique Internet addresses, known as IP addresses, which identify each site. Once traced, the ISP hosting the site is notified and the site taken down," according to the BBC. If the content's not hosted in the UK, the IWF passes the info along to Interpol for cooperation with police in other countries. Foreign-based child-porn pages also go into the IWF's database of black-listed pages. ISP filters like BT's "Cleanfeed" check page requests against that black list, so that child-porn pages are blocked for home Internet users. According to The Guardian , BT – which provides Internet service for one-third of British home Net users – says the number of attempts to view child porn has tripled in the past 18 months. Here's coverage of Safer Internet Day at in Dublin.

Phone filter flaw in UK

Which?, the UK's "Consumer Reports," found a loophole in mobile-phone parental controls offered in that country. The filtering system does block adult content sent directly to phones, but kids can buy access codes over the phone (for 1.5 pounds or about $2.60 per code) to get into "Web sites showing hardcore sex films" on their computers, the BBC reports. "The consumer group said the number of pay-per-view Internet sites accepting payment by premium-rate text messages had increased over the past few years." O2, the phone company whose service Which? used for its test, and the trade group for cellphone billing services said they were working on closing the loophole.

Blogs: Multiplying like rabbits

A new blog is born every second, the San Jose Mercury News's "Good Morning Silicon Valley" blog reports in "Please spay your blog." It's citing these just-released numbers from Technorati, which tracks blog activity: There are now 27.2 million blogs (60 times the number three years ago), and they're doubling about every 5.5 months. That means 75,000 new blogs a day. Thus the "State of the Blogosphere" , which does not report, for example, specifically on teen blogger numbers. But InformationWeek does say that "the blogosphere is comprised of entries on just about every subject…. They feature political viewpoints, discussions of major news events, observations of bored teenagers and children, talents and experience of job-seekers, complaints from disgruntled employees and self-praise from corporate marketing and public relations departments."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Schools' blog struggles

The school scene is a huge part of teen blogging – not just because a lot of teen members' posts and profiles revolve around school but also because users are searchable by school. That's certainly true at MySpace (where anyone can type a local high school into the search box and find hundreds of students there, searchable by age and distance – e.g., within a 5-mile radius). The hugely popular, now at more than 2,600 colleges and universities, is now available to many high school students. isn't overtly school-oriented, but it can be searched geographically, and large portions of student bodies will use it just because their peers do. So, like parents, schools are scrambling to catch up with this looming presence in their environments. "Many outlaw use of the sites on school computers," the Christian Science Monitor reports, "though kids find ways to get past the filters [see "The real story on filtering"]. Schools have a harder time controlling what gets posted at home, even if it has a tangible effect within school walls." Schools in the UK are struggling with online-safety and cyberbullying issues too, a new UK government study found.