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Friday, April 14, 2006

MySpace safety tour

MySpace is giving more and more tours of its 4th floor these days. That's where the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company deals with the issues so much in the news of late: teens' social-networking, blogging, cyberbullying, and ID theft. We recently got the tour, and we thought you'd like a snapshot of what's going on there behind the headlines. Please click to this week's issue of my newsletter if you'd like to take a look.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Teens charged in child-porn case

Three Rhode Island girls, two 16 and one 19, recently were arrested and charged with conspiracy. One of the 16-year-olds allegedly took sexually explicit photos of the other two girls, the Associated Press reported, who were arrested earlier for posting the photos on their MySpace pages. The photos were discovered by a police officer "assigned to Lincoln High School who regularly monitors the site," the AP added. I asked an attorney at the National Center for Missing & Reported Children if she believes it's increasingly possible that minors will be up against adult-level prosecution in cases where they "distribute" child pornography like this. Mary Leary, deputy director of the Center's Office of Legal Counsel, replied that kids do "face the 'possibility' of charges much more so now than in the past. However, particularly when the images are of the youth him/herself, the appropriate response from prosecutors is unclear and very jurisdiction-specific. In situations such as that referenced in the AP report, this will be a fact-specific review to see the purpose for the posting, circumstances of the posting, and applicable law." Parents and kids will want to note what Ms. Leary says here: "In many jurisdictions youths will be charged with such offenses, notwithstanding a lack of understanding they were dealing in child pornography." She adds that "there are additional repercussions as well for such actions, even if the product of bad judgment ... [including] charges unrelated to child porn, such as harassment, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy charges. Civil liability should also be a concern."

Researchers, kids on violent games

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Pittsburgh have released a study showing "what they consider proof positive" that violent videogames have a negative affect on players, reports. The study, which looked at the effects of media violence exposure on men 18-21, found that the games "negatively affect a players' blood pressure and lead to uncooperative behavior, permissive attitudes toward violence, alcohol and marijuana use, sexual activity without condom use and hostile social information processing." [See "MI videogame law killed" for more on the linkage between research and laws.] Meanwhile, "Video Game Violence," a 7-minute documentary by three Florida 9th-graders, won 3rd prize in C-SPAN's nationwide contest "StudentCam," the Palm Beach Post reports. "The documentary includes original music created by a garage band and interviews with parents and students at the school." All the winners, which will be shown on C-SPAN, can be found at

Get the April patches

Microsoft has released three new patches for Windows PCs, all critical, the Associated Press reports. One fixes an Internet Explorer browser flaw that has already been exploited, so – if you Windows PC owners don't have patching automated (e.g., at Windows OneCare), get that patch right away! Here's Washington Post PC security writer Brian Krebs with "The Skinny on April's Batch of Microsoft Patches."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Child porn law not global

Since the advent of the Web and the consequent growth in child-porn trafficking, we've usually heard that child pornography is illegal in most countries. Now we know it isn't, thanks to a new study by the International Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "ICMEC's global policy review of child pornography laws in 184 Interpol-member countries showed that more than half [138] have no laws that specifically address child pornography, and in many others the existing laws are insufficient," Information Week reports. The ICMEC's press release added: "Surprisingly, just five of the countries reviewed have laws considered comprehensive enough to make a significant impact on the crime: Australia, Belgium, France, South Africa, and the United States." The number of calls last year to the US's National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's (800.843.5678) was 340,000, up from "more than 24,400 in 2001."

Virtual pedophilia in Net 'world'

It's not against the law because real children aren't involved, CNET cites legal experts as saying, but some players in the Second Life virtual world are speaking out about "age play." "This age-based role-playing can take on various forms," according to CNET: "It can be as innocuous as people acting out a family dynamic, or as potentially troubling as two adults engaging in sexual role playing, with one of the avatars made to look like a child." Second Life avatars can be animals, elves, monsters - just about anything the imagination can dream up. The adults-only game has 170,000 players and is growing by about 20% a month (there's also a Second Life for Teens – see my 8/12/05 issue). The game's management, which acknowledges "age play" is occurring, says it's reluctant to ban any role-playing activity that isn't illegal because role-playing is so integral to an alternate world, but "if a critical mass of 'Second Life' participants were to ask that something additional be done about sexual age-play, [its creators] Linden Lab would tackle the issue in some way. So far, there hasn't been a general outcry," CNET reports. This is an example of how the gray area between legal and illegal activity seems to be widening as the Web becomes increasingly user-driven and peer-to-peer, other examples being the use of music in home-made videos (see PC World) and "self-published child porn" (see my 1/20/06 and 8/27/04 and issues).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Social-networking in Brazil

Here's a point of interest, internationally speaking: It doesn't matter if a US-based social-networking site didn't really take off in the US. San Francisco-based is the hot social-networking site in the UK and Mountain View, Calif.-based is the hot social-networking site in Brazil. "Orkut, the invention of a Turkish-born software engineer [at Google] named Orkut Buyukkokten, never really caught on in the United States, where MySpace rules teenage cyberspace. But it is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon in Brazil," the New York Times reports, adding that 11 million of the site's 15 million users are social-networking in Portuguese (well, they're in Brazil, anyway, where the site's name is pronounced "or-KOO-chee"). Of course, humanity being the way it is, there's a backlash: "Almost as soon as Brazilians started taking over Orkut in 2004 — and long before April 2005, when Google made Orkut available in Portuguese — English-speaking users formed virulently anti-Brazilian communities like 'Too Many Brazilians on Orkut'." What one social-networker doesn't like, undoubtedly others are finding very cool. Penpals, Web 2.0-style! Meanwhile, The Sunday Times of London reports that Bebo's some 22 million users now include some 500,000 in Ireland, and reports that Bebo's will be among the "senior executives from global internet giants Google, eBay, [and] Yahoo" who will "descend on" Dublin next month to "discuss the impact and future of the internet at an Internet industry conference." (See also "Bebo craze in UK.")

1 smart mom's process

She sounds like a great parent, and her process in navigating online social-networking issues with her 13-year-old will sound familiar (and be useful) to a lot of parents. But don't stop reading Los Angeles Times reporter Catherine Saillant's account after the first page. An idea from her sister is what really got the smart-parenting wheels turning: "My-49-year-old sister, Christine, joined MySpace and told me she was having fun using it. She urged me to set up my own account so we would have a free, easy way to exchange emails and photographs. I thought … what if I allowed Taylor [her daughter] to maintain a page while keeping a close eye o nit? I'd join too, to become familiar with the site's benefits and drawbacks?" Check out the article to see what happened (hint: you will not be surprised to find it wasn't all smooth sailing, but there was some priceless collaborative learning.) For further tech-parenting input, including coordinating with the parents of our kids' friends, see advice from psychologist Ron Clavier, author of Teen Brain, Teen Mind, in the Toronto Star.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Free ABC TV on the Web

The Wall Street Journal is calling it "a watershed." As TV ad revenues continue to slide, takes off, and the Web is nudging out TV in teen time spent on entertainment, Disney's move could speed up changes in TV consumption even more, the Journal says. "On April 30, ABC will unveil a revamped Web site that will include a 'theater' where people with broadband connections can watch free episodes of … hit shows on their computers … the morning after they air," at which time they'll be archived in ABC's site for anyone to view anytime. "A Disney Channel version with five shows will start in June, and an ABC Family version is also planned." The move probably won't affect ABC's deal with Apple's iTunes because Apple, because ABC's site won't allow users to download the programs to portables like the video iPod. For more on the YouTube phenom (35 million videos viewed daily, 35,000 new videos uploaded daily), see the Associated Press (and "YouTube: The next MySpace," 4/7).

Filters, laws, parenting?

It never hurts to have another tool in tech-parenting toolboxes, and good sense, software, and laws are among them. The Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y., suggests that parents are increasingly using filtering software as a stopgap for younger Web surfers when they can't be looking over surfers' shoulders. "The increasing reliance on technology comes in the absence of enforceable laws that regulate pornography on the Web," the Journal News reports, though "the lack of laws is not for lack of trying." There have been many legislative efforts, but the First Amendment keeps bringing online child protection back into parents' hands, which is probably best because that's the only place where solutions can be tailor-made for each child. The Journal News mentions the latest legislative effort, Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006, a proposed law from Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AK) and Max Baucus (D-MT), "that would create a new [.xxx] domain for adult Web sites" with "the idea that filtering software could then easily identify which sites to weed out." It, too, will probably face big hurdles because a body outside the US government, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), is what creates Web domains, the .xxx idea has been stalled there for years, and meanwhile US courts (including the Supreme one) are still trying to figure out what to do with the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (stay tuned for the next set of arguments in the federal court in Philly in the fall).

Teen self-expression: On Web, in a book

Teen online journals and social-networking sites aren't the only "place" to find out what kids are thinking about. There's also The Notebook Girls, by Julia, Sophie, Courtney, and Lindsey, who "passed a notebook around to each other during classes [at Stuyvesant High School in New York City]. In that notebook, they would share comments on all sorts of things – "boys and basketball, drugs and dating, politics and promiscuity," according to the Los Angeles Times's review – their whole other life that "parents don't even know about," as one of the authors put it, so it's not for the faint of parental heart. That one, collective journal of four freshmen's school life, with both "personal and political [post-9/11 lower Manhattan] anxieties," became five bulging, handwritten notebooks that publisher Warner Books compressed back into one. The sub-plot of the L.A. Times's great review is about teen writers, who are beginning to compete, perhaps rightfully, with adult authors in the "Young Adult (YA)" category. "This generation of teenagers seems less fazed by the challenges of writing a book and getting it published…. Teenagers, after all, are forever sending text and instant messages. They spend hours updating blogs and keeping online journals. The discipline that adult wannabes fight so hard to master in night classes and writing colonies — the need to write, write and write some more — comes effortlessly to many teens. For them, daily life on the Internet has become an almost natural prelude to the writing of short stories, essays and novels." A definite upside to teen online activity, I'd say.