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Friday, May 26, 2006

Porn on dot-mobi

It's another sign that the mobile Web is really taking off and will soon be on a phone used by a teenager near you. "The .mobi domain is aimed specifically at websites designed to be viewed on mobile phones," the BBC reports. "The name was approved by Internet regulatory body ICANN last year, but businesses have not been able to buy one until this week." [The BBC adds that the Web's creator, Tim Berners-Lee, doesn't think it's a good idea. He says dot-mobi will have the effect of fragmenting the Web. He'd rather see sites designed so they can "recognize" the kind of device on which they're being viewed.] Another sign the cellphone Web is going mainstream is porn. With the porn industry increasingly targeting its content at cellphones, "many technology companies have begun developing real-time monitoring and filtering applications to block adult content from being viewed by underage cellphone users," the Wall Street Journal reports. It's not easy, though, the Journal adds. "Experts in blocking software say identifying porn on cellphones is much more difficult than on computers because wireless Web sites usually have very little text and the images are much smaller." So, although all the major US carriers offer some basic parental controls, none can actually offer real-time filtering as on computers. So far, parents have two choices: allow or disallow Web access on a kid's phone.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Teen MySpace hackers

In this case, MySpace was one of the victims. Two teens, 18 and 19, on Long Island (N.Y.) have been charged with felony counts of illegal computer access and extortion, in Romania reports. The two operators of allegedly "threatened to distribute a foolproof method for stealing [MySpace user personal] information unless MySpace paid them $150,000." If convicted, they could face more than four years in jail. As Newsday (on Long Island) quotes a Georgetown University law professor as saying, the two represent a long tradition of hacking into systems to point out their flaws, but they get "points off" for extortion. The story was picked up throughout the US, and a number of other countries, including India, at, and Australia (here's the Sydney Morning Herald).

Boston-area teen arrested

A freshman at Winthrop High School on Boston's North Shore was arrested for compiling a "hate list" and making threats in MySpace against "a number of students and at least one adult," the Boston Globe reports. " None of the written threats directly targeted the Winthrop school community, Superintendent Steven Jenkins said, but the incident was enough to shake parents in the oceanside town." Threats were also found in notebooks in the boy's home.

Tech 'whiz kids' help pols

There were some tech-savvy 20-somethings helping out during the 2004 election, but during this next one they'll be everywhere. In fact, high school-age interns will probably be doing a lot more than running for coffee on campaigns or Capitol Hill. "Veteran politicians more familiar with turntables and typewriters are enlisting twentysomething computer whiz kids to help them brave the digital world of blogs, podcasts and the Web as they look to connect directly with voters," the Associated Press reports. "The way politicians and their staffs view blogs and other Internet tools is dramatically different from just two years ago," the AP adds. It points to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) of Tennessee, who answers posts to his blog "on a weekly basis" and has recorded podcasts and downloadable online videos.

Spyware worse

PC security is not getting better. Where spyware's concerned, using the Net is getting *more* dangerous at home or work, the New York Times reports. "Spyware" is a broad term that can mean anything from harmless cookies to Trojan horse software that can take over your PC. One of the riskier kinds is the growing problem: keylogging software, the kind that logs and sends your every keystroke to someone interested in credit card numbers, passwords, and other information only you should know. Make sure your kids know (they probably do) that this kind of code can get installed by worms/viruses in email and IMs and by malicious Web sites people click to from search engines (see my "Risky Web search" last week, which deals with the most-risky-Web-site list). Here's an example in The Register of a "creative" new worm carried by IMs – it loads a "rogue browser" that pretends to be Internet Explorer but replaces its personal home page, sending you to a page that downloads all kinds of spyware to your PC.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

District: Students accountable

If this news doesn't have a precedent-setting effect, certainly other public school officials are watching. A school board in Illinois unanimously passed rule changes so that students will now be "accountable for what they post on blogs and social-networking Web sites," the Chicago Tribune reports. "All students participating in extracurricular activities, including athletic teams, fine arts groups and school clubs, will have to sign a pledge agreeing that evidence of 'illegal or inappropriate' behavior posted on the Internet could be grounds for disciplinary action." Those student participants represent about 80% of the district's 3,200 high school students. Interestingly, only one parent commented during the meeting's public-comment period. She said the district was overstepping its bounds, that monitoring what students are doing online is parents' job. Something else that occurs: They'll probably soon be changing the rules for middle-schoolers too, because online socializing (and pranks and harassment, etc. certainly don't just occur at the high school level. [People, do post in our forum if you agree/disagree!]

State game laws: Update

At the state level, legislation about videogame sales to minors appears to be gathering momentum – even though a Tennessee bill was recently withdrawn by its sponsor, reports. Louisiana is working on such a law (see, and one in Maryland just got signed by its governor. Interestingly, in Maryland's case, the Entertainment Software Association, which has successfully fought similar state laws in courts around the country, says it won't fight this one. "The law is narrowly written to cover the kind of content that would only be seen in a pornographic movie or magazine, and as such, can be seen as an extension of current laws barring minors from purchasing pornographic DVDs to video games," Ars Technica reports.

Games getting serious

While videogame violence grabs a lot of headlines, there's something else parents of gamers may want to know about: the "Serious Games Movement." The movement has even had its own summit. It's all about "creating games that play roles in areas such as education, health, public policy, science, government and corporate training," USATODAY reports. One source called it "stealth education." The most well-known example is America's Army, with about 5 million registered users. Originally designed as a recruiting tool, its really viewed as a game (which gives people a pretty good feel for what combat's like). But there are more "serious" examples. One is a project at University of Washington looking at whether game technology can "help adolescents and young adults manage chronic diseases like diabetes."

Oh yeah, MySpace's music!

Lest we forget, amid all the media attention to a different topic and besides the general teen-socializing part, there's another whole "world" in MySpace – a major attraction to members of all ages. That would be music. Garage and indie artists of the pre-Internet era are envious of today's bands' accessibility to fans worldwide and vice versa in this online very interactive space. It's "American Idol" for countless musicians, giving them instant, broad feedback and support, even a chance to develop a significant fan base with no money, even literally to become famous fairly quickly. "Now fans of extreme metal or any other underground genre can discover more new music pointing and clicking in one afternoon than in a year of scanning zine pages and independent record store shelves in the not-so-long-past days of yore," reports the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph. "For New Hampshire bands far outside the bright lights of big cities with their avant garde underground scenes, the scope and reach of MySpace is invaluable." To me, another indicator that social-networking is here to stay and growing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Word to the wise MySpacer

One feature of MySpace considered very cool to some of its young users is that they can customize their spaces not only esthetically but also functionally. They can add free software code (downloadable from sites out on the Web or from fellow MySpacers) to "enhance" it. One type of code people are adding "spies" on people who come to their profiles. Here's where a heads-up is needed, according to the Washington Post. "Be sure to read the fine print when a product like this says 'free,' and don't be surprised if the software is used to spy on you." Also, I'd add, sometimes there's no fine print (only legit code providers would have credible fine print), and there are malicious providers taking advantage of this popular feature of MySpace. Case in point from the Post: "Take, for instance, the latest scam being passed around like a digital disease on MySpace: a message advertising software that promises users the ability to track who is viewing their profile pages. This thing, brought to my attention by the folks at Fortinet, arrives as a Myspace bulletin (bulletins allow Myspace users to send messages to all of their 'friends' simultaneously) and directs users to visit [don't go there!], which claims the visitor can download the software after clicking on an icon that automatically posts the same bulletin to their friends." What Friendspy does is install spyware on the MySpacer's own PC. If you have someone at your house smart enough to play around with software code, maybe just have him or her read the whole Post piece – s/he'd probably find it interesting. There's a whole new industry of MySpace-related third-party software developing, both legitimate and very shady.

Critical thinking challenge/opp

Here's the challenge many librarians have these days: You're a research specialist, but you're also a "digital immigrant" instructing "digital natives." They're extremely familiar with *one* research tool (for socializing and entertainment), which is where they reflexively go for all information. What smart media-literacy specialists are saying now, though, is that's not all bad. As one information-studies professor told the Hartford Courant, it's not whether they use Web search engines that's the issue it's *how* they use them (and whether they know when to use other valuable resources too). In fact, librarians are using kids' Internet fluency as a teaching tool too: "The trick," the Courant says they've found, "is to get students to approach school research with the same zeal with which they pursue leisurely information" – like cheats for videogames and friends' comments in social-networking sites. Not just in terms of enthusiasm, but also in terms of critical thinking. As then-9th-grade teacher Marel Rogers in Connecticut told me way back in 1997, she teaches critical thinking by telling her students: "Start out with your favorite things - a sports team, a music group, a friend who's moved to a different city, and go to those Web sites. You already know a lot about those subjects, and this will make you more discriminating." [See also "Critical thinking: Kids' best research (and online safety) tool".]

Monday, May 22, 2006

Social-networkers' protests

Students are starting to agitate for their free-speech rights, starting in San Bernardino. "Zach Fuller, 18, held up a sign recently in front of Etiwanda High School proclaiming 'We don't need no thought control'," reports the San Bernardino Sun. Zach "was protesting the school's decision to suspend five of his friends for profane online postings made off campus." The Sun quotes the executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based First Amendment Center as saying that social-networking technology, or the user-driven Web, is opening up a whole new area for the free-speech issue. But the San Bernardino students' postings weren't just profane. Apparently, defamation might've been an issue too: "The five students suspended last month had posted profanity-laden comments about a teacher on MySpace from their home computers. Vulgar language and photos of the teacher accompanied other pictures of Nazi images." Here's an item I posted last week about school policymaking and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "FAQ on Student Blogging" and free speech.