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Friday, June 23, 2006

MySpace's privacy upgrades

MySpace users – regardless of age – will be able to make their profiles private, Reuters reported. “Members over 18 years old [will] have to know the email or first and last name of any 14- to 15-year-old member whom they want to contact,” according to Reuters, or rather 14- and 15-year-olds who register as being of those ages. There is no age verification in place on social-networking sites, because – though the technology exists – there is no national-level information on US minors for age-verification technology to check (e.g., adults’ drivers licenses and financial info), I learned this week at a conference on social-networking policy held in Washington, D.C., by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. According to the New York Times, MySpace “will also stop showing advertisements for certain products — like online dating sites — to those under 18.” At the NCMEC conference, MySpace also said that soon, probably within weeks, its users of all ages will also have the option to go completely private and unsearchable. We at NetFamilyNews,, and see this as a double-edged sword – privacy is usually a good thing on the social networks, but it would be hard for parents to find and check in on a child’s completely private profile. That can be a downside for parents, schools, and law enforcement people who monitor MySpace to protect kids and others (see “Shooting rampage avoided due to MySpace posting” in

Social-networking 'spear phishers'

We hear an awful lot about predators on the social Web, but much less about problems that are expected to affect a whole lot more users – worms, malicious hackers and data miners. The San Jose Mercury News zoomed in on “spear phishers”: “criminals who send masked messages to a small number of people that appear to be from someone they know, as well as other, more general scams.” Orkut, a Google project that’s very popular in Brazil, has been with a worm gathering financial info and passwords, and earlier this month MySpace users were subjected to a phishing attack trying to steal their account info. Last fall, MySpace, the Mercury News says, MySpace was “ Last week, Orkut was hit with a worm seeking financial information and passwords. In early June, an instant-messenger phishing assault on My Space users tried to steal account information. One vulnerability is that MySpace allows users to insert HTML code in their profiles – code they often get out on the Web, sometimes from questionable sites that may be generating code that does more than it’s advertised to do.

Summer camps' social-network fears

Camps have concerns this summer about campers’ and counselors’ photos in social-networking sites, the New York Times reports. “They worry about online predators tracking children to camp and about their image being tarnished by inappropriate Internet juxtapositions — a mention, say, of the camp on a site that also has crude language or sexually suggestive pictures.” The Times quotes a camp insurance provider as saying this is probably camps’ biggest worry this year, as they consider banning digital cameras and requesting that all references to their names be removed from profiles and blogs, including one camper who reportedly created a profile just to keep in touch with other campers involved in summer theater. And one camp said it brought in a child psychologist for two days to talk with campers about making good decisions.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Free filtering for Oz families

The Australian government plans to provide free Web filtering to every family in the country, CNET reports. The program is expected to cost $86 million. If Internet service providers offer their customers server-based filtering (instead of software installed on individual computers), they’ll get reimbursed. CNET adds that “almost no ISPs currently offer any kind of content filtering.” It'll be interesting to see how this affects Australian kids' social networking.

Online kids & personal boundaries

Can your kids be grouped in here: “With personal lives dominated by gadgets, young people are paying more attention to their virtual worlds than the real one.” That’s the email tease to a USATODAY story that leads with: “Julie Beasley looked out her window one morning and saw a teenager changing clothes in the middle of the street.” The story quotes psychologists as saying our kids are a generation with different concepts of privacy and “personal boundaries” than previous generations’. Is that your experience too, parents, or does every generation of parents think its children are more [fill in the blank] than ever before? Here’s something to think about, though: USATODAY says MIT psychologist/sociologist Sherry Turkle “believes [this generation’s] infatuation with technology will lessen, and people will be better able to balance the real and the virtual parts of their lives.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Social *activism* networking for teens!

We're seeing a trend you might call niche social networking. There’s the whole passel of family blogging, photo-sharing, and networking sites, a few examples of religion-based social networking, the social sites revolving around specific music genre, and our own (social networking for parents who want to talk about social networking!). Today a very interesting new category: social networking for social change. The category’s first site:, a project of Save the Children (here’s their press release. This is an exciting development, don’t you think? “YouthNoise launches with more than 113,000 registered users from all 50 US states and more than 170 countries worldwide and averages approximately 3 million page views per month, which is comparable to the most popular teen Web sites. A recent study demonstrated that participation in YouthNoise yields a 25% increase in volunteering and a 90% increase in the global awareness of users from ‘modestly aware’ to ‘highly aware’."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Louisiana videogame law on hold

A federal judge in Baton Rouge “granted a temporary stay on a new Louisiana law signed last week that would outlaw the sale of violent video games to children under 18,” eCommerceTimes reports. The videogame industry’s trade association and the Entertainment Merchants Association both challenged the law, which “calls for a fine of $2,000 or one-year prison term - or both - for violators.” The law’s opponents told the court thatsimilar laws had been struck down in six other jurisdictions over the past five years on constitutional (free-speech) grounds.

Teen suing MySpace

In the first lawsuit we’ve seen against MySpace by a teen user, a 14-year-old in Texas is suing MySpace for $30 million, saying she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old she "met" on the site, the Associated Press reports. According to MTV News, the Austin girl “alleges that Pete Solis, a 19-year-old from Buda, Texas, obtained her phone number after pretending to be a high school senior and a member of his school's football team in his MySpace profile.” MTV News has more details. In their case against MySpace, the girl and her family say the site doesn't do enough to protect underage members. Solis and MySpace’s parent company News Corp. are also defendants in the case. In its response, MySpace said it's "committed to the safety of its members" and encourages teens to use the Web safely.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Exploring identity online

"Cyberspace offers a bevy of tempting opportunities to pretend to be who you're not. Yet teens don't typically go online to deceive others but to confront their own identities," reports in its look at the latest research about online teen behavior. The article leads with some disturbing discussion-board "conversation" about self-hurting techniques. This is certainly not just about social-networking, which is only the latest form of online community. But marginalized kids can find the wrong kind of "support" on the social networks too. Parents need to know about this, because – as one child psychologist told us recently – because young people engaging in self-destructive behavior can be very secretive. And Web sites that are "pro-ana" (for anorexia) or about pro-cutting definitely don't broadcast themselves. As for what kids find there (in this case, the self-injury board analyzed in a study done at Cornell University): "Many postings provided emotional support to other members. Participants also frequently discussed circumstances that triggered self-mutilation…. Some message senders detailed ways to seek aid for physical and emotional problems, but others described feeling addicted to self-injury. More ominously, a substantial minority of messages either discouraged self-injurers from seeking formal medical or mental help or shared details about self-harm techniques and ways to keep the practice secret."