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Friday, July 07, 2006

New option for safe Web browsing

If you have intrepid young Web explorers, file-sharers, and gamers at your house, you might consider a more proactive approach to PC security reviewed by the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg this week: GreenBorder. It's an innovative piece of software that puts a security wall around your Internet Explorer browser, "the most popular but least secure major Web browser" (you'd have to get your kids to use Explorer again if they've switched to Firefox). The browser is a key conduit for malware (viruses, Trojans, etc.) to the rest of your PC. By isolating browsing from the rest of your computer use, GreenBorder keeps any yucky stuff downloaded away from, say, the computer's registry, which sends instructions to all your other applications (malware changes to the registry can really mess things up). Walt explains in detail how it works. "GreenBorder costs $50 a year, but is free for one year to the first 10,000 to download it," he writes. For an extra $14.95/year, parents of avid online communicators and socializers might be interested in getting an additional feature called SafeFiles, which puts "a fence around files from sources other than your browser, including email attachments and files you copied onto your PC."

Microsoft's own MP3 player

…is coming this year. "The world's largest software maker has been briefing record companies on the proposed device, which would play digital music and video files and carry wireless technology enabling users to download music without linking to a computer," the Associated Press reports. Parents in particular may be interested in that 2nd feature with which Microsoft wants to one-up the iPod. If this music player can be used to download music directly from the Web, it'll quite possibly have a Web browser. That would mean a lot of other stuff could be downloaded, which begs the question: Will it also have parental controls? A lot of the coverage so far is speculative, because Microsoft has not made a public announcement about these plans. Stay tuned. (Here's USATODAY's coverage.)

What's happened to music?

Actually, the question is, what's happened to hit songs and albums and box-office blockbusters? Mass-audience hits turned into hits, then "pageviews" and "unique visitors" on (now uploads to) user-aggregating Web sites in zillions of niche interest communities. Consumers are aggregated by interest not geography, and the offerings are a la carte and all about exploration and sampling and – to the media companies – so very random. That's the picture painted by Wired magazine in "The Rise and Fall of the Hit," excerpted from a new book by Chris Anderson. "We are abandoning the tyranny of the top and becoming a niche nation again…. [We're watching our teen social networkers and Web videographers lead the way as] we're increasingly forming our own tribes…. The mass market is yielding to a million minimarkets… [and] credibility now rises from below." This, in an odd way, is both scary (change is scary, the masses are "in control") and comforting (power is more dispersed). "It will take decades for our entertainment industries to internalize the lessons of this shift," the excerpt concludes, and we are watching the messy sorting out involving copyright law, intellectual property, and personal ethics. Meanwhile, the BBC reports, ownership of digital-music players has reached an all-time high. "One in five Americans over the age of 12 now owns a portable digital music device," and 1 in 20 of those has more than one. one in 20 of those quizzed said they possessed more than one, a survey by market research Ipsos found.

Online gambling debate: Update

The two main take-aways on this week's New York Times look at the debate in Congress on Net gambling were: 1) "the odds of a bill's becoming law this year appear long, and 2) "nearly everyone agrees that online betting may be unstoppable because of the reach of the Internet and the difficulty in regulating its activity." Online gambling is legal in some 80 countries, the Times adds. One of them, the UK, is hosting an international symposium this fall on taxing and regulating gambling on the Internet. [For some data and other info on youth gambling, see "Poker's rise: Fresh numbers," "No. of young gamblers on the rise," and "Understanding Games & Gaming."]

Thursday, July 06, 2006

New video site pays users

You'll probably be hearing this from young videocam wielders you know before you read it here: Just-launched plans to give a run for its money by "offering videographers a share of the advertising dollars that their movies generate," CNET reports. "Video sharing on the Internet is one of the hottest sensations in media. Every day, people from all over the world are posting homemade movies at one of more than 150 sites. Sometimes those clips attract big audiences. At places such as YouTube, Yahoo Video and eBaumsworld, the creators of popular clips aren't compensated." Of course, eefoof won't pay people uploading someone else's copyrighted video. The service was created, CNET adds, by three guys in their early 20s who'd met online playing videogames – they'd never seen each other. YouTube's doing ok, too. USATODAY says it's now the 39th most popular site on the Web (75th two months ago), 50,000 videos get uploaded to it daily, and Hollywood wants to promote its movies on the site. "The success of YouTube, which a half-year after its launch is streaming more than 50 million video clips a day, has spawned 180 video sites in the past three months alone. In a sidebar, USATODAY zooms in on four of them, except that one on this list, BitTorrent, is a well-established, globally used file-sharing technology, not a site.

The life of an ID thief

Ever wonder how people's identities get stolen? A New York Times profile of 22-year-old convicted identity thief Shiva Brent Sharma explains a lot – especially about how it happens through phishing sites (more than lost credit cards and riffled-through garbage cans). The people most vulnerable to phishing-related ID theft are new to the Web. They're victimized by "social engineering" more than anything else. In other words, they're tricked. They believe an email when it looks like it's from their bank or an online retailer and says (as one of Sharma's did), "We regret to inform you, but due to a recent system flush, the billing information for your account was deleted." They're told to "click here" and got to a Web page that also looks like their bank's where they can fix the problem. They "fix" it by typing in name, address, credit card number, mother's maiden name, social security number, etc. The Times says about 100 owners of the some 100,000 email addresses Sharma acquired in one exploit fell for it. A prosecutor told the Times these methods are being used all the time, Sharma was just one of the first caught using them (caught three times). Sharma told the Times this is an addiction and he worries that, when he's served his 2-4-year sentence, he'll "relapse." If anyone in your circles is new to the Web, tell them to read this story – it's an interesting human story that'll also give them some cyberstreet smarts in one sitting. For a more academic take, see CNET's "The secret of phishers' success." And a US Justice Department study released in April actually adjusted earlier ID theft victim figures from the government downward, the Associated Press reported.

Help for parents of the college-bound

Searching for the right college or university is not just daunting for teens, of course. In "2,200 Colleges, So Little Time (and Money) to Visit," New York Times "online shopper" Michelle Slatalla recalls how her daughter hated college No. 1 and then writes, "Last week, as Zoe and I made plans to visit more colleges, I looked back on our previous trip and wondered if there was a better way. Although we had been lucky in the Midwest — she liked two of the three schools we saw — there are about 2,200 four-year colleges and universities to visit nationwide, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. We needed to eliminate the duds without wasting travel money." Michelle then links to what she's found to be the best sites providing virtual tours of schools – a very helpful screening tool.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Social networking for the greater good

I bet this is going to be a trend: the social networks getting smart and combating all the bad p.r. they've gotten by doing something really positive as well as putting out fires on the negative side. MySpace "is trying to galvanize its [now 90 million+] user base to get involved in public service," the Washington Post reports. "It is doing so by sponsoring a contest, which begins today [7/5], requesting submissions of 15- to 30-second video public-service announcements encouraging social activism. The winner will be featured in Seventeen magazine, which is co-sponsoring the contest." Entries will be reviewed by a panel of judges from both MySpace and Seventeen, and the winners will be announced the week August 21, the Post adds. It cites a recent survey by Teenage Research Unlimited in Illinois showing that "63% of teens said they care about others and want to make the world a better place … but only 25% were involved in a volunteer activity." And here's an example from Reuters of game designers with a similar goal.

Risky reinforcement online

It may not seem like it as you read it, but the Washington Post's "Invitation to Harm" is very good news. It exposes parents and other caregivers to worlds we really need to know about – and helps us better understand behavior that's crying out for our help. As does any and all news coverage of online communities like "Groups" in MySpace and other social networks. Two samples: "On a self-mutilation group called 'Razorblade Kisses' - which had nearly 200 members as of last week - a message displays a 'Cutting Warning Label' that warns, 'before you make that first cut remember. You will enjoy this. You will find the blood and pain release addictive.' And 'be prepared to withdraw from others and live in a constant state of shame … you will find yourself lying to the people you love. You will jerk back from your friends when they touch you as if their hands were dipped in poison'," and the Post tells of a 14-year-old New Jersey boy who belongs to MySpace groups that teach him about drug use (his parents don't know about his MySpace page). The social networks give us unprecedented access to teens' inner lives, as disturbing as that can be, presenting a tremendous opportunity both for parental understanding and in-depth research – as well as for better care and treatment of troubled teens. For more on this, see "Net good & bad for teens: Study" and "Wrong kind of support." And here's an example shared at of how online activity helps a 15-year-old diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

'Try to keep a cool head'

I don't know if he's a parent, but teacher and commentator Scott Granneman makes some useful observations for parents and everybody involved with teens using Web 2.0 in "MySpace, a place without MyParents" at After running through (and linking to news stories about) a bunch the latest exploits by teens and victimizing teens on social networks I've linked you to too, he tells this anecdote: "When I was a high school English teacher many years ago, I had a 9th grade student who confided a terrible story to me one day. When she was in the 8th grade, she started prank calling people on weekends to break up her boredom. One Saturday night the guy on the other end of the phone didn't hang up like all the others. Instead, he talked to her. The phone talks continued, and soon they met. You can guess the rest…. So since that sicko used the telephone to meet his victim, we should ban phones? Or at least tightly control how kids use them, with age restrictions and credit card verifications? Of course not. The fact is, every new technology has been used by people to perform, or enable, illicit and illegal acts. MySpace, and the Internet in general, simply expands the ability of people to communicate easily over distance more than any other tool that humanity has created…. Any time you allow humans to come into contact with each other, there's the potential for exploitation. That doesn't mean disaster is guaranteed, however. It just means that we need to try to keep a cool head and not allow blind emotion and fear to cloud our better judgments." Or our ability to talk with our kids about their social lives, offline and online. Don't miss his account of a parent-teacher conference with the parents of one of his smarter but less engaged 9th-grade students on p. 2 of the article. [Granneman's commentary was picked up by The Register in the UK.]

Monday, July 03, 2006

UK inquiry into social networks

Social networking is big news in Britain this week. Some 61% of UK 13-to-17-year-olds have pages on social-networking sites, and the British government-backed Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has launched an inquiry into activity on the social networks, citing parents' and educators' concerns, The Guardian reports. According to The Guardian, 1 in 12 of the UK's 8 million children with Net access have met offline with someone they originally encountered online. That statistic includes online venues other than the social networks, but CEOP's reportedly zooming in on social-networking because of its sudden extreme popularity with teens. "A minority of children, some as young as 13, have begun showing pictures of themselves in sexual poses, semi-naked or wearing lingerie," The Guardian reports. "One headteacher has called in police after discovering more than 700 of her students had signed up with bebo, and that some were displaying images she considered to be indecent. Linda Wybar, headteacher of Tunbridge Wells girls' grammar, also banned the site from her school and wrote to every parent about her concerns." Besides its inquiry, CEOP will also hold safe-social-networking workshops for parents, teens, and educators, the BBC reports. Across the pond, the FTC has just testified on Capitol Hill about its concerns, basically calling for greater self-regulation on the social networks' part, reports.