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Friday, July 14, 2006

Hollywood + videogames

Videogames with movie names is a win-win formula for film companies and gamemakers, and their "love affair … has blossomed again this summer with tie-ins to Cars, The DaVinci Code, and other movies," Reuters reports. "Licensing movie titles to game makers offers Hollywood another way to help cover the sometimes $200 million-plus cost of blockbusters like action flick Superman Returns," and game companies don't mind the "millions of dollars" Hollywood spends to promote movies that share their products' names. Meanwhile, game makers are asking a federal judge to block a new kind of legal challenge to their business – one represented in a Minnesota law due to go into effect August 1, the Associated Press reports. What's different about this one, compared to other state laws that have been successfully challenged in courts, is that it fines minor ($25) if they're caught buying games rated M (Mature) or AO (Adults Only).

House passes Net-gambling bill

This week's vote in the US House of Representatives was 317 for legislation aimed at restraining online gambling and 93 against, the Washington Post reports. The bill's supporters reportedly say it might help dampen a booming, mostly off-shore business that "provides a front for money laundering, some of it by drug sellers and terrorist groups, while preying on children and gambling addicts. Americans bet an estimated $6 billion per year online, accounting for half the worldwide market," the Post reports, citing Congressional Research Service data. Critics say it "overreaches" and would be tough to enforce. Its two key provisions, according to the Post: "to update the 1961 Wire Act, which bars gambling entities from using wire-based communications for transmitting bets, to include the Internet," and to slow the flow of money from players to sites by barring electronic payments like credit card transactions.

Web 2.0 safety campaign

News Corp, parent of MySpace and Fox TV, has launched a multi-million-dollar Internet safety awareness campaign with the help of the National Parent-Teacher Association and Common Sense Media. "Central to News Corp.'s campaign … is a [20-second ad] featuring Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Jack Bauer on the Fox action drama '24'," the Associated Press reports. The ads send parents to Common Sense Media's new site, They'll air "on Fox cable stations, including FX, Fox Movie Channel and the National Geographic channel. Online video and banner ads will appear on,,, and other Fox Interactive Media sites."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Employers finding 'digital dirt'

This isn't about our kids, but our kids will grow up and become job seekers, and this issue isn't going away. In its recent survey of 100 executive recruiters, ExecuNet found that 35% of them had dropped a job candidate "because of information uncovered online," a San Jose Mercury News blog reports. Not much different from similar recent reports (see "Teen reputations, jobs at risk" and "Protecting teen reputations on Web 2.0"). The ExecuNet press release - "Growing Number Of Job Searches Disrupted By Digital Dirt" - offers some advice that isn't just for "suits". And of course, all this works both ways. Employees and prospectives are digging up "digital dirt" too. Social networks "are launching features that make it easier for job seekers to connect with the employees of prospective hirers," according to a Wall Street Journal piece picked up by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Latest Windows patches

This week saw July's "Patch Tuesday," when Microsoft released "seven security updates to address 18 separate flaws in its Windows operating systems and Office software," the Washington Post reports. Thirteen of the security flaws are critical, which the Post says means they can be used to hijack PCs without their owners doing anything (like opening an email or IM attachment). See the Post for details (they're in its PC security blog). Here, too, is ZDNET's coverage. For Microsoft info and help, check out the Windows Update page or Windows Live OneCare. Meanwhile, only a day after July's patches were released, cyberattackers were exploiting a new PowerPoint flaw that's unpatched, ZDNET reported. Microsoft said it's "investigating the issue," but it's not high-risk because for a successful attack, "users must open a malicious PowerPoint file provided to them, for example via email."

Capitol Hill: Views on social networks aired

CNET's coverage of Tuesday's hearing on Capitol Hill about the proposed Delete Online Predators Act (DOPA) suggested that a crackdown might be coming. In the US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, "politicians accused and other social-networking sites of failing to protect minors from sexual predators and other malign influences and said a legislative crackdown may be necessary." They were arguing over whether to require schools and libraries receiving FCC universal-service funds for Internet access to ban students' and young library patrons' access to the social networks or "requiring some form of an Internet ID that would prove a person's age, or doing nothing at the moment," according to CNET. All hearing participants appeared to agree that the intentions of the bill – to protect online kids from sexual predation – are noble, but a number of testifiers argued against the law, especially its wording and timing. Both First Amendment specialists and social-networking companies have said it's too vaguely written to enforce, and a representative of the Young Adult Library Services Association said "the bill uses the term 'social networking sites' to describe almost all interactive Web applications in which users converse or otherwise interact with each other," NewsFactor reports, and so would ban whole swaths of the Internet in schools and libraries. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) of Ohio, a member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications & the Internet, testified that "a delicate balance must be struck." He said: "Although I agree with the concepts promoted by H.R. 5319 [DOPA], I believe today's discussion is simply the beginning of an in-depth dialogue between policy makers and industry leaders because social-networking and chat technologies are not inherently bad and offer many benefits – yet we must ensure the safety of our children."

For an in-depth discussion on DOPA and the social networks, see an interview with Henry Jenkins at MIT and Danah Boyd at University of California-Berkeley at the Digital Divide Network.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

China's kids can gripe online

Could this be a) a step toward greater democracy for China, b) the proverbial genie out of the bottle, or c) a chance for kids to rant about their parents and nothing more. I'm sure Young Pioneers, the youth wing of the Chinese Communist Party sponsoring ChinaKids would say the answer is "c." But the Wall Street Journal reports that in April a group of the site's young social networkers "posted a list of 10 'outrageous and intolerable crimes'," referring to "spanking, putting too much pressure on children, and playing too much mahjong" on the part of their parents. The Journal adds that another "ChinaKid," a blogger from Shanghai, wrote about how terrible it feels "to be censored by somebody else." The site has "800,000 registered preteen bloggers," most of whom "have no interest in sensitive political issues. But the Chinakids community does explicitly teach kids to speak out, sometimes against authority." The article includes a chart showing that China's biggest age group of Internet users is 18-to-24-year-olds (35.1%), followed by 25-to-30-year-olds (19.3%), and then this group, under-18s (16.6%). Meanwhile, "Hao Wu, a Chinese independent filmmaker and blogger arrested by Beijing police in February, was released from detention yesterday [Tuesday, 7/11]," the Journal reports in a separate article, citing a post on his sister's blog.

Pop-ups with your Web videos

Lovely. Free videos just may not be that free anymore. Tell your kids! Now an unsuspecting Web video fan can click on a title like "Friends Play a Hilarious Practical Joke" and get a bunch of pop-up ads on their screens. That's just one of the annoying, buggy clips working its way through the Web social networks, ASPnews reports. They come with "adware Bellevue, Wash.-based Zango," which, APSnews explains, "makes money by partnering with webmasters who post videos on their sites." What happens is, you click on a title and get a pop-up box of "fine print explaining the end user license agreement." When you click on that, you download "a 'Zango Search Assistant,' which, according to tiny text in the pop-up, 'will show you a limited number of ads that pop up on your screen in a separate browser'."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

MySpace No. 1 in traffic

MySpace just beat out Yahoo and Google to become the US's most high-traffic site, Reuters reports. According to HitWise traffic tracking, MySpace "accounted for 4.46% of all US Internet visits for the week ending July 8, pushing it past Yahoo Mail for the first time and outpacing the home pages for Yahoo, Google and Microsoft's MSN Hotmail." In the social-networking category, MySpace "captured nearly 80% of visits to such sites, up from 76% in April. A distant second was Facebook at 7.6%."

NZ dad: 'Wake up, parents'

This is the first teen social-networking story I've seen out of New Zealand. A very candid dad in Christchurch contacted The Weekend Press there to warn other parents, saying "he had been forced to place his daughter under 'house arrest' after she invited a stranger home for sex after meeting him on," reports. He and his wife had arrived home one night to find their daughter with the boy she had invited. He told the paper all he and his wife had been aware of about social networking was that "it was like making a Web site." He told the Press he'd banned his daughter from the Internet and a cellphone, taken her page down, and gotten her counseling and a medical check-up. "Australian research showed that 40% of teens would potentially meet in person someone they had met online, and only 12% would ask their parents' permission to do so," the Press added.

Web video: Parents' concerns

One mom told the Associated Press her family, including three teens, often looks at funny online videos together. When they run into racy stuff, she uses it as talking point with them. Another mom, the AP reports, cringed when she saw her 14- and 10-year-old "encounter homemade videos online that included nudity and animal cruelty." These accounts are in the AP's "Online video boom raises risks, concerns," about how "Popular Web sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Yahoo, Google and soon also Microsoft's MSN are featuring user-generated videos that quickly have become a phenomenal form of entertainment" as well as a source of concern. The various services have different policies and practices for screening the video that gets uploaded. MySpace says it reviews every video before it appears in the uploader's profile (the AP doesn't mention this). YouTube relies on member policing, and told the AP that the really objectionable ones get flagged quickly and usually get pulled down within 15 minutes, Yahoo Video has a safe search tool parents can turn on (Google Video's considering it) and told the AP that, though it doesn't prescreen all videos, "any clips that get onto its featured pages must first pass the muster of the company's human editors." Meanwhile, these sites' success is kicking in, with the help of Hollywood – see the San Jose Mercury News on deals some of them are striking to distribute not-so-homemade video (movies and TV shows) too.

Monday, July 10, 2006

'Smart phones' & kids

Very soon our kids will be badgering us for smart phones, not just camera phones – if they aren't already. "Experts say smart-phones - mobile devices that can handle phone calls, email, calendaring and Web surfing, among other tasks - are starting to go mainstream as prices come down and the devices become easier to use," the San Jose Mercury News reports. Only 2.2% of US cellphone users use smart phones right now, the Mercury News cites research from Telephia as finding, but the phonemakers "drool at the thought of putting smart-phones into the hands of the estimated 200 million US cell phone users." They're also drooling over the youth market, the New York Times reports, pointing out that almost half of US 13-to-16-year-olds now own cellphones. The industry loves people like Nik Lulla, a 17-year-old in the Philadelphia area who leads the Times piece. Nik "swaps out his cellphones on a whim. He carries a Motorola Razr, an ultrathin metal phone that is so popular he considers it almost passé, and a T-Mobile Sidekick 2, a minicomputer with instant messaging and email features. Sometimes he throws a Motorola V551 and a Nokia 3120 into the mix. [He] uses the Razr because his mother bought it for him — and because it was cool a few months ago — while the Sidekick is 'just for show'." Now Nik probably really wants the just-unveiled Sidekick 3, "aimed at Generation Cool," according to 19-year-old tech reviewer and New York Times intern blogger Bart Stein.