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Friday, August 18, 2006

Unsupervised online teens & other myths

There are a lot of smart parents (and online teens) out there, research is showing. The former are clearly transferring their parenting skills and policies into cyberspace, and the latter – teenagers – seem to be fine with that. "More than 70% of the adolescents said they'd feel comfortable having their parents look at their MySpace page," a recent survey of MySpacers and their parents in Los Angeles found. For some key take-aways from a study of MySpacers and their parents at Cal State University and from a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg study, please see this week's issue of my newsletter.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Teen 'predators' arrested at school

This story in the Nashville area is about the real "predators" of the social networks, if they could be called that. According to the Maryville (Tenn.) Daily Times, two Nashville boys (15 and 17) showed up at the high school of two girls they'd "met" online and were too young even to know that it would've been a good idea not to tell the police they were 18+. They were both charged with criminal trespassing, the 17-year-old also with criminal impersonation, and both were taken to a juvenile detention center, where they were later "released to the custody of their parents," with future court hearings in store. An officer on the case "said he was unsure how the [Maryville High School] students met the two Nashville teens on the Internet, but authorities suspect it was through a social networking Web site or through instant messaging. He said the girls may have also talked to the boys by phone." Research about sexual solicitations of online teens has shown for years that many, probably most, of the solicitations came from other teens. And the latest research (see last week's issue) shows that – while sexual solicitations are down overall despite the popularity of social networking – peer harassment among tweens and teens is up. Another thing we've seen over the past year is that the actual exploitation of teen social networkers (who agreed online to meet with "predators" offline) was consensual. In the Nashville case, two teen boys may well have taken the fall for a mutual arrangement made by both boys and girls, possibly resulting in a different definition of victimization.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Virtual worlds, real crimes

Where there is life, there is crime, it seems – even in the lives of avatars and game characters in the virtual worlds of online games. Called MMORPGs, for massively multiplayer online role-playing games, these games' players can be robbed just as we real-world folk can be. What happens is, players' game characters are robbed of their virtual property and money, which is then sold for real money "that can be used to buy new weapons, magic spells or other trappings to advance within the game," Reuters reports. "Using software designed to infiltrate a computer system, hackers steal account information for users of MMO games and then sell off virtual gold, weapons and other items for real money." Reuters adds that Microsoft warned game developers of this problem so they can build in more protections. For more on this, see "Virtual real estate mogul" and "Games' shadow economy."

Social Web's new headache

Worms have a new way into your house. Social networking is getting so popular (among adults as well as teens) that all those nasty virus and worm writers out there are starting to take advantage of it. Social sites - especially the big ones like MySpace, YouTube, Xanga, etc. – are the next wave for malware, the UK's VNUNET reports, citing research by computer security company ScanSafe. "One in 600 profile pages on social networking sites hosts some form of malware, according to an analysis of more than five billion web requests in July." And just what is that malware? Most of what ScanSafe identified was "spyware and adware, ranging from more benign programs that track usage to difficult-to-remove spyware that can redirect a browser." And even though everybody assumes this is just a teenager thing (which is certainly the concern of family PC owners), it may be comforting to know the malware issue is becoming a problem in the workplace too. Social networks now account for about 1% of all Web use at work, ScanSafe found.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dell laptops recall

Some critics are saying, "It's about time." Dell is recalling more than 4 million laptop batteries in "the largest electronics-related recall involving the Consumer Products Safety Commission," CBS News reports. The batteries, which were made by Sony, are being recalled because they can burst into flame. Affected laptops include "Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XPS and precision mobile workstation notebooks," according to CBS, but it's a good idea not to leave any laptop for long periods of time on upholstered chairs and other places where they can overheat. The New York Times printed a photo of a fairly extreme example of what can happen. For recall details, go to

For game auteurs

Microsoft's news about giving anyone access to its game authoring tools is good news for parents of "hard-core gamers." It just may be a career-development tool too. "Microsoft is trying to turn hard-core gamers into Xbox programmers," CNET reports. Expected to be available for free later this month in beta form, the software will make it easier for "college students, hobbyists and others create their own games for the Xbox 360 console, for a Windows PC or both," CNET adds (eventually it'll cost $99). A San Jose Mercury News blog calls this "the democratization of videogame development" and reports that Microsoft is calling it "the YouTube of videogames." YouTube promotes the clips of zillions of amateur videographers (often called Web 2.0's "auteurs"), just as MySpace promotes the tunes of zillions of indie bands. In related news, now there's a social network for game designers: Nightlife Interactive, a videogame advertising company, "has launched its own social network site to aid in the research, development, and marketing of its various game offers," according to the company's press release.

'Minimes' in mini rooms at Cyworld

Cyworld is South Korea's MySpace, and now it's here in the US. MySpace and Cyworld (which has reached the saturation point of its user base at 90% of Korean 20-somethings) "reach a similar proportion of their respective homelands. In South Korea, Cyworld captures about one-third of the country's population of 48 million. MySpace has 98 million registered users, roughly a third of the US population," the San Jose Mercury News reports. So now the question is, "Is it too late for a newcomer to crash the online social networking party" on this side of the Pacific? Tough to tell, but there is a lot of competition besides MySpace, of course, in Xanga, Facebook, LiveJournal, Bebo, Tagged, Friendster, Hi5 (very popular in India), MyYearbook, and dozens of others (see Wikipedia's linked list). What's different about Cyworld is it aims to be not just your virtual or online self and social life, as with MySpace, but your virtual home or room, in which your avatar or online self lives and which you decorate – a little like a MySpace profile, but with a more spatial feel. At Cyworld that "self" is "minime." The Mercury News says the site targets 17-to-24-year-olds, but its Terms of Use say the minimum age is 13, a year younger than MySpace's. The avatars and room decorating will probably appeal to younger users, and "people will see Cyworld as more intimate, more slumber party than stadium concert scene." But US teens don't seem to mind MySpace's comparative edginess. For more on Cyworld, see my 3/24 issue.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Anybody outing anyone...

…about anything, anytime. That may sound a bit elliptic, but it describes what people can do with digital photography, and to parents and many other people it could be a little scary. It has got to be scary to paparazzi, anyway, because tabloids and other publications are now paying anyone with a camera phone for spontaneously snapped photos of celebrities, as the New York Times points out. The scary part for parents and educators is that celebrities certainly aren't the only subjects. Anyone can not only be a photographer and publisher, but also a subject - peers, parents, teachers, etc. That's fine when intentions are good, but if someone has it in for a peer or an adult, it's getting very easy to snap and upload photos that victimize the latter. Sometimes embarrassing or compromising photos and videos are taken in fun or friendship but the friendship goes bad, sometimes purely maliciously. Not only do we need to require that our kids and students ask permission to upload photos and footage of others, we need substantive home and school policies about using images of others maliciously, including in blogs and profiles that impersonate them (fake pages made to look like theirs). Someone recently posted in a link to California TV personality Josh Kornbluth's account of being victimized by someone who put an impersonating profile of him on MySpace. Almost immediately after he got it deleted, another one popped up.

This is the nearly uncontrollable nature of Web 2.0, where there are hundreds upon hundreds of free sites where people can play dirty tricks against schoolmates or anyone against whom they might have the slightest beef, and there is very, very little all these sites can do about it except be quick to detect and delete impersonating or otherwise malicious profiles, and some – like MySpace – are clearly working on that. But as I posted in our forum, the only real, lasting, solution in the kid part of the harassment spectrum is the tough one: to work with the kids involved and maybe fellow parents.