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Friday, September 08, 2006

Monitoring MySpacers, Part 2

Part 2 is the parenting part - the human part of monitoring young social networkers. For this week's issue of my newsletter, I interviewed Brad Weber and Michael Edelson, serial tech entrepreneurs, founders of BeNetSafe, and both dads of three between the ages of 13 and 15. Last week, we talked about the various monitoring options involving tech. I think this week's more interesting, but see if you agree! Read on. Also feel free to comment, of course: in this blog, via email, or in our forum for parents and everyone else interested in safe, constructive use of the social Web,

FTC: Watch out, social networks!

In fining $1 million, more than twice any previous fine of its kind, the Federal Trade Commission sent a clear message to the social networks this week that COPPA is in force where their industry's concerned (COPPA is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act). "The Xanga site stated that children under 13 could not join, but then allowed visitors to create Xanga accounts even if they provided a birth date indicating they were under 13," says the FTC in its press release. So at the time of its investigation, 1.7 million people had created accounts and given "birthdates" indicating they were 12 or under. The thing is, people can give their dog's birthday or the day of their first date and a Web site would never know. Xanga's response was: "Before these issues came to our attention, Xanga had in place a registration system intended to screen out underage users – reflecting our longstanding policy that no one under 13 is allowed to create an account. That system was inadequate because users were able to initially indicate that they were at least 13 years old when registering for the site, and then afterwards post a younger age on their profile. We found that an array of Xanga users created profiles with "birth dates" other than their actual day of birth when establishing their weblog. For example, pet bloggers registered with their pet's birthday, engaged bloggers registered with their wedding date…." Ironically, Xanga is barely a "social networking site." It really focuses on blogging and doesn't include social features like chat and instant messaging and doesn't allow "profile searches based on sex, age or gender." But it has shown leadership in implementing a number of safety measures, which are listed in the press release linked to above. [For the sake of full disclosure, Xanga is one of 11 companies supporting the BlogSafety forum, a Web site I co-direct.]

Facebook flap

For its users, Facebook crossed a line this week. A protest group of them called Students Against Facebook News Feed said Facebook violated user privacy rights by aggregating info users already make publicly available into a "news feed" that alerts people on their friends lists to even the smallest updates on their pages so the recipients don't have to dig around. "By late on Wednesday, more than 500,000 of Facebook's 9.5 million members had signed an online petition" against the new feature, MIT's Technology Review reported. For more tech-savvy people, this is a Web 2.0 version "push" vs. "pull" - pushing out info instead of waiting for users to be pulled in to see it - and critics using Facebook called it "creepy" or like being stalked. What makes it mainstream tech news is that 1) this is the first time social networkers themselves have spoken out about protecting their own privacy, and 2) Facebook is in the headlines instead of MySpace! Within about two days of protests, Facebook announced it would soon be giving users more control over their info (though users who had the strictest privacy settings turned on weren't in news feeds), the Washington Post reported), and on Friday announced the new features, a San Francisco Chronicle blog reported). But before mainstream news outlets picked it up, the story was in campus newspapers nationwide. Here's a sampler: at the University of Wisconsin, "Facebook users strike back"; at Indiana, "Facebook updates 'creepy'"; and at Virginia, "Don't feed the monster."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wikis: The social side of research

A wiki is a site that aggregates content created by people all over the Web. The most famous one is But there's a growing number of others: e.g.,;, like a Wikipedia but with more arcane info;, with how-to info on lots of topics; with all sorts of travelers' advice; and with product reviews. In addition to mentioning all the above, the New York Times looks at the business of hosting wikis. BTW, teachers can go to or to start their own classroom wikis!

Woman charged in teen boy's assault

A disturbing reminder that girls aren't the only victims of online predation: "A 23-year-old Massachusetts woman is facing a sexual assault charge involving a 15-year-old Connecticut boy she met on the Internet," WFSB TV in Hartford reported. They reportedly had "'met' online through a friend of the victim. The arrest warrant showed the two began chatting through and MSN Messenger," which led to cellphone conversations, the exchange of photos, and a sexual encounter in a motel. The boy's mother reportedly learned of all this when she found the two together the next day. [Det. Frank Dannahey of the Rocky Hill, Ct., Police Department pointed this story out.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Homework helpers

It usually helps to get the lowdown from a fellow parent. Alina Tugend, parent of people in middle and elementary school, helpfully reviews homework help sites in the New York Times. After typical confusion up front, she found that "there are two main differences in online help sites — those that allow a student to interact with a tutor through instant messaging and those that provide resources and techniques to help a student figure out answers to questions." She proceeds to link to some examples in both categories. Among them is AOL's, a search engine for students that turns up results pre-screened by teachers and librarians. The Associated Press zooms in on this service in a short review of its own. Meanwhile, here's CNET's Top 10 Sites for Students (of the college variety), which include a poker site in the "Best for Vice" category.

'Storytexting' on phones

It's a little like a soap opera for the teeny screen – that of a cellphone. Each scene in the text novella "Ghost Town" is "about 160 characters long, just enough to fit into one text message," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. The story has eight characters and "revolves around a high school football star, 'Ghost,' who has a secret. He's homeless." The characters all have backstories that subscribers can read at, a youth-activism site and online community that's a project of Save the Children. The other partners in this project are Stand Up for Kids, a nonprofit organization supporting homeless young people, and Virgin Mobile USA, providing its platform. The Star Tribune says 12,000 people have signed up to receive the novella's twice-daily "episodes" for a month, ending Sept. 15. All of the story's characters have blogs at YouthNoise and the main ones have profiles on MySpace, where readers can add them to their friends lists (illustrating how the line between fiction and real life on the social networks is never totally clear).

Social networking everywhere

You do know that MySpace is only the beginning, right? There are social sites popping up all over the place designed specifically for connecting users with - as parents would see it - "strangers," CNET reports. In the "amazing array of social-networking tools" being launched for mobile social networkers, CNET mentions "services like Dodgeball and Meetro, [which] allow you to locate and communicate with your circle of existing and potential friends within a given geographical location using text and instant messaging on a cell phone or laptop." Then there's Placesite, which "allows you to identify strangers with similar interests while surfing on your laptop and sipping a latte in your favorite cafe." CNET also mentions Nokia Sensor, Playtxt, Mamjam, and Jambo, which "facilitate flirting and interacting with strangers" wherever one is, using a cellphone-based profile and text messaging" or a profile "accessed on a variety of wireless devices." Of course, MySpace and Facebook profiles can be accessed via cellphone too (see this item last April). It's not just the social Web, it's the very mobile social Web on any device you happen to have in your hand. For context, CNET had some numbers: "Two of every three people in the United States now visit social-networking sites ... roughly 90% of young people are online, [and] more than 63% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 27 now send text messages." In related news, "police have arrested a 31-year-old Groton [Ct.] man, accusing him of setting up sexual encounters with a 14-year-old girl over the cellphone," the Associated Press reports. [Thanks to Det. Frank Dannahey at the Rocky Hill, Ct., Police Dept. for pointing this news out.]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mini music stores at MySpace

This is great news for musicians and more bad news for Tower Records. Not only can young musicians and garage bands introduce their music to millions of fans everywhere via MySpace, now they can sell it to them too – right from their own pages. "Assuming that the songs for sale do not violate a copyright, the artist or label can set a price and allow Web users to buy songs the way they might with services such as iTunes and Yahoo Music," the Washington Post reports. Shawn Fanning, creator of the original file-sharing program Napster, is providing the technology, the Los Angeles Times reports, through his company, Snocap, Fans get a piece of the action too, quite remarkably: They can "sell their favorite bands' tracks on their own MySpace pages, with a portion of the proceeds going to the artists." The service is being tested now, with full availability by the end of the year, according to the Post. More on MySpace recently: a commentary in Associated Content on MySpace as "the new American social icon" (interesting but not entirely accurate).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Not-so-virtual advertising

Videogamers will soon be seeing – or interacting with – pretty sophisticated ads in their games. This is not the static product-placement advertising of the past, of course. These are being called "dynamic" ads "because they are built into the virtual landscape of the video games and can be updated by advertisers via the Internet," the San Jose Mercury News reports. Just as in real life, gamers will see this advertising on billboards, buses, storefronts, etc., right in the games' environments – urban, suburban, or rural, maybe on virtual TV and movie screens!