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Friday, March 16, 2007

Predators vs. cyberbullies: Reality check

Parents who have seen "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline NBC are asking how much they should be worrying about their social-networking kids. They need to know that the Predator series is no representation of risks to youth on the social Web. It's not even presenting a credible picture of sexual predation in general, we find in an in-depth look at the social costs of producing "The Shame Game" in the Columbia Journalism Review. It shows how Dateline is fueling public fears not because it's representing reality but because it's representing reality TV. In this week's issue of my newsletter, I look at how Dateline has presented the numbers, an actual figure from state attorneys general, and the best figures we have on noncriminal risks confronting (and created by) teens on the social Web - plus one very notable figure on the positive side of social networking - that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline gets more than 100,000 referrals a year from MySpace alone. I hope this reality check can help broaden the public discussion.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cyberthieves: More sophisticated

It's not so much that they're getting smarter as that "tools for carrying out attacks [on family computers] are readily available and harder to purge from computers," reports Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs. Yes, a virus clicked on in an email can grab info, but it can also leave keylogger software that grabs even more. Brian led with the story of a man whose infected PC gave cyberthieves his bank account and health insurance info and social security number. But this could be anyone. This particular group of Eastern Europe-based thieves "infiltrated the new-accounts department of a major US bank, a medical patient database in Georgia, and an Alabama district attorney's office containing a database used by police departments to trace people," Brian writes. His blog post gives details. What to do? In his blog, Brian writes (tell your kids!): "Don't download files of questionable origin or click on email attachments willy-nilly.... I cannot overstate the importance of Windows users being extremely cautious about opening unexpected attachments in emails, even if they appear to come from someone you know. When in doubt, fire a quick e-mail back to the sender to ask whether they really meant to send you the attachment."

Social-networking news bits

There is so much social-networking news these days that I thought you might prefer them in a collection of little bytes:

  • Extended families may be interested in social networking specifically for them. Two examples written up in AppScout are and, where families can share photos privately (CNET has a video about Famster).
  • University students may be interested in, an alternative to Facebook, the No. 2 social-networking site (after MySpace). According to this reporter at DePaul University's newspaper, "on a College Life profile, rather than one extended page, there is a series of tabs that each hold a different category: profile, blog, photos, favorites, event calendar and a completely new category: the wishlist."
  • Parents worldwide may be interested in what this mom in Oz says about teen self-exposure in blogs (she chooses not to read her daughter's): "They're doing exactly what we did at their age, even if we did it through physical space - the telephone and the diary. But what's shocking to us is the extent of self-exposure they embrace. These kids live their lives online, but to their parents it feels like public nudity." Don't miss her whole thoughtful commentary in the Sydney Morning Herald.
  • As for the numbers: Agence France Presse reports that "visits to social-networking websites climbed 11.5% February with big surges in popularity seen in smaller players." Traffic to MySpace, which got 80% of social-networking visits, rose 10.2% and to Facebook, 9.1%. Visits to Buzznet and iMeem (which each had less than 1% of social-networking traffic in February), more than doubled, AFP cited Hitwise as saying.
  • Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Bulk cellphone calls

    Two bits of mobile social-networking news: one a service already available, the other coming to a phone near you. You've heard of bulk emails to all your friends and your kids' bulletins on MySpace – well, now there are bulk cellphone calls to all your friends at, for example, People set up a free account at, create your contact list on the site, and use your access number to get prompted through making a group call to everyone on your contact list. Here's coverage at the Sudbury (Mass.) Town Crier. As for finding mobilely social friends, an up and coming development is the social phonebook, not only providing phone numbers but physically locating and showing where friends are at any given moment. Helsinki-based Jaiku "takes the user's contacts and adds presence, location, and availability information to the normal static listings," according to the Mobile Tech News at Super convenience, but think about all that information (about, say, a teenager) somehow getting into the wrong hands. Food for parental thought.

    Viacom vs. online teens?

    The New York Times says Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against Google's site "is the clearest sign yet of the tension between Google and major media companies." I'd say it's probably bigger than that. It's the clearest sign yet of the tension between the social, media-sharing Web and the media industry. It's a story that affects teenagers especially because they love to share media – their own homemade videos (some with background music sold by huge media companies) and everybody else's, including clips from favorite TV shows, music videos, etc. This lawsuit could change the Web's media-sharing landscape and, the San Jose Mercury News reports, "could end up rewriting one of the key laws of the Internet age: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act." A search of Google news turned up 1,200+ news articles from news outlets around the world.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Law enforcement on the social Web

    These two stories illustrate how Web 2.0 has upsides and downsides for police too. It appears to be mostly upside, the way social-networking sites have become an investigative tool. The first story, from the Associated Press, is a very interesting one about how police not able to recognize credit card thieves in a Home Depot security video posted it on YouTube, "then emailed the clip's link to about 300 people and organizations. In this case, "the suspects were ultimately arrested," but - though the video generated publicity and thousands of viewings online – it was "old-fashioned police work" not YouTube that ultimately led to their arrests (the article relates another case, in London, Ontario, where YouTube figured more prominently in an arrest, and this one reported by WFSB TV in Connecticut). The other story is about how police, too, are the subject (negatively portrayed) of YouTube videos, the article continues. And bogus police profiles and pages have turned up on the Web. USATODAY reports that "at least 16 police or sheriffs' departments appeared to have profile pages on MySpace to seek investigative tips or deter predators, but USA TODAY found that at least six were fakes." As for the real ones, one is the Miami-Dade Police Department, which says that "more than 500 people have asked the department to be their friend" - in other words, to be on their MySpace friends' lists. The Department says people see it as a predator deterrent. But nothing beats helping kids develop the filter between their ears – their critical thinking. A Wyoming law enforcement officer told USATODAY that he "has seen people pose online as police officers to lure children into trusting them."

    Child porn: 15-year-old charged

    It's very difficult to determine how much criminal intent a minor has in cases of possession of child pornography, the Bangor (Me.) Daily News reports. Bangor police confiscated a 15-year-old boy’s home computer on Dec. 20 after finding it contained child porn. They said they collected enough computer evidence to charge him with "felony possession of sexually explicit materials." Apparently, his possession of the images was reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's, which is how Bangor police learned of case. As of this report, it's not known if the boy will be prosecuted. A lot of cases like this don't get prosecuted for reasons of "lack of criminal intent," according to a police officer on Maine's Computer Crimes Task Force policy board. Cases like this that are most likely to be prosecuted are those in which the subject has disseminated the child-porn images, he said. The Daily News also reported that," on average, police officers in Maine seize a computer every two days."

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    High-profile child-porn conviction

    Then-teenager Justin Berry wasn't Ken Gourlay's only victim, but it was Justin who first accused him. Gourlay was convicted last Friday of enticing and molesting a minor and distributing child pornography over the Internet, among other charges, the Associated Press reports. "Gourlay was one of several men arrested on charges involving child pornography after Berry began working with the Justice Department. One of them, Gregory Mitchel, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Berry's testimony before Congress came after his case was highlighted by the New York Times" in December 2005 (see "Kids & Webcams"). The AP adds that "prosecutors say Berry, who now is an adult, was lured to Ann Arbor from California in 2002 to attend a computer camp and was molested by Gourlay."