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Friday, October 19, 2007

Kids' virtual worlds hot

There's a mini boom of kids' virtual world afoot, CNET reports, probably fueled the success of Webkinz and Neopets and Disney's acquisition of ClubPenguin. One reason: "more kids are flocking to imaginative, character-driven environments. An expected 53% of children on the Web will belong to a virtual world within four years, more than doubling the current population of 8.2 million members," reports CNET citing eMarketer figures. Other worlds and services CNET mentions are from the creators of Wallace & Gromit,,, and Nickelodeon's Nicktropolis. I would add as another prominent one, and possible Finland-based, though it probably skews slightly older. A related CNET article asks, "Are kids ready for ads in such spaces?". Since this interactive advertising goes well beyond cereal boxes and TV spots to immersive games and other forms of direct involvement for children, it's a good question to ask.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

ICACs in all 50 states

There will soon be Internet Crimes Against Children task forces in every US state, reports. "The Department of Justice announced that 13 new state and local law enforcement agencies will receive more than $3 million" to form the task forces in Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.

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Thais arrest child abuse suspect

Last week, in an unprecedented move, Interpol went public in its search for a child pornography suspect, and this week, with the help of leads that came in as a result, the man identified and arrested. Here's the AP's story about the arrest. Christopher Paul Neil is a 32-year-old Canadian schoolteacher, the Associated Press reported earlier. "Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant Thursday for a Canadian who is the subject of a global Interpol manhunt for the alleged sexual abuse of at least a dozen Cambodian and Vietnamese boys, some as young as 6, police said."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Facebook's safety agreement

In a settlement it has reached with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Facebook will now be replying to "the most serious complaints" by users about porn and unwelcome contacts within 24 hours, its chief security officer Chris Kelly told CBS News technology analyst Larry Magid in an audio interview. In its coverage, the Associated Press says Facebook also agreed to "report to the complainant within 72 hours on how it will respond" to the complaint. In addition, Facebook will hire an outside company approved by the attorney general's office to monitor its level of response to complaints and has updated its safety information pages focusing especially on info for parents. Kelly told Larry, who is also my co-director at, that Facebook is now encouraging users to report to a parent or trusted adult as well as Facebook when things come up. The settlement ends General Cuomo's investigation of Facebook, during which he said Facebook was falsely advertising as a safer social-networking site. Though it started at Harvard and for a while focused solely on college and university users, Facebook now has some 47 million members of all ages, the New York Times reports. Here, too, is CNET.

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Teens & stranger contact: New study

Researcher Aaron Smith likens the Internet to a park, mall, or any other public space, where most of teens' encounters with others are fine, but some can be scary or risky. "Just 7% of online teens have ever had an interaction with a stranger that made them feel scared or uncomfortable," though nearly a third (32%) "have been contacted by someone with no connection to them or any of their friends," according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project's press material about Aaron's data memo (and Pew's latest study).

The uncomfortable contacts - which the study found girls have more than boys - aren't terribly surprising, the study says, however, since a full 49% of social-networking teens "use these sites to make new friends." Also not surprising, the Associated Press's coverage suggests, "because Pew counts as 'stranger contacts' comments left on photo-sharing sites and requests to become friends at social-networking sites." It just may be the case, Aaron adds, that teens "see some level of unwanted contact as a known downside" of social networking - "a relatively minor 'cost of doing business' in this environment."

The behaviors the Pew study found to be "associated with high levels of online stranger contact" are: having a social-networking profile, posting photos online, and using social sites to flirt.

Parents, you may want to note that it's the child's intention that is key, here. The study found that "teens who use social-networking sites to flirt are more likely to be contacted by people they don't know … although a similar effect is not seen in teens who use social-networking sites to make new friends." This finding is consistent with another emerging fact in online-safety research - that it's the teens who are seeking out risk in life in general who are more at risk online (see "Profile of a teen online victim").

Interestingly (and consistent, it appears to me, with research at the Crimes Against Children Research Center - see "New approach to safety education suggested"), Pew found that "there is no consistent association between stranger contact and the types of information posted in a profile" (e.g., first or last name, school name, email address) and "no statistically significant association between stranger contact and having a public profile (letting everyone see your profile instead of just friends).

The study also found that despite the media attention social sites have drawn, they aren't the sole source of uncomfortable online encounters. Aaron wrote that "despite popular concerns about teens and social networking, our analysis suggests that social networking sites are not inherently more inviting to scary or uncomfortable contacts than other online activities."

One other key point parents may find interesting: Monitoring software on computers teens use at home "seems to be more effective than filtering software in limited contact with strangers online," the study found. In his analysis Aaron later points out that that may be because parents who install monitoring software tend to be more engaged in their kids' online experiences than those who install filtering (teens know many workarounds for accessing blocked sites, whether via proxy servers or connecting outside the home).

Related links

  • The page with a link to the full, four-page data memo, "Teens and Online Stranger Contact," in pdf format.
  • "Online victimization: Facts emerging"
  • "Social-networking dangers in perspective"
  • "Profile of a teen online victim"
  • "New approach to safety education suggested"

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  • Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Fraud potential on social Web

    Teens aren't the only people who need to watch what personal information they upload to social Web sites. "Nearly one in three [31%] social networkers on sites such as Facebook and Friends Reunited risk becoming victims of identity fraud because they are negligent with their personal details," reports the Motley Fool, "making them a prime target for phishing and other ID fraud." What happens is that phishers (online cons) send emails to they harvest from sites of all kinds (not just social-networking ones). The emails look like they're from a person's bank, Paypal, credit card company, or even a porn provider, and they try to trick victims into clicking to a Web site that can upload malicious code to your computer or further trick them into giving personal info like social security or credit card numbers. The Fool was citing research by Equifax, which also found that, "of the 739 people polled (a relatively small survey, but it still has some significant figures), 87% published their full names and 38% their dates of birth, with more than a quarter offering their education and work details." Three key take-aways would make for great family discussion: Everybody needs to 1) select the right privacy and safety features for their particular needs (e.g., only friends can view one's full profile); 2) be really careful about the links they click on in other social networkers' profiles (they could link to malicious sites); and 3) everybody needs to check out the providers of the widgets and other code they paste into their profiles (is the source legit or potentially malicious?). [See also network-security news site's comparison of potential personal and network vulnerabilities in MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn.]

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    'Puters top holiday wish lists

    I thought it was the iPod. Nope, cancel that. It was clothes that topped Americans' wish lists last year, "followed by peace and happiness, money and then computers," the Associated Press reports, citing the annual Consumer Electronics Association survey. This year it's computers. "The machines that feed us infinite and instant information, store our digital memories, give us hours of fun with games, videos or music — and help us do our taxes — outrank peace, happiness and clothes this year as the most wished-for gifts, according to an annual US survey by the consumer electronics industry's largest trade organization." But gosh I wish peace was still a top priority; I imagine it is in other parts of the world! I was right, however, about MP3 players (tho' not the iPod specifically, apparently). In the "specific gizmos" category, portable music players will top the list in 2007 for the third year in a row.

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    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Int'l social-networking numbers

    More than half (56%) of Europe's online population is social networking, and 78% of Britain's is, TechnologyNewsDaily reports, citing comScore figures. So Europe has 127.3 million social networkers and the UK 24.9 million. In addition to higher uptake, Britain's usage was heavier "in terms of hours spent, pages viewed, and the number of visits per month. The average visitor to social networking sites in the U.K. spent 5.8 hours per month on those sites in August and made 23.3 visits. This was a significantly heavier usage level than in France, which averaged 2 hours per month and 16.8 visits per visitor, or Germany, with 3.1 hours per month and 13.8 visits per visitor." Then again, compare Briton's 5.8 hours to Brazilians' 11.7 hours and Canadians' 6.5 hours, as reported by The Telegraph. It adds that the UK's top three sites are Bebo, MySpace, and Facebook, in that order.