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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Right age for cellphones?

The age group more and more parents are asking about is 8-to-12-year-olds, "the fastest-growing segment of the US cellphone market," the Houston Chronicle reports (already, 72% of 13-to-17-year-olds have mobile phones). The Chronicle cites experts as saying that, generally children around 10 or 11 can handle responsible use of a cellphone. But it really does depend on the child. Some of the signs of responsibility the Chronicle suggests are whether a child can remember to: charge the phone, turn it on before going out without prompting, and follow both family and school rules associated with cellphone use. Downsides to consider are: the bills kids can "rack up ... through texting and downloading songs" (remember to either to use your cellphone company's flat-rate, unlimited texting add-on or have it turn off texting altogether); unwanted calls and messages from peers or adults you don't know ("but kids shouldn't automatically ignore calls from numbers they don't know because it could be a parent themselves that's stuck and calling from another phone"); and "phones may give children privacy that parents don't necessarily want them to have." Very helpful things to consider. [ recently published a survey on how mobile social networking works, but the site has been having some server issues, apparently, so this link may not work.]

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Phone-based 'icebreaker'

A new "real-space social networking" product for iPhones, iPod Touch devices, and laptops called iFob is a sign of the way social networking is going. It's marketed as being "simple, fun, and gamelike," and it probably is in the right hands. "Instead of logging onto a social networking site and searching through lists of far away strangers who may be living in virtual fantasy lands, iFob finds other people who are in the exact same location, at the exact same time, as each other," reports. Users can chat with each other in that location or just send one-liners like "here to meet someone." "Unlike social networking sites such as Facebook or My Space, iFob only displays lists of iFob users who are actually in the same hotspots at the same time, meaning that iFob users who seem interesting will be close enough to look up and exchange smiles." iFob is designed to become an icebreaker to real conversations. There are some similarities between this and California-based loopt's mobile social networking, but this report didn't go into whether iFob has a similar level of safety measures to loopt's.


'Mom-tested' sites for tweens

It's hard to find out much about MomLogic on the Web (couldn't easily find an About Us page), but the site put its stamp of approval on five sites for preteens: Stardoll (digital paper dolls + social networking), the Whyville virtual world, Imbee blogging, Allykatzz social networking for girls 10-15, and Yamod (a kind of YouTube for kids 14 and under). BTW, Imbee is fixing a problem the Federal Trade Commission had with the site. It has settled with the FTC, which had sued Imbee for children's privacy violations. Wired reports that Imbee asked kids to "register up front with their full name, date of birth and email address. Only after the child provided the information did Imbee send an activation email to the parents. And if the parents didn't activate, Imbee held on to the tot's data anyway."

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ukrainian parental controls got top spot

To mark the fifth-annual Safer Internet Day today, the European Union unveiled a three-year study it sponsored of parental controls software and services. In the study, the big-name brands in the US "were all beaten to the top spot by a small partnership that employs no more than 50 people, mostly designers and developers in Ukraine," the BBC reports. The partners who created Magic Desktop, a "walled garden" approach to online child protection, are a couple of fathers who developed it for their own kids. It's basically useful for children 10 and under because it's based on a "white list" of approved children's sites. The rest of the top 10 products are listed in a sidebar to the BBC piece. Here's the official Safer Internet Day site and more from the BBC on Safer Internet Day, in which 50 countries were expected participate this year. For its part, Ireland launched a national online-safety-education program for teachers, parents, and children, the Irish Times reports.

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Self-produced child porn: Good discussion

It's good to get the thinking of three legal scholars on this growing problem (I first picked up on it way back in 2004). They spoke at a University of Virginia Law School event entitled “Self-Produced Child Pornography: The Appropriate Societal Response to Juvenile Self-Sexual Exploitation,” Virginia Law Weekly reports. The professors talked about this phenomenon of teens voluntarily distributing pornographic pictures they have produced themselves. Prof. Mary Leary of Catholic University asked if this is a social or legal problem, or both. She reportedly said "it is the duty and responsibility of the government to intervene in the continued sexual objectification and eroticization of children, even if self-produced, in the rehabilitative settings of the juvenile justice system." Prof. Stephen Smith of UVA, said the ultimate goal is protecting children. "The role for criminal law should not include arresting and prosecuting these minors, but should be limited to rehabilitation.... A larger question posed by Smith was why kids would behave in this manner. He pointed to the simple fact that we live in a sexualized society where teenagers have sex. The median age of the first sexual experience is 16 for boys, 17 for girls." And "before we decide to criminalize, [the third panelist, UVA Prof. Anne] Coughlin argued, we must identify the additional harms created by the image. It is not enough to point to the harms created by other forms of child porn. Rather, we must specify what the harm is and who the victims are when consenting minors make images of and for themselves." I'm going to go long, here, because I feel her view is important: "She reminded the audience that American culture objectifies everybody, including children, who often receive mixed signals about the acceptability of their sexuality. Acknowledging that this is a serious social problem, Coughlin concluded that the criminal justice system was not an appropriate fix."

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Library bans social sites for PC security

The Lexington County Public Library is banning social-networking sites, but not for the reasons most people would probably come up with. "The primary reason for the decision was research that shows social-networking sites can make computer systems vulnerable to viruses," reports The State in Columbia, S.C. "The sites are becoming prime targets for malicious hackers," it cites network security experts as saying. "The library hasn’t encountered such problems, but library officials said they want to be proactive." This is another reminder of how important it is for home-based social networkers to be careful about what links they click on in comments, bulletins, etc., and about logging in more than once (some malicious hackers create fake log-in screens that grab user names and passwords).

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Monday, February 11, 2008

New game ratings for UK

Britain is working on a new game-ratings system to replace its old, unworkable one, The Guardian reports. "A legally enforceable cinema-style classification system is to be introduced for videogames in an effort to keep children from playing damaging games unsuitable for their age." The system will make it illegal to sell a game to a child below that game's recommended age (maybe not to a parent unaware of the game's rating?). Under the current system, videogames aren't affected by the UK's Video Recordings Act unless they depict "'gross' violence to humans or animals" or sex. Those require age limits, leaving "up to 90% of games on the market" rating-free. Some games are also classified voluntarily by a European system. "Policing such regimes is difficult as it is possible to buy games over the net and simply tick the box stating the purchaser is over 18."

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