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Friday, February 22, 2008

Twist: Porn provider calls for child protection

The "world's biggest adult film studio" is calling on some of the Web's biggest sites to do more to protect children from adult content. Vivid Entertainment co-founder Steven Hirsch said he was planning to "make his case publicly" at Yale's School of Management during the university's "Sex Week," Agence France Presse reports. He told AFP he planned to make his case publicly during a lecture at Yale's School of Management on February 16, during the Ivy League university's "Sex Week."

There's no way of telling how much of Mr. Hirsch's announcement is marketing (many adult content companies want to send the message that they're protecting kids and so legitimate because not involved in the distribution of illegal child pornography). With his announcement, he is joining a high-profile call by US state attorneys general for online age verification, the technology for which certainly exists but not answers to substantive questions about how to protect children's privacy if it were to be put in place in US-based Web sites (see "Social networking age verification revisited" and "UK data security breach & kids"). Of course, any US requirement for age verification would not affect sites based in other countries, raising concerns that such a requirement would establish a false sense of security among parents and send workaround-seeking youth to offshore sites.

Hirsch directed his pre-announcement announcement at Google and Yahoo, both of which detailed for AFP the protections they do have in place: filtered search, a response system for user complaints about adult content, support for online-safety education, and participation in an Age Authentication Task Force being formed by MySpace and 49 state attorneys general (see this about MySpace's agreement with the attorneys general last month).


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ireland's social-Web guide for parents

Ireland's Ministry of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has just published a parents' guide to social networking, technology news site ENN reports. "The guide explains what social networking Web sites are and how they operate, all in a user-friendly format." The beauty of this is how available the booklet will be and that it's free. The government will distribute it through libraries, community information centres, credit unions, and Web sites, and mobile-phone companies will do so through their retail outlets. Please see the article for links. And - forgive the shameless self-promotion - my co-author and I published such a Parent's Guide to Teen Social Networking in the US and UK a couple of years ago (see with Peachpit Press and Pearson Education.

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Social networking ever more international

Its appeal is both local and international. USATODAY offers a snapshot of how social networking is doing around the world, and even though US-based services have been expanding internationally for some time, most are doing so in a "local" (or national and regional way) with a lot of local competition (such as in Japan, Naseeb in Pakistan, StudiVZ in Germany, and in France). "This year, MySpace is opening operations in Russia, Turkey, Poland and Portugal, among others" and is in 9 of the "top 10 Internet markets," USATODAY reports. Though Facebook says it's the exception in not launching separate sites for individual countries, look at its growth outside the US: "In September 2006, 7% of Facebook's 10 million active users were outside the USA; today, 60% of its 63 million active users are." There are good business reasons for this growth: "About 80% of the world's estimated 1.2 billion Internet users are outside the USA," USATODAY adds, and " half the $40 billion online advertising market is." The numbers are pretty amazing. According to comScore MediaMetrix figures USATODAY cites, this past November, there were 173.5 million social networkers in the Asia-Pacific region, the No. 1 in this category of Web use; that's a 50% increase over the figure for November 2006. But look at the increase for the Middle East/Africa, the 5th-biggest social-networking region in the article's chart: 23.8 social-networking users and a 69% increase over a year ago.


Bulgaria discusses youth online safety

Bulgaria's public discussion about children's online safety just got a boost from a national roundtable on the subject, reports. The roundtable was held by Microsoft Bulgaria, Bulgarian child portal and the Blagodeyatel Foundation. Presented at it was a survey of Sofia children 6-14, which found that all of them use the Net. Most of their parents "say they control their children" online, half say they have concerns about their child using the Internet, and more than 90% say they don't have any parental-control software installed on the computers in their homes. "According to parents, the biggest threats to children online [are] malevolent strangers, Web sites with inappropriate content, games featuring violence, among others." The survey also found that 9-to-15-year-old Bulgarian children are the most active online. Eighty-one percent of Bulgarian kids use the Net from their homes and 38% use the Net every day.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

'Predator' myths exposed: Study

Despite all that parents hear, "sites such as MySpace and Facebook do not appear to increase [children's] risk of being victimized by online predators," according to a new analysis by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. US society has been overreacting, the CACRC's article in American Psychologist, "Online 'Predators' and Their Victims," indicates. Another myth, the Seattle Times reports, is that "Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates," when in fact sexual assaults against teens "fell 52% from 1993 to 2005" (US Justice Dept. figures). A third myth is that online predators "represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse," when in fact most Net-related crimes against minors "are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults." Another finding by the Center at the University of New Hampshire was that "most [teen] victims meet online offenders face to face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex" - they were generally not deceived by the offenders about the offenders' age or intentions (only 5% of offenders posed as other teens). One more myth: that online predators "go after any child." In fact the young people at greatest risk are "adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation.... Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual-orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk." See also "Profile of a teen online victim," "Online victimization: Facts emerging," and Reuters's coverage of this study. Here's the article in the February-March 2008 issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Participatory justice

NPR aired a story about a shop owner whose security cam recorded a thief scooping up and making off with a couple of watches. "After filing a police report, [the retailer] handed out fliers with the suspects' pictures and posted the surveillance tape on YouTube." Whether the motive is public humiliation or catching the thief, the Internet is increasingly being used to "right" wrongs. To law enforcement, it's a little scary because when people or organizations like Perverted Justice (the group used by NBC Dateline for its "To Catch a Predator" series) take matters into their own hands online or offline, they can make it even harder to bring the perpetrator to justice. People not trained in gathering the kind of evidence that holds up in court can botch the legal process and make things much easier for the people breaking the law. Fortunately, the retailer NPR led its story with filed a police report and offered a reward with the YouTube video only for tips that he could hand over to the police. "Police caught the thief late last month after the watches were spotted in a pawn shop down the street," NPR reports.

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Facebook & user privacy

Ya gotta hand it to Facebook for responsiveness to public concerns (and news media reports on said). No way to be sure we have a perfect cause-and-effect situation here, but one week in January we hear from CNET that it's really hard to delete a profile from Facebook and the UK government is concerned, sharing that concern with the BBC and The Telegraph. Then the New York Times chimes in on the subject a couple of weeks later, following that report two days later with "Quitting Facebook Gets Easier." "The updated Facebook help page now includes the question “How do I delete my account?” With this last piece, the Times has made a man named Nipon Das - who tried to delete his Facebook account for two months and likened the experience to "Hotel California," our of where, the Eagles song goes, you can check out any time but can never leave - "a mascot for disgruntled Facebook users," the Times says.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Stealing personality?!

First there were identity theft and cut 'n' plagiarism. Now there's cut 'n' paste personality theft, the Wall Street Journal reports. It's more sad than threatening. "These identity thieves don't want your money. They want your quirky sense of humor and your cool taste in music." The Journal says people are not just stealing others' jokes, but their favorites films, books, "life philosophies, even signature poems." It brings new meaning to the phrase, "Get a life." In a way, it's also a sign that social networking is demanding something pretty cool; to have an interesting profiled, it helps to be well-read, have some musical interests of a certain depth, have something to put out there for friends to see. But back to the downside: Stealing these things from others it's similar to the laziness of plagiarism and it's yet another indicator of the crying need for teaching ethics - not just cyberethics, certainly, because, at least to young people, this is about identity exploration, socializing, basically just life.

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