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Friday, January 02, 2009

Filtering improved

The European Commission funded a just-completed three-year study of parental-control tools, and the results are now available. With the help of 140 testers (parents and teachers), the researchers studied 26 tools, from filtering to computer security, server- and family-computer-based. They looked at the tools' appropriateness for three age groups: 6-10, 11-14, and 15-16 (here are the testing criteria). On the accuracy of filtering technology, they report: "While we observed significant improvements in the filtering of pornographic content between 2006 and 2007, we stated last year that non-pornographic but harmful content needed more accurate filtering techniques. We can report significant improvements in this area too, and we observed individual improvements for three filters that participated in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In general, we observe a very positive trend in filter accuracy." Seven of the filtering products received a less-effective score this past year over 2007, however. "Our tests revealed that these filters do detect more potentially harmful content, but at the expense of unduly overblocking harmless content." Here, too, from the Safer Internet program are basic online-safety guidelines in 9 languages. Thanks to QuickLinks for pointing out this info.

BTW, in case you wonder how kids do find workarounds for filters at home, school, etc. (besides going to the library, friends' houses, etc.), here's just one example on the Web: "How to Get Around Blocked Web Sites at School or Work: A Newbie's Guide."

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Oz filtering update

The protests are getting louder and their base is broadening, but so far the Australian government's nationwide filter plan is going forward. "Consumers, civil-rights activists, engineers, Internet providers and politicians from opposition parties are among the critics of a mandatory Internet filter that would block at least 1,300 Web sites prohibited by the government - mostly child pornography, excessive violence, instructions in crime or drug use and advocacy of terrorism," Yahoo News reports. Dubbed by critics as "the "Great Aussie Firewall," the Internet service provider-based filtering "promises to make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among democratic countries.... It would be "less severe than controls in Egypt and Iran, where bloggers have been imprisoned; in North Korea, where there is virtually no Internet access; or in China, which has a pervasive filtering system.... Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom have filters, but they are voluntary." The filtering is scheduled to be tested through next June and has yet to be approved by Parliament. One of the world's largest children's nonprofit organizations, Save the Children, questioned the allocation of funds earlier this month (see my item on this), but proponents question those who "believe freedom of speech is more important than limiting what children can access online," Yahoo reports. Part of people's concern, reports indicate, is about using a technology that's both flawed and significantly slows down connection speeds. "A laboratory test of six filters for the Australian Communications Media Authority found they missed 3-12% of material they should have barred and wrongly blocked access to 1-8% of Web sites. The most accurate filters slowed browsing speeds up to 86%."

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Watchdog's study on YouTube

The Parents Television Council recently did its first study of online media, logically deciding to focus on YouTube - I guess the Web site closest to replicating the broadcast medium, though far from the only video-sharing site youth use. "While we applaud YouTube for its commitment to gating procedures and its recently announced plans to curb inappropriate content [the PTC's research was done before YouTube's announcement this month], the core implication of our analysis is that the site isn't doing enough to protect kids," the PTC press release states (the release links to the full study). One of the "major findings" it highlighted was: "Children entering such 'child-friendly' search terms as 'Miley Cyrus,' 'Jonas Brothers,' 'High School Musical' and 'Hannah Montana' were confronted with highly offensive content in the accompanying text commentary posted by other site users." "Posted by other site users" is a key qualifier.

What's difficult, here, is that an organization focused on conventional mass media (providing regulated content produced by the broadcasters) is critiquing a social media provider (hosting media produced largely by its users). There is no denying the problems that arise when people of all ages use a huge general site and when some of the content users produce and share in the site is inappropriate for youth. The problems are not unique to any single site, not even to media-sharing sites or the Web itself (they're also found on wireless networks - see this on cellphone "sexting"). Yes, parents need to know that a site popular among kids has a whole lot of profanity and sexual innuendo in user comments associated with videos, but let's not compare apples to oranges - a user-driven medium to conventional media - and let's not get distracted from an important collective effort to educate parents and youth about the spectrum of youth risk online (including youth-generated online risk) by looking too much through the lenses of our own experience with media or thinking that adolescent behavior has changed a great deal when one of the realities we're dealing with is that age-old, sometimes shocking adolescent behavior is now a great deal more visible to parents. [Here's more on the PTC study, as well a blogger David Burt's own experience with YouTube search.]

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Safe New Year's partying online & off

Here's really good New Year's advice from MySpace's (and its parent Fox Interactive's) chief safety officer Hemu Nigam. I'm biased in saying this - I like what he's posting because it's what we've been saying to parents asking about safety on the social Web for years - in,, email, speaking engagements, and our book, MySpace Unraveled. Here's the best part: Whether we're talking about MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, YouTube, or any other site, safety on the social Web is not about technology; it's about behavior, human relationships - civility, consideration, and common sense. These are things parents and kids have been talking about since long before the telephone even, long before anything we think of as technology. "Too often it seems too complicated to talk to your teens about online safety," Nigam writes. "After all, it’s the online world and they know it better than you do. But is it? Did you know how a car engine works, what the transmission does, or how an airbag gets deployed when the car bumps something at 30 mph? Yet, you got right in there and taught your teen how to drive. Correction, you taught your teen how to drive safely.... You’ve done it all your life – these lessons on safety.... The world may have changed, but the lessons are still the same. Don’t stop the dialogue."

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Breastfeeders protest Facebook's terms

Actually not an atypical challenge for a social networking site's customer-service staff these days: one user's idea of obscenity is another's of beauty. The "nurse-in" protesting the site's decision in this particular case was staged by breastfeeding Facebook users. Led by Mothers International Lactation Campaign (MILC), "nearly a dozen mothers breastfed their babies" at Facebook's headquarters this past Saturday because the site - citing its Terms of Use - last month took down a profile photo of a Provo, Utah, mom breastfeeding her six-month-old daughter, Palo Alto Online reports. It added that later in the month, Facebook removed a second photo she posted. The mother said that she sent Facebook two emails requesting an explanation and never heard back. In a written statement, Facebook said it "does not allow photos with a visible nipple or areola but the company takes no action on breastfeeding photos unless other users complain." In this case, it said, another user did complain that the Utah mother's images were obscene.

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RIAA to stop suing 'pirates'

After suing some 35,000 people since 2003, the RIAA apparently has decided to stop going after individual file-sharers for pirating music - well, most of them. What the recording industry trade association "should have said," CNET blogger Greg Sandoval reports, "is that it won't go after most people who illegally file share. My music industry sources say that the RIAA will continue to file lawsuits against the most egregious offenders - the person who 'downloads 5,000 or 6,000 songs a month is still going to get sued'." The main strategy now, reportedly, is to get Internet service providers to do the policing. The RIAA says it has preliminary agreements with some ISPs but won't say which, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Americans' cellphone texting costs

Both a US senator and a business professor writing about him in the New York Times found it a challenge recently to get to the bottom of cellphone texting's costs to customers vs. their costs to the cellphone carriers, given that the amount of texting Americans do has grown ten-fold in the past three years. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), chairman of the Senate antitrust subcommittee, was curious about why the cost of individual text messages (not unlimited plans) had doubled between 2005 and '08, and - when he asked the carriers - they spoke "at length about pricing plans without getting around to the costs of conveying text messages." Those costs did not go up anywhere near proportionately to the volume increase of text messages. The way the professor/commentator put it in the Times, "Customers with unlimited plans, like diners bringing a healthy appetite to an all-you-can-eat cafeteria, might think they’re getting the best out of the arrangement. But the carriers, unlike the cafeteria owners, can provide unlimited quantities of “food” at virtually no cost to themselves — so long as it is served in bite-sized portions [e.g., 160 characters per text]."

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