Dear Subscribers:It's time parents were updated on where to turn when online kids are at risk! You'll find that update just below, and here's the complete lineup this second week of February:
- Online kids at risk: Who can help
- Family Tech: Tips for protecting kids' privacy (and other news)
- Black History on the Web
- Web News Briefs: On the school front; 1 billion by 2005; Pro-tech ed sec; Teens nix TV; DSL hell?; Drugs on the Net….
Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software, housewares,
PC hardware, music CDs, etc. Examples this week:
Jumpstart Spelling Grades 1-4 (Reg price $29.99, FREE after rebate)
Cobra 14-Channel 2-Way Radios (pair) (Reg price $99.00, $49.90 after rebate)
Portable Stereo Cassette by Citizen (Reg price $29.99, FREE after rebate)
Online kids at risk: Who can help
We're glad to report there is solid support out there for parents of online kids - and, in emergencies, the right kind of rapid-response help. It's great to see that the US "safety net" of resources for families facing online challenges is becoming quite seamless, providing everything from great online-safety ed on the Web to a live human voice at the other end of the phone. Here's an update on where to turn for what:
- In an emergency
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has had to define "emergency" because it has a whole reporting system that prioritizes and responds to reports of kids in danger. "If a child is contemplating running away, is traveling, or if s/he's been contacted by an individual who has made statements that he's coming to see her," those are emergencies that get immediate action at the NCMEC, Ruben Rodriguez told us this week. Mr. Rodriguez is director of the NCMEC's Exploited Child Unit.
Parents become aware of such situations in various ways. Examples Ruben gave us include the child saying, "somebody's coming to see me," parents finding an email about meeting in the PC "trash can," or the family's monitoring software turning up that information. There are some great online-safety-ed Web sites that offer signs to look for. For example, Cyberangels.org [as of spring 2000, WiredPatrol.org]has both victim and cyberstalker profiles in its Cyberstalking resource.
But "the first thing to do is contact local law enforcement if there's an implied or perceived threat to a child," Ruben told us. If parents do call the police, they'll probably get faster action if they use the words "crime against a child," not just "computer" or "Internet crime."
"You have over 18,000 independent police agencies in the US, and the majority have 30 or fewer officers," Ruben told us. That means fewer resources for Internet-related crime than for "real-world" crime, so there may not be as quick a response at the local police department to the phrase "computer crime," especially in small towns and rural areas. However, Ruben added, law-enforcement [in the US and probably most countries] is a small, tight community in which "everybody talks among themselves and knows who can do what," so police officers - and the NCMEC, which is very plugged in to that network - will know who in the network to connect parents with quickly.
Which leads to the No. 2 place to go in an emergency: the NCMEC, via either its Web-based CyberTipline.com (where you type information into a Web form) or its phone hotline (1-800-843-5678 or 1-800-THE-LOST).
"The Web's better," Ruben said. It cuts out one step - you type the info in (to the Web form) instead of the NCMEC hotline operator, who has to interview you in order to type it in. The info goes directly into a database to which both the FBI and US Customs also have real-time access. An NCMEC analyst views the information immediately and "looks at the threat level to a child," Ruben explained. If it's deemed top-priority, they contact the parent immediately, "do searches at our end [for the right kind of help], then contact law enforcement in the jurisdiction of responsibility."
Our own research indicates that, for some time, no organization in the US has known better than the NCMEC which law-enforcement agencies could handle what Net-related cases. That's still true, but now it also appears that no organization can take action more quickly, except for local police themselves - so, parents, it's a good idea to contact both in an emergency.
- Non-emergencies (information, support)
And what if a parent has concerns about a child's activities online but the situation doesn't seem urgent? Ruben offered an example: someone's sending a child pornographic images. That's illegal, he said, and law enforcement wants to know about it, but - because not an immediate threat to a child - it's ranked lower-priority.
For this situation, too, CyberTipline.com is one good place to go. An NCMEC analyst will get the report to the right authorities and get back to the parent as well - just not quite as fast as in an emergency. And because it has basically become the "main switchboard" for all exploited-children issues, the National Center can also give parents guidance on where to get information, on the Net and out in the "real world." Its analysts receive calls about everything from porn spam (unsolicited junk email with URLs to sexually explicit Web sites) to what filtering software to use. "We don't endorse, we educate," Ruben told us. Analysts will go into the functions, limitations, and advantages of different types of software. If they can't answer a question, Ruben told us, "we say, 'we'll get right back to you,' and we'll make some phone calls to get [the caller] the right solutions."
There are two other organizations offering hands-on help in the non-emergency category: Cyberangels and SOC-UM (Safeguarding Our Children-United Mothers). They are where parents can go to "talk to" (usually via email) fellow parents if they have questions about potential child exploitation online. Both organizations have trained volunteers, some of whom have experienced child online-safety concerns and crises in their own lives.
SOC-UM focuses specifically on sexual exploitation of children. Cyberangels is broader in scope, with teams of volunteers that patrol the Internet for fraud and scams, monitor chat rooms, and seek out sites that promote or link to pedophilia. They know how to use software and other technologies to track the online activities of cyberstalkers and other predators, and they have ties to law enforcement so that they know what evidence to turn over, when, and to what agency. And Cyberangels is on its way to being as global as the Internet, with an international division that works closely with UNESCO's Innocence in Danger program and police agencies in many countries. For those outside the US, CA may be able to refer you to the police agency in your country that can help.
Cyberangels is a major force in prevention and online-safety education for parents, but they also provide support for concerned parents via email. There's a page at Cyberangels.org where parents can go to reach key people in every division - from the Net Patrol Cyberstalking team to the International Division to the Angel (online) Support. Contact is by email, not phone. There's also a "911 Emergency Reporting Form" in the site, but as of this writing we weren't able to obtain an answer from Cyberangels about how, and how fast, they respond to these reports. At the bottom of the form, the organization does say, "The 911 report is here to provide emergency service in life and death cases in the case that someone is in immediate danger."
SOC-UM's reporting mechanism is only for sending URLs of pedophile Web sites or sites that appear to be child pornography (porn involving children, which is illegal - please read "Important Note" in the orange box on this page at GetNetWise.org).
However, founder and CEO Debbie Mahoney sends the message that SOC-UM is there for any parent concerned that a child is being victimized: "When a parent's concerned that something may be going on but doesn't have anything definite, that's when we can help." SOC-UM has a child online safety team that, with tracking and tracing software, can help a parent find out where suspicious email's coming from or if something's hidden on a child's computer (e.g., the picture of someone the parents don't know or a software application they didn't know was there). The team can be reached via Friend7192@aol.com, or email Debbie at email@example.com. Debbie said someone will always respond within 12 hours.
"I think what we can do is give parents the tools to be able to protect their children online," Debbie said. "We can tell them the things they need to look out for as well as anyone can. As a parent you wouldn't drop your child off in the middle of San Francisco and say, 'Ok, go have fun,' but parents let their children sit unsupervised with no monitoring in front of a computer and say they're safe. So we try to educate parents."
- For more information
- CyberTipline.com at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children - besides local police, the best resource in North America for getting help fast for online kids at risk.
- Internationally, INHOPE.org's index to hotlines (mostly for reporting child pornography) in a number of European countries - supported by the European Commission.
- ChatDanger.com from London-based Childnet International - the best resource on the Web for staying safe in online chat.
- GetNetWise.org - a very complete online-safety resource, including an Online Safety Guide detailing risks to online kids by age levels, a searchable database of online-safety tools (e.g., filtering, monitoring, time-out software), and a guide to "Reporting Trouble."
- SOC-UM's resource page - linking to email and discussion board help, information, and other resources on sexually related crimes against children.
- Cyberangels.org's very complete primer on cyberstalking - what is and isn't illegal, who to go to, and how cyberstalkers operate - among many other online-safety topics.
- SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com from the Online Safety Project - educational sites containing practical advice by a parent (and author and family tech expert Larry Magid) for parents, teens, and kids. (OSP and Net Family News, Inc., are publishing partners.)
- A ZDNet article on the downside of online privacy - a bit old, but it paints the picture clearly. One link in the piece no longer works; here's the new link to Ethical Hackers Against Pedophilia.
Parents, if you've found and benefited from other online-safety services and would like to spread the word, do email us about them - especially how they've been helpful.
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Family Tech: Kids' online privacy
At last! "Cookies" for the layman and age-appropriate kids' privacy tips. To make it very easy for parents to get a handle on what long seemed a complex subject, Nickelodeon asked SafeKids.com's Larry Magid to write its privacy tips. They're helpfully divided into three categories: "…If You Have Kids Age 9 & Under" and "…If You Have Teens & Preteens" and clearly written "Privacy Guidelines for Grownups". That last chunk explains cookies, viruses, browser history files, and how to protect credit cards. Subscribers, if you have any tips or resources to add, do email us.
CARU & kids privacy
In other online-privacy news this week, the Children's Advertising Review Unit (of the Better Business Bureau) is the first organization to win Federal Trade Commission approval as a "safe harbor program" for kids Web sites. That means CARU has the FTC behind it when CARU says a kids' Web site adequately protects children's privacy and complies with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (which the FTC enforces). CARU has been protecting children from unfair and deceptive advertising practices since 1974.
The bottom line for parents: We can rest assured that at least the kids' Web sites published by CARU's supporters will be good protectors of kids' online privacy. More safe harbor programs are in the pipeline at the FTC, including those of TRUSTe.org and the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
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Black History on the Web
The Web has some outstanding resources for students, teachers, and families to mark Black History Month (February) - with the stories of great African Americans past and present. Here's just a sampler of what there is to learn:
- At NationalGeographic.com, visitors can get a glimpse of the conditions, helpers, and choices to be made along the Underground Railroad, from a farm in Maryland to the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. There is a reminiscent audio/video "trip" to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, with former Teacher of the Year Peggy Steele Clay, who grew up in Alabama during that history-making time. There's also much to learn elsewhere in the site about Rosa Parks, Texas's thousands of black cowboys after the Civil War, and - between 1915 and 1970 - the migration of millions on the Blues Highway from the South to Chicago.
- The Christian Science Monitor's "Black History Project" focuses more on people who are making history now! There are interviews with, to name just a few, South Africa's Nelson Mandela; filmmaker Michael Greaves about his documentary "Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey" that debuted at last month's Sundance Film Festival; Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's 18th district in southeast Africa; and Nic Lotte, the first black student body president at the University of Mississippi.
- InfoPlease.com has a fund of straightforward, encyclopedic information in a special section about Black History - its history as an academic discipline; a timeline; important cities; and blacks in literature, the sciences, the arts, the military, and sports; with quizzes on it all for teachers.
Subscribers, tell us how you're marking Black History Month at home and school - and how you're using the Net to do so.
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Web News Briefs
- On the school front
It's a dream come true for the Web Commission (which recently released a study calling for just this): Every Arizona public school will have broadband Internet access by 2003, according to Newbytes.com. More than 800,000 K-12 students in 228 school districts reportedly will benefit. [Here's a commentary by SafeKids.com's Larry Magid on the Education Commission's recommendations.] And in other school news, here's a New York Times story about a classroom in Omaha, Neb., that has a computer for every student in a school where every student has an email account. English teacher Brad Fuerst has managed turn that classroom into a truly paperless one (and it's working for students, too!).
- A billion by 2005
That's the figure for the worldwide online population from market research firm eTForecasts, reports TheRegister.com. Right now "there are just over 400 million people globally who can get online," the researchers said. Most of the growth will be in Asia, Latin America, and parts of Europe, where wireless access will be more popular. The study showed that 62% of the billion Net users will be surfing "wire-free," except in the US and UK, where "two-thirds of people will still be wire-bound."
- Pro-tech ed secretary
The US's new secretary of education, Roderick Paige, has a strong ed-tech record, according to Wired News. Paige's last job was superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. Wired reports that "Houston's public schools have one of the largest education technology networks in the country with a wide area network over 300 sites, including schools and administrative buildings."
- Teens: TV is 'background noise'
A recent survey shows that "young, sophisticated Net users" find TV to be expendable. According to Cyberatlas, an Arbitron/Edison Media Research study "found that one-third of Americans with Internet access at home would give up television if forced to choose between television and the Internet." And they coined a new term: "streamies" - people who have listened to or viewed streaming media online. "Forty-one percent of are more likely to get rid of their TV set than their Net access." Age made a different, too: "Americans between the ages of 12 and 24 are more apt to give up television (47%) than the Internet." It's the other way around for Americans 25+, by a much bigger percentage: 66% pick TV.
- DSL 'rhymes with hell'
A lot of Americans are complaining about their high-speed DSL Internet service, but even more are complaining that they can't get it. At least that's what one DSL provider - the Eastern-US phone company Verizon - told Wired News. Despite the installation horror stories, Wired reports that there are more than 1.8 million residential DSL customers in the US now, and their numbers are growing by 40-60% every three months. Meanwhile, Verizon faces a class-action lawsuit from unhappy customers in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., according to TheRegister.com. The law firm filing the suit says the phone company is marketing in a way that gives the impression it can handle the business. Techweb.com has a story on how DSL looks to small businesses, with the paradox of complaints and strong demand here, too.
- Drugs on the Net
"Codeine. Amphetamines. Morphine Sulfate. You name it," reports Wired News, referring to how easy it is to go online and obtain drugs without a prescription - from just one Mexico-based Web site. The article leads with Dan Parsons's findings after typing "buy narcotics" into a search engine and turning up 19,000 responses. Mr. Parsons is vice president of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Houston.
- Teen dot-commers can teach lessons
All those dot-coms sending out pink slips and closing up shop could've learned a thing or two from high school students Ruchit Shah and Richard Hecker. According to Wired News, they launched the $1 million Clickzen.com with $280 in cash and an $800 bank loan in April 2000, smack in the middle of the dot-com "correction." Their business model? "Make more money than you spend."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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