Dear Subscribers:This issue is devoted to your good thinking, as found in your emails to us over the last few weeks.... Here's our lineup for this final full week of July:
- Family Tech: Porn spam law needed
- Subscribers write: Filtering images; Online diaries; Families learning lessons
- Clever new search engines
- Web News Briefs: Net doesn't isolate; Global quilting bees; Teen vs. adult surfers; 'Interview with God' online; MSN's embarrassment; Canada-based pedophile sites; Hunger Site shut down; Computer camp....
Support us and shop at... Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software,
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Joy of Cooking CD-ROM (Regularly $27.99, FREE after Instant Rebate)
Argus Digital Camera (Regularly $169.99, $69.99 after Instant Rebate)
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Family Tech: Porn spam law needed
A proposed law sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) puts the tools to fight porn spam in the right hands: those of parents. That's what SafeKids.com's Larry Magid suggests in this week's column for the San Jose Mercury News. He likes the concept (the bill is modeled on current postal laws requiring labeling of sexually explicit "junk mail," empowering the recipient without restricting free speech), but says the bill and its language are both a bit flawed. You'll appreciate the column's balance, with both a concerned-but-informed parent's perspective, as well as that of the American Civil Liberties Union. The piece also gives a snapshot of the complexities of legislating protection for online kids. (For the breaking news on this, see our report July 13.)
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Subscribers write: Filtering images; Online diaries; Family online lessons
The email you send us really enriches this news service! Publishing your feedback benefits fellow parents, we feel. So here's the cream of what we've received lately, with a few responses from us.
- Online diaries & teens
Subscriber and parent Laura in Washington, D.C., recently emailed us about a concern she has about online diaries. We did a bit of research and have condensed the results and our email conversation here:
"I am trying to find information about OpenDiary.com. My daughter has used the site to post diary entries, and I am uncomfortable with that because I discovered that anyone can get to her entries and post reactions.... I checked [the site], which has a rule that participants must be at least 13 years old. My daughter is not yet 13 but managed to post on the site. (The companion site, TeenDiary.com, does not have the 13+ rule, so I'm not sure what difference the age restriction makes.) Do you have any specific information about this site or know where I could get information?"
Net Family News: "OpenDiary.com is one of many popular 'community' sites on the Web, with a diary twist. It's like the ultimate 'vanity press,' in that absolutely anyone can 'publish' their thoughts for free. This particular one, along with its spinoffs TeenOpenDiary.com and QuitSmoking.OpenDiary.com, is a partner of/in WomensForum.com, one of the top women's sites on the Web. A fairly old but useful USAToday.com piece about OpenDiary.com shows how addictive these sites can be for their users.
What's extremely important for your daughter to be aware of for her own protection in any community site is that - if she doesn't choose the "Private Diary" option - she must never post any personally identifiable information - last name, phone number, school name, address, or even town. By "posting" we mean within diary entries and in user profiles (it's best to leave profiles blank). Ideally, screen names don't even give away a user's gender.
Jodi Turek, president of WomensForum.com, assured us that all their partners comply with online-safety laws and rules, including the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). She said that not giving out personal data is one of the rules of their diary sites and, if any such information is posted, it's deleted (we can't say how quickly).
Laura: "Thanks for your quick and helpful response on Opendairy.com. The USAToday article is very much in the vein of a later article from the Washington Post (June 19, 2001): "Teen Diaries, Online." Both articles ignore the safety issues. I've found that even with the admonition to my daughter that she should not use her own name or post personally identifiable information, the responses to her entries from her school friends do (probably inadvertently) give information which could be pieced together to provide some rather personal details of a teen's life, even if they don't give a phone number or street address. I gather that part of the thrill of this type of site is hearing from lots of other people, so - even if one chooses the "Private Diary" option, (which I couldn't figure out when I visited the site a few minutes ago) - a diarist gets feedback and can start chats with people they don't know.
"I realize that part of my discomfort with the OpenDiary phenomenon is that it really is not safe for teens to talk to people they don't know. However, teens generally don't seem to see it that way and think that they will never get into trouble - just like they think they will never get into a car accident if they drive just a bit too fast or recklessly."
- Filtering sexually explicit images
Several weeks ago an email from subscriber Candy in Kansas sparked some eye-opening research, which we published in the July 13 issue. Here are several responses to that feature, including Candy's own....
Candy in Kansas: "I want to thank you for featuring my message so quickly in your newsletter. The investigations performed by your staff were very helpful to me and other readers, as well. I'm disappointed to learn that filtering images is going to be quite a task. I'll continue reading your newsletter weekly for any updated material regarding this matter. As far as the suggestion that was made to me regarding the use of a 'firewall': I have been using ZoneAlarm for the past 6 months. I took your adviser's advice and blocked Morpheus from being accessible on our computer. Now I need to block the other peer-to-peer Web sites that were listed. Thanks so much for the help that you and your newsletter provide for all of us in 'Internet Land'."
Terry in New Jersey: "In all the time that I have been using the computer (20 years), I have never ran across a porn site, and neither have my kids. I guess that is because we do not look for such things and are careful where we go in the first place. I now have a 4-year-old grandchild that uses my computers and she has been taught how to use a computer. I believe that if a parent teaches a child right in the first place, they really do not have to worry about such things.
"One of the things I will not allow my children to have on the computer is a Hotmail mailbox because they get a lot of porn in those mailboxes.... I run a Web ring off of Yahoo, and I will not accept a site into the ring that I feel is not child-safe. I feel that the Web should be controlled more for the safety of our children."
Subscriber and author Ken in Georgia: "As the author of '300 Incredible Things for Kids on the Internet' and '1001 Incredible Things for Kids on the Internet,' I have to be very careful about our content. So here's the scoop: It's getting very tough to filter this stuff out. For example, another great music site is KaZaA.com [here's a description at CNET]. However, one of its features is video. Instantly, you can download XXX videos. Recently Google.com - no doubt the best search engine on the Net - introduced the site Images.Google.com [see "Sexual images & filtering"]. It's a super site. However, any images on the Net can be found. Just thought you'd want to know."
We asked Ken if he has kids and, if so, what he does to address challenges like Candy's. Here's what he wrote:
"Yes, I do have two teenagers (a boy and girl). I have had to deal with all the issues related to the 'stuff' on the Net. I have always taken the approach of open conversation with my kids. It's important to note that, in addition to Web content, our kids are exposed to a tremendous amount of things that challenge us. Just flipping the channels on TV can take you to explicit material on HBO, MTV, Howard Stern, and much more. Of course, movies and other traditional media take the challenge up a notch.
"We have never used filters in our home. I prefer to have open conversations and dialogue. In these challenging times, I think personal responsibility is an important part of the equation....
- One family's online lessons
Janet in Japan: Referring to last week's profile of 14-year-old Mary and mom Laura, subscriber and parent Janet in Aomori Prefecture, Japan, emailed us about her own family's online setup:
"Interesting family story! Just emphasizes in my mind the need to rearrange our computer room furniture. We now have them back-to-back in the middle of the room, but I've been contemplating turning them around. Danielle, our 11-year-old, has never abused Internet privileges, but she will now be homeschooling with an online school. We also just networked our computers so she can access the Internet from her own computer instead of just mine. After reading this, I definitely feel I need to increase the ease of surveillance so we can better assure that she doesn't abuse her Internet privileges. Thanks."
Diane in Illinois: "Thank you for sharing this information. It is hard to believe so much can happen right under your very nose. I am not Internet savvy, but I do recognize that I need some control over my daughter's access. We have had our talks about the Internet and its dangers and that I did not want her in chat rooms. Her reply was that she does not chat with strangers, she only chats with her friends that she know already and have their screen names.
"My lightbulb came on when all of a sudden all her friends started coming over and not doing their usual activities. They are constantly on the PC. Silly me, I thought they were using the educational software I buy. Anyway, a relative has informed me that, during a sleepover, my daughter and her cousins were in the chat room talking to older guys."
Subscribers, we always welcome emails about online experiences at your house. Send them any time to email@example.com!
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Clever new search engines
Our thanks to SearchEngineWatch.com for pointing out SurfWax.com. Not only does it deliver results from the top 11 search engines and directories, it "lets you go under its hood and customize your options in numerous useful ways," Search Engine Watch reports - such as actually telling it how many results you want and how you want them sorted. The reviewer especially liked the SurfWax's "SiteSnaps" feature on the right of the results page. Click on the little magnifying glass next to any of the results and SiteSnaps displays a snapshot of "all the pertinent information SurfWax has used to determine the relevance of that Web page to your search request.
Writers at UK-based TheRegister.com have a new favorite for their Web searches (of which reporters do many!) - one that, for them, rivals Google.com, they say, and they are big fans of Google. It's called Teoma.com. Here's the clever way they explain the difference: "Google asks about a certain expert in a field and then goes and takes a poll from people in the street over which one they think is best. Teoma would ask all the experts in the field which one of themselves they think is best." It's a bit like the way juried academic articles get published. But Teoma's not perfect, so read the article to get the minuses as well as more pluses. (To be fair, Teoma Technologies says its search engine is still in beta.)
After its Teomoa.com review, The Register got reader emails with their own new favorites. So Register checked them out and found three more in "More great search engines you should check out". And - no doubt more than you'll ever want to look at (but some of these are for specialized searches) - SearchEngineWatch.com offers an at-a-glance list of 12 more!
Try them and tell us what you think!
Search engines: Caveat emptor
While we're on the subject, CNET ran an Associated Press report that consumer activist Ralph Nader recently filed a complaint concerning search engine with the Federal Trade Commission. He says "many online search engines are concealing the impact special fees have on search results by Internet users."
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Web News Briefs
- Net doesn't isolate, actually
"Never mind" might be considered the very basic message of Dr. Robert Kraut's latest survey. The Carnegie Mellon professor caused quite a stir when his first social-effects-of-the-Internet survey (three years ago) found that Net use increases loneliness and depression. Many of us thought of the Internet as a tool for community. But, according to the New York Times, Professor Kraut's new data, which the Times says will appear in the Journal of Social Issues next spring, seems to contradict the earlier findings. "Following up with the subjects of his first study, he found that the symptoms of depression had declined and that loneliness no longer appeared to be significantly associated with Internet use," the Times reports.
- Global quilting bees
And while we're on the subject of virtual community, here's a perfect example of how the Internet enhances age-old communities: "The Globalization of Quilting" from WashingtonPost.com. The piece has links to quilters' own Web sites and descriptions of how they hold quilting bees and frenzies online.
- Web use: Teens vs. adults
Two trends seem to contradict each other: 1) More than 75% of Americans 12-17 (17 million+) surf the Web each month, while only 42% of US adults do; but 2) adults spend three times as much time on the Web as teens do. The explanation looks to be teen online proficiency. According to TheStandard.com, teenagers find what they need right away and log off, whereas adults "tend to wander around cyberspace." Teens also try more online activities: "Three-quarters of them use instant messaging, compared with 44% of adults. More than half download music online, while only 29% of adults have done so. Even more surprising still, teenagers are more likely to read news and check sports scores online than adults," The Standard reports.
- Online 'Interview with God'
More than 10 million people have visited Reata.org, according to mother and University of Alabama Web designer, Reata Strickland. Her site is where the "Interview with God" program that she wrote resides. There is no commercial explanation for the site's popularity, though the businessmen at Beliefnet.com had a fairly cynical explanation, shared with Wired News's reporter. Chalk it up to the best in "viral [word-of-mouth] marketing," because Reata certainly had no money to advertise the site. She created the piece for the Methodist ministry's Tuscaloosa District office, after it asked her to update their Web site. She does not claim authorship of the words - "all I did was take His words and add photos and movement," she writes in the site (and those photos are lovely). The Wired piece takes a snapshot of faith and spirituality on the Web (a subject we plan to address more thoroughly soon).
- MSN's embarrassment
The Microsoft Network had to scramble to fix an embarrassing problem this week. According to British tech-news provide Vnunet.com, "Microsoft has been forced to fix a bug in its MSN Communities Web site that exposed users' personal image files to all and sundry. Aside from the obvious security implications, the glitch also revealed that 9 out of 10 MSN Communities users have online collections of hardcore porn, and thousands of people have now seen it." A member with programming skills discovered the problem and created a "Magic Link" that let people view photos that other members had stored in their personal areas in the site - what most users had previously thought to be "family photos, party snaps, holiday pix, and graduation shots." The "glitch" was fixed Tuesday. For more on images in cyberspace, as well as the latest on trying to filter them, see our lead feature 8/13.
- Canada-based pedophile sites
When they were shut down in the United States, the publishers of "sites that offer advice, pictures, and discussion groups for men who 'love boys' " simply moved them to Montreal. According to Canada's NationalPost.com the ultimate host of the site, the Canadian branch of MCI/WorldCom (Internet provider Epifora Inc. buys access to the Internet from WorldCom), says Canadian law enforcement agencies have told WorldCom the sites are not illegal, so it won't take action against them. The Post quotes a US children's advocate in saying that Canadian law regarding pedophilia on the Internet is "notoriously weak." Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this story out.
- Hispanic Netizens
Half of US Hispanics are now online, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That figure is up 25% in the past 12 months, Pew has found, with 78% of Hispanics surveyed saying they go online at least three-to-five times a week "Compared to online whites, Hispanics with Internet access are more likely to have browsed the Web for fun, listened to music online, downloaded music, played online games, looked for information about books and movies, and sampled audio and video clips," Pew reports. As for more serious online pursuits, key findings include:
- 61% have done school-research or job training.
- 51% have sought health and medical information.
- 50% have conducted work-related research.
- 41% have done job hunting.
- 28% have browsed for new places to live.
- Net banned in Afghanistan
It wasn't a great surprise when Afghanistan's ruling Taliban banned Internet use in that country earlier this month (here's Reuters's report via ZDNet). This week Britain's TheRegister.com ran a piece with a feminist's view of the real reason why the fundamentalist Islamic regime finds the Internet unsavory. (Hint: It's not just because of the "obscenity, vulgarity and anti-Islamic" material on the Net.) While we're on the subject (of feminism not political repression), here's an interesting New York Times piece on art activists Guerrilla GirlsGGBB.org. The new site encourages user participation, and, "so far, its most useful feature is a set of nine "Letters to Bad Bosses."
- The Hunger Site shuts down
As sad manifestation of the dot-com meltdown was the closing of GreaterGood.com, operators of The Hunger Site and the Rain Forest Site. "The Hunger Site alone attracted about 600,000 visitors a day and brought in more than $4 million in donations for the UN World Food Program, America's Second Harvest and Mercy Corps International," reports the Associated Press (via CNET). The piece cited the decline in online advertising revenues.
- Computer camp's benefits...
...to an 11-year-old. It was a fun way for the New York Times's Katie Hafner to lead her story about computer vs. other types of summer camp - through young Jeremy's eyes. He would much prefer 12 hours in front of a computer to a similar chunk of time spent at art, tennis, sailing, or soccer camp. This piece gives insights into how that time is spent, why some kids like it, and how much it generally costs.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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