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November 9, 2001

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Family Tech: Junk email help

There's help for spam-clogged email in-boxes ("spam" is Internet slang for unsolicited commercial email). In his column for the Los Angeles Times this week,'s Larry Magid reviews "an excellent new book" on the subject - "Overcome E-Mail Overload," by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood ($29.95) - saying it's "at least partially helped him tame the e-mail beast." There are editions for both Eudora and Outlook Express email apps.

Here's one very helpful tidbit Larry passes along: "Don't respond to invitations to have your name removed from spam lists. This is how spammers verify that you're a real person. The result can be more spam, not less."

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Kids' Net safety in Europe

It's fascinating to watch how society processes a new challenge, which is exactly what kids' online safety presents to parents, educators, children's advocates, Internet businesses, and governments worldwide. In this giant jigsaw puzzle, each conversation with an expert in this field fills in the picture a bit more. A recent phone conversation with Nigel Williams, director of the nonprofit Childnet International in London, added a whole chunk of puzzle pieces to the picture.

As we mentioned last week, the US's biggest struggle - which explains why children's Internet protection laws keep getting challenged in court - is the need to protect kids while protecting everyone's free-speech rights. In Europe, multiple languages is a minor problem compared to the many countries' differing laws and definitions of "pornography" and "age of consent [to sexual activity]." And even in a single country, "age of consent" can be different from the age used in child pornography legislation, the Association of Internet Hotline Providers in Europe points out at its (the page shows 10 countries' approaches to these issues).

But Europe clearly has the will to protect its online kids, witness the European Commission's Safer Internet Action Plan and the way it has channeled funding into research, online-safety measures, coordination, and public awareness. "The first people to really recognize the issue [in Europe] were the European Commission," Nigel told us. We asked him why, and he pointed to the EC's fundamental focus on economic cooperation and trade. He explained with welcome candor that "the drive initially was the fear that the bad stories of the Net would prevent growth of this medium - growth that's important to the economic sector and manufacturing companies in Europe.... So they [specifically the EC's Directorate General] provided a place where governments could come and talk, then industry came in quite quickly, then organizations like ourselves."

This was happening around the time that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) was struck down by the Supreme Court in the States (June '97), Nigel pointed out, and Europe was watching closely: "There was quite a lot of feeling that we've got to do this better than the Americans." A US Senate legislative aide who worked on the law later told us that its writers never expected it to get past the Supreme Court - the CDA was a trial balloon. To be taken with a grain of salt, yes, but the comment says something about both the Internet, as a new medium in which to test the First Amendment, and about the US - the country where the Internet got its start - working through how to deal with this unruly new challenge.

Where Europe shines is its hotlines, and the international cooperation behind them. "By mid-'97 there were hotlines in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK," Nigel told us, "receiving reports from individual Internet users about child pornography largely." He told us they were all unique. The Norwegian one was started by a child welfare organization, "the Dutch one was put together by some Net users concerned about free-speech issues (they didn't want the Net to be tarnished by this)," the German one came out of the Internet industry, the British one was industry-funded but had a board with non-industry representatives.

Childnet, which spearheaded the UK hotline, was concerned about the need to coordinate all this, Nigel said, since all the hotlines were "receiving reports about similar material, having to work out what to do with the reports, how to relate to law enforcement, how to deal with volunteers, how to decide if material was illegal or not, how not to be infiltrated by pedophiles. So we got a grant from the EC to look at how we could all work together, and the results were very successful." One of the successful results was, the Association of Internet Hotline Providers in Europe. Now there are 13 child pornography hotlines in 11 countries, according to a report just given in Luxembourg for "Safer Internet Awareness Day" by Richard Swetenham of the EC's Information Society office. The latest iteration of this strength is the new educational Internet-safety hotlines for which the EC just this week announced it has allocated "semi-permanent" funding. These new hotlines will "help educate children and adults about the dangers of unsupervised Internet chat lines, as well as acting as an advisory and reporting mechanism for suspicious activities," reports Preference will be given to multi-country hotlines, the EC said.

Where the US shines is in tangible, emergency help for online kids at risk (from cyberstalkers, pedophiles, etc.) via the CyberTipline at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Behind the Tipline is unprecedented cooperation among police departments and law-enforcement agencies nationwide, the FBI, US Customs, and the US Postal Service. But that's another story - for next week.

Of course, this is only part of a huge, unfolding picture puzzle of worldwide efforts to protect online kids. What's clear already is, "we have to think internationally," as Nigel said. Here are some links toward a more complete picture:

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Web News Briefs

  1. The 'dot-kids' debate

    Who decides what's appropriate for all children? is one of the tough questions in the debate about whether kids should have their own "space" on the Internet and who decides what's in it. In recent discussion on Capitol Hill over a proposed bill to add a ".kids" top-level domain (TLD) to ".com," ".edu," ".org," etc., US lawmakers backed away from their original plan calling on ICANN (the international body that governs domain names, to establish a dot-kids TLD. ICANN's board had already "voted against the .kids suffix last November amid concerns about who would set the standards for child-appropriate material," reports, but US lawmakers tried to force the issue with legislation. The problem is, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nancy Victory told the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, other countries object to such a law because "the United States should not establish guidelines for the World Wide Web."

    Apparently realizing this to be true (or frustrated with ICANN's process), the lawmakers amended the law to create a kids' space under the ".us" TLD that the US government does control. According to eSchoolNews, the amended bill says that "only sites with material deemed appropriate for children under 13 could get a '' suffix. Participation by Web publishers would be voluntary, and the sites would be continuously monitored. A parent or school administrator could restrict a child's computer so it could visit only those sites. The bill would establish an independent board that would set criteria for use of ''." Here's's helpful addition to the discussion.

    But what do you think? How would a "fenced off" dot-kids area of the Net help protect online kids beyond the protections currently available? And do you think a US government-appointed body should decide what goes in it? Do email us via (This would be great material for a school debate!)

  2. New firewall flaws

    Techniques for exploiting weaknesses in popular firewall programs have been posted on the Web for anyone to try, making the firewalls that many of us use a lot less useful. "Software firewalls deployed by millions of PC users offer only 'illusory' protection against Trojan horses and other malicious programs, security experts warned," reported this week. Two such programs are Zone Alarm and Norton Personal Firewall. Zone Labs says it's working on a temporary fix that can be uploaded next week and a heftier one for Zone Alarm's next version. Symantec says it's likely to revise Norton Personal Firewall, but "computer users require anti-virus software and safe computing practices to prevent rogue programs from establishing a beachhead," according to Newbytes.

  3. Serious kids' privacy breach

    The psychological records of more than 60 children were accidentally posted on the University of Montana's Web site, the Los Angeles Times reported. The some 400 pages were on the Web eight days before the mistake was pointed out by a Montana newspaper and the records were removed. They described patient visits, conditions, and diagnoses, and in many cases contained names, birth dates, home addresses, schools attended, and results of psychological testing. The Times added that "the Montana case is the latest in a series of unauthorized disclosures of medical data over the Internet," but what sets this one apart is the youth of the patients. Our thanks to the Bureau of National Affairs Internet Law newsletter for pointing this story out.

  4. Tax break for kids' PCs?

    That's what Senators George Allen (R-VA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) want the Bush administration to add to its planned economic stimulus package. According to ZDNet, the senators' proposal "would give families a tax credit of up to $2,000 for purchases of computers and related products." More than 35 million families would be eligible for the tax credit, the senators say.

  5. UK survey on Net porn

    A survey by Britain's Consumer's Association found that 40% of UK Internet users have accidentally come across pornography while online, according to Reuters (via Yahoo News). The Association said that "parents among 7,000 people surveyed reported being shocked to come across pornographic Web sites, sometimes when browsing with their children."

  6. File-sharing & the future: New book

    This review in of Stanford U. professor Lawrence Lessig's new book explains the plethora of lawsuits against Napster and all the next-generation file-sharing services in its wake. It also gives some historical context to the current controversy. So this review, if not the book itself - "The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World" - is useful reading for students of copyright law and the Internet's impact on society. Plus, we enjoyed reviewer Marc Rotenberg's metaphor of copyright law as "the silly putty of media attorneys and Washington lobbyists, stretched in space and time to protect all manner of activity, including business techniques and technological protocols that were probably not the kinds of things initially envisioned by the framers of copyright law." As for copyright litigation, here's the latest news (from ZDNet): how a prominent civil liberties organization just got behind file-swapping service in the case against it, not just keeping this healthy debate alive, but escalating it. Meanwhile, file-sharing just got a lot easier, with Microsoft, America Online, and Yahoo having all added file-sharing enhancements to their instant-messaging services, according to Wired News.

  7. Latest on image detection

    The story is actually more about porn-bearing email that targets corporations, and what companies are doing to filter it, but it has relevance to families. The MSNBC piece suggests that image-detection technology's accuracy has gone from 70% to 95% in the past couple of years, a significant improvement but still potentially allowing a lot to get through. Also the "false positives" problem remains - users not being able to receive baby pictures and family photos via filtered email. The piece does a good job of presenting various views on and markets for the technology.

  8. Adult sites' fraud

    A publisher of more than 60 porn Web sites agreed to pay $30 million in fines in a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney general's office. They sued the publisher for illegally billing thousands of customers for "free" services, reports. "Visitors who entered a credit card number to verify their age were ... billed charges ranging from $20 to $90 per month [for 'free tours' of the sites], despite assurances to the contrary," according to Newsbytes. BTW, this and other types of online fraud cost everyone: A just-released study by the National Consumers League's Internet Fraud Watch found that "Internet fraud cost consumers $4.3 million - or $636 per person - in the first 10 months of 2001," up from the $3.3 million estimated for 2000, reports

  9. Browser battle

    We touched on it a couple of weeks ago, but here is CNET's very thorough handling of the war between Internet Explorer 6 and Netscape 6.1 (plus its minor update to 6.2). CNET looks at everything from installation and interface to performance and security. Their conclusion may surprise you.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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