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December 7, 2001

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Bad teen behavior magnified on the Net

We all know that kids can be very tough on each other - in locker room gossip, note-passing, graffiti on a school bathroom wall, etc. Grownups have been dealing with these behaviors for a long time. What's new is how bad behavior can become a criminal case, with the help of some Internet and basic desktop-publishing skills. This case - reported by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children ( - illustrates, among other things, how important it is for parents and educators to know what children are doing on the Net (not to mention the need for us all to transfer ethics into cyberspace!).

Last July the NCMEC's CyberTipline (oneline or at 1-800-843-5678 or 1-800-THE-LOST) "received a frantic call from a mother who had received a letter in the mail with no return address that showed her teenage daughter's head morphed onto an adult pornography image." (This means a photo of the girl's head was digitally "pasted" onto a sexually explicit photo of someone else, making the porn image look like her daughter.)

The NCMEC report continued: "There was also a Web site listed on this piece of paper [mailed to their home]. The mother immediately went to the Web site and found more morphed images [of] her daughter.... The Web site was designed to look like the child created it and included her full name and location, as well as offers to perform sexual acts with men." After the mother's call, the NCMEC went to the Web site and documented all the material, then called the family's local police department in Renton, Wash. The department contacted the porn site's Web hosting service and requested that the site be taken down immediately. It was, "but the person who created it simply put it up again at another location on the Internet," the NCMEC reports. So, in order to obtain the site creator's identity, a detective sent a message to the email address listed on the Web site, which said he was interested in meeting the child for sexual contact. "The suspect then provided the detective with the child's actual phone number," the NCMEC related. "The investigation revealed that the person who created this slanderous Web site is the new girlfriend of the victim's ex-boyfriend. The 18-year-old female has been charged with a misdemeanor stalking charge." [Washington state law defines a stalking misdemeanor as "any repeated behavior reasonably believed to harass or cause fear of bodily injury," according to the investigating officer on the case.]

This week we called Detective Robert Onishi, the investigating officer at the Renton Police Department, to find out where the case stands. He told us that the prosecutor has filed, and disposition is expected in the next month or so. The suspect faces "up to a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines," but she has no criminal history, he told us, saying that her behavior was "not particularly egregious" (thus the misdemeanor rather than a felony charge). Detective Onishi likened the girl's action to the way kids "trash" peers on school bathroom walls, except that the Internet gives it "a much more public forum."

How common are cases like this? NCMEC senior analyst Michelle Collins told us the CyberTipline doesn't frequently receive this kind of report, but "it has happened several times,... where parents have notified us regarding a Web site that has been created with the intent of harassing their child. Sometimes the Web sites are sexual in nature. Other times the sites include derogatory comments and/or slurs against their child. Of the few cases that we know have been investigated by police, it has been determined that peers of the child have created the site. I remember a case where a child became aware of the Web site featuring him because students at his school were discussing it and laughing about it." (For other examples, see "Teen sex gossip on the Web" in our 6/8 issue.)

The point is not to sensationalize stories like these, but to get the word out that, by putting their peer-group behavior on the Internet, teens are giving their actions the broadest-ever public forum - apparently without fully understanding the implications. One misbehaving child becomes a "suspect," another a public target; personal issues among peers can be exploited by people outside the peer group; and age-old locker-room behavior suddenly has the potential to cause physical harm or damage lives.

We asked Michelle at the NCMEC where parents should call if something like this comes up, and here's her answer: "It is our belief local law enforcement should always be the first resource for all parents concerned about potential dangerous situations involving their child." Michelle did acknowledge that CyberTipline analysts often know who the best contacts are in law-enforcement agencies throughout the US. "In this particular case," she added, "the parent notified law enforcement first and NCMEC second. However, after speaking with the reporting person, we contacted the investigating officer immediately and provided him with supplemental information aiding in his investigation." Readers' comments are always welcome - via

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A subscriber writes: 'Porn-napping' Web sites

In response to our item last week, "Another kids' site 'hijacked'", subscriber Jennifer in Georgia kindly emailed us:

"As domains expire (i.e., someone 'forgets' to pay the registry fee) they are often 'site-napped' (cyber-squatting or porn-napping) by certain unscrupulous companies and turned into gateways to pornography and/or gambling. Some known victims [hijacked Web sites] are listed on the Online Internet Institute's site ( There is also a mechanism on that site where you can report site squatting. They also recommend that you report sites with inappropriate content to your filtering company or system administrator" because, OII says in the site, "as these sites are blocked, they will become worthless to the squatters as tools of extortion."

Jennifer continued: "The OII site is maintained by Art Wolinsky, who is an authority on filtering, blocking, CIPA [the Child Online Protection Act, requiring e-rated funded schools to filter Net content], and similar information network issues from a school district perspective. Art has had conversations with one organization that was squatting on sites and pointing to porn. He explained filtering to them and how it blocked their sites anyway. So, some of them changed their actions. Now they point to gambling sites instead."

[Editor's note: also provides some helpful definitions of "cyber-squatting" and "porn-napping" and advice on how to avoid getting "mouse-trapped" at these hijacked sites (having all those porn- and gambling-ad windows pop up on your screen when you inadvertently arrive at the site).]

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Now on the Web: CIPA guide for schools

Filtering alone just doesn't ensure kids' online safety at school. Based on that premise, educator, lawyer, and CIPA expert Nancy Willard of the University of Oregon's "Responsible Netizen" project, has prepared a "Children's Internet Protection Act [CIPA] Planning Guide" to help schools go beyond CIPA so students can actually "learn to use the Internet in an enriching, safe, ethical, and legal manner." We published a 2-parter on this when Nancy was working on the Guide. Now it's all on the Web, including a basic strategy for schools, legal issues, and templates. For our coverage, see "CIPA & online safety: What schools really need" and "Constructive school Net use in a nutshell."

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Web News Briefs

  1. E-virus 'Goner' not gone yet

    A nasty electronic worm dubbed "Goner" has caused a lot of damage especially on US and European computers this week. Released Tuesday, according to Wired News, it affects people who use Microsoft's Outlook Express for email and ICQ for instant-messaging. If you do, don't open any attachment in any message with a subject line that just says, "Hi." ZDnet ran a piece about how to "squash" the worm. One thing it's good at, reportedly, is deleting anti-viral software! Here are other articles at, CNET, and the New York Times.

  2. Cable-modem users: No help from Uncle Sam

    Cable-modem customers in the US can't get any help from Uncle Sam because this type of Net service is not regulated by the government - even by the agencies that oversee Internet access provided by telephone lines, reports And why is that? you might ask. Well, high-speed access to the home developed along two tracks, Newsbytes explains - "over existing phone lines and piggybacking on cable television lines." Phone service is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Cable modems developed differently, Newsbytes says. At Home Corp., whose demise left 850,000 customers connection-less last weekend, "was founded to provide the Internet backbone for participating cable companies and to be the exclusive provider of Internet access for their cable-modem users. Since this was neither telephone service nor cable television service, it fell outside the policies of the FCC at the time." The Newsbytes article gives details.

  3. Of game 'addiction'

    Timely, given our recent series on teen gamers (which started here): At Yahoo! there are "Spouses Against EverQuest" and "EverQuest Widows" online support groups, where participants "vent" about their addict spouses and friends and "share tips on how to sabotage EverQuest by deleting characters or blocking access to servers." Citing these, Wired News looks at various angles of the game "addiction" issue. Psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who is not quoted in the article, has expressed some skepticism about references to "addiction" where computers are concerned.

  4. Research: Online kids in UK, Austria, Greece

    Recent surveys in Britain, Greece, and Austria show that "children are still finding 'rude, violent, nasty and upsetting' material on the Internet, mostly by accident." The UK surveys found that three-quarters of UK kids 11-14 said they find harmful material online. The press release at reports: "Of a total 715 in UK and 673 in Austria of 11-14-year-olds, almost two-fifths found nasty sites with a further two out of five in the UK and nearly a third in Austria saying that they had found violent sites. Around two fifths of children in both countries found gambling sites and well over half 'rude' ones. The children themselves think they should be protected. When asked what younger children should be protected from, UK kids said rude pictures (over 80%), violence and gambling (both over three quarters)."

    In Greece, 80% of children surveyed said that they communicate via chat lines (more than 66% in Austria and 44% in the UK say that they look for chatrooms on the Internet). "Half of Greek parents admit their children have more knowledge about the Internet than themselves, and over half of parents said that they have no idea of what their children are capable of on the Internet." But, the report continued, "Greek children under 13 are normally supervised when they are online by their parents, unlike the UK and Austrian children." (Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this out.)

  5. Unwanted exposure (by Web crawlers)

    It's not a new privacy problem, experts say, but a lot of us certainly haven't heard about it: A new feature on one of the most popular search engines,, is increasingly exposing "passwords, credit card numbers, classified documents, and even computer vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers," CNET reports. Google disavows responsibility for the problem, but "has begun devising ways to catch sensitive pages before they wind up exposed to public view," CNET adds.

  6. Privacy & online health data

    A Pew Internet Project study has found that Americans' health-related Net activity is not as private as they may think. According to, US federal rules designed to protect online medical data don't cover most Web sites - only those of "Web sites of health care providers, insurers that offer medical coverage, or clearinghouses that process claims." Which means that "personal data provided for self-screening questionnaires and registration for e-mail alerts - from height and weight to alcohol intake and family medical history - is not protected," Newsbytes adds. The Pew study also found that the 65 million people in the US who have gone online for health information rarely check a site's privacy policy. Here's the study. Our thanks to BNA Internet Law News for pointing this one out.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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