November 15, 2002
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this second week of November:
- Parents & online smut: Lower tolerance?
- Web News Briefs: Supreme Court & library filtering; Downside to online dating; Virtual vs. traditional school; Sex in video games; Web's credibility problem; Teens 'n' phones; Colleges & file-sharing; Desktop movies?...
- Some smart young Michiganders
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Parents & online smut: Lower tolerance?
We're seeing definite signs around the world that parents' threshold of tolerance for online smut and kids' exposure to it is lowering. [Are you seeing this too? Are more people feeling like Kim in Michigan, who wrote us last week that she wants to be an activist for protecting online kids? Do email us your feelings and observations via firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Here are some of the signs that have crossed our desks recently:
- "There is a need and desire for tighter reins, [AOL and Microsoft] insist, citing parental fears that their children might be exposed to pornography, violence, hate speech and worse - online relationships that can lead to off-line meetings with tragic consequences," reports the Washington Post this week in "Putting Up Walls on the Web," focused on just the Parental Controls part of the new 8.0 versions of both AOL and MSN. (Here's company information from MSN and AOL on their Version 8.0 Parental Controls.) And giant retailer Wal-mart has decided it needs to be in the parental-controls business, having signed an exclusive deal with McAfee Security, IDG reports. (The $20 McAfee Parental Controls 1.0 will allow parents to set various levels and times of Net access, based on children's age levels, to monitor and record kids' online activities, and to block outgoing personal information, such as name, address, and phone number.)
- Even SafeKids.com's Larry Magid, "a staunch defender of free speech on the Internet," is increasingly concerned that the Net is starting to look a bit too much like the seedy old Times Square before it was cleaned up. "I realize the Internet is a microcosm of society and I know all the civil liberties arguments," he writes. "Yet, I worry the Internet - like Times Square of old - will degenerate to the point where parents are justifiably reluctant to let their children go online."
And more recently, in an article that has already raised some fellow parents' eyebrows, Larry goes so far as to suggest the Web needs more soft-core porn, like those old Playboys that kids used to find stashed away, so they're less likely to stumble on material that is truly unhealthy. "What is widely available today is far more explicit than what kids could get their hands on when I was a teenager," he writes. "I don't know whether pictures like the 1953 Playboy topless photos of Marilyn Monroe would even get a second look from today's kids, but I do know one thing: what is widely available on the Net today goes way beyond what I - as a very liberal minded adult - consider acceptable for kids to look at."
- In a press release entitled, "Hopeful Beginning to Stopping Hard-Core Smut on the Web," the conservative nonprofit organization Concerned Women for America applauded the Justice Department's arrest of hard- corn porn operator Gary Farris and EMI Enterprises for distributing obscenity via the Web and US mail. The release points people to ObscenityCrimes.org, where they can report obscenity crimes. The site is operated by the non-sectarian nonprofit organization, Morality in Media.
- Both houses of South Australia's parliament have passed a bill that "among other things ... makes it a criminal offence to make available content unsuitable for children online, even if the content is only made available to adults," reports the Sydney Morning Herald. In a previous effort last February, neither house passed an almost identical bill. The Morning Herald also noted that a similar bill is pending in New South Wales, but "a parliamentary committee has recommended that the NSW government should not proceed with the bill."
- The London-based Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) this week announced "a tough stance against 51 newsgroups that regularly carry child abuse images and a further 25 newsgroups with names that appear to advertise or advocate pedophilia." The IWF is recommending to UK Internet service providers that the newsgroups be removed from their servers. (Newsgroups are non-Web, Net-based bulletin boards to which many ISPs give their customers access.)
The links above represent a spectrum of political views, yet they all point to parents' concerns - as do recent remarks by President Bush (see "Bush focuses on kids' Net safety") and the sudden release of new online-safety products and services (see "Family Tech," 11/1). Are you seeing a trend too? Let us hear from you!
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Web News Briefs
- Breaking news: Dot-kids will happen
The US Congress this morning (Friday) passed a law that calls for a safe, "G-rated" space on the Web for kids, the Washington Post reports. It will be a "dot-kids" sub-domain under the US's "dot-us" one, so a children's Web address would look like www.teddybear.kids.us. The law still has to be signed by President Bush, but that is quite likely. Of course, the critical question is critical mass: Will enough children's Web site operators create a presence in the dot-kids space to attract kids, and will enough kids go there to attract Web publishers? More next week.
- Supreme Court will consider library filtering
It was confirmed this week that the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether or not the law requiring filtering in e-rate-funded libraries (the Children's Internet Protection Act, or CIPA) is constitutional. Last May a three-judge federal appeals court in Philadelphia - the same one that the Supreme Court recently instructed to consider further the constitutionality of an earlier children's Net protection law, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) - decided CIPA does not pass constitutional muster. The Bush administration fast- tracked its appeal straight to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case next March.
The New York Times's coverage says the CIPA case "presents a number of intriguing issues," among them the fact that this is the first online kids protection law about the use of federal (e-rate) money. "The fact that federal spending has in some sense turned libraries into the government's voluntary partners does not resolve the constitutional issue," the Times suggests, "because the Supreme Court's precedents, including a decision last year striking down limits on advocacy by lawyers paid by the Legal Services Corporation, have established that the government cannot attach 'unconstitutional conditions' to the receipt of its money. So the government must still defend the law in basic First Amendment terms."
The Washington Post provides some useful numbers about Net use in US public libraries: "About 143 million Americans use the Internet regularly, and about 10% of them rely on access at a public library. Some 95% of all US libraries now offer Internet access, largely because of federal aid [the e-rate] in the form of mandatory discounts from Internet service providers and direct federal grants. This assistance totaled about $217.5 million in fiscal 2002." Here's further coverage from CNET and Wired News. Law.com previewed this news last week. (See "CIPA overturned" and "CIPA on trial" for earlier links and coverage of ours.)
- Downside to online dating (and photos on the Web!)
"Laura" has good reason to tell people not to put photos of themselves online. According to MSNBC, 18 months ago Laura placed an ad with photo in an online personals site for one month. "Since then, her photo has been stolen and used in dozens of fake personals ads soliciting hard-core sex and pornography," MSNBC reports. Some of the fake ads showed up in Yahoo.com, which gave Laura some help in removing them, telling her, however, that this happens all the time. Yahoo required her to fax a photo ID and a written statement each time her photo appeared. Lawyers aren't interested in taking her case, MSNBC reports, "because Laura couldn't prove actual financial harm; and without subpoenas to perform IP address traces at Internet service providers, privacy advocates couldn't stop the anonymous criminal." The article cites Jupiter research showing that 34 million people have "at least taken a peek at the Internet's dating scene."
- Virtual vs. traditional school
A recent report offering a rare in-depth look at online schools says their enrollment growth has been explosive. "More than 50 cyber charter schools have launched [in the US] over the last five years through contracts with school districts and other charter authorizers," reports the Privatization Watch newsletter, adding that many US school districts are offering virtual classes and cyber schools of their own. Part of this growth may be explained by the growing interest in homeschooling. "For many parents cyber charter schools offer middle ground between homeschooling and a traditional public school," the piece suggests. "Parents have more control over their child's education while benefiting from a high quality pre-packaged curriculum. It allows parents some of the benefits of homeschooling without having to design their own lesson plans." The article looks at many aspects of this growing phenomenon - regulatory, business, and educational.
- Sex in video games
Rated "M" for "Mature" because it flaunts "aggressive sexuality, salty language, and off-color sight gags," as the New York Times describes it, "BMX XXX" is a new dirt bike game that promises to "keep it dirty." Sexuality, the Times reports has moved from the periphery to center stage in video game content and marketing. Part of the explanation is the frames per second and sheer processing power available to gamemakers. Also, some of them say that "the heightened sexual element of some of the new games is a response to the increasing age of video game players, who are mostly male and less inclined to view video games as children's toys," the Times reports. BMX XXX, the most risque of new titles, "has generated so much criticism" that Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Toys 'R' Us, KB Toys, and Best Buy aren't carrying it.
Two other hot titles, in more ways than one, are "Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball" and "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." The latter is the "fastest-selling video game of all time" in the UK, reports the BBC, having sold 250,000 copies its first weekend. Meanwhile, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe recently announced plans for new voluntary age ratings and symbols for computer and video games across Europe, ZDNet UK reports. And here's how violent and sexually explicit video games are playing in Australia, based on coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald.
- Web's credibility problem
A study by Consumers International - a federation of consumer organizations in 115 countries - "went to painstaking lengths to show that consumers should not believe everything they read on Web sites," Reuters reports. The study researched 460 health, financial-services and "deal- finder" Web sites to test their "credibility quotient." Here are two of the study's findings: 1) At least 50% of sites giving advice on medical and financial matters don't disclose full information about the authority and credentials of the people giving the advice, and 2) 60% of sites give no information that would indicate whether or not their content was influenced by an advertiser or sponsor." If the link goes away, try this one at Yahoo News.
- Teens 'n' phones
Teenagers think of phones - especially the kind that comes with personalized rings - as fashion accessories. That personalized ring can be achieved by downloading one's favorite song for around $6. " Music and wireless executives cite figures like $1.5 billion - the predicted total of ring-tone sales in Europe this year, according to Strand Consult, a Danish firm - the way they once tossed around stratospheric projections of dot-com revenue," the New York Times reports. The story reminds us of an important thing for parents to keep in mind: Kids use technology differently from the way we do, which needs to be factored into family tech decisions.
While we're on the cell-phone subject, here's the latest on the growth of mobile-phone-based use of the Net in the UK, from the BBC. And, from The Guardian, what the future of cell-phone use might look like: phones that click (like cameras) as well as ring. We think about the online-safety implications for young "cameraphone" users!
- Colleges asked not to limit file-sharing
...by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, cautioning colleges and universities that "network monitoring could impact privacy and academic freedom." The online privacy advocacy organization's message came in an open letter to colleges and universities warning against monitoring file-sharing transmissions and use of peer-to-peer, or P2P, file-trading networks, which can swap music, movies and other media online, reports The Daily Texan. The University of Texas's acceptable-use policy states that the university respects the privacy rights of students by only monitoring the volume, not the content, of online file transfers, unless there are "compelling reasons" to do otherwise. "The policy lists 'clear evidence of ... violation of copyright' as one of the compelling reasons to monitor a student's online activity," The Daily Texan adds, then quoting a privacy advocate as saying that organizations have to monitor network traffic "invasively" (i.e., actually look at content) in order to detect copyright violations.
- Online film rentals from the source
It's another example of joining rather than beating the trend. Instead of letting other entities make money on online movie rentals, Hollywood's five major movie studios have unveiled Movielink.com, offering "a limited selection of first-run and classic films," CNET reports. To rent movies from the site, customers download software that, among other things, automatically removes movie files when the rental term expires. Wired News's coverage says the site's movie download times are horrendous, and the Washington Post is not sure how big the market for "desktop movies" will be. The site is a joint project of MGM Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Studios.
- Europe: Text-messaging bigger than email
More Europeans use text-messaging, or SMS (for "short-messaging service) on mobile phones than email on computers, a Gartner study has found. This year 41% of European adults use SMS (28% last year), compared to 30% who use email, and about 62% of adults now use a mobile phone, reports Nua Internet Surveys, citing Gartner. "SMS is particularly popular in the UK, where 49% of adults use it," NUA reports. In Germany and France, that figure is 43% and 30%, respectively.
- Anti-porn software for police
Having already been used in major anti-child porn stings, the UK- developed software is now being exported to police forces around the world. The software, SurfControl, "allows police to trace and target people who seek, possess, or distribute pornographic images of children on the Net," the BBC reports. With its export, police are targeting pornographers in Eastern Europe and South East Asia, "where much of the indecent imagery of children comes from," the BBC adds.
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Some smart young Michiganders
On the lighter side, you might enjoy this week's email exchange between a 6th-grade teacher in Fenton, Mich., and SafeKids.com's Larry Magid:
"Dear Mr. Magid,
"Our 6th grade class used your Kids' Rules for Online Safety page. We found it to be very informative and we'd like to thank you for taking the time to put it together. My astute young learners found three typos on that page [she then listed the typos].
"Thank you again for putting these rules online. We all believe they are important."
"Fenton Intermediate School"
"Dear Fenton Intermediate School Students,
"Thank you very much for visiting SafeKids.com and finding the three typographical errors on the Kids Rules page. Thousands of people have looked at that page and no one has ever pointed this out. As your teacher, Ms. Browning, said, you are indeed 'astute young learners.'
"The page is now corrected.
"Dear Mr. Magid:
"Thanks for being so wonderful about this. Tomorrow I will share your email with my 1st period students (the ones who caught the typos). It will be very empowering for them to realize that our email generated some action. Again, I thank you.
Editor's note: Later Larry emailed me, "I should hire them as copy editors."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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