February 7, 2003
Dear Subscribers:This week we thank a new supporter for contributing to NetFamilyNews.org: Internet registrar Net2 in the UK. Here's our lineup for this first week of February:
- Black History Month on the Web
- University student's illegal 'hobby'
- Web News Briefs: Net's role in shuttle disaster; 'Assisted suicide' online; Scottish kids' exposure to sex online; Closer look at 'camgirls' sites; Unhappy with your ISP?; Technology as cheating, spying tool; More on blogs; RU (Americans) ready 4 SMS?; Multi-player games scene; Net & democracy in S. Korea....
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Black History Month on the Web
Close on the heels of Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday is the US's month-long celebration of African-American history, achievements, and rights. Here are some great resources on the Web for celebrants everywhere:
- CNN points outs that February was the month when Frederick Douglass was born, Malcolm X was assassinated, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The site's special Black History section has a wealth of material, including links to fine sites both personal and professional, a timeline, "Happenings," "Stories," and a discussion board.
- Infoplease.com at the Family Education Network has quite an array of factual material on American-American history and civil rights.
- NationalGeographic.com - with multimedia features about the rebirth of Harlem and the courage of Rosa Parks, among others - took this year's celebration as an opportunity to launch its new History & Culture section.
- The History Channel helpfully provides short bios of more than two dozen famous African-Americans, past and present (some with video clips). And while we're linking to profiles, Sports Illustrated Kids celebrates great black athletes.
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University student's illegal 'hobby'
This recent CyberTipline report from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is not a home-based case, but rather a university-based one. We're sharing it with you because it confirms two things parents should know:
- ...that there is porn on peer-to-peer networks, and it's good to be aware of how kids are using such software on home PCs (e.g. Morpheus at MusicCity.com or the software downloadable for free at Kazaa.com).
- ...that youth is not a barrier to illegal online activity!
Last August the CyberTipline received a tip from someone in the Netherlands child-porn images on the Kazaa.com file-sharing network. After confirming the images were there, Tipline analysts figured out that one of the distributing the pictures on the network was using an IP (Internet Protocol) address registered to the University of Arizona in Tucson.
University police and the National Center's analysts at the NCMEC together discovered that the suspect was an 18-year old university freshman. His computer was seized under a search warrant, and the Tucson FBI found "numerous child pornography images" in a forensic search of the PC. The boy confessed to trafficking in child porn. "On April 2, 2002, the suspect was indicted on four felony counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Child." He was also expelled from the University of Arizona, the NCMEC reports.
Reports or tips on child pornography or child-exploitation emergencies can be made to the CyberTipline with equal results online or offline - via www.cybertipline.com or its toll-free number, 800-843-5678.
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Web News Briefs
- Net's key role in shuttle disaster
The Internet has been key to the investigation into the Columbia space shuttle disaster, the Washington Post reports. It's where evidence from the public in Texas and neighboring states - from still photos to video to written accounts - is being gathered by NASA, through a special section it has set up in its Web site. "The existence of the Internet, along with the proliferation of digital video and camera devices, mark a stark contrast to the 1986 Challenger disaster. Seventeen years ago, the public had far fewer sources to turn to for official news and video," according to the Post. The Net is also providing an outlet for a grieving public, the Post adds, via special sections local newspapers are providing in their Web sites (the article provides links).
- 'Assisted suicide' online
Tech news seems very dark these days, definitely not only from an economic perspective. But the coverage illustrates important issues for parents and educators to be aware of - including a series in Wired News this week on suicide and the Net. Part 2 is about a Web site that provides an unmoderated discussion board with detailed guidelines on how to commit suicide. The article leads with the story of how people on that board helped one 24-year-old man, Michael Benjamins, kill himself. The site in question "has been linked to 10 confirmed suicides and 14 unverified suicides," Wired News reports. Part 3 of the series concerns a mother's wrongful death suit against the site.
Another story - this one very dramatically covered in the New York Daily News - tells of 21-year-old Brandon Vedas dying after over-dosing on prescription drugs. He was egged on by people in an IRC (non-Web-based Internet Relay Chat) chatroom watching via Webcam, the Daily News reports in this story about the "recreational use of pharmaceuticals." Some of his fellow chatters did try to get him to stop, to call 911. Others tried to figure out his location but couldn't, according to the Daily News. Our thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this article out.
- Scottish kids: High exposure to sex online
Nearly half (49%) of Scotland's online kids have participated in "sexual conversations in Web chatrooms," according to a recent survey cited by Edinburgh's Evening Times. Here are other key findings (the Evening Times does not name the survey):
- 53% have been talked to about sex.
- 75% have seen material on the Net that has made them feel uncomfortable.
- 80% feel they need better protection.
- Two out of five have encountered scenes of violence surfing the Net.
- One-third are unaware of the dangers of using the Net.
- Two out of five have encountered scenes of violence on the Net.
- One in seven parents have no idea what their children are viewing on the Net.
- Closer look at 'camgirls' sites
From a 14-year-old's perspective, being a camgirl or camboy is probably just a fun, easy way to get free gifts. But other perspectives are needed. Camgirls and boys put "Webcam photos of themselves in skimpy outfits on personal Web sites, linking them to wish lists on shopping sites like Amazon, and then asking admirers for gifts," according to a commentary at FindLaw.com. More troubling is the fact that some "give special admirers access to 'members only' sections that offer more provocative shots in return for more expensive gifts" than, say, CDs or DVDs. These types of sites are increasingly popular among teens, a very tech-literate group (2002 US Commerce Department figures show 75% of 14-to-17-year-olds regularly using the Web, and 65% of 10-to-13-year-olds), while camkid sites have gone "largely unnoticed by parents," FindLaw suggests.
Child-exploitation isn't the only part of this phenomenon worthy of concern. Camgirls may have a false sense of security because communication is filtered through third-party wish-list services. A sexual predator can get a Web site owner's address from the public domain, the writer points out. Also, "admirers" expecting more than photos can act out a well-known behavior pattern for pedophiles: strike up a long-term dialog with a camkid and "groom" him or her for an offline meeting.
- Unhappy with your ISP?
Along with its handy 2003 ISP guide, the Washington Post this week offers tips on how to find the best Internet service provider for your family - whether or not you're considering switching to a high-speed Net connection. For the ISP list, look for "ISP Directory" in the right-hand column, with links to around 50 "Cable," "DSL," "Local," "National" (e.g., Earthlink, AOL, Verison), "Satellite," and "Wireless" providers. "We make no claim that this survey - our seventh since 1996 - includes every company that can sell you an Internet connection, but we do think it features most of them," writes Post tech columnist Rob Pegoraro. If you are interested in DSL or cable modem, Rob mentions BroadbandReports.com, "which has been collecting assessments of DSL and cable providers since mid-1999."
- Technology as cheating, spying tool
Picture this: University students have a big accounting exam. They bring their cell phones to the test and, using SMS texting, call friends outside the exam room who look up the answers for them and send them back with another phone call. Six University of Maryland students were busted doing just that in "the biggest cheating scheme involving cell phones uncovered on campus," Wired News reported this week. The university's business school was just as smart in the way it caught them - in a sting. "A fake answer key with bogus answers was posted online after the exam began last month; then the exams were checked to see which test takers put down the bogus answers." The six students, who confessed, will fail the accounting class and "have a mark placed on their transcript that indicates they cheated," Wired adds.
Technology was used in a much more sophisticated way by a Boston College student, it was reported this week. According to CNET, a Massachusetts grand jury Thursday indicted 21-year-old former BC student for "allegedly installing keystroke-recording software on more than 100 campus computers and accessing databases containing personal information on other students, staff, and faculty." He was charged with violating seven criminal laws involving intercepting communications and unauthorized accessing of computer systems.
- Understanding blogs (aka online diaries/journals)
We suspect the time will come when blogs (published by individuals) will appear at the top of search engine results more than "regular" Web pages published by companies! For anyone who is still trying to get his/her brain around this significant new Web development (maybe because a teenager or 2 at your house or school spends hours a day or week posting stream-of-consciousness commentary in his/her Web log ("blog" for short), here's a helpful and fun-to-read commentary on the phenomenon in the Washington Post this week. Writer Leslie Walker thoughtfully links to some blog search engines (as well as humorist Dave Barry's blog), so you can get a first-hand look at the "blogosphere" (this newest sector of cyberspace). Be sure your blogger knows not to put any personal ID information in her site; she wouldn't want strangers to know where to find her home or school. Even information besides address, phone number, etc. (such as favorite things or celebrities), can give people with bad intentions opportunities to start a dialog or even "friendship" with an unsuspecting teenager.
- RU (Americans) ready 4 SMS?
With SMS (for short messaging system), instant-messaging goes mobile, as one of the Boston Globe's sources put it. Outside North America, IM-ers of all ages and in vast numbers have been doing mobile or cell-phone "texting" for some time. "In Western Europe, nearly 50% of cell phone owners use SMS. In Japan the adoption rate is even higher: more than 80% of the subscribers to the dominant DoCoMo service use [SMS]," the Globe reports. But are Americans seeing any value in doing so? The Globe points to people's usage both fun and practical - from texting a list to Dad or Mom stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work to asking co-workers for a key piece of data when you're in a meeting. The Globe offers some reasons why our adoption of "mobile IM-ing" has been much slower, such as economics and cell-phone network standardization. The thorough piece looks at where the US is headed with SMS. Heads up: The Globe said SMS is a language that many parents find inscrutable - "a good thing" to its users. For example, "I'd really like to get to know you better - stay in touch" looks like "ID RLY LK 2 GET 2 NO U BTR SIT." Here's a handy SMS translation service on the Web: Transl8it.com.
- Multi-player games: Not a pretty picture
For any parent wishing to understand online multi-player games better, this piece at the New York Times offers a helpful and unique ("bohemian, non-consumerist") perspective on The Sims Online and Battlefield, two very popular games. "I played The Sims Online in much the same way that I behave in real life: hanging out, practicing the guitar and skating by," writes games columnist Charles Herold. "But this is more fun in real life than it is in a game. While in the real world, money can give you comfort and fun, all Sims money can give you is status, making the game a perfect demonstration of the pointlessness and futility of consumer culture." (Earlier in the piece Charles explains, "The Sims Online reduces human existence to little more than making money to buy things.")
- Net & democracy in South Korea
The Internet has a powerful role in South Korea's political process, reports the Christian Science Monitor. "In an exhilarating two months, Web-based journalists have swung a presidential election, stirred tens of thousands of Koreans into anti-American protests, and nudged government policy on the nuclear standoff with the North." Out in front on the Web is OhmyNews.com, the country's most influential online news site (about 3 million active readers), with as big a readership and "as fearsome a reputation for moving public opinion" as half-century-old daily newspapers. The Internet-use numbers for Korea are impressive: about 67% of Korean households have high-speed connections - more than in any other country, according to the Monitor. And South Korean users spend an average of 1,340 minutes online a month. now have broadband, more than in any other country. This high-speed service means that people use the Internet more, spending an average of 1,340 minutes online per month."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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