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March 14, 2003

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this busy second week of March:


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Cell phones, the Net, and teens: Another heads-up for parents

Think about kids using cell phones that...


Some kids are already using phones with such capabilities - especially in Europe and Asia - and some of these features will be available in new phones coming out shortly. "I'm not suggesting you jettison your cell phone. I use one, as do my wife and two kids," writes SafeKids.com's Larry Magid in his latest syndicated column. "But, if you're a parent, you should talk with your children about how to protect themselves from exploitation, bullying, and invasion of privacy, as well as an out-of-control phone bill."

Larry was in Tokyo last week to speak at a conference on children and mobile phones. [The conference was hosted by Childnet International of the UK, where 52% of all 7-to-16-year-olds have cell phones, and the Internet Association Japan, where more than 80% of high school students have them. Japan's National Police Agency recently reported that 1,731 criminal cases in 2002 related to online dating sites, nearly twice as many as the previous year; 47% of them involved child prostitution, and many of the victims had accessed the matchmaking sites via cell phones.]

The basic concern is, "phones are phones," Larry writes. Which means that, among other things, "predators can not only send kids messages, but they can call them to arrange meetings. Because kids can access the phone while they're away from home, they're particularly vulnerable because they are out of their parents' reach. It's common practice in Europe for predators to groom a child on the Internet and then contact that child via cell phone to arrange a face to face meeting," he says, citing comments from Childnet International executive director Nigel Williams. Bullying by cell phone is another growing problem in the UK cited by Mr. Williams at the conference.

"I'm not writing this column to scare anyone," Larry writes, "but to warn consumers, policy makers, and the mobile phone industry that we need to start thinking about ways to enjoy mobile phones while reducing risk."

For an audio version, here's an approximately two-minute radio report Larry broadcast from Tokyo. Click on the link and, if you have an audio player on your PC, Larry's report will automatically start - if you don't, go to Real.com and download their free player (make sure it's the free one!), then click.

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Web News Briefs

  1. File-sharing porn

    Most Net users know that popular file-sharing services like Kazaa and Gnutella are used for sharing music. But what the US Congress wants to be sure parents know is that these services are "exploding with pornography," CNET reports, and 12-to-18-year-olds are among their most avid users.

    Two congressional reports on the subject were released in hearings on Capitol Hill this week. For one, the Washington Post reports, the General Accounting Office tested market leader Kazaa P2P software (which reports it's been downloaded 200 million times) "to search for titles containing the names 'Britney,' 'the Olsen twins' (Mary-Kate and Ashley), and 'Pokemon.' Of the total number of files that showed up, 56% included some form of pornography, with 8% involving minors [illegal child pornography]." The second report, done by the House Government Reform Committee, said current filtering technology has "no, or limited, ability to block access to pornography via file-sharing programs."

    Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R) of Virginia and Henry A. Waxman (D) of California, who organized this week's hearings, were not proposing legislation, but rather "opting simply to warn parents of what is available through file-sharing," according to the Post. [After the hearings Thursday, CNET reported that lawmakers were "mulling" new legislation aimed at restricting porn file-sharing.] This was the second time Representative Waxman went public with this concern - the last time was July 2001 (see our coverage). Once again, both sides of this discussion - Congress and file-sharing software providers - are saying parents must supervise their kids when online.

  2. Marketing to kids with blogs

    Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. is harnessing the power of both kids and blogs to market its new milk-based soft drink, Raging Cow, the Dallas Morning News reports. Using a "viral marketing" strategy, the company will provide drink samples to "hundreds of writers of Web logs that appeal to teens and young adults" over the next few weeks. The risky strategy is a clear signal that the Net is the youth market's medium of choice. "Dr Pepper/Seven Up hopes to have as many as 500 bloggers on board by early June, and they will receive only [product] samples and the logo merchandise tie-dyed T-shirts and milk buckets." Money will not change hands because kids don't want to be perceived as sell-outs, the soft drink company's ad agency told the Morning News. The agency said the company will "aggressively monitor all references to the Raging Cow brand. If any blog becomes particularly problematic, Dr Pepper/Seven Up reserves the right to disconnect links between its ragingcow.com site and the Web logs." It'll be interesting to see how well the company can control those links.

    For an example of a potential Raging Cow "marketer," here's a Canadian girl's fairly innocuous blog, "A Miscellaneous Adolescence", chosen randomly from the Teen category at one blog portal, Eatonweb (high in the results of a Google search, where rankings are based on site popularity). If you surf around in those teen blogs, here's fair warning: Bloggers don't mince words!

  3. Toronto Star series on online predators

    Media coverage about cyberluring involving children is burgeoning, so the Star's report isn't news to many parents. But the series 1) pulls a lot of fairly recent research together (e.g., " some 26% of 9-to-10-year-olds visit private and adult-only chat rooms, according to [a Canadian government study] 'Young Canadians in a Wired World' ") and 2) provides insights from Canadian law enforcement officers directly involved in fighting sexual exploitation of online kids (one expert who works with the Ontario Provincial Police called for a national operational strategy in Canada). The series includes a sidebar with advice from an officer on how to "streetproof your kid" for cyberspace exploration. Our thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this series out.

  4. 'Groomed for three years'

    It was the length of time this particular suspect spent trying to lure his victim that struck us. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children recently passed along a report about a successfully concluded case that started with a tip to its CyberTipline. In the Center's writeup, a woman in West Virginia reported that she found some sexually explicit emails to her 16-year-old niece from a person in Pennsylvania. Tipline staff traced the emails, identified the suspect, and passed the information along to Pennsylvania State Police. After the suspect was picked up, he confessed to trying to lure the child and said he had been "talking" to her for about three years. According to a report on the case in the Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, the man had been posing as a 19-year-old girl. He has been charged with sexual abuse of minors, unlawful contact or communication with minors, and corruption of minors and is in jail awaiting trial.

  5. Net's thriving 'alternate reality game' scene

    Do you know a kid (or adult!) hooked on one of these? Alternate reality games are like online treasure hunts, with clues and puzzles hidden in sites all over the Web, and they blend story line, problem solving, and community. They're "proof that there are still new ways to tell a story," reports the New York Times in a fascinating piece on this gaming scene. "Some puzzles exist in the real world; one player [of Search4E] contacted a Web site and later received a package of books that were themselves clues in the search for a man named Ed Sobian or Emil Sobiak (or possibly something else)," writes Times gaming columnist Charles Herold. Many puzzles are best solved via "communal deduction" in online discussion groups like Cloudmakers, which solved "The Beast" and is now an "online clearinghouse for online gaming" where "members can find out about new games, find fellow players, and reminisce about and discuss The Beast," according to Cloudmakers.org. The Beast was the start of it all, Herold says. "None of the games currently running come close to matching the brilliance of The Beast. Designed by a couple of game developers from Microsoft and written by an award-winning science fiction and fantasy novelist, Sean Stewart, [its] intricate structure, story line and imaginative writing have not been matched." He adds that the two most interesting games going right now are Search4E and Noahboddy. Parents will want to be aware that some (not these two) are glorified product promotions.

  6. New twist on dealing with online 'porn addiction'

    The software isn't particularly new - the way it's being marketed is. A new nonprofit, "Christ-centered" Web monitoring company, NetAccountability, is frustrated with what it sees as filtering's failure. So it's proposing a new-old approach to overcoming what it calls "online temptation": using monitoring software to compile logs of Internet activity, then sharing the logs with a chosen partner to help maintain one's surfing "accountability." "Users pick a friend, spouse or other confidant who receives a regular report showing which sites they visit, highlighting potentially objectionable material," Wired News reports, adding: "The idea, according to [NetAccountability founder Brandon] Cotter, is that people will choose not to visit 'sinful' Web sites if they know a close friend or family member will be aware of their actions." The company's approach is also a new sort of argument on the anti-filtering side of the debate. "From Cotter's viewpoint," Wired adds, "the problem with filters is more psychological than technical. The best way to stay away from racy sites is to make a conscious decision to avoid them."

  7. 'Clicky' teaches in Utah public schools

    Clicky - one of the "teachers" in the NetSmartz Workshop, an online safety education program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children - will soon appear statewide in Utah public schools. Clicky is an animated robot-like character who, along with his fellow NetSmartz experts Nettie and Webster, teach kids about "who" to stay away from on the Internet. In one of the program's animated activities, "Clicky dons a 10-gallon hat and sheriff's badge to introduce children to the four 'Webville Outlaws' Look-at-this Louie, Meet-me Mack, Potty-mouth Pete, and Wanta-know Wally," the Deseret News reports. Players "round up" the outlaws and drag them to jail. Utah is the first state to adopt the program statewide. Clicky and his friends can also be found here and at Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide.

  8. Political online matchmaking

    The New York Times calls Web startup Meetup.com an online dating site with a political twist. What was remarkable about a meeting of several hundred people (with a line down the block) at a hip Manhattan restaurant with a dark-horse candidate 20 months before an election was not the size of the crowd, the Times says. It was the fact that "the official campaign staff did not organize the rally." Meetup.com did. "At the site, which is free," the Times reports, "users can start groups or join ones around a particular interest, and the themes are as wide-ranging as the conversation at a local cafe. The site lists gatherings of ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, fans of the cult television show 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' antiwar protesters, and those 'Thinkin' About Medical School'." None of the politically oriented groups listed on the site have been as popular lately as supporters of former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, a physician and Democratic presidential candidate "who is an outspoken opponent of war with Iraq," the Times adds.

  9. Web browser's 10th birthday

    Seems like it's been more than 10 years since we all first got the Web as we know it. We still remember first reading a newspaper article about "Mosaic," the very first Web browser, "slammed together" by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina while working part time at the University of Illinois's National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). "On March 14, 1993, Andreessen put it on NCSA's Internet site," USAToday reports, and "almost instantly, Internet users around the world started downloading copies, first a few, then a torrent. Andreessen started doing a 'what's new' page of graphical postings on the Net. So little was there, Andreessen recalls, that 'if an Indian restaurant posted its menu, that was a big deal'." After he and other Illinois students left for California to work with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim Clark, Mosaic morphed into Netscape, and the rest is ... well, history buffs can find the whole very readable story at USAToday.

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Online music update

Conversations with teens tell us there are many ways to find, hear, and share digital music: Some people frequent "big brand" music-channel Web sites like MTV.com, IMX, and MP3.com or musicians' own Web sites; some file-share with software like Kazaa and Morpheus; a few use Internet Relay Chat (old-school, non-Web chat) and connect their own music servers to the Internet. For young people, a lot of it's about freedom to move fluidly from technology to technology, access to the newest/latest tunes and musicians, and access to each other for sharing new finds and old favorites. Here's a roundup of what's happening with music on the Net:

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Follow-ups to last week's news

  1. Commentary on library filtering

    Geoffrey Nunberg was an expert witness for the American Library Association in its suit against the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which is still tied up in the courts (the Supreme Court heard arguments about it last week - see our coverage). The emphasis is on "expert" for our purposes here. Mr. Nunberg, a linguistics researcher at Stanford University, wrote a commentary on filtering for the New York Times this week.

    He explains how filtering technology works (in a way that we can understand!), including keyword and image detection (can't distinguish between a painting of St. Sebastian and a Penthouse centerfold). Filters, he writes, "are no different from the software that companies use to automatically sort email messages, a job they perform with tolerable accuracy. Tolerable, however, is a relative notion.... It has taken the St. Louis Public Library 135 years to build its collection of 4.5 million holdings; the Web adds that many new documents every three days. No software can identify a large portion of the pornography on the Web without taking down a great many innocuous or useful sites on the way.... A recent study sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that even at their most restrictive settings, filters failed to block 10% of porn sites. That leaves more than 10,000 sites to choose from, which should satisfy even the most tireless devotee of the genre. But at those settings the filters blocked 50% of safe-sex sites and 24% of all health sites" (see our coverage of the Kaiser study in "Calibrated filtering").

    Nunberg suggests that we can never again expect libraries to be the "sheltered enclaves" they were in the age of print. Librarians and parents, do you agree? We would appreciate hearing (and publishing) your views - via feedback@netfamilynews.org.

  2. Filtering laws at the state level?

    Last week we mentioned one state that might, through legislation, take library filtering into its own hands: Oregon. This week, the Associated Press reports that there is talk of this in Kansas too.

  3. Commentary on Australian study

    In "Curious teenagers need to be informed about sex, not controlled," commentator Kath Albury wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that she was disappointed in the Australia Institute's study because of, among other things, "its lack of respect for young adults' sexuality." Ms. Albury was a chief investigator on a research project entitled, "Understanding Pornography in Australia," and is author of "Yes Means Yes: Getting Explicit about Heterosex." (For our report on the study, please see "Online kids' exposure to porn" last week.)

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

Sincerely,

Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

 


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