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March 28, 2003

Dear Subscribers:

Next week the newsletter will be on spring break. The next issue will arrive in your In-Box April 11. Here's our lineup for this last week of March:

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New study, five new sites for kids from US public broadcasting

  1. Fresh numbers on US online kids (and their parents)

    The latest nationwide study of US kids' Internet use turned up some interesting and varied facts about young Net users, the digital divide (e.g., 205% growth in African-American kids' Net use between 2000 and 2002), parents as "Net shepherds," Net vs. TV at home, and Net for research more than teaching tool at school. The surveys for "Connected to the Future", from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, were conducted by Grunwald Associates. Here are the highlights.

    The study found that in 2002...

    • Overall: 78% of US children (2-17) live in homes where either they or their parents access the Net - a 70% growth rate since 2000. And 65% of them access the Net from home, school, or somewhere else - a 59% growth rate since 2000.
    • Digital divide: Caucasian (64%) and high-income children (77%) have the highest percentage of Net access, but the "biggest gains in Internet use" happened with African-American and low-income children, at 205% and 96% growth rates respectively.
    • Little Web-sters: Pre-schoolers are the fastest-growing group of online kids - in 2000 6% of 2-to-5-year-olds were online; in 2002 35% were.
    • Web vs. TV: Use of digital media (Net, computer, video games) by 6-to-17-year- olds "is now approaching parity with television viewing," with 6-to-12-year-olds spending 3.1 hours a day watching TV and 2.9 hours a day using digital media. Teens' Net use is ahead of TV, at 3.5 and 3.1 hours, respectively.
    • Parents' views:
        83% expressed satisfaction with their children's Internet use.
      • 76% of 6-to-12-year-olds say their parents are either in the room or nearby all or most of the time they're online; 35% of teenagers report the same.
      • Most children and parents agree (79% vs. 95%, respectively) that parents are knowledgeable about kids' online activities; for teens and parents the gap in percentages was a little wider (66% and 93%).
      • 86% of parents see themselves as "guides to good Internet content" rather than "watchdogs" over their kids' Internet use.
      • Parents' concern for their kids' online safety ranks 10th among other concerns they have for their kids, after school safety, physical health, and academic success.

  2. Five new sites for 'tweens

    CPB's been busy. Because the Internet, it says, is "a place where more children are spending more of their time," the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has five new sites designed for the US's 16 million 9-to-12-year-olds. Having surfed through them, we think they'll appeal to 'tweens as well as their parents and teachers. Here they are:

      "The Plastic Fork Diaries" is a very clever mystery serial (no pun intended) that "follows six middle school students as they experience first-hand the relationship between food and their changing bodies, cultural differences, the vanishing family meal, nutrition, and athletic performance." The site includes recipes, Phood Physiology Phacts, what appears to be a carefully controlled discussion board called "Table Talk," stuff "4u 2do," as well as the story itself.

    • "3d&i" is a very cool-looking interactive site and soon- to-be TV show for tweeners designed to send the message that design is "a profound part of our daily lives, economy, and environment" and get them engaged in it. Users can talk with the site's "DesEyeNers" - the sometimes contentious Birdseye, Catseye, and Wormseye - on a discussion board. We couldn't find anything about online-safety practices on the boards, but it's a safe bet that, as part of a PBS project, the boards are at least carefully monitored. Among those behind the site's design were the Cooper-Hewitt/National Museum of Design and grad students at the Parsons School of Design.

    • "Don't Buy It" " 'sells' media literacy to youth ages 9-11!" says PBS's description. They can create ads and put them in "sneaky places" and generally learn how kids are marketed to on the Web, on product packaging, and in other media.

    • "It's My Life" helps 'tweens (kids 9-12) deal with and contact teen mentors about the social, ethical, emotional, and physical "stuff" their own age group faces. Some of the topics covered so far are crushes, birth order in a family, dreams, eating disorders, and bullying. The mentors are "teenage volunteers from across the US who have experience helping younger kids," the site says. For kids in emergency situations, the site provides the numbers of four 24-hour, national hotlines (for serious online risks and emergencies, there's the CyberTipline at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (the toll-free phone number is 800-843-5678).

    • "Backyard Jungle" is a multimedia site where 'tweens around the world can learn about ecology in a participatory way - post photos, drawings, and descriptions of their natural surroundings (their "backyard").

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A subscriber's response: On overly online teens

Last week we asked for your comments on how to work with a 16-year-old spending "an enormous amount of time with his online 'friends'." Subscriber Scott in Utah had this response:

"First, this is probably closing the barn after the animals have left: The relationship with children is best built from the earliest years.

"That said, I still (with a 20-year range in age from my youngest to my oldest) have to work at keeping the communication going. With my older kids, I take them to lunch regularly and email them. I call often. With my younger kids, I roll around on the floor and help them with homework. We do not allow the TV to be on incessantly, and we are available to talk 24/7. In short, we strive to be their best friends. This is hard when discipline comes into play.

"So, a suggestion: get another computer and find out which boards [or chatrooms] this teen goes to and go there. Get another line if you have to, and get your own IM going with them. Obviously they feel more comfortable typing to communicate, so start typing! Be careful on the criticism or it may drive them further away. How about asking them? Talk to their friends when they do come over to your home.

"Basically, the parents [of the 16-year-old] need to take the responsibility to bring back this relationship by communicating with their teen in the way that the teen feels comfortable.

"Oh yes, sincerity. Teens know that if I say that I am willing to talk to them at any time, and I go to bed early every night and won't wake up when they want to talk, then I am just blowing hot air."

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Web News Briefs

  1. Action on deceptive domain names, virtual child porn

    The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly this week to ban computer-generated child pornography and misspelled domain names used to lure people to sexually explicit content on the Web. The two were amendments House members added to a bill to create a national "Amber Alert" notification network for child kidnapping cases, CNET reports. The deceptive domain name amendment, approved by voice vote, "says anyone who knowingly uses an innocent-sounding domain name to drive traffic to a sex site could be fined and imprisoned for two to four years," according to CNET. "The second amendment, which the House agreed to by a 406-15 vote, represents Congress's second attempt to outlaw 'morphed' or virtual child pornography." The Supreme Court struck down Congress's first virtual-child-porn law last year on constitutional grounds. As for this latest bill, the Senate already approved the Amber Alert legislation without these two new amendments, so this bill - now differing from the Senate version - will be looked at by a conference committee, which will be appointed to draft a compromise proposal.

  2. Monitoring kids by mobile phone

    A phone-network-based child-tracking system will soon be available to parents, the BBC reports. The service - called Guardian Angel and developed by French cell-phone company Alcatel - uses existing mobile phone networks instead of global positioning systems to track a child's movements (GPS is the technology mentioned most in reports about the self-locating cell phones coming onto the market). After parents program in the time the child should arrive at his/her destination, Guardian Angel "will send text alerts to [a parent's] mobile phone if the child deviates too far from [a planned] route or takes too long getting there," according to the BBC. It can also be programmed to send parents a message when the child has arrived safely. "Parents need simply follow the usual route a child takes to and from school and at three-minute intervals press a button to map out the route." What we wonder - and what is not covered in the article - is whether somebody with ill intentions who is familiar with these phones could program them to send a specious "all is well" message. This is the false-sense-of-security issue that so often comes up with technology "solutions."

  3. Japan's young 'mobile Internet' users

    While we're on the subject, a complete report from an international conference about kids on the "mobile Internet" is now available. Don't miss the part in which Japanese high school students Miki, Yuriko, and Aato talk about how they use Net-connected cell phones (pp. 8-10). The conference, held in Tokyo this month, gathered experts from the cell-phone industry, broadcasting, universities, child welfare groups, consumer organizations, law enforcement, and regulators on three continents. Parents in North America will benefit from this first organized effort to understand the implications for kids of having phones which allow them to surf the Web, use email, and send and receive images across the Net, and which allow parents and others to track their movements in the "real world." These phones are ubiquitous in Japan and Europe and will soon be widely available in North America. Our earlier report led the 3/14 issue.

  4. Librarians sue over porn

    Having first gone public with their frustrations in 2000, 12 Minnesota librarians are suing their library system, saying they were exposed to "a barrage of sexually explicit Internet material in the downtown library," reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The suit seeks damages of at least $400,000 each and change of workplace, though one of the librarians said they're still willing to participate in mediation. "The case has aroused national attention as it seeks to define how far libraries should go to avoid censorship, at the risk of exposing librarians and patrons to unwanted images," according to the Star Tribune. The librarians had filed discrimination charges with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. "A year later," the Star Tribune reports, "the EEOC found probable cause that federal law had been violated because of a sexually hostile work environment. The case was referred to the Justice Department, which after a 19-month review decided last month not to file suit." Our thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this news out.

  5. Anti-spam startup (and other efforts)

    This week a successful software designer in California announced Mailblocks, "a service that he says will permanently end email spam for consumers who are being driven to distraction by unsolicited pitches for diet schemes and offers of great wealth from Nigeria," the New York Times reports. What's different about this service is it's based on the premise that people will pay a small fee to get rid of spam, or junk email. Interesting to us, is how Mailblocks works. The Times says it's "based on a so-called challenge-response mechanism to block bulk mail sent automatically to email accounts. When a customer receives a new message from an unknown correspondent, the system will intercept the message and automatically return to the sender a digital image of a seven-digit number and a form to fill out. Once a human being views that number and types it into the form - demonstrating that he or she is a person and not an automated mass- mailing machine - the system will forward the e-mail to the intended recipient." The service joins dozens of other commercial products, ISPs' increased efforts to relieve their customers, legislative efforts at state and federal levels in the US, and efforts by the Internet Engineering Taskforce to find technical antidotes for spam.

    As for other spam-eradication efforts afoot, here's ZDNet this week with an overview on how we're all doing so far and a piece on "JamSpam," an anti-spam consortium that ZDNet says is "drawing an all-star cast." For a view from the other (marketing) side, here's an opinion piece at on how today's email marketing will be tomorrow's "permission-based email."

  6. Dealing with pop-up ads

    More than almost any other Internet annoyance, especially spam, pop-up ads are "a treatable condition," the Washington Post reports. If they're driving you crazy, whether they appear under or over the Web pages you're trying to read, anti-pop-up software is just a few clicks away. Microsoft doesn't offer a way to block pop-up code for Internet Explorer, but most of its browser competitors, including Netscape version 7.0 or higher, do. But you can also download software that "sits between your Web browser and the Web and squelches the snippets of Web page code that instruct browsers to open additional windows." Here's a helpful Post sidebar that reviews some of these products.

  7. Australia now looks at porn in file-sharing

    Picking up on a report from the US Congress, the Australian government is now scrutinizing the issue of porn on file-sharing networks. "Trade in pornography on peer-to-peer networks is being examined by the Federal Government following the release of a US report that warns porn is easily accessible, Australian IT reports (see our coverage of the congressional report in leading Web News Briefs in the 3/14 issue). Kazaa, the most popular file-sharing service, has offices in Sydney but is officially based in Vanuatu. Meanwhile, here are the latest P2P (short for peer-to-peer file-sharing) numbers at CyberAtlas.

  8. Why is online music so popular?

    Not for the reason the hemorrhaging recording industry thinks. Online music is popular for its diversity, not the fact that it's free, suggests a Seattle Times columnist, and we agree (how else can a music fan dig around in the music libraries on the hard drives of millions of music fans whenever s/he wants?). But part of diversity's popularity is anytime/anywhere accessibility. The free file-sharing services (that also dish up plenty of porn for free) are popular because they give 24/7 access to as many hard drives as they have registered users (millions) - diversity defined. The closed paid-subscription services, also by definition, serve up a limited selection of music. While we're on the subject, here's a case study on MusicNet (fee-based online music service), looking at the challenge of trying to sell what's offered for free at Kazaa, etc. <>.

  9. Video games & global politics

    The German government this month banned a new game by the US's largest video game maker from being advertised in Germany or displayed on its store shelves (though it may be kept under the counter and sold to adults). According to the New York Times, "the game, 'Command & Conquer Generals,' depicts an animated siege of Baghdad, with the United States military battling a fictional terrorist group called the Global Liberation Army, which bombs the city with missiles carrying anthrax, killing civilians." The German government announced the game had been restricted because it glorified war. The US gamemaker, Electronic Arts, told the Times that similar games depicting combat, "but not blood and explicit violence." had not been restricted, and the company believed "the German government was acting against the game because of the Baghdad element and the political dispute between the United States and Germany over invading Iraq."

  10. Grandparents on Kazaa

    There's no single "digital divide." The one most commonly referred to in the media is the one between tech "haves" and "have-nots" usually based on income levels. None of the division lines are good, but the one this newsletter's most focused on bridging is the generational one between parents and kids. So we were interested to read this week about the narrowing gap between tech have-not grandparents and tech-literate grandkids. "Older people now spend so much time online that the AARP, a US association for middle-age and older adults, has begun advertising on KaZaA Media Desktop, software used by millions of teenagers and young adults to swap songs online," the New York Times reports. The ad agency that created the campaign says grandparents are now trading music files, chatting, and using instant-messaging.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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