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September 5, 2003

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this newsy first week of September:

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Family Tech: The dad behind (new site for parents)

Herb Lin uses a swimming pool metaphor when he talks about raising child Internet users: "Water wings, having a fence around the pool, safety rules - all these things are good, but the very best thing is to teach them how to swim."

Dr. Lin, father of an eight-year-old, is the National Research Council senior scientist who directed a milestone US study - "Youth, Pornography & the Internet," released in mid-2002. We spoke with him, as a father as much as an academician, online-safety expert, and skilled diplomat (given how many authors the study had!), in anticipation of this week's launch of the study's companion Web site,

We'll tell you more about the Web site in a minute, but first a bit about online-parenting from Herb's unique perspective ("I don't think I could've done this [National Research Council] study without having a child of my own," he told us).

We asked him how his daughter uses the Net. "She doesn't without me - though she wants to," he told us. "Her computer is attached to the Net and she knows it, but whenever she goes on the Net, I'm right there next to her." Why only with you? we asked. "Because I'm not sure what she's going to run across." We asked Herb if working on "Youth, Pornography & the Internet" study changed his view. "It reinforced the feeling that I should be there with her. Eventually that will be replaced with family Net-use rules."

How about when she's 12? we asked Herb. "I'm trying to imagine me as a parent of a 12-year-old," he said, then started thinking out loud. "I will tell my daughter about what's on the Internet and say to her why I think these things are wrong to be seeing. I am going to put a filter on her computer [mostly to block violence and other content that would scare her, he later said in an email, because of her sensitivity to "scary scenes"].

"And as time goes on I'm going to relax the restrictions on it. On the other hand, I imagine there's a lot of stuff that she might be curious about - I'm going to have a very liberal policy about overrides to the filter. If there's something specific she asks to see, I'll say 'sure.' I just want to be there when she sees something that I think isn't appropriate. Then we'll have a discussion. Take breast cancer, for example - here's how come that was blocked. It's an opportunity to teach her about the limitations of technology. She runs across something really vile and she'll be upset, and we'll talk about that. The point is, for me there's an immediate point of intervention. I want to be there to supervise." Like allowing and using teachable moments? we ask. "Right. Every blocked site is a teachable moment. I hadn't thought of that but, yes, I don't want to miss those teachable moments - about technology's limitations as well as children's fears. Also about my values - what I want to instill here. About people's motivations - why they want to target her."

He gave us a great example: a site marketing dolls. "What do these people think about women, and why are they doing this? My own values and personal upbringing are such that I'm not as concerned about talking about sex, but also I [as a first-generation Chinese American] grew up with different notions of privacy for children. I'm more comfortable with surveillance. I have a simple rule about kids' privacy: Your privacy ends when your safety's at issue. I can imagine that's going to be controversial as she gets older - she'll argue with me about that."

Finally, an important point he made in our meeting: Parents and kids use technology differently. "People think they know what's on the Internet because they use it everyday," Herb said. "Kids use instant messages and chat rooms a lot for social purposes, and they are great at multitasking. Most adults don't do either [or do so in business settings]. Kids also have the time to play around with the Net and to explore it - indeed they are encouraged to do so. Few adults do." That's why it's helpful, maybe even important, for parents to try getting a kid's-eye-view of tech and the Internet, with their children's help, of course. To them, it's almost another tool altogether (or many), and only they - not our own use of it - can tell us what its various technologies (file- sharing, chat, gaming, instant-messaging, and Web research) mean to them.

Now for the Web site that prompted this interview with Herb: gets as close to encyclopedia treatment as a Web site can get - with all the credibility that implies. What better authority than the National Research Council of the National Academies (and counterparts around the world)? Great care went into this site, and its material is presented clearly and economically. The 450-page study the site's based on was limited in that it dealt with the content part of a parent's Internet concerns, not the *contact* part (as in contact with strangers). The Web site pretty much fills that glaring void in the section "Pornography and Predators: Basic Facts/Legal Issues." Both parents and educators will appreciate this resource, but it doesn't replace the recently relaunched, which covers other concerns of connected families: spam, viruses, and other family PC invaders and online privacy, as well as children's online safety (for more on PC invaders and "drive-by downloads," see also a New York Times piece this week.

Send us your comments on any of the above - we love to hear from parents and educators who are working this stuff out with their kids every day! The address:

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Web News Briefs

  1. File-sharing families: Ethical & legal Qs

    If you have any file-sharers at your house, get ready. We haven't seen it stated quite this explicitly in the media till now: "The [recording] industry plans to bombard college students, parents of teenage downloaders and other Internet users with lawsuits alleging millions of dollars in copyright violations," the Los Angeles Times reports, saying that record companies are "readying their most desperate bid yet to shake up the public psyche." The Times does a great job of illustrating that psyche in the person of Miriam Philips, 22, who, with her mother, leads the article. Both Miriam, an aspiring rabbi, and her mom have very active moral consciences. But "to Susan, downloading music on the Internet without permission is wrong. To Miriam, it's just what you do when you go to college." That right there is the mountain the recording industry is trying to move. The Times cites some observers likening the scope of the RIAA's p.r. project to the US government's "attempt to ban booze 80 years ago." About 60 million Americans copy digitized music, movies, and software from each other's hard drives via the file-sharing services. The ethics as well as legal issues around all that file-sharing are complicated, far less black-and-white than the recording industry would have us believe, the Times's sources indicate, and parents usually have to pick their battles when it comes to curbing kids' technology use. If file-sharing is central to the online activities of anyone in your family, this article's definitely worth reading - and it would be great fuel for classroom or dinner-table debate.

    Meanwhile, USA Today reports that the RIAA is poised to make good on its promise to sue file-swappers. And the Boston Globe reports that colleges - in order to fend off future lawsuits and reduce student interest in Kazaa and other file-sharing services - are starting to create their own digital-music services.

  2. From 'time out' to 'Net time out'

    "You'll lose your Internet privileges if you don't clean up your room ... [or] wash the dishes ... [or] get home by midnight." Whatever the goal, parents are increasingly playing the Internet card when it comes to disciplining kids, the Associated Press reports. You could call it the new "time out" or "getting grounded" in the Internet Age. Online time is also used as an incentive: "Ginny Meacham, a mother of six in Orem, Utah, uses Time-Scout Monitor to track [her children's] time online," according to the AP. "Each child can 'buy' about two hours a day by doing chores, and after the allocation is out, Time-Scout automatically shuts power to the computer's monitor." In a separate article, AP writer Anick Jesdanun reviews Time-Scout Monitor and four other time-out software products.

    Another option, not mentioned in Anick's piece, is a very basic hardware product we've heard about recently: Webguard, which can be found at, makers of line-sharing gadgets for telephone companies. It looks and works like an electronic alarm clock, or timer, and sits between the computer modem and the wall jack (it also controls/times phone use, but that form of discipline is probably a thing of the past, right?).

  3. Campus plagiarism on the rise

    We can't say it enough: Critical thinking is critical in the Internet Era, for Net users of all ages. Critical to children's online safety, accurate information-gathering, ethical academic work, and privacy protection - to name just a few good outcomes. Take the growing problem of online plagiarism, for example. According to a just-released survey of 23 college and university campuses across the US, 38% of undergraduates surveyed said they'd committed "cut-and-paste" plagiarism, "paraphrasing or copying anywhere from a few sentences to a full paragraph from the Web without citing the source," the New York Times reports. "Almost half the students said they considered such behavior trivial or not cheating at all. Only 10% of students had acknowledged such cheating in a similar, but much smaller survey three years ago." As for faculty surveyed about the problem, 20% said they use products like those at Turnitin to detect plagiarism. We agree with what one of the students wrote on the survey, as cited by the Times: "This isn't a college problem. It's a problem of the entire country!"

    For the broader topic of critical thinking and the Net, an excellent discussion point (for schools and families) is a recent 10-page study out of Wellesley College, "'Of Course It's True; I Saw It on the Internet!': Critical Thinking in the Internet Era". It looks at how, and how extensively, even top college students use the Internet. (For our coverage of this study and for the online-safety angle, please see our 5/30/03 issue.)

  4. More on alleged teen worm writer

    NBC conducted an off-camera interview with 18-year-old Jeffrey Lee Parson and an on-camera one with his parents - see (Parson was arrested last week for programming a variant of the MSBlaster worm that infected 1 million+ computers; his variant allegedly infected about 7,000 computers.) The takeaways from these interviews were 1) the clarification that Parson's "slightly altered variant" was not the main source of damage, and 2) the Parson family's suggestion that the government was using a naive young man as an example, in calling him a "key figure" in the computer worm incident. The young man told NBC that he just wanted to "return to his normal school life" (Reuters interviewed a friend of Parson's). Here's the Associated Press's report on the NBC interviews. Meanwhile, a second person is being investigated in the MSBlaster case, the BBC reports: a Romanian 24-year-old alleged to have written yet another modified version. Reuters reports that, under Romanian law, he could get 15 years for code that, experts say, probably took him 15 minutes to write.

    Here's the New York Times's big-picture piece on "digital vandalism." The central point: "As America's 156 million Internet users brace for the next round of digital vandalism, some [computer security] experts say that it is time for the government to bolster a basic sense of stability in cyberspace that societies expect from their critical public resources." Sometimes we get emails from readers saying so, too, but we hate to see government clamping down too much on this global medium - especially the US government. But what do you think? Do email us.

  5. Teen felony case dismissed

    The jury's still out on whether it was a miscarriage-of-justice story, but it's a disturbing one nonetheless. A judge last week dismissed the case of a high- school student charged with a felony in 2001 for writing a story about attacking his school, Wired News reports. The judge cited lack of evidence showing malicious intent. The case isn't truly closed for the defendant, however. "Now, after tens of thousands of dollars spent fighting the charge, Brian Robertson is free, but the accusation that he broke the law will stay with him," according to Wired News. "Under Oklahoma law, if a case carries on for more than a year, a felony charge remains on the defendant's record, even if the case is dismissed. The felony gets expunged from the record only if the defendant is acquitted following a trial." Robertson testified that his writing was a work of fiction. "He said he found the first paragraph of the story on the school computer and simply began writing where the original writer had left off."

  6. Net's effect on young brains?

    Unlike other generation gaps, the one we're experiencing now "doesn't revolve around mores, fashion, or pop culture so much as technology," according to the thesis of a recent Newsweek International article. But we simply don't know yet what this means for child development. "Only in the past few years have scientists begun to plumb children's brains to see what goes on during the hours they spend engrossed in videogames or surfing the Web," reports Newsweek, citing the experience of kids from Korea to Kansas. "What seems clear is that children are developing a far different set of skills than they had before. They are growing adept at handling visual information and multitasking. And the messaging free- for-all may actually help some kids overcome childhood awkwardness in relating to their peers." The article zooms in on two top uses of technology by kids: gaming (from videogame consoles to multiplayer online games) and messaging (email, chat, instant-messaging, text-messaging, etc.). "Both forces are reshaping the experiences of millions of children around the world," Newsweek suggests in this thorough report. It links to no less than 10 related pieces, from a critic's view of kids and tech to teen LAN parties around the world to what Microsoft, IBM, Sony, Philips, Nokia, and other firms are learning from young tech users. (For teenagers' own views, see our 4-part series, "Conversations with teens about tech".)

  7. Famous 'mousetrapper' arrested

    The man alleged to own thousands of slightly misspelled Web addresses that pulled unsuspecting surfers into sites swimming in pornographic pop-up ads was picked up by federal law-enforcement officers in a Florida hotel room this week. According to CNN, John Zuccarini's prosecution is" the first of its kind to be brought under the Truth in Domain Names Act," enacted as part of the PROTECT Act signed into law earlier this year. PROTECT made it a crime to entice children into exposure to Internet porn. CNET reports that the charges against Zuccarini included "creating at least 3,000 misleading domain names, such as, that would result in Internet users accessing advertising Web sites. These Web sites, some of which were pornographic, would pay Zuccarini a total of as much as $1 million a year for bringing viewers to their sites." Here's our last coverage of the mousetrapper's exploits.

  8. 13-year-old Net-pedophile victim

    Another 13-year-old girl has been victimized by a man she "met" in online chat. A New York man was arrested and charged with rape, and the New York Times does a good job of describing the events that led up to his crime - including four months of online communication between the man and the girl. "The case was the latest in a string of Internet sex crimes that the Westchester district attorney, Jeanine F. Pirro, has pursued in recent years, leading to the convictions of a former school board member, a Yonkers official and many others," according to the Times. We keep seeing the age of 13 in reports like this, which says something to us about a tough combination of naivete and determined independence in younger teens (not to mention the need for a parent's understanding and street smarts). A great resource for young people and parents is from Childnet International.

  9. Bulgarian schools' Net-safety rules

    Bulgaria now has national rules for Internet safety in its schools. The rules, which all schools must adopt by order of the Ministry of Education and Science, were developed as part of Bulgaria's "Internet and Children's Rights" project. With this development Bulgaria "ranks among the first countries in Europe which convert the implementation of security and safety measures for students using Internet into a state policy," according to that government. Parents, educators, ed tech specialists, and government experts all participated in the rules development project. Here's the government's press release. Our thanks to the SaferInternet newsletter for pointing this development out.

  10. UK parents 'unconcerned'

    It's quite a statement: "PC World [UK retailer] has criticised parents for what it calls 'a staggering lack of concern' about children being exposed to unsuitable content and dangerous strangers online." That's the lead sentence of an article in Britain's about a PC World-sponsored survey of British parents. It found that 53% are unconcerned about their children being contacted by strangers online, 40% indicated they were unconcerned about their children viewing unsuitable material online, and 38% "admitted that they have taken no precautions at all to activate any kind of online child protection." It's an awareness issue, vnunet quotes a PC World Net- safety specialist as saying. The figures are an improvement over the previous year's survey, he said. Our thanks to the SaferInternet newsletter for pointing this item out.

  11. 'Video games major'

    Of course American academe isn't calling it a video games major. Rather, "Interactive Media" or "Digital Arts" is the more typical title in the course catalog. But whatever it's called, the study of video games - in computer science, art, and sociology - has entered the curriculum and academic research in US higher education, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "A few big-name universities are toying with the serious side of video games. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Carnegie Mellon University offer curricula on video-game criticism, games as educational tools, and game design," according to the Monitor, with Georgia Tech offering a PhD in digital media and a master's in information design and technology "in which many students are pursuing video-game design."

  12. Spain's surfing surge

    Spain's Net population has grown sharply of late, having risen from 25% of the overall population in 2002 to a projected 33% for this year, CyberAtlas reports. Almost half of Spain's estimated 14 million Net users go online every month. CyberAtlas adds that "the most dramatic growth has been among visits to education and careers sites, with 30% of Spanish surfers visiting an education or jobs Web site in May 2003, compared to 20% the year before. Entertainment sites are also strong in the Spanish market, with over 50% of surfers now visiting one each month."

  13. New ID theft numbers, coalition

    Identity theft was all over the tech media this week because of 1) some arresting data released by the FTC and 2) a just-announced new coalition combating the problem. In its first national survey on the subject, the Federal Trade Commission announced its finding that 27 million people have been victims of identity theft in the last five years, costing them $5 billion and businesses and financial institutions almost $48 billion, Reuters reported. To fight at least the Internet part of the problem, there is now a Coalition on Online Identity Theft, CNET reports, made up of "some of the biggest names in e-commerce, including, eBay, and Microsoft." CNET adds that the coalition will develop a public education campaign and encourage its members to work closely with law enforcement.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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