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October 10, 2003

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Here's our lineup for this first full week of October:

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Bullying: The online version

It's certainly not just big guys pounding on little guys anymore. Especially with the advent of the Internet, bullying is increasingly about wielding psychological power - regardless of gender - in chat, IMs, blogs, and cell-phone texting, on Web sites and discussion boards, as much as it ever was on schoolbuses or the playground. The problem is, this expansion into technology means it's tough for a victim to get away - these tools give kids anytime access to each other, for good or bad.

"About 45 million American kids ages 10 to 17 are currently estimated to be online, spending hours every day at their computers," according to "Cliques, Clicks, Bullies and Blogs," a commentary in the Washington Post last Sunday. "With the click of a button, they can e-mail rumors to scores of recipients for instant viewing, permanently damaging a peer's reputation and social life."

The operative word in that last sentence, of course, is "can." That's not to say they will, and we're not aware of any research showing how much of kids' online communications are negative or cruel (some older data on bullying in general can be found at The Post commentary, written by Rachel Simmons, a consultant on psychological aggression in schools, is naturally weighted on the side of bad behavior online, but it's an eloquent wake-up call to parents and teachers. And many wake-up calls are needed.

Because another problem is, technology has a way of intimidating us adults - the very people who can help children use it constructively. "In all but the most disruptive situations, school officials disapprove but do little else, arguing that the acts occur off school grounds," Simmons writes. "Yet as every child knows, 'juicy' material is quickly passed around ... indelibly marking the fabric of the school community.... Administrators demur in part because they are intimidated by the technology being used" and "parents plead technological ignorance with a my-Danny-hooks-everything-up sort of pride." Meanwhile, she argues, "the Internet has become a free-for-all where bullying and cruelty are rampant."

By way of explanation, Simmons cites a psychotherapist's view that the Internet removes teenagers' social inhibitions, gives them "a false sense of security and power." We've all seen that level of naivete in this fall's cases of teenagers arrested for writing worms that have damaged computers worldwide. They didn't think they'd be held accountable. (See "Another teen alleged worm writer arrest" last week.)

What can we do? We suggest that the two parties to the solution - kids and adults - need to...

  1. End the denial. For kids, it's denial that what they do online is off adults' radar screens and therefore without repercussions (that lack of accountability). For parents, it's either intimidation with technology (Step 2 can help with that) or the sense that there's no time to learn all this stuff the kids are so proficient at (but you might find that it won't take that much time to know what you need to know, and the little time it takes will be a wonderful investment).
  2. Communicate and learn from each other. Neither the solution nor the technologies are rocket science, no matter how mind-boggling instant-messaging, file-sharing, or blogs seem to be. Both kids and adults might enjoy the process of sharing what they already do know. Kids can fill parents in on how they and their peer group use tech (everybody knows kids find it empowering to have their expertise tapped). Parents can share their values and social "street smarts" with their kids. They can help kids see the importance of employing this wisdom and being accountable wherever they are - cyberspace as much as anywhere else.

What have we missed? Are we deluded in thinking parents and teens can communicate to that degree? Some teens make it clear they're not interested in parent input - what can parents who want to be engaged do when shut out of kids' online lives? We would appreciate your solutions and perspectives - emailed to Your views and stories can be a big help to other parents and educators.

For further information

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Web News Briefs

  1. UK teen's alleged sabotage of major US port

    A 19-year-old "lovesick hacker" in Britain "brought chaos to America's busiest seaport after launching a computer attack on an Internet chatroom user who had made anti-American comments," The Guardian reports. Police, The Guardian adds, believe this to have been "the first electronic attack to disable a critical part of a country's infrastructure." The hacker reportedly was upset because his girlfriend is American. In a British courtroom this week, "the jury heard that the attack had to go via various intermediary computers to build strength before finally reaching [the offending chatter's] PC. One of those intermediary servers was the Port of Houston, the eighth-biggest shipping port in the world. The 'denial of service' bug meant the port's Web service was not accessible to provide crucial data for shipping pilots, mooring companies and support firms responsible for helping ships to navigate in and out of the harbour, placing shipping at risk." The hacker testified that evidence incriminating him was planted on his PC by a malicious hacker using a trojan program. Here's The Register's reporton this news.

  2. Teen techies aid lawsuit

    Two high school seniors in Stamford, Connecticut, are the secret weapon in a class action suit against spyware maker Xupiter. Jay Cross (16) and Christopher Carlino (17) "have become the primary researchers for the case, tirelessly ferreting out information about the creators of Xupiter and the havoc their software wreaks on computers," Wired News reports. The spyware gets installed when the software of some of the file-sharing services is downloaded - often unknown to users (information is usually buried in licensing agreements they quickly through to get the file-sharing software). Here's why people are suing: Among other things, "Xupiter attaches itself to Internet Explorer's toolbar. Once active in a system, it periodically changes users' designated homepages to, redirects all searches to Xupiter's site, and blocks any attempts to restore the original browser settings," according to Wired News.

  3. The network generation

    Take a look at life on campus to get a feel for how the Internet works in our children's lives, suggests Dana Blankenhorn in The way she describes it (and as you well know), it's much more fluid than the way we grew up with TV. Metaphors that occur to us: a pilot in a cockpit, a trader on Wall Street, an air traffic controller at work. They don't use the network, at times they kind of even live on it. Dana uses file-sharing as an example: "The reason you can't stop file-trading has nothing to do with the law or ethics. When you live on the network, you use one device to buy music, get music, store music, and hear music. You're not driving to get a one-hour CD, packing its jewel case in a stack somewhere, then reloading every hour. The experience must be more organic than that."

    And while we're on campus, Forbes lists "America's Most Connected Campuses."

  4. Prolific UK pedophile jailed

    A Briton who "groomed" 73 teenage girls in the space of five months went to prison (for five years) this week, The Independent reports. The case, in which Douglas Lindsell, 64, befriended the girls in MSN chatrooms "is believed to be one of the reasons behind last month's decision by the software giant Microsoft to shut all its UK-based MSN chatrooms." Reportedly using a number of names and identities and usually posing as a teenage boy, "he manipulated girls into giving him mobile phone numbers and home addresses, and tried to lure at least two into his car," according to The Independent. "If the girls broke contact, he plagued them with threatening text messages and phone calls, sometimes threatening to rape them and their friends." One 13-year-old agreed to meet with him after he said he was 18 and suffering from cancer. "But she went to the meeting place with friends and refused to get in his car after becoming suspicious," The Independent reports.

  5. Secret monitoring: Growing privacy concerns

    One spyware company founder actually made his product weaker in order to be able to live with himself, the New York Times reports. TrueActive makes one of those products that can be installed remotely, and secretly, by sending an email (much like the questionable product we highlighted last week that's sent via e-greetings). The Times points out that there's a new market for these products: "Criminals are using [them] on public computer terminals at copy shops and libraries to harvest credit card numbers, computer passwords and personal financial information" (everyone should be alert to the risks of typing passwords or credit card numbers on public PCs in cybercafes, libraries, airports, etc.). Privacy advocates are rightfully speaking out, a new anti-monitoring software industry is taking root, and the older PC security companies (McAfee, Norton, and Symantec) have upgraded to include snoopware-detection features, the Times reports.

  6. New anti-predator tools for cops

    Ninety-nine percent of Canadian children have Net access, 25% have had online discussions with people they've met only in a chatroom, and 15% of those 25% who've "met" someone online have gone to meet that person, often on their own, the Toronto Globe & Mail reports. Those data and the fact that a Toronto police officer sent an unsolicited email to Bill Gates asking for help are the reason why Microsoft and Canadian police are now working on what the Globe & Mail says "will soon become the leading investigative tool for tracking Internet pedophiles around the world." The too is a group of software programs that will help law-enforcement find and prosecute sexual predators who stalk children on the Internet. Our thanks to the EC's SaferInternet newsletter for pointing this article out.

  7. Arizona's child porn law challenged

    Anyone in Arizona who clicks to a child pornography Web site could end up in prison for 10-24 years, reports , adding that it's the most punitive child porn law in the US. "Critics argue that someone who possesses one or two pieces of child pornography could wind up spending more time in prison than someone convicted of second-degree murder or child molestation. They say the law against child porn, called sexual exploitation of a minor, was not written with the Internet in mind." The law's detractors are seeking an opinion from the Arizona Supreme Court.

    Meanwhile, Germany's seeking tougher punishment for child porn consumers, "after police cracked a huge global child porn network," Reuters reports (see last week's lead Web News Brief for details).

  8. Nokia's new gaming phone

    Called the "N-Gage," it's the first phone/"game deck." But because it's pricey (more than an XBox or PS2, which generally requires help/approval from parents), there's a lot of skepticism that it'll be big in the US market anyway. "Consumers are used to cheap hardware, and the device makers realize their ante for the games business is to lose money on the hardware and make money on the software," according to On the other hand, "gamers are on the move already. An estimated 9 million Americans play cell phone or personal digital assistant games already." The phone also features MP3 music, FM radio, and personal productivity software like an address book and calendar. The BBC's coverage is less gloomy for Nokia.

    But wait, even before the phone game deck catches on, we see reports of possible "text addiction" among Britain's young cell phone users. UK market research company mobileYouth says Britons under 25 will spend 25 billion pounds (about $42 billion) on text messaging this year, The Register reports. MobileYouth warns that also suggests that this "addiction" could endanger young people's health and emotional well-being.

  9. China's young surfers: Study

    Forty percent of Chinese 10-to-18-year-olds use the Internet, according to a study by that country's Academy of Social Sciences cited by The Register. Of those 40%, 40% said their Net use had "no influence on their studies," 30% said "the Net was actually useful for their education," and "the rest said the Net did have an 'undesirable impact on their studies'," the survey of 3,400 students found. The Register cites a Xinhuanet reports saying "there was also no evidence that young Net users suffered from personal isolation. In fact, this Net-savvy group claimed to be 'more satisfied with their lives' than non-Net users. Our thanks to the EC's SaferInternet newsletter for pointing this item out.

  10. Ads affect Net searches

    Google doesn't have paid inclusions in its search results, Yahoo does. And just what is a "paid inclusion"? Marketing lingo for an ad. "In the last year, a host of search engines, including MSN and Lycos, have sprinkled growing numbers of paid corporate Web pages into the search results, accepting money each time one of these so-called paid-inclusion links is clicked," Business Week reports. "This practice is a booming business, one expected to double this year, to $200 million, and to reach $600 million by 2007," BW adds. Of course the problem for us Web searchers, says one analyst BW quotes, is that this "dilutes the relevance and accuracy of the search results. But Yahoo argues that "paid inclusion can provide users with better information" and that its search results are "still displayed in order of relevance." In any case, the millions of people out there who use the Web for research need to know their search results are turning up a healthy dose of advertising too, whether or not "relevant."

* * * *

File-sharing corner

  1. New label creative with file-sharing

    A new Berkeley, Calif.-based record company has made file-sharing the heart of its business, Wired News reports. "Magnatune calls its approach 'open music,' a blend of shareware, open source, and grass-roots activism." Revenue comes from licensing deals and sales of high-quality music files, and artists get 50% of all proceeds. It's based on the familiar old model of sampling. "Listeners can download, swap and re-mix songs as much as they like. Where industry-backed music-download services like and FullAudio's MusicNow employ proprietary software and restrictive terms of use, Magnatune distributes song files under a 'some rights reserved' license from Users are free to make derivative works for noncommercial use." Here's the New York Times's big-picture view of "upstart labels."

  2. Kazaa to 'come clean'?

    A trade group representing Kazaa and Altnet file-sharing services this week announced a plan that says it would "stop piracy by allowing consumers to legally buy copyright-protected music" and earn the music industry "up to $900 million per month," the Washington Post reports, though adding that the music industry remains skeptical. The catch is, other P2P services like Grokster and Morpheus would have to join in. As for the plan, it would happen in stages, but it calls for record labels allowing their songs to be distributed over the networks "protected with copyright tools rendering them unlistenable" until consumers pay Kazaa, etc., to "unzip the copyright- protection shroud."

  3. File-sharing workarounds

    No big surprise: File-sharers are going underground because of the RIAA's lawsuits, the Seattle Times reports - at least the more sophisticated ones. Among other workarounds, they're circulating and using software that sets up encrypted instant-messaging and content-sharing networks of up to 50 users.

  4. Bill addresses US government file-sharing

    US government agencies use file-sharing services too, and the House of Representatives this week voted to require the government to ensure its computers are not exposed to P2P-related security risks, CNET reports. "US government agencies that use such decentralized networks to exchange data would have to ensure they do not accidentally expose classified material or allow hackers into their systems under the bill," sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California. An example of government P2P use is, which uses the technology to grab statistics and other info from computers in more than 100 different agencies. What concerns Representative Waxman is that improper configuration of the file-sharing software can mean exposed tax returns, medical records, etc., and can leave government computers more vulnerable to worms, viruses, and spyware - a whole lot like the risks file-sharing family PCs face.

  5. Florida university locks out dorm file-sharing

    There were periods when 90% of the traffic on the University of Florida's dormitory network was file-sharing. Wired News reports that, "in an average 24-hour period, 3,500 of the 7,500 students in the residence halls would use P2P services like Kazaa." Now they can't. University network administrators use software called Icarus that reportedly educates students while restricting file- sharing. "When students first register on the network, they are required to read about peer-to-peer networks and certify that they will not share copyright files. Icarus then scans their computer, detects any worms, viruses or programs that act as a server, such as Kazaa. Students are then given instructions on how to disable offending programs. If a student is on the network and tries to share files, Icarus automatically sends an e-mail and an immediate pop-up warning and disconnects the student from the network." They're off the network for a half hour with the first violation, five days with the second, and "subject to the school's judicial process" and indefinite lack of access with the third.

    Meanwhile, three Australian students recently pleaded guilty to "Australia's first criminal internet piracy charges," Australian IT reports. The students, ages 20 and 21, were operating "an illegal Napster-style site for downloading music CDs known as 'DJ Ace.' The site had 390 CDs and more than 1800 tracks. It has had more than 7,000,000 hits."

  6. File-sharers will fight back, senator warns

    Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah warned that we could be seeing only the tip of the iceberg with RIAA lawsuits against file-sharers. According to Reuters, the senator said "peer-to-peer users not only risk copyright-infringement suits from the recording industry" but also "criminal charges if they allow children to download pornography from their computers" and "identity theft if they unwittingly share tax returns." Class-action lawsuits against Internet service providers, software companies, and computer makers could result, he said.

  7. Another ISP resists

    The US's 3rd-largest cable company, St. Louis-based Charter Communications, has not only joined Verizon and SBC Communications in resisting turning over file- sharing customers' names to the RIAA. It has filed suit against the RIAA in an effort to keep the names under wraps, St. Louis Business Journal reports.

  8. What "peer-to-peer" really means

    Better Internet security is what P2P spells, argues Simson Garfinkel in MIT's Technology Review in an in-depth backgrounder. The Net's current infrastructure has gotten away from it, he says, but peer-to-peer is "really how the original Internet was designed to work" - it "increases the reliability and redundancy of Net-based systems." The RIAA is afraid of it because "it can be used to create networks that the industry can't shut down. But peer-to-peer can also be used to create networks that earthquakes, wars, and terrorists can't shut down."

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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