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October 17, 2003

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this second week of October:

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Help US Students 'Speak Up' on school tech!

October 29 is NetDay's "Speak Up Day" for American students of all grade levels, and we hope these major users of technology will add their voices to the discussion. The results of the student survey "will help shape the US Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan, a mandate of the No Child Left Behind Act," NetDay says in its Web site. The California-based national, nonprofit, ed-tech organization has set the goal of having 500,000 (of the US's 56 million) students participate in the survey.

Why the survey? NetDay puts it best: "Today's students are natives in the cyber world; adults are the immigrants. Students use technology like language or currency, without a thought about how or why. Adults have had to relearn how to work, play, and socialize using technology. Today's students have very distinct ideas about leveraging technology to improve their education ... but for the most part, no one has asked their opinion. Until now."

And because "technology is a fixture in almost every classroom in this country," basically, students will be asked how they should use it, if their use of it in school is different from out-of-school tech use, what they think about using technology for learning, and - if they designed a new school, what technology they'd make a priority.

Schools need to register so their students can participate. NetDay provides lesson plans for both individual and class survey takers and, on the page for students, links to articles that can be used for background and class discussion.

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Family Tech

  1. Getting rid of pop-ups (2 kinds!)

    There are two types of this other, just-as-annoying type of spam, writes's Larry Magid in a recent column: "ads that appear in Internet Explorer or whatever Web browser you're using" and those that "simply appear on the Windows desktop as if they have a mind of their own." Larry provides tips for getting rid of both types.

    We followed his directions for getting rid of the new Messenger (or Windows desktop) pop-ups, because we were getting a lot of them on one of our family's connected computers. Nothing happened - they kept coming! We emailed Larry about it, and he suggested they might be from software that came with some spyware program we'd inadvertently downloaded while surfing the Web. So we downloaded the free version of Ad-Aware that scans and finds all this invasive software that arrives on people's hard drives. We had it scan the computer, then deleted the many spyware files it found. Bingo! No more Messenger pop-ups, and it's been about a week (we used to get about a half-dozen a day and had to take the time to delete them one by one).

    Please note, clicking on the Messenger ads is like replying to email spam: Don't do it! It only lets the senders know you're there, encouraging them to send more.

  2. 'The ABCs of DVDs'

    More and more new PCs are coming with DVD drives that "write" DVDs - they don't just "read" them anymore (DVDs can store data, music, and still photos as well as movies). So if you're thinking of getting a new PC that has one or buying a DVD writer, "get ready for some alphabet soup," writes Larry Magid in a recent syndicated column. "As much as I hate adding complexity to your life, I'm afraid it may be necessary to take a short course on the ABCs of DVDs." Larry helps you wade through the thick soup, adding some food for thought concerning the ethics and evolving law around copying media.

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Web News Briefs

  1. COPA goes back to US Supreme Court

    Though the Child Online Protection Act has been around the block a few times, it should get a final decision by the US's highest court by the end of next July. This week the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on the law's constitutionality a second time. Passed in late 1998, COPA - which has always sat right at the intersection of protecting both free speech and online kids - was blocked as unconstitutional in federal court in early '99. After that decision was appealed and the Supreme Court heard arguments in May 2002, it sent the law back down to the lower federal court in Philadelphia for further deliberation. The Philadelphia appeals court confirmed its decision that the law was unconstitutional, this time on broader grounds. The Bush administration appealed, and thus we have this week's announcement.

    The law imposes prison sentences and fines of up to $50,000 for publishing content that is 'harmful to minors' in a Web site without restricting their access to such content, according to CNET's report. The Supreme Court will decide 1) whether it restricts too much material that adults have the right to see or buy, and 2) whether the government can require some form of adults-only screening system to ensure children cannot see material deemed harmful to them, according to the Associated Press. But a major obstacle to a final decision so far has been how "harmful to minors" should be defined by US law in a large, diverse society.

  2. 'Net-Detectives' in Australia now too

    The innovative online-safety training program turns kids into "Net-Detectives." Developed by London-based nonprofit Childnet International, the program uses the Net to link young people with real-life detectives and other experts. Together they solve realistic online problems (such as bullying) in real time. According to FindLaw Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, which is adapting Net-Detectives for Australian schools, recently launched the program in the Sydney area. Net-Detectives was designed by a British police officer mostly for middle-school-age students.

  3. Net vigilantes: New twist

    Civilians who try to catch sexual predators on the Net and then send tips to police are more trouble than help, law enforcement agencies say. But online vigilantism is also a very gray area, they acknowledge. The Boston Globe reports that "the Suffolk district attorney's office 'encourages anyone who observes potentially illegal activity on the Internet to report it to us,'... but does not enlist civilians to seek out offenders." In other words, the tips the vigilantes send can be helpful, but police need to do their own investigation and evidence-gathering work because they know what can be used as evidence in court.

    The new twist is a vigilante Web site the Globe piece points out: Perverted- It monitors regional chat rooms (in which, the site says, a pedophile is usually 30 minutes or less from his target), catches pedophiles trying to make contact with minors in them, and posts the pedophiles' contact data in a kind of alternative sex-offenders list on the site. The site also captures and archives pedophiles' conversations with children and sends tips to law enforcement. "We wish to take away a little bit of that 'safe anonymity' wannabe pedophiles think they enjoy," the site Mission page says.

  4. Norway: Crackdown on sex spam to kids

    It's the mobile-phone version of sex spam. "A series of complaints from [Norwegian] parents that children as young as seven years of age have received SMS messages pushing tele-sex has prompted action" from consumer advocates in Norway, Aftenposten reports. What alerted some parents were the phone bills: Last spring "several children received brochures for tele-sex services [on their mobile phones], and some parents have found themselves with fat bills after their children allegedly called up the advertised numbers." Here are the relevant rules in Norway, according to Aftenposten: Direct advertising to children is not forbidden, but promoting sex services to them is, and the use of SMS [text messages on phones] or email for advertising is permitted only after the customer has registered to receive it. Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this news out.

  5. US youth media consumption

    Harris Interactive's youth research group recently took a close look at how the rapidly changing, "fragmented," "saturated," interactive "media landscape" has affected young people's media consumption. Harris asked more than 2,600 people aged 13-24 how much time they spend with various media in a typical week (this was last June). The answers were divided into age groups, with the Internet topping all lists (17.4 hours a week for 13-to-15-year-olds; 17.3 hours for 16- 18; 16.2 hrs for 19-20; and 15.5 hrs for 21-24). TV, radio, and phone/cell phone followed, in that order, for all four age groups. The biggest gap in hours of use between the Net and TV was for 16-to-18-year-olds, who said they use the Net 17.3 hours a week and TV 12 hours. The chart about which media youth use for what (Table 2) looks more like an air traffic controller's screen, but it's worth it to download Harris Interactive's pdf-formatted newsletter for a teen's-eye-view of media uses.

    Another study, of just 7-to-12-year-old Americans, found that almost half of them (46%) go online at least four times a week and nearly 20% go online every day. As for their parents, the AOL-sponsored study found that 92% of mothers believe that the Web is "a great tool for their children" and 53% say that the Web has brought their family closer together. The study also found that Tampa/St. Petersburg (Fla.), Philadelphia, and New York were the most "youth-wired" cities. AOL's press release cited Jupiter Research as saying that 57% of US kids 11 and under will be online by 2007. Here's BizReport's (brief) coverage. Our thanks to for pointing this study out.

  6. Australian parents more vigilant

    Eighty percent of Australia's parents are involved in their children's Internet use, up from 60% two years ago, according to a new study cited by Australian IT. The study, by Internet research firm RedSheriff, found a much bigger jump in "the number of children requiring parents' permission" to go online: 20% now vs. 2% in 2001. "All forms of supervision, including parental involvement in Web surfing, regular checks and monitoring, and regulating the amount of time children spend online grew over the period," RedSheriff found. Even so, the researchers added, parents remain supportive of kids' Net use, finding it important to "a child's development and entertainment," echoing similar findings by the US's Corporation for Public Broadcasting last March. (We wish there were comparable recent US figures for filtering and other parental protection measures in the US.) In other key findings:

    • The use of filtering software in Australia has grown from 12% of surveyed households in 2001 to 18% now (3-year-old US stats, the latest available, show that about a third of connected US households have installed filters).
    • 91% of Australian households with children now have Net access, up from 80% in 2001 and 56% in '99.

  7. From free music to free calls

    The makers of Kazaa are on to their next "killer app." The two Swedish entrepreneurs and the Estonian programmers they hired to create Kazaa (later selling it to Sydney-based, Vanuatu-registered Sharman Networks) unveiled Skype about a month ago, and Skype software - as of Thursday - has already been downloaded 1.45 million times (up from 1.37m a few days earlier!). It's basically a free international phone service that uses peer-to-peer (P2P or file-sharing) tech to turn computers into phones. People anywhere in the world can just go to, download its free software, buy a headset (for around $25), and talk to each other. The Skype people say nothing else is needed to make it work on virtually any computer purchased within the last 2-3 years. Right now, while in beta, it only works with Windows 2000 and XP PCs, but that's being worked on (Macs to be included, as well as regular phones). What's the catch? Well, phone companies are probably reeling (if not following in the RIAA's footsteps), and there may be a fight with the FBI, CIA, etc., because Skype calls are strongly encrypted - tough to monitor even with a court order. Here's coverage at the New York Times. A Skype alternative, - the brainchild of Michael Robertson, who recently sold to Vivendi - is explained in this interview with him at

  8. No-frills Netscape

    AOL's new discount Internet service will cost $9.95 a month, the Washington Post reports. Subscribers will get one email account with a "" address. "America Online plans to offer the service primarily to people calling AOL customer service centers to cancel their $23.90-a-month America Online subscriptions," according to the Post.

  9. Wi-Fi unhealthy for kids?

    Parents in one Illinois school district think so and filed suit to stop the district from using Wi-Fi until more is known. The plaintiffs say "the district, its board, and its superintendent have implemented Wi-Fi wireless networking technology in classrooms, ignoring evidence that electromagnetic radiation from Wi-Fi networks poses health risks, particularly to growing children," CNET reports. They told CNET they're seeking a moratorium until the technology has been proven safe. The district says it's "following all safety regulations and that there is no hard evidence that suggests wireless technology is dangerous." It will be interesting to see if these concerns grow the way those about cell phone risks did in the UK a year or so ago (Consumer Reports says a firm answer to the cell phone question won't be known for years). Meanwhile, Wi-Fi's popularity grows. CNET cites data from Pyramid Research estimating that "the number of individuals who use Wi-Fi will grow from 12 million in 2003 to 707 million by 2008" and research from IDC showing that "more than 55,000 new hot spots in the United States over the next five years, adding to the 4,200 locations in place as of the end of 2002."

  10. Teen charged with securities scams

    A 19-year-old Pennsylvania resident has been charged with securities, mail, and wire fraud and computer crimes. According to CNET, Van Dinh, the scammer, allegedly persuaded investors he "met" in a stock-discussion Web site to download "a new stock-charting tool" that was actually spyware. The monitoring software he sent them recorded everything the investors typed on their keyboards, so Dinh could steal account names and passwords to the investors' online brokerage accounts. "He then proceeded to drain [one] account of nearly $47,000," CNET reports, citing complaints filed in civil court by the SEC and in criminal court by the Justice Department. The Register and the New York Times report on another, fairly sophisticated online securities scam Dinh allegedly conducted. Here's further coverage at the Washington Post.

  11. Tech company vs. university student

    Within 24 hours, SunnComm Technologies announced it was suing a student for his critique of it CD copy-protection tech, then changed its mind. Even so, the story got a lot of coverage in the US and UK - perhaps because the company's stock value reportedly dropped $10 million, a third of its total worth, after the Princeton student, John Halderman, published his paper? Explaining the change of heart, to his credit, SunnComm CEO Peter Jacobs said he didn't want to have a chilling effect on copy-protection research, the Daily Princetonian reports. "Jacobs said ... a successful lawsuit would do little to reverse the damage done by the paper Halderman published ... about his research, and any suit would likely hurt the research community by making computer scientists think twice about researching copy-protection technology." Halderman had published a work- around he'd discovered for SunnComm's copy-protection software. According to the BBC, Halderman "found that SunnComm's MediaMax CD-3 software could be bypassed by holding down the shift key on a Windows PC when a copy-protected CD was inserted. This temporarily disables the autorun function on Windows, stopping a anti-piracy program from installing itself on the computer." Other coverage was in Wired News, CNET, and the Washington Post.

  12. Microsoft's newest PC security plan

    "Microsoft once again is telling us something we already know," reports the Washington Post: "The 90% of computer users who use the company's software are sitting ducks for a rogue's gallery of viruses, worms, Trojan horses and an array of other malicious hacker tools." The Post is reporting on MS's latest "stab at trustworthy computing." The Electronic Frontier Foundation provides a lengthy white paper on current efforts to secure PCs. The bottom line of the EFF message, we think, is that by turning the control of our PCs' security over to large companies like Microsoft, we ultimately risk giving up control, too, of our computer and Internet use - and is likely to create new monopolies and higher prices. Here's the EFF's press release (a little more palatable to the average PC user).

* * * *

File-sharing corner

  1. Consumer Reports help for parents

    The consumer advocacy organization has put together an article that explains in simple, non-technical language "How to avoid being an online music pirate." The piece explains how to tell...

    • If there's file-sharing software on the family PC
    • Whether or not it's sharing music, and
    • If it's copyrighted

    There's also a link to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's subpoena database, in case parents are wondering if an RIAA subpoena's on its way, and information on how to disable the sharing tool in a very few of the file-sharing programs out there free for the downloading.

  2. Next-generation file-sharing services

    Parents who think that kids are no longer file-sharing if Kazaa has been deleted from the hard drive might want to think again. A forthright teen file-sharer might even tell you Kazaa's almost passe - old technology. Newer, more efficient file-sharing technology used by the likes of eDonkey, Piolet, RockItNet, and Blubster are moving in on Kazaa, Grokster, and iMesh - especially in Europe (Blubster was created by a 23-year-old progammer in Madrid), CNET reports. EDonkey is hot in Germany, the UK, and Israel, ZDNet UK reports. Both ZDNet and The Register report numbers from the latest research on file-sharers. Part of the explanation for this move to new P2P technology is its efficiency with bigger files like videos. "EDonkey is particularly popular for trading videos," The Register reports. The new generation of services are different from "FastTrack" technology-based Kazaa in two ways, ZDNet explains: 1) each file is broken up into tiny pieces, each of which is distributed independently (so "a movie does not have to be downloaded in its entirety before it can be offered to other people, making distribution of these and other larger files much more efficient"); and 2) even more "decentralized search" whereby individual PCs logged onto the file-sharing network become temporary indexers of categories of files (not nodes to be checked for just any file queried for).

  3. Another person mistakenly sued

    The first such case was in Massachusetts. The latest is a man in California who was among the 261 anti-file-sharing lawsuits recently filed by the RIAA, the Los Angeles Times reports. The man, Ross Plank, who says he doesn't use any file-sharing service, found out, with some research help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), that the RIAA had the wrong IP address - one he was not using. "Plank and the foundation said it's unclear whether the record companies had an incorrect IP address or whether Comcast turned over the wrong name," according to the Times. Here's the EFF's press release.

  4. How to price digital music?

    It's not about file-sharing, but rather about the legal alternatives thereto: The New York Times takes an interesting look at how the music industry has priced music since the days of vinyl records. It was interesting to see how much they're winging it with the new "standard" 99 cents a song on the online music services.

  5. Canada's new music service

    "Canada's first pay-as-you-go music download Internet site,", launched this week, Reuters reports. The article surveys its counterparts in the US. [We noted with interest that, if your connected PC is outside Canada, as mine is, the site detects this and - when you go to - it informs you: "Sorry, PureTracks is limited to Canada." This may be the way the Web is going as individual countries' laws have increasing impact on its use.]

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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