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December 12, 2003
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this newsy second week of December:
- Family Tech: New ICRAplus filter makes sense for parents; Childnet Academy for young Web developers; MP3 players explained
- A subscriber writes: Teens and blogs/online journals
- Web News Briefs: Connected in the kitchen; UN's tech summit; Anti-spam laws; Spam from hijacked PCs and what to do; Net creates kid sex predators?; Prosecutor provides software; 'Mousetrapper' pleads guilty; Students behind pop- ups; 'Virtual high school'; Growth of porn acceptance in US; Viral politicking....
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- ICRAplus: Making sense for parents
Now they're talking! The Internet Content Rating Association has just released ICRAplus, a filtering step forward that makes a lot more sense for parents than did ICRAfilter, ICRA's first product for home PCs.
"It's a step forward in that, whereas ICRAfilter was wholly dependent upon the presence of labels or the parent's own block or allow lists, ICRAplus takes those basics but also allows for the easy addition of other filtering tools that are either in the marketplace as commercial products or noncommercial products offered by nonprofit organizations," Stephen Balkam, ICRA's CEO, told us in a phone interview. He said the arrival of ICRAplus finally ends the chicken 'n' egg conundrum ICRA faced whereby "not many people use ICRAfilter because not enough sites are [voluntarily] labeled and not enough sites are labeled because not enough people are using ICRAfilter."
A quick look at its basic features: ICRAplus...
- Reads ICRA labels, of course (Web site publishers' voluntary labeling/rating content for sex, nudity, profanity, violence, gambling, alcohol, drugs, and chatrooms).
- Supports other filtering/blocking software, including a growing list of ICRA partners.
- Supports parents' and other independent parties' block and/or allow Web site lists.
- Is free (though the filtering software it works with isn't always).
Cutting right to the effectiveness question: The answer lies in what you use with the basic ICRAplus download. Stephen points to ICRA's first two filtering partners, Optenet and FilterX. "If you went with those, either of the two would greatly increase your safety levels. If you took both you would probably have one of the strongest and safest filters available." Stephen added that "of course standards bodies will be testing" ICRAplus, and the German government is testing it right now (we'll let you know results soon as we hear).
Optenet and FilterX represent different filtering technologies, Stephen said. "FilterX is an artificial intelligence agent that assesses a site for sexual content [before it downloads]. Optenet has text analysis [English, German, and other languages] but also a very large URL block list updated frequently. It then presents labels that map back to ICRA's labeling system" and block according to parental preferences. Though they're European companies, their technologies are just as useful to families in other parts of the world, particularly English and European language speakers. Both products, which can be downloaded right from the ICRA site come with a free trial and cost 39 euros (about $48). A third noncommercial partner, Jugenschutzprogramm.de, also downloadable from ICRA.org, filters German-language sites (for free) based on its own URL-blocking list.
Stephen says ICRAplus also "potentially works with any other product," Net Nanny, CyberSentinel, etc. - whether or not it appears on ICRA's site, without changes to the products. "We're an open church," he said. ICRAplus ultimately is meant to be a user-friendly interface-plus that pulls all the online-safety options together for parents and adds the content-rating feature.
If any of you try it, let us know what you think! For a fulsome list of filtering products, go to GetNetWise.org.
- Childnet Academy for Web developers 18 and under
Tell young Web publishers at your house or school: It's not too late to enter! Especially not for kids and teens who already have Web sites they just need to spiff up over the holidays. January 10 is the deadline for submitting their work at ChildnetAcademy.org. SafeKids.com's Larry Magid, a judge in this year's international competition, has all the details here.
- MP3 players made easy
They're undoubtedly right at the top of a lot of kids' holiday wish lists this year. So to help parents get a handle on these very hip tech toys, Larry explains how they get filled with tunes and describes what he considers the three best players: Apple's iPOD, the Dell Digital Jukebox, and the Rio Karma.
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A subscriber writes: Teen online journals/blogs
In response to a comment from a mom concerned about teenagers' online journals (11/21), subscriber Craig in Pennsylvania writes about how teens' very public journals (on the Web) can actually help parents parent (Craig tells us he has a 14-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, both of whom go online frequently):
"I read the item in your 11/21 issue about online journals and would like to note that they can also be a powerful tool of insight for parents. I've been online for over a decade. My job is online content and marketing.
"My 14-year-old daughter blogs with Xanga. Most of it is extremely harmless chit-chat, a way to communicate to all her friends at once. Reading it is like reading the transcripts of a sleepover conversation. But it also provides occasional insight into her personality and activities that I, as a parent, would otherwise not know. I have her blog favorite-placed [bookmarked] (she doesn't know this) and check in once in a while.
"Is this invasion of privacy? I don't think so. It falls somewhere between a parent peeking into a diary and keeping an ear to the door during an animated phone conversation. As a parent, I have every right to read what she's posting to the world at large. As an online professional, I know what pitfalls she could encounter online, and need to keep a watchful eye on her Internet activities. Subtlety is the key here. The moment I refer to or confront her with something written in her blog, I'm heading down a confrontational path - so I would never do that, unless there was something she wrote of extreme concern to me. In the meantime, her writing provide some insightful context that help me better appreciate her teen struggles and triumphs."
We really appreciate reader comments on all aspects of family technology use. With your permission, we publish them because of how useful they can be to fellow parents. Send emails anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Web News Briefs
- Connected in the kitchen
Ten years ago, when the Web-as-we-know-it was born, who would've thought of having a computer in a kitchen? And who would've ever guessed that having it there could be beneficial to online kids? That's not the premise of "If the Kitchen's Warm, It May Be the PC" in the New York Times this week, but this very readable lifestyle piece got us to thinking about that old cardinal rule about keeping connected PCs in high-traffic places. Take, for example, the Chapin family in Massachusetts. Mr. Chapin told writer Katie Hafner that having the Net in the kitchen where the family spends most of its time together makes it "a completely family-oriented activity," which spells "a very different mind- set about how you think about what you're doing on the computer." He doesn't elaborate much, but Katie extrapolated that "when the only Internet connection available was a hookup in the kitchen, there were comforting limits on [the Chapin] daughters' options for Internet access." And it's not just that kids' computer use is easy to monitor; that use becomes just a part of everyday family life - whether it involves checking email, looking up trivia questions, doing homework, or finding a movie to see this weekend. When the Internet gets folded into the rest of life, all the regular family "stuff" - values, behaviors, policies - just might take over in the online part of children's lives too. But we'd like to hear what you think - via email@example.com.
- UN's first technology summit
It's been contentious. Some 40 heads of state and more than 12,000 business and civic leaders and other government officials attended the three-day UN World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva this week. The summit was largely about bridging the world's digital divide, the Associated Press reports. "Only a trickle of financial support compared with the $6.3 billion (US) one organizer estimated it would take to truly bring phones and the Internet to all corners of the world," according to the AP. "But Western leaders insisted that existing funding mechanisms are adequate, requiring at most unspecified adjustments."
The best news coming out of the summit so far (still going as we uploaded this issue) was about the "Cyber Oscars" - the top youth award going to Digital Divide Data, a project started by a former management consultant from Boston that provides data-entry jobs to young disabled people in Cambodia and Laos. According to the BBC, DDD's Phnom Penh office now employs more than 100 people, "all of them orphans, physically disabled or trafficked women."
- Anti-spam laws in the works, but...
The law got overwhelming support in Congress and will undoubtedly get signed by the President, but critics say it has so many loopholes the spam count in our in-boxes will probably increase when it goes into effect. There are all these exemption clauses, Wired News reports, among them "a provision that allows businesses to send out marketing messages as long as they provide a means for consumers to opt out of receiving such messages in the future." That means legitimate companies will be allowed to send email to anyone until the recipient opts out. That further means that you and I will first need to determine if the spam is from a legit company (not too hard - the subject line will be gobbledygook-free and the sender won't be a person's first name), then we'll need to reply with a request to be taken off their list. Sigh. More on the downside from ZDNet UK.
Anti-spam legislation is in process in Europe too. The British version of a law drafted by the EU went into effect Thursday, 12/11, "while Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Spain have also taken steps to adopt the law," the Sydney Morning Herald reported. "Nine EU members which have not adopted the legislation have been asked by the EU to say how they intend to comply with the law." Government officials from both the US and UK this week warned that "anti-spam legislation will be largely ineffective without international cooperation," Internet News reported.
- Spam: 66% from hijacked PCs!
We've mentioned this before, but the numbers are new and quite staggering, given how prominently we average home PCs owners figure in the mix: "As much as two- thirds of all spam email is being spread via PCs that have been compromised by viruses [undetected by their owners], such as the Sobig.F virus," said email security company MessageLabs in its year-end report. Both ZDNet UK and ITNews in Australia covered the report. Sobig opens a port or "backdoor" in people's PCs, allowing spammers to come in, turn it into a "spam engine," and make money off unsuspecting families. If your computer's acting funny, see the next item for help with this very problem.
- What to do about spyware, hijackers, etc.?
An excellent, brand-new resource is Intranet Journal's "Inside Spyware: A Guide to Finding, Removing, and Preventing Online Pests". The very first subhead is "Trojans: RATS That Can Control Your Computer," written so that even us laymen can understand. To address the trojan problem (trojans install software that opens a PC's door for hijackers), see "Spyware and Adware Scanning Software" under "Pestware Removal" (we use the free version of Ad-Aware on Intranet Journal's list, and it works just fine). But there's plenty more helpful advice besides this in the encyclopedic resource - all linked to from the article's main page.
There's a lot of helpful advice on computer security also at GetNetWise.org, including a page on "Teaching Kids About Security".
- Net creates child sexual predators: Study
At a recent Australasian conference on child abuse, researchers presented findings that the Internet is spawning "a new generation of sexual predators as young as six," the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The chief presenter, from the Child at Risk Assessment Unit of Canberra Hospital, said "there had been an alarming increase in children under 10 sexually abusing other children over the past few years [from three a year in the '90s to about 70 this past year], most of whom had used the Internet specifically to browse porn sites," according to the Herald. "Some were as young as six, seven or eight. Almost all of them went online to access pornography and many thought that was the Internet's sole purpose." Cassandra Tinning of the Risk Assessment Unit presented with Dr. Janet Stanley and Katie Kovacs from Australia's National Child Protection Clearing House. [For other fairly recent research on this, in the US as well as Australia, please see "Online kids' exposure to porn: 2 studies in 2 countries," 3/7/03.]
- Prosecutor to provide parents with monitoring software
We haven't seen this before: The prosecutor and several police stations in Middlesex County, New Jersey, have bought about 12,000 copies of Computer COP software to be made available to local parents free of charge. The program will also help law enforcement in cases against sexual predators. According to the East Brunswick Sentinel, the software includes a keystroke logger that captures text in email and chat, and it can "scan for images and potentially offensive words and phrases that could be used by pedophiles seeking to 'communicate with, lure or abduct' children over the Internet." The Sentinel adds that Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan started this program, called Middlesex Out-Reach and Education (MORE), right after he took office in July 2002.
Tell us what you think - should parents be getting online-safety software from the government and law enforcement? Send thoughts via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 'Mousetrapper' pleads guilty
John Zuccarini, the man who trapped countless unsuspecting Web surfers in tangles of nude and pornographic images, pleaded guilty to 49 federal charges this week, including one count of possessing child pornography. He "broke down in tears before admitting that he intentionally deceived minors into logging on to adult sites containing graphic sexual scenes," Reuters reports. "Minors" was the operative word - what finally snagged him in a criminal case. Zuccarini was "the first person charged under a new federal law making it a crime to attract children to X-rated Internet sites." Reuters added that "a very large percentage" of the 3,000 misspelled domain names he registered were geared toward children -because kids are more likely than adults to type in a misspelled Web address - and Zuccarini was paid for every visitor arriving at his porn-publishing clients' sites. He reportedly made as much as $1 million sending people to addresses such dinseyland.com, bobthebiulder.com, and teltubies.com. Here's the Associated Press's report. (For previous coverage, see our 9/5 and 2/14 issues.)
- Students behind pesky pop-ups
It turns out that two 20-year-old college students are responsible for a lot of those Windows Messenger pop-up ads multiplying like rabbits on computer screens worldwide. And they're challenging the US Federal Trade Commission in its lawsuit against the ads, Reuters reports. Anish Dhingra and Jeffrey Davis, students at University of California, San Diego, run D-Squared Solutions LLC, which, ironically, pitches its software in the very pop-ups it's supposed to get rid of. The FTC says they're committing "high-tech extortion." D-Squared countered, saying the FTC's allegations are going too far and its ads are "no more harmful than roadway speedbumps or television commercials." Reuters quotes a tech law expert as saying challenges to the FTC are unusual in these cases - companies "typically pay a fine and pledge to stop the disputed business practice," but this "dispute that could have broad effects on the future of Internet advertising."
There are other, much better ways to rid your PC of these pop-ups than buying D- Squared's software! A big help is to download the free anti-spyware software called Ad-Aware, scan your system with it, and quarantine everything it finds (Ad-Aware will walk you through it). See also "Getting rid of pop-ups," 10/17.
- 'Virtual high school'
Not every high-schooler is cut out for the 5-rows-of-6-desks-in-front-of-a- lecturing-teacher-scrawling-on-a-blackboard experience. The New York Times Magazine gives a bunch of examples, among them Douglas Koch, 12, Andy Markishtum, 16, Kyle Drew, 16, and Lacy Calvo, 16. Some of these kids are brilliant, some have ADD, some just can't cope with the Darwinesque social scene. The Times takes a close look at one solution for them: "School Away From School". An example: Salem-Keizer Online, or S.K.O., "one in a growing number of public, private, and charter schools available to kids who are looking for an alternative to a traditional education." At S.K.O., teachers and peers can be invisible. The article's long but also a page-turner.
- Growth of porn acceptance in US
"One of the biggest cultural changes in the United States over the past 25 years has been the widespread acceptance of sexuality explicit material - pornography," CBS News's "60 Minutes" reported recently in an investigative TV segment. The report says Americans now spend about $10 billion a year on adult entertainment - "as much as they spend attending professional sporting events, buying music, or going out to the movies." And the producers aren't small-time porn operators. 60 Minutes points to companies such as General Motors, Marriott, and Time Warner as purveyors of erotica (through subsidiaries). Our thanks to Quick Links for pointing this piece out.
- Oz porn filter reg too soft?
An Australian senator is calling for tougher Internet porn filtering in his country, Australian IT reports. Tasmanian Sen. Brian Harradine says Australia's current opt-in filtering regime (which means parents have to request the filtering from their ISPs) isn't working. He's exploring requiring ISPs to provide filtering, giving parents an opt-out instead.
- US election: personal politics too
Supporters of Democratic candidate Howard Dean are rallying around him virtually and in person, and they're connecting with each other as much as with the candidate and his agenda. Not as off-topic as it might seem for Net Family News, this New York Times piece is about how, with the Internet, politics - like a lot of things in life - is becoming more personal, more one-on-one, more about community than party, an experience more customizable by the individual, and thus a lot more interesting to many people (especially Generations X and Y). Viral politicking, like viral marketing (very- fast-paced Internet-enhanced "word of mouth"), is proving a bigger rallying force than the advent of television for politics in this huge, diverse country, possibly because TV is impersonal, one-to-the-masses, and the Internet is massive, rapid one-on-one enhanced with in-person gatherings enabled by Web sites like Meetup.com.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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