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March 19, 2004
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this third week of March:
- 'Check out summer camps' Internet policies': Det. Bob Williams's Tip No. 6
- Web News Briefs: Kids' cell-phone safety; 'Chatnannies'; 4 new worms; 75% of US connected; Viruses + P2P = Phatbot; US moves against e-gambling; Searching with 'Mamma'; New local Google; Google's (privacy) downside; Broadband catching up with dial-up; Uncle Sam gets WhiteHouseKids.com; Breaking up online; Legal file-sharing....
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'If you're considering summer camp for kids, check into Net-use policies': Det. Williams's Tip No. 6
"This is the time of year parents are making plans for summer vacations and "sleep-away camps." Camps have many themes, from drama to sports to computers. Even "generalist" summer camps now offer computers and Internet access to attract more campers. When parents register children for summer sleep-away camp, they should ask some important questions if Net access is in the brochure....
- Is there an adult supervising the children while online?
- Is chat or instant-messaging allowed?
- Is filtering or monitoring software on the machines?
- What is the camp policy regarding visitors?
"You can see where I'm going with this. If your child is at a camp for an extended length of time and has online access, s/he may become friendly with someone online, as often happens because kids love online communications. In the event the child attempts to meet this new cyber-pal (which may be easier because s/he's not under parent supervision), will the visitor be allowed access to the camp? If the visitor is a predator, he could tell camp personnel he's related to your child, and they may not know to question that claim.
"Just another precaution my experience with kids and online safety tells me concerned parents may want to be aware of. In these times of anytime-anywhere Net access, it goes for any situation in which a child may be away from home for a while - including grandma's house."
Det. Bob Williams is a father of two high school students and Youth Officer in the Greenwich, Conn., Police Department (see Part 1 of this series for more on Bob).
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Web News Briefs
- Protecting kids on phones
The phrase "content is king" is back in vogue, now with cellphones connected to the Net at broadband speeds. What this means for parents, is that content drives the mobile Internet just as it did the unprecedented growth of the fixed Net, and kids can run into all the same content on their phones that's available on the Web, good and bad.
Mobile phone companies are striking deals with content companies right and left, the International Herald Tribune reported from the floor of a huge cell-phone conference in Cannes last month. For example, because of a newly forged partnership between Alcatel and Universal, Alcatel phone users can send each other video clips of favorite celebs. Another example: "A photo-music-video service that mobile operator SK Telecom will introduce in Korea next month, whereby "users can combine self-made digital photos with music and videos they like, then forward them to phones or email addresses." Can you see the implications for young 3G (next-generation) cellphone users? Because porn operators are nearly always at technology's cutting edge, they have content for cellphones too (see Web News Brief #7, 2/20). London-based Childnet International has been aware of this for some time. Over a year ago, they co-hosted a conference on the subject in Tokyo, where, as in Europe, 3G mobile phones are ubiquitous among young people. At last month's conference in Cannes, Childnet CEO Stephen Carrick-Davies "urged mobile operators to consider the rights of children as they roll out their new 3G mobile phones with high-speed unfiltered Internet access." He challenged them to follow the lead of UK mobile operators, who recently signed onto a new "Code of Practice" (see the BBC's coverage of the UK development here), "designed in part to protect children from harmful content," Stephen said (comments from a Childnet presser, also covered in 160Characters.org, a UK-based SMS and Mobile Messaging Association).
It's no news to parents in Europe or Asia: kids like mobile phones (including US ones). For "Hey Kid, Your Backpack is ringing" yesterday, the New York Times dug up some scarce data showing that 29% of US 8-to-10-year-olds own a cellphone, up from 18% two years ago, and 54% of kids 8-10 want one.
- 'Chatnannies' to find pedophiles
They're a new kind of kid-safety-focused chat bot. "Chatnannies," created by British programmer Jim Whightman, are bots (intelligent agents) who appear in online chatrooms as kids (via their conversational style) while analyzing and ferreting out any pedophiles who might be chatting with them, Reuters reports. "If the [Chatnanny] detects any suspicious activity, it emails a transcript of the conversation to Whightman, who then decides if the police should be contacted." It could be either a help to law enforcement or a new form of online vigilantism. Whightman told Reuters he "currently has 100,000 Nanniebots circulating around chat rooms." The BBC reports that "to make itself sound plausible in Net chatrooms, the [bot] software scours the Net for current references to pop and youth culture," and so far it hasn't been detected as a bot.
What Whightman doesn't do, apparently, is confront pedophiles himself, but reportedly hands evidence over to police. To law enforcement, that's probably at least a notch better than the kind of vigilantism carried out by the people behind Perverted-Justice.com, who mean well but don't necessarily have the training to build a case against a predator which would hold up in court. In the first of a two-part series, "Vigilantes Troll for Pedophiles," Wired News looks at all the shades of gray in this complicated question.
- Four new Bagle worms circulating
You're vulnerable if you have a Windows PC and haven't downloaded the latest security patches, CNET reports. The necessary patch for these new Bagle variations - which infect your PC if you just view the email carrying them - was issued by Microsoft last August. Here's Microsoft's Windows Updates page.
- 75% of Americans on the Net
Almost. Nielsen/NetRatings this week reported the finding of its February phone survey that "74.9% of the [US] population above the age of 2 and living in households equipped with a fixed-line phone, had Internet access, up from 66% in February 2003," Reuters reports. Looking at age and gender, the figure was 81.7% for women 35-54, compared to 80.2% for men in that age group. For 25-to-34-year-olds, it was 77% for women and 75.6% for men.
- 'Phatbot' & a new, nefarious P2P network
A new hacker tool that PC security experts are calling "Phatbot" turns the hundreds of thousands of virus-infected PCs around the world into a new sort of file-sharing network. Phatbot, a kind of high-tech trojan horse, uses technology similar to that of Kazaa or BearShare, allowing its authors to gain control over these P2P networks of infected PCs "to send large amounts of spam email messages or to flood [usually corporate or government] Web sites with data" in denial-of- service attacks that knock them offline, the Washington Post reports. We're reporting this here because, if your machine was infected by MyDoom, Bagle, or other recent viruses, chances are your family PC is contributing to the spam problem or denial-of-service attacks. Grouping infected computers together into networks makes the attacks harder to shut down. "The majority of the infections appeared to come from home user broadband connections and from colleges and universities in the United States and the Asia-Pacific region," one source told the Post. The Post published a helpful sidebar, "Is Your Computer Infected with PhatBot?", describing symptoms and linking to a fix and further PhatBot info. Here's the New York Times's coverage. See also our "Virus protection for 'cheapskates'".
While we're on the subject, here's CNET on what all these infected PCs mean for our Internet service providers and, in turn, for us, their customers - it's a lot more cost-effective for ISPs to pull the plug on us than to teach us how to disinfect our PCs.
- US moves against online gambling
Millions of Americans are placing bets online, and the US government has been investigating the situation for months. Federal prosecutors are "quietly threatening legal action against American companies that do business with Internet casinos and sports betting operations based outside the country," the New York Times reports. Though formal charges reportedly haven't been filed, several big media operations have stopped running ads for offshore casinos (though not Yahoo or Google, according to the Times). "The investigation ... underscores the complex legal and political issues raised by the borderless Internet," the Times adds.
For an up-close look at this phenomenon, meet avid online gamblers Ben, Jimmy, and Willy J. in the New York Times's report this week on the online gambling scene, with both zoom-in and wide-angle (state and federal legal) perspectives.
- Searching with 'Mamma'
Another new search option to check out is Mamma.com. According to Reuters, the Montreal-based, self- described "mother of all search engines" aggregates the search results of Google, Yahoo, and other services. Despite its name, "Mamma" probably isn't as safe for child surfers as kid-specific search engines - though it does provide filtered searching the way Google, Yahoo, and Lycos do. Click on "Power Search" from just under the right-hand side of the main page's search box, then click "Adult Content Reduction" just under "set preferences" on that 2nd page.
Turning these search filters on (they stay turned on on that computer until unclicked) can make kids' Web research a lot more worry-free for parents, especially when there's a family policy in place that says 1) kids only use the specified filtered search engine(s), and 2) instead of guessing URLS, kids always use these search engines for research when they're not sure of a URL or a specific site's content. That way, they're much less likely to stumble upon inappropriate Web pages.
- New local Google
This week Google unveiled a new version for people who want to find things close to home. It "will allow Google to display more local information in response to search requests that include a ZIP code or a city's name," the Washington Post reports. A little compass icon can be clicked to get a map and directions. Google's move is part of a trend in making Web searching more local, the Post adds. "Google is joining an accelerating push to become more local in search. Last week, Yahoo! Inc. introduced a similar provincial tool, called SmartView, and Verizon Communications recently overhauled its SuperPages.com site to deliver more useful local results." Watch out, Yellow Pages!
- Google's (privacy) downside
This is a great (and rather long) piece in The Register by a computer security expert which explains: 1) how hackers (fledgling or otherwise) use Google to get all kinds of information Web publishers would rather they not access, as well as 2) how to use Google more precisely ourselves. It also links to sites like Googledorks that are "treasure troves of ideas for the budding hacker." [If IHackStuff is in your family's browser history, you might want to sit down and have a family discussion about what everybody's doing online these days and possibly the ethics thereof - not to suggest hackers are all unethical (there are definitely ethical hackers.] The article mentions O'Reilly's very useful "Removing Your Materials from Google". Then there's ZDNet's starry-eyed "How do I love Google? Let me count the ways?".
- Broadband catching up with dial-up in US
In San Diego, 52% of Net users have broadband connections and 48% use dialup, Wired News reports, citing March figures from ComScore Networks, a firm that tracks Internet usage. San Diego is the first major US city to show broadband ahead of dialup. "In many of the country's most populous cities - including Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Detroit - broadband adoption has reached 44-50%." ComScore also reports that 25% of US Net users plan to switch to broadband ISPs (competitive pricing is helping). However, dialup is still thriving (at 76%) in Albuquerque, N.M.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Indianapolis.
- Teen accused of eBay fraud
A 19-year-old in Georgia faces 21 counts of theft by deception and one count of racketeering for defrauding eBay customers of more than $4,500, the Associated Press reports. He was purporting to sell computer video cards that he never had. "The teenager became a suspect when the county received a few complaints through the FBI's national Internet Fraud Complaint Center," the AP adds.
- WhiteHouseKids.com donated to US gov
The kid-friendly Web address was donated by Don Parisi, owner of the infamous WhiteHouse.com porn site that, for years, people (including a lot of kids) have stumbled into when they forgot to type ".gov" to get to the White House's Web site. (As of this writing, WhiteHouse.com was still an adult site; on the home page it warns that the rest of the site contains "sexually oriented adult material.") According to the Associated Press, Parisi never published content on the WhiteHouseKids site. Now, the AP reports, the URL will send users to the kids section of the White House site, which "features a video tour of the Oval Office, games, quizzes and coloring books - plus the famous 'Barney cam' showing the corridors of power from the perspective of the president's Scottish terrier." Parisi announced last month that he was selling WhiteHouse.com and more than 100 derivations of that URL (to someone not in the porn business) because he doesn't want his son, who starts kindergarten next fall, to take flak for his father's Web site.
- Utah spyware bill premature?
That's what AOL, Amazon, CNET, eBay, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo say. They're lobbying against Utah's as yet unsigned anti-spyware bill (see last week's issue) because its definition of "spyware" is too broad and it could thus be more harmful than helpful, MediaDailyNews reports. The bill's critics say the bill "states that several types of important and beneficial Internet communications software, and even routine network communications, fall under the bill's definition of 'spyware'." So, for example, the Net companies say, the bill "could interfere with computer security by preventing information technology and security companies from collecting data to analyze and prevent virus attacks." MediaDailyNews reports that the Federal Trade Commission wouldn't comment for the article because it doesn't yet have a policy statement on spyware. Here's coverage from Salt Lake City's Deseret News.
- Breaking up online
In an age when dating is both an online and offline experience, people now have to figure out the "Netiquette" of whether (or when) breaking up can happen online too. Some of the dating digerati are saying that if the relationship's mostly virtual (chatting online more than off, or having just one or two "real" dates), then breaking up via email or IM is ok too, the Christian Science Monitor reports. In fact, a Monitor source at popular dating site Match.com, said that "today 48% of online daters say they have experienced an email breakup - twice as many as in 2002." Another source, a woman who'd spent time on the online dating scene, suggested that compassion is still important in this environment of convenience and anonymity. Great fodder for a family discussion on dating on and off the Net.
- Legal file-sharing gains ground
Copyright-observing P2P services such as Kontiki and RedSwoosh, which used to serve corporate networks, are beginning to court individual file-sharers, CNET reports. Their message to media companies is that file-sharing reduces their distribution costs (especially when they're selling large files like videos and games). Kontiki and RedSwoosh not only distribute the files but also file-sharing software, "which lets other people interested in the same files download from them instead of from the original publisher." File-sharing is like the scene outside a car window: changing just about every second.
Meanwhile, anti-P2P efforts are also gaining ground. For example, a letter addressed to file-sharing services like Kazaa was circulated by US state attorneys general last week, the New York Times reports. The letter called on P2P services "to warn their customers about the 'legal and personal risks' that they face using the software." Failure to do so, the letter said, could constitute a deceptive trade practice, which causes some experts to suspect that new anti-P2P legislation could be in the works at the federal level. Here's CNET's coverage.
Second, a bill has been introduced in California that would require file-sharers there to attach their names and addresses to copyrighted music they make available for sharing on their PCs. Penalties would include fines up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Third, a federal court in New York has "asserted jurisdiction" over the Israel- based iMesh file-sharing service in the case of Motown Record Co. v. iMesh.com Inc., BNA Internet Law reports (thanks to BNA for pointing out this and the California development).
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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