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April 23, 2004
Dear Subscribers:It's good to be back with you. Here's our lineup for this third week of April:
- Childnet's young Web-sters: What the world is coming to
- Web News Briefs: 'Dial-up's just fine'; Fresh batch of patches; Latest on hate sites; Games with conscience; CyberTipline adds feature; Amazon's search engine; Picture phones & 'moblogs'; FTC on porn spam; Israeli teen hackers arrested; Teen helps Microsoft; Spyware confuses; Phishing's big growth; File-sharing updates....
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Childnet's young Web-sters: What the world is coming to
The Cable & Wireless Childnet Academy was in session in London last week. Its participants were Web designers aged 10-18 from Australia, England, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Scotland, The Netherlands, Taiwan, and the United States.
"What struck me the most," Tanya Eddowes, the Academy's project manager, told us, "was the strength of the friendships that were formed by these young people, despite geography, age, and language barriers and in some cases disabilities. It was obvious that their common interest, the Internet, was stronger than any problems they were presented with."
We emailed Tanya, a lovely New Zealander herself, asking her to reflect back on the week. She continued: "The winners quickly bonded and supported each other whilst participating in a diverse range of Internet and new media activities. It was heart-warming to see the younger members of the winners party working alongside the older winners, and I was honoured to observe the Net truly working for young people.... Already, text messages (SMS), emails and instant messages are flying around the world."
These 10-to-18-year-olds' projects were chosen from 250 entries representing 40+ countries - you can click to their inspiring sites from the winners' page on the Academy site.
We can't resist giving you an example: 16-year-old Netherlander Frank de Vries on family vacation in Kenya last July, visited an orphan's home and two schools in the village of Ukunda. "We were touched by the difficult circumstances in which the teachers of the two schools have to teach," Frank writes in his site, and we decided to raise funds for the elementary school." He built his winning site, Ukunda project, for that purpose. "Spending a week with this group was indeed a privilege," emailed Safekids.com's Larry Magid, who for years has served as a judge for the Childnet Awards and now the Academy. Larry explains how the program has changed:
"Childnet, which has been recognizing outstanding Web projects since 1998, changed its program this year by awarding prizes only to projects run by children under 18. Past winners had to serve children but winning projects could be run by adults. This year was much more youth-focused.
"Another change this year is that the winners do more than celebrate. They came to London to participate in a week-long academy to fine tune their technical and social skills and to interact with young people from other countries, helping to create a global community of talented youth focused on using the Internet to serve others."
We would love to hear your stories of great Web projects in which your kids have been involved - email them anytime to email@example.com.
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Web News Briefs
- 'Dialup's just fine, thanks'
...for tens of millions of Americans, the New York Times reports. "They [these people whom cable and broadband companies call "prime prospects"] say greater speed is not worth the trouble of starting over with a new telecommunications provider and getting a new email address, even if the added cost is small." Reasons cited are cost, inertia, and the inconvenience of switching ISPs or email addresses. Parents may have another reason not mentioned by the Times: kids' online safety. Dr. Herb Lin, a dad and senior scientist at the US National Research Council, co-editor of the Council's 2002 study, "Youth, Pornography, and the Internet," told us in an interview: "If you increase the hassle factor and the wait time associated with using the Internet, many kids will want to use it less and will find it less desirable." Here's the study, its companion Web site, NetSafeKids, and a profile of Herb in this newsletter (see also 'Illegal but not immoral' in the "File-sharing corner" of our 9/26/03 issue).
The Times cites figures from research firm Yankee Group showing that last year 23 million US households had high-speed access, up from 16 million in 2002. As for dial-up, last year 51 million American households connected to the Internet through a regular phone line, down from 55 million in '02.
- Fresh batch of patches
Don't ignore them, PC security experts advise. Microsoft has recently released about 20 patches in three bundles that plug a bunch of new security flaws the company has found in its software, the Washington Post reports. Some of those flaws "could allow hackers to remotely commandeer vulnerable computers," so apply those patches! Here's where to get 'em, and here are the Washington Post's 5 PC security tips (Microsoft thinks we're only smart enough to remember three tips).
- The latest on hate sites
There's a great resource for parents and teachers who want to help kids recognize the often insidious tactics hate mongers use on the Web to gain support. Each year the Simon Wiesenthal Center releases a report based on its monitoring of some 4,000 Web sites used by racist and extremist organizations (the sites are used by these groups as key fund-raising, recruiting, and marketing outlets). "Some sites feature games that let visitors 'shoot' illegal immigrants, Jews, and black people," reports the BBC in its coverage of the report, "Digital Terrorism and Hate 2004." This year the Center found that "Web sites seeking to recruit youngsters to join holy wars and become suicide bombers have surged," according to the BBC. "The Wiesenthal Center said one of the most "troubling" sites was about Martin Luther King but was owned by a racist organisation and was being used to denigrate his memory and achievements."
- Shooter games with conscience
Then there's the flipside of video games teaching hate or intolerance, as exposed by the Wiesenthal Center. An example: "September 12th," by Persuasive Games, described in a thoughtful article in Wired News. In this game, "when a missile shot at Arab terrorists kills an innocent bystander in the game's fictional Afghani village - and it's nearly impossible not to - other villagers run over, cry at their loss and then, in a rage, morph into terrorists themselves," according to Wired News. The point "September 12th" makes is that "our actions have consequences, and ... we should try to understand why other people take to arms." The article presents a dialog between Noah Wardrip-Fruin, co-editor of First Person: New Media As Story, Performance, and Game, a collection of essays, and the creators of September 12th about how video games can be an influence for good as well. It provides some helpful context and perspective for parents and teachers of young gamers.
- CyberTipline accepts tips on bad URLs
As part of the US government's continuing effort to crack down on people who trick kids into visiting porn sites on the Web, CyberTipline.com (or 800.843.5678) will now take tips about deceptive Web addresses. The news came directly from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the CyberTipline's host organization. The development is a result of the Department of Justice's effort to enforce the PROTECT Act of 2003.
So if your child tries to visit the Web site of his favorite cartoon and stumbles upon pornography, report the incident (with exact misspelling of the Web address) to Cybertipline.com (or use the toll-free number above). To avoid just this problem, the rule in our house is that no one goes directly to a Web site unless s/he's absolutely sure of its URL and spells it correctly. Instead, they're to type the TV show name in the search box of a filtered search engine. To make this rule effective, we have filtering turned on at Google and Lycos and have a companion rule that the kids only use those search engines (filtering's also available at AltaVista.com and Mamma.com). If you're not sure how to turn filtering on at any of these search engines, just email us.
- Amazon's new search engine
It's called simply "A9," and it both uses Google and competes with it, interestingly. Amazon's A9 (still in beta testing) represents both a new search option (whose most unprecedented feature is searching within book excerpts at Amazon.com, if you're registered at the site) and a toolbar that, among other things, highlights search terms and allows you to take notes on any Web page ("and reference them whenever you visit that page on any computer you use ... entries are automatically saved whenever you stop typing or when you go to another page," says Amazon). Those are just some of the features in this new step for Amazon which appears to advance Web searching another step, though all search results at A9 are currently generated by Google. Here's coverage from the BBC and ZDNet UK.
- Picture phones & 'moblogs'
One downside of these new camera phones is the privacy invasion they can represent (with schools and sports clubs worldwide developing anti-picture-phone policies to protect kids). This week CNET turned up an even more immediate one: a serious lack of "interoperability" - techie lingo for how difficult it is to actually send pictures from one phone to another. "For now, only camera phones using the same provider can swap photo messages, the result of cell phone service providers each building slightly different version of photo and video messaging services instead of waiting for an industrywide standard, say analysts and cell phone company executives." If you want to be up-to-the-minute, you should know that one work- around people have found is "moblogs," or personal mobile Web logs. In a separate piece, CNET profiles 23-year-old Gena Creque, who calls herself "a big flirt," takes and posts to her moblog an average of five digital pictures a day. "While Creque and like-minded photo bloggers amuse themselves and each other with frequent, candid and often racy cell phone pictures, cell carriers and equipment manufacturers are avidly observing and in some cases moving in on the moblogging trend," CNET reports.
- FTC: 'Porn spam must be labeled'
The US Federal Trade Commission has announced that, as of May 19, pornographic spam has to be labeled as such in its subject line so email users can easily filter it out, CNET reports. A Commission study released last spring found that 17% of emailed pornographic offers contained images of nudity that appeared whether a recipient wanted to see them or not. "The new rule is intended to change that. Pornographers will not be allowed to include sexually explicit pictures in the body of the message, though they will be allowed to include hyperlinks or other methods to access their material," CNET adds. Here's The Register's coverage. Meanwhile, the state of Maryland just passed an anti-spam bill under which senders of spam would face "up to a decade in prison and fines as high as $25,000," the Associated Press reports. The bill also "empowers state officials to prosecute spammers even if they live outside Maryland."
- Israeli teen hackers arrested
Four Israelis aged 14-16 have been questioned by police for allegedly designing and introducing "Trojan horse" software to gain control of computers in Israel and other countries. Israel's Haaretz.com reports that the teenagers, who apparently failed to cover their digital tracks, have confessed and are awaiting charges. "The youths managed to access a large number of credit card numbers, particularly from sites abroad, but when they tried to use them, they were unsuccessful." The 14-year-old had been hacking since he was 12, according to Haaretz, which added that the teens' parents "were surprised to hear what their children were up to."
- Teenager helps Microsoft
Nineteen-year-old Matt Thompson of Aberdeen, Scotland, discovered a security flaw in the Windows operating system and worked with Microsoft for six months to fix it, the BBC reports. "The bug allowed an attacker to take complete control of an affected system, install programs, and view, change, or delete data." For his help, Matt received thanks on this page of Microsoft's Web site.
- Spyware solutions: Don't hold your breath
The US Federal Trade Commission held a one-day workshop this week on the spyware that's troubling households PCs everywhere, but CNET reports that participants "couldn't decide what to do about it." The Dell computer company reported that spyware and adware had become a huge tech support issue for that company (because they slow down PC performance) and McAfee PC security company said that spyware had become a bigger tech support problem than viruses (McAfee detected 14 million spyware and adware "products" on customers' PCs last month, up from 2 million last August. But apparently few conference attendees felt that new laws would be effective countermeasures, because "much of the simmering disagreement on Monday arose from participants not being able to agree on a definition that would permit ad- supported software--while prohibiting parasitical spyware that quietly embeds itself in a personal computer and records keystrokes or sends out spam."
- 'Phishing' becoming big problem
The figures state it starkly: Beware email scams. The number of emails bearing 'phishing' scams going around the Net has grown from 279 to 215,643 over the past six months, CNET reports, citing data from email security company MessageLabs. "Phishing is an Internet scam in which unsuspecting users receive official-looking emails that attempt to fool them into disclosing online passwords, user names, and other personal information," according to CNET. The emails tell users to click on a link that takes them to Web pages doctored to look like legitimate companies or financial institutions like PayPal requesting credit card numbers, passwords, etc. The solution is to make sure everyone in your family talks to a parent before giving out any personal information online.
EarthLink is the first ISP to block phishing scams, according to CNET in a separate report. "The anti-phisher software is part of EarthLink's ScamBlocker feature, a downloadable browser- based toolbar that includes a Google-powered search engine and EarthLink's Pop- Up Blocker. EarthLink said it also offers a program that keeps tab of all spyware software on customers' computers."
- RIAA drops 'amnesty' program
The record company trade association ended the "Clean Slate" program it started offering file-sharers last September. The program was billed as preventing file- sharers from being sued by record companies if they admitted to illegally sharing music online, the Associated Press reports. It required people to acknowledge in writing that they shared music files online and then remove the files from their computers. In exchange, they wouldn't be sued by the RIAA. "While hundreds signed up, critics dismissed the program, saying the trade group could not possibly guarantee that anyone who admitted to file-sharing would not be the target of a lawsuit," according to the AP. It cited a case brought against the RIAA by Eric Parke of Novato, Calif., who accused the RIAA of fraudulent business practices for promoting the program and asking the judge for an injunction against the trade group. The RIAA's attorneys "asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that the case is now moot, because the trade group dropped the program earlier this month."
- File-sharers undaunted by lawsuits
Nearly 75% of 1,000 readers of British music news zine, NME.com, said they had no intention to stop downloading music because of recording industry lawsuits, the BBC reports. In a poll at the NME site, 90% also said downloading doesn't stop them from buying music, and 85% said they believe downloading does not damage artists.
- Beyond 99 cents a tune
Already! The record labels think the 99-cent price for individual songs on Web music services like Napster and iTunes is too low and are discussing an increase, The Register reports. They're looking for between $1.25 and $2.99 per song.
- File-sharing as censorship foil
The real effect of file-sharing, says one of P2P "kickstarters," Prof. Ross Anderson of Cambridge University, is to make censorship around the world difficult, if not impossible, the BBC reports . It removes the role of government in the media flow, providing one more example of how the Internet subverts traditional control (corporate, government, etc.) of almost any kind. Of course, the flipside is that - to keep the Net from becoming a prime tool of pedophiles, terrorists, etc. - it requires "a high level of international agreement to be effective," the professor acknowledges. "Most music fans are refusing to change their downloading habits despite a campaign to stop illegal song-swapping, a music website survey suggests. More than 1,000 readers of NME.com took part in the Web site's poll, with nearly 75% saying they would continue to use free download services on the Internet," the BBC reports.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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