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Welcome to the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter and thanks to everyone who's just subscribed! Please invite friends and colleagues to sign up and help us to help grownups stay informed about children's safe, constructive use of the Internet. Email us anytime!

 

April 30, 2004

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this last week of April:


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A subscriber writes: Kids checking out porn with image searches

It's not easy being caught off-balance by one's tech-literate child - even less so to share the experience with a lot of other parents. So we appreciated subscriber Cindy's candor when she emailed us last week:

"I have discovered kids at school using Yahoo to find pornographic pictures," Cindy emailed us from Ohio. She said her 6th-grader had learned how simple it is to type words such as "cheerleaders" or "slutz" in Yahoo's image search engine (clicking on "Images" above the search box) and get porn photos - it's "a misuse of a Web site that is often used for school projects," Cindy wrote.

"I went on Yahoo myself and plugged the words in and was, of course, totally offended and shocked at what I saw on the screen," she said. "These pictures were beyond Playboy!"

When she talked this over with her son, Cindy wrote, "he told me that many kids know how to do this, and that they are actively doing it as young as 3rd and 4th grade (on up into junior high). It started by one older child ... who learned from his single uncle (in his 30s), who then went and showed a younger child (a friend) and so on and on."

Her son told her the children access this adult content "as often as once a week or more. Yahoo.com has been a search engine that the teachers have recommended for school projects and reports (in addition to Google, etc.).

"It is way more prevalent than I even imagined!" Cindy said. "I didn't know it was going on in elementary school! There is a lot of peer pressure to 'like it' and to be 'into it' for these boys. For this age level, I don't see it as just a 'boys will be boys' mentality. Porn is porn....

"These are children of parents I know and respect," she continued. "Of course I was shocked and felt very na´ve. I am a former school psychologist and currently work as a substitute teacher at my children's (K-8) school, so I felt like I was a 'mom on top of things.' I got totally knocked off, obviously. We don't even have cable TV, as a major way of keeping the junk out of the house.... Needless to say, I tightened up the parental controls on my children's Web use and started searching the Net for more info about computer safety."

We're surprised teachers or administrators in Cindy's child's school don't require filtered searching (maybe they do and kids disable it when their Net use isn't being monitored). We replied to Cindy's email about the following but wonder how many of you know that in a number of search engines (Yahoo, Google, Lycos, AltaVista, etc.), you can click on "Preferences" or "Advanced Search" and turn filtering on. It will remain on, on that computer, even if you log off the Net or shut the PC down, until someone changes the setting. Google and Yahoo, which both call theirs "SafeSearch," have three levels of filtering - strict, moderate, and none. At our house (this may not work as well at school), we have filtering turned on in all these search engines, including the new Mamma.com (click on "Power Search," check "Adult Content Reduction," and then click "Save Settings"), and we also have a family rule that no one disables filters. So far, nothing "nasty," as our 12-year-old would put it, has come up in search results.

Anyway, here's part of our response to Cindy: You are certainly not alone in feeling naive - our guess is, many, many parents are either in the dark or in denial about what their kids are exposed to on the Net. That's not to say we think the Net is bad - it's good and bad, depending on how it's used, and so ubiquitous in kids' lives now that its use has necessarily become a vital parenting issue - both burden and opportunity for parents in terms of family communication and mutual respect.

Cindy replied: "Thank you so much for responding.... I want to share - within appropriate age limits of course - the negative aspects of porn with my child as a 'home lesson.' Since he knows about porn, he needs to learn about the dangers and the 'sickness' of it in an age-appropriate way, just like our family and the schools teach about drugs (DARE program), alcohol, etc. No one yet has taught about the dangers of porn (i.e. schools in Ohio)...."

She raises an interesting question about how to teach children that the pornographic content so many of them are exposed to on the Web (we had not before heard that elementary schoolchildren were viewing porn as "cool," the way kids in our generation secretly smoked cigarettes to be seen as cool) can present a distorted picture of sexuality or negatively affect their own sexual development. We will leave this important question on the table for the psychologists and child-development experts among us. [For some findings on this in the US and Australia, see "Online kids' exposure to porn: 2 studies in 2 countries," 3/7/03.] Please email us your views and comments anytime - via feedback@netfamilynews.org!

BTW, an important thing to keep in mind in all this is not to overreact. Besides the age-old reverse psychology reason, there's the new Net-related one: The Internet (or kids' favorite aspects of it - instant-messaging, blogs/journaling, etc.) is so important to many teens' social standing now that - if parents overreact and threaten to unplug the Net - kids will "go underground" with these activities before they'll tell a parent about anything negative that's occurred online. We need to keep those lines of communication open, so we can know at least a little of their online experiences, especially if something difficult comes up. Do email us if you'd like documentation of this.

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Related news: How good are those search filters?

Search engine filtering is just as flawed as all other filters, apparently. But in Google's case, it seems to be flawed in a conservative way, blocking more than users feel it should. "Despite claims of 'advanced proprietary technology,' Google's opt-in porn filter proves no better than the tools of the last decade, blocking many harmless sites, CNET reports. Turns out, Google's SafeSearch blocks sites like the auto parts retailer PartsExpress.com because the word "sex" is embedded in the URL and children's clothing seller ALittleGirlsBoutique.com because of the word "girls" in that domain name. Google says its filter users (it won't give out their numbers) "are mostly ok with" the filter "being on the conservative side."

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Web News Briefs

  1. Voices of reason on Gmail

    Remember the big flap over Google's free Gmail idea that we mentioned a few weeks ago? We were never clear on why privacy advocates were making such a big deal about Gmail, but CNET columnist Declan McCullagh explains it in a nutshell by calling the most vocal anti-Gmail camp "privacy fundamentalists." It's becoming clearer (this latest CNET report indicates there's some conspiracy theorizing going on at the Electronic Privacy Information Center). Then we ran across Tim O'Reilly's level-headedness in this column of his. Tim simply says all the fuss about Gmail and privacy is "bogus" and gives nine reasons why. Turns out he's as intrigued as we are with the big picture Gmail points to - the giant distributed operating system that Google represents with its 100,000 Web servers and what it means to us users, as expressed by Rich Skrenta and Jason Kottke.

  2. Google goes public

    What makes all this especially interesting, not just to people who follow the tech industry, is Google's $2.7 billion IPO this week. To some, Google's going public means the tech upturn is for real now. To others it's kind of sad, spelling the change of culture for a young company led by young people involved more in a "scientific quest" than a business venture, the Christian Science Monitor reports - a quest to find "new ways to bring more information instantly," to stay on top of the info flood we're all faced with. Founders and "reluctant billionaires" Larry Page and Sergey Brin don't want to hand control of that important experiment over to Wall Street (a Depression-era federal law, not the need for capital, is what drove the IPO). The unusually designed IPO reflects that wish. Here's CNET's coverage.

  3. More student file-sharers sued

    The April round of RIAA lawsuits against online music file-sharers was announced this week. This time the recording industry trade association is suing 477 file- swappers at 14 universities around the US, CNET reports. The lawsuits were filed against anonymous individuals whose identities will emerge in court proceedings, CNET adds. They bring the total to 2,454 sued since last summer, the Associated Press reports. "None of the [2,454] has yet gone to trial, and 437 people so far have agreed to pay financial penalties of about $3,000 as settlements." CNET refers to a Pew Internet & American Life finding this week that 14% of US Net users no longer download music from "unauthorized" P2P services. A third, about 6 million people, attributed their decision in part to RIAA litigation. "However, the study also said that the number of people who actively download music from peer- to-peer networks has increased to 23 million from 18 million in November and December of last year." Here's the Pew study.

    Meanwhile, talk about work-arounds: There's a new file-sharing service on Internet2 called i2hub.com that's already extremely popular among students, CNET reports. Internet2 is the other Internet with extremely fat pipes (very broadband) used by universities and researchers, according to this article devoted to it at Webmonkey. "It uses an entirely different infrastructure than the public Internet we know and love/hate today." Hmmm, a new target for the RIAA?

  4. Cheaper music from Russia

    Cheap, not free. This may turn out to become popular among digital music fans at your house. We have a sneaking feeling the RIAA (or any record company or pay- per-tune online service anywhere) won't like it, but it seems on the up-and-up (for now), depending on the judgment of Sydney Morning Herald writer/music fan Charles Wright. He downloaded 968 tracks, or 56 albums, by artists as varied as Miles Davis, Norah Jones, and the Beatles for $48.65 US - what would normally cost $958 US at iTunes or anyplace chargine 99 cents a tune. How did he do that? He went to a Russian site called allofmp3.com. "There is no indication in our dealings with allofmp3.com over several weeks that this is one of those dubious enterprises so much loved by the Russian mafia," Wright writes. No credit card problems, and while we have no legal qualifications, we can't see that it fails to comply with the Berne Convention on copyright. The site claims to pay licensing fees for all the music on it and says "all the materials in the MediaServices projects are available for distribution via Internet, according to Licence # LS-3M-02-36 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society." Of course there's a disclaimer that, when users click on their terms of service, they're agreeing not to use allofmp3.com "if it is in conflict with legislation of your country." (Our thanks to BNA Internet Law for this heads-up.)

  5. iTunes a year old

    Not the 100 million it projected, but iTunes sold 70 million songs by its first birthday this week, CNET reports. Apple now has licensing arrangements with the five major record labels and offers music from more than 450 independent labels, and these deals add up to 700,000 songs on iTunes. To celebrate, iTunes has a half-dozen new features, including iMix (with which customers can publish their playlists for friends to preview, rate, and buy), Party Shuffle (random song selection from one's collection), and a feature that lets you design and print their own album art - a jewel case insert for a CD you burn. Also, "it is now possible to share iTunes songs among five personal computers instead of three. But the number of times a particular playlist can be burned on a CD has been reduced from 10 times to 7," and a file-swapping feature has been deleted. Here's Wired News's coverage.

  6. Bowie: Go ahead and bootleg!

    Musician David Bowie is actually inviting people to bootleg his music, and offering prizes for the most creative theft," the Associated Press reports. His Web site "invites fans to mix classic Bowie songs with material from his latest album, 'Reality,' to create a 'mash-up' - a track superimposing the vocal line from one song with the backing tracks from another." Tracks from his new album and the mixing software can be downloaded from DavidBowie.com. The mash-up technique, which - like many digital-music fans these days - Bowie himself has had fun with through the years, "gained prominence with 'The Grey Album,' a blend of The Beatles and Jay-Z by US DJ Danger Mouse. A reported 1 million copies were downloaded from the Internet before it was blocked by record company EMI in February" (see "24-hour file-sharing protest" in our 2/27 issue).

  7. New IM war

    AOL's ICQ now offers games, MSN Messenger gets games next week, and "The All New Yahoo Messenger" is one of that software program's "most dramatic makeovers to date," CNET reports. In all three now, IM-ers can display and share photos and play games in IM chat windows. But another feature Yahoo has that we think will be popular with kids is "the option of displaying avatars, which are cartoon images that people can customize with different appearances, outfits, and backgrounds to reflect their moods." It's a step up from the skins (e.g., screen colors) and personal icons already hugely popular among young users. Here's CNET on ICQ (with birthday alerts and message- forwarding to cell phones) and MSN Messenger (with its "Instant Games Clubhouse"). A caveat for parents: each of IM's features - text, audio, photos, etc. - has its own port, or door to the public Internet. If your firewall allows that IM program, it allows all those doors to remain wide open. Go through the IM program's Preferences with your child and decide together what's necessary (for more, see "Instant-messaging risks & tips" in our 1/9/04 issue).

  8. New global anti-child-porn campaign

    The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children is stepping up police work aimed at fighting online child pornography, Internet News reports. With a just-launched $1 million campaign funded by Microsoft and philanthropist Sheila S. Johnson, the Centre is providing law-enforcement officers worldwide with tech training. Accurate figures on the online circulation of child pornography are hard to come by, but one measurement is the number of reports to child-porn hotlines around the world. "The International Centre says it received more than 200,000 reports of 'Internet-related child pornography' during 2003, although there is no breakdown of those numbers as to whether a crime was actually committed."

  9. SC tougher on Net predators

    South Carolina just joined 29 other states in making it illegal to stalk, lure, or entice a child for abduction or sexual assault, the Associated Press reports. What this means is that prosecution can now happen before an assault or meeting has taken place, according to the AP. "The law mandates a 10-year sentence for each offense, which Attorney General Henry McMaster said can multiply if there are several online contacts before an arrest." (Our thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this out.)

  10. Wireless keypads in class

    They look like TV remotes, and teachers say they help students "feel a connection to the subject" being discussed in class, the New York Times reports. They're small wireless keypads linked to a computer. "Students answer questions not by raising their hands but by punching buttons, with the results appearing on a screen in the front of the room." But beyond engaging students, what's really interesting about this article is the story it tells about how the device enables one professor to turn her class into a sociological lab and show her 400 students how to do sociology themselves, instantly. Meanwhile, 100 teachers from 45 countries met in Europe this week to share ideas on the best ways to use technology in the classroom, the BBC reports.

  11. Teacher's-eye-view of blogs

    Kids may love to create them more for social purposes, but blogs can have educational value too. Witness this helpfully elementary article on blogs at TechLearning.com that explains what blogs are, then links you to blogs by educators, for educators, and about education - as well as blogs, such as SchoolBlogs.com, that teach you how to set up blogs!

  12. Chatnannies update

    Innovation or fabrication? "Chatnannies" - automated software "bots" that "visit" online chatrooms and catch pedophiles chatting with children - got a lot of media coverage a couple of months ago. Now the technology's getting coverage questioning its authenticity "since [the technology] was more than 10 years ahead of all other artificial intelligence technology, and no one is allowed to see it in the flesh," according to The Guardian. A separate Guardian article reports that UK children's charities are concerned that Chatnannies, which is also a Web site, encourages vigilantism and "puts children in danger." The site recruits people to work as "chatnannies" in kids' chatrooms for young people but does not screen these recruits to see if they're qualified to look after children. Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this news out.

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

Sincerely,

Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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