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May 7, 2004

Dear Subscribers:

Our feature this week is a heads-up about a new service coming down the pike for families: cell phone parental controls. We think the need will grow not just with the number of young cell-phone users, but also as more and more kids access the Net with their phones - with the growth of the mobile Internet.

Here's our lineup for this first week of May:

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Kids and cell phones: A look at parental controls

"I resisted giving my youngest son [an eighth-grader] a cell phone," said Lynn Hayes, a working mother of three boys. "I viewed it as a privilege and was waiting for the perfect time to get him one," she told us in a phone interview last week. "But I realized that there were so many times I wished he had a cell phone - I'd be late picking him up, or I'd want to make sure he was safe in some circumstance, or we could've saved time if I'd called ahead and told him to wait for me out in front of school."

Small things, Lynn said, that - if fixed - would really add up to making family life simpler and easing concerns kids and parents didn't have when we were kids. "I used to feel comfortable knocking on any neighbor's door and asking to use their phone," Lynn said. "Kids can't do that anymore." Plus, there aren't as many payphones around any more - "children feel more isolated from us in some ways," she added.

Still, parents hesitate getting kids cell phones because of the control issue: Kids talking for hours on end in places where we can't hear them, running up huge phone bills, not getting to their homework, maybe talking with strangers. This Digital Age dilemma will only be compounded as picture and video phones become widely used in the US (a just-released survey in the UK, where child cell-phone use is already pervasive, found that more than three-quarters of UK parents are worried that these next-generation phones "could compromise their children's safety," Reuters reports).

The dilemma will be eased when there are parental controls on mobile phones - smart ones that allow us to change configurations (loosen control) as children mature and show responsibility.

The technology exists (an example is "Mobile Guardian" by Boston Communications Group) but won't be available until cell-phone companies like Verizon or Cingular sign up and offer it to us customers. With it, parents will be able to go to the phone company's Web site anytime and...

"In our family," Lynn said, this technology would be "a financial learning tool. We'd start with 30 minutes a month and, if that works out, I'd tell my son, 'you're using the phone responsibly, so we can up the number of minutes you can talk.' With kids in their early teen years," she added, "being able to have as much or as little control as you feel is appropriate for that child is great." And cell phones are no exception.

As for cost, Boston Communications Group told the Boston Globe it thinks the service would add between $5 and $10 a month to a family's cell-phone bill, but that's for the phone companies to decide. The Melbourne Herald-Sun reports privacy concerns in its story on this technology, but those concerns will come up more in the business world, when companies use the technology to control employees' phone use. "Parents have every right, and I personally feel they should be monitoring kids' phone usage," Lynn said.

It's clear that, with or without parental controls, there's no turning back for Lynn's family. Her high-schooler uses his Net-connected picture phone basically for three things: to check sports scores, get directions to places at map sites, and for quick messages to figure out meeting logistics with friends and his family. As for her eldest: Cell phones "change the way you even view sending your children off to college. You think they're leaving but it won't feel like that. They call you on their way to class. It's so different from the communication patterns we had with our parents, when they sent care packages and letters to us in college."

Technology keeps working its way into our lives. Second- and, in Europe and Asia, third-generation phones are a reality of family life. The question is, how and when will the little that's been achieved in protecting kids on the fixed Internet be migrated to the mobile one?

Readers, do you think parental controls are needed for cell phones? How do you feel about your kids having cell phones? Do email us at

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Related links

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Web News Briefs

  1. Sasser worm not carried by email - great!

    Just when we thought we had a handle on virus-by-email-attachment. Neither you nor your kids could get your PCs infected by the Sasser worm by opening an email attachment. It just arrives through a port on PCs that aren't secured with the latest Microsoft patch. "The worm spreads by scanning different ranges of Internet addresses using a specific application data channel, or port, numbered 445," CNET reported. Four versions have been circulating around the Net just since last weekend. Fortunately, it "appears to do no lasting damage" to individual PCs, even though about 80% of PCs affected by it belonged to families or students, CNET later reported. It just annoyingly "causes the computer to shut down, then reboot ... continuously." The best prevention measure is to keep up to date with Microsoft patches and your firewall going. CNET explained that "the worms infect vulnerable systems by establishing a remote connection to the targeted computer, installing a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server and then downloading themselves to the new host." As of Tuesday, Sasser versions didn't open a "backdoor" to PCs that would allow spammers and other hackers to take control of them. But PC security experts didn't rule that possibility out for future versions. Microsoft is considering a plan to automate worm-zapping, Internet News reports.

    Here's on the Sasser worm, complete with links to prevention and cure. And here's Microsoft's page specifically on Sasser. Also, the Washington Post tells how to remove Sasser.

  2. 140 friends on Chelsea's buddy list

    Her mother had no idea. Around the time of Chelsea's bat mitzvah, Rabbi Mindy Portnoy - who asks kids questions like, "How many friends are on your IM buddy list?" - told the Washington Post she asks a lot of children that question, and that it seems like 75% of the parents have no idea how many people their kids are instant-messaging with on a regular basis. AOL's free AIM service has a 200- person limit for its buddy lists. A lot of parents are surprised at how close their kids' lists get to that limit - and how many of those "close, personal friends" they don't know. Some parents have decided that if they don't know a child's IM "buddy," s/he's not allowed on the buddy list, and they ease that rule as the child matures. The article looks at the privacy negotiation that ensues - kids pushing for it, parents staying engaged. The Post also held a chat event on this between parents and online kids researcher Peter Grunwald and Tom de Boor, founder of AOL's Kids Only. Example of one parent's post: "Very hot topic in our house. Have tried to approach subject with 13-year-old daughter and she gets very defensive. She is a good kid not into any trouble A/B student, not very social, have no reason to be suspicious. Should I push the issue or let it lie until something happens?" (here's the complete transcript). How would you answer that question - email us!

  3. P2P services help fight child porn

    Two file-sharing service groups are now helping law enforcement crack down on child-porn trading on their networks, the Washington Post reports. P2P United - which represents Grokster, Morpheus, Blubster, and BearShare - "hopes to develop a system similar to the once-common placement of missing children's pictures on milk cartons," showcasing on their download and home pages photos of people wanted for trafficking in child pornography. Kazaa is "working on technology that will enable users to flag pornographic files, which are sometimes disguised with innocent keywords."

    On the litigation front: Another grandmother is among those sued by the RIAA in its latest round of file-sharing lawsuits, News 14 Carolina reports. Meanwhile, the recording industry of Japan is - like its counterparts in Europe - following in the RIAA's footsteps, Slyck News reports.

  4. US teen tech habits

    This is encouraging: A recent AOL-sponsored survey of 2,000 teens and parents of teens found that "81% of teens and parents talk about online safety." But the rest of the survey provides insights into teen online practices. Not surprisingly, communications shows up prominently:

    • 53% of teens (13-19) go online every day; 73% five or more days a week.
    • Then use the Internet to send email (82%), exchange IMs (72%), do homework/ research for school (71%), and play online games (65%) at least once a month.
    • 75% of teens who use instant-messaging exchange IMs with 1-4 people at the same time.
    • 53% have communicated with a crush via email or IM.
    • When emailing or using IM, 35% talk about what they did that day and 27% talk about friends or classmates.
    • For 21%, the first thing they do when they get home from school is go online to check email and IM with friends.
    • Teens who use instant messaging have an average of 29 buddies on their Buddy List.

    Those figures are national and regional; AOL also has teen Net practices broken down by cities - the top 15 most "teen-wired" cities (those with the "highest % teens online 5-7 days a week). The top 5 are Boston (87.1%), Tampa (83%), New York (82.5%), San Francisco (82%), and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale (81.2%). All of this can be found in a press kit for AOL's RED service for teens.

  5. Laptops instead of textbooks

    Instead of a backpack crammed with heavy textbooks, how about sending your sixth-grader off to school with a laptop loaded with digital versions of all those textbooks, plus 2,000 works of literature? It will soon be reality, USAToday reports, in a Dallas-area school district, the first to sign up with IBM because "enrollment is projected to rise 20% or more at the district, and it takes three months to get new books." Next fall every fifth- and sixth-grader will receive a $1,350 ThinkPad carrying that academic payload, since (IBM figures) content is what sells computers.

  6. 'Net-enhanced' plagiarism

    ABC News calls it a "crisis in America's schools" - what we call cut 'n' paste plagiarism. "In a six-month investigation, [ABC's] Primetime traveled to colleges and high schools across the country to see how students are cheating, and why. The bottom line is not just that many students have more temptation but they seem to have a whole new mindset," the article goes. Maybe the numbers are greater, but that age-old feeling of guilt seems still to be a factor. One college student cited says he cheats all the time because everybody else does (so he cheats "to get by"), but he wanted ABC not to reveal his identity. Students cited everything from academic pressure to moral relativity as reasons for plagiarizing - also nothing new. What's interesting in this piece are the techniques students use, some not very high-tech: writing answers on the stretched rubber band; sororities and fraternities' files of term papers available for reuse; taking to an exam a calculator or Palm Pilot with answers downloaded on it; text-messaging friends for answers; and using,, or ("Download Your Workload") for "homework help." Primetime does point out that teachers have tech too - for countermeasures! (Our thanks to for pointing this piece out.)

  7. AOL's new video game site

    For AOL broadband (high-speed connection) customers only, the new service beefs up current offerings from Electronic Arts's Club Pogo to include "games and game demos from companies such as TryMedia, GameHouse and Funkitron," CNET reports. A lot of the games will appeal to women, interestingly. AOL told CNET that "women over 40 are the most frequent online gamers - more so than men or teenage boys."

  8. Next step for tune-swapping?

    To give you a feel for how fast digital music's moving and yet another cool app kids will probably love, here's "'Dude! This Thing Is Awesome!'" from the Associated Press: "Now, minutes after your favorite band sounds its last note on stage, you can load a live recording of the concert onto a cigarette-lighter-sized hard drive hanging off your keychain. Take it home, toss the digital files onto your computer and then email it to all your friends with the message, 'Dude! These guys are awesome!'" Basically, if your friends can't make it to a concert or club with you, you can share the music with them anyway, with just minutes of lagtime. The product will be tested later this month in Hoboken, N.J., where digital kiosks providing the tiny hard drives will be installed in a small indie-rock club called Maxwell's. "At $10 a pop for the recording, and $20 for the reusable, keychain drive, let the downloading begin," the AP adds.

  9. Making music fans pay

    Microsoft unveiled software for online music services that will enable subscribers to download tunes multiple time to multiple devices. It will also allow record companies to track every time the tune is used. "The software stamps the content with a use-by date, requiring users to pay up every so often to maintain their rights to tunes and movies," the Washington Post reports. Up to now, you could listen to all the tunes you wanted to on online services such as Rhapsody and, but they were "locked to your computer," as the San Jose Mercury News put it - you were renting them - unless you paid more to own them. Now, with its new Windows Media can make users' every music movement trackable. Is it just us, or is this a little unnerving to you too?

  10. Sony's new music service offers 500,000 songs from both the big record labels and independent ones, and - as on Napster and iTunes - each sells for 99 cents, but it won't work with iPods, the Associated Press reports. The big question is "whether Sony can draw music fans who have not already invested in iPods or other music players - which cannot play song files in Sony's ATRAC3 format." However, ZDNet points out, Sony has two competitive advantages: it offers more than one portable device that can play the music it sells [unlike iTunes], and it owns a substantial catalog, so the company has to pay licensing fees only to the other labels [Apple has to pay all the record companies, including Sony]. But the bottom line for all these music services - for kids and most other digital music fans - is this (we sense ZDNet's right): The company with the most open approach to copyright probably has the greatest advantage. "So far, that company is Apple."

  11. Musicians divided about lawsuits

    In research for the Future of Music conference this week, the Pew Internet & American Life project found that musicians themselves are "sharply divided" about the impact of file-sharing on the music business. There is no clear consensus. For example, 35% of those polled (in an online survey of 2,755 musicians and songwriters) agree with the statement that P2P services are not bad for artists because they help promote and distribute an artist's work; 23% agree with the statement that the services are bad for artists because they allow people to copy an artist's work without permission or payment; a 35% agree with both statements. "When asked what impact free downloading on the Internet has had on their careers as musicians, 37% say free downloading has not really made a difference, 35% say it has helped, and 8% say it has both helped and hurt their career. Only 5% say free downloading has exclusively hurt their career and 15% of the respondents say they don't know."

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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