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May 28, 2004
Here's our lineup for this last full week of May:
- File-sharing realities for families
- Latest P2P news & resources
- Web News Briefs: Porn spam still not labeled; How Google stacks up; Earliest adopters; Teens' close encounters; Drugs in online games; Mac security patch flawed....
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File-sharing realities for families
Ethics aside for the moment (though that would be a great issue for family discussion). And besides the minor legal risks (the RIAA this week announced another round of nearly 500 lawsuits, bringing the total to about 3,000 sued among the 100 million+ file-swappers worldwide, Reuters reports)...
There are other PC risks in households where music, film, and software downloaders live. But first, a bit of background for parents new to P2P....
File-sharing is one of the Internet technologies extremely popular with teens. The simple reason is music. People love to share music (Kazaa.com, one of the most famous of the dozens of P2P services, alone claims more than 60 million users worldwide). These file-sharing networks, described by Wired magazine as "the great global shipping lanes for black-market content," have literally turned millions of people's computers into an instantly accessible, global music library, by making the songs (as well as movies, software, etc.) on individual PCs searchable and freely available for sharing. The legal issue: Media companies call this copyright theft, or piracy - with, in the music industry, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) leading the worldwide legal battle against both the P2P services and individual file-sharers.
Here are the risks the average family is more likely to encounter:
- Porn. The P2P services allow for sharing photos and videos, as well as music and text documents. Some of those images are pornography, including illegal child pornography. A study done in the US a year ago found that porn is being widely shared on these networks - even more than music on one called Gnutella (see Slyck's Guide to Gnutella). Kids can download porn by mistake because it's often not labeled as such. So a child looking for a song or music video can accidentally download a porn video.
- Viruses. Remember that the P2P services are just a huge collection of individual machines networked together by the software that the services provide. These days viruses and worms rarely do real damage to individual PCs. Now they simply install software that allows your PC to be controlled by someone else - such as the malicious hacker who wrote the virus. So file-sharers are vulnerable to the worms and viruses on other machines on the P2P networks and to the people controlling them. That means your computer, if infected, could be used, for one thing, as a porn spam distributor.
- Privacy. There are two very common risks in this category: 1) People are making a lot more than music available on their home PCs. The P2P services don't do a good job of telling users that they have to be careful about what folders on their hard drive they open up to the file-sharing public (remember, millions of people). A 2002 HP Labs study and, later, US congressional hearings found that emails, medical records, and family financial information have been exposed on P2P networks, so - if used - the software needs to be configured carefully. 2) The P2P services are known to have a lot of spyware on them. File-sharers can easily download this software that tracks and sometimes records Web activity and even a person's keyboard strokes (for example, to capture credit card numbers). It also clogs up and slows down a family PC when not detected and deleted.
A family discussion about file-sharing could touch on: these risks, what P2P software people are using (here's one list of 54 titles), a kid's demo of how the software was configured, and what rules everybody should agree on. For one dad's views on teen file- sharing, see our 1/16 issue.
* *Latest P2P news 'n' resources
Readers, if you've had family discussions and/or have rules about file-sharing, we'd love to hear about any of these. Your experiences can be a great help to other parents. Email us at email@example.com.
- Help for parents. Fortunately, some of the file-sharing services now have information for parents. Kazaa's explains its filtering options, its "Blue" and "Gold" (Kazaa-controlled) file types, and virus- and privacy-protection features. Grokster, BearShare, Blubster, eDonkey, and Morpheus have a trade association, P2P United, whose Web site has ".Parent Resource Center."
- Pay-per-tune. The number of "legal music sites" worldwide just passed the 100 mark, the BBC reports - sites like iTunes, Napster, Virgin. "The global music industry made the announcement as it celebrated the first anniversary of its downloading education Web site, pro-music.org," including a directory of 100+ services by region.
- Tweens, teens = pirates? A Harris Interactive survey sponsored by the Business Software Alliance (in its fight against software copyright theft) found that 3% of tweens (8-to-12-year-olds) "have illegally downloaded software" as opposed to 33% of teens (13-18). "Tweens are less likely than teens to say that there are laws against illegally downloading software (40% vs. 61%)" but also less likely than teens "to believe that it is okay to download (16% vs. 38%) or upload (18% vs. 37%) software." As for repercussions, tweens are "more likely than teens to worry about getting in trouble with their parents (50% vs. 11%)" for illegal downloading, but we suspect they're more likely than teens to worry about Mom and Dad's reactions to just about anything! Here's the survey and the Washington Post's coverage.
- File-sharing ethics in junior high. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) teamed up with Junior Achievement to promote a curriculum called "What's the Diff?: A Guide to Digital Citizenship" that reached more than 500,000 junior high school students this past school year, Wired magazine reports, leading with a description of the role-playing game it includes.
- Songwriters on file-sharing. The Washington Post held an online chat for readers with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, founders of the Tom Tom Club and former bassist and drummer of the Talking Heads (they started writing songs 30 years ago, which is an advantage, they say, in these days of "free file-sharing of a primary source of income" for many musicians. The very last Q&A in the transcript is an intelligent, thorough commentary from them. Here, too, is a Post review of a Frontline program that aired this week, "The Way the Music Died" about the modern music scene and biz, from Woodstock to the Internet.
- Italy cracks down. Italy passed a law that established some of the world's toughest penalties for downloading copyrighted content - including a potential three-year jail term for downloaders who do so, reports DMeurope.com.
- LimeWire "spyware-free." This mainstay of the Gnutella part of the file- sharing universe (services based on Gnutella-style software) released a version this month that it says is faster and free of spyware and bundled software, Slyck News reports. (P2P community "newspaper" provides great background on all the different types of file-sharing software and services.)
- The big picture. There's a lot more to this story than lawsuits and free media. It's also about whether our children and grandchildren will have "room to breathe," not just as aspiring writers, musicians, scientists, etc., but as they learn, play, and socialize with digital media in the process of figuring out who they want to be. I wrote about this and the public debate surrounding it last January.
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Web News Briefs
- Porn spam still not labeled
Parents are probably among the most aware of this: The law hasn't made it one bit harder for kids to stumble on porn spam, CNET reports. The people who send out those millions of pornographic emails apparently are ignoring a new FTC rule requiring porn emails to be labeled as such (under the US's CAN-SPAM Act of December '03). "Not only did illegal sexually-explicit spam fail to slow down after the regulations took effect May 19, but pornographic email measured by one antispam company jumped from around 2 million messages in a 40-hour period last week to around 2.5 million during the same period this week." Meanwhile, the BBC reports that spam of all sorts now accounts for about 70% of email worldwide. The good news in this report is that financial spam is up and porn down in terms of subject matter. "Junk mail offering stock price tips, cheap loans and mortgages accounts for nearly 38% of all spam, while pornography accounts for just 5%." Viagra-type drugs, miracle diets, hair restorers, and other "health-related" make up 40% of all junk email.
As for remedies, here's a dense piece at CNET about progress in technical efforts to beat spam and spam scams. And the FBI is cracking down. It recently told Congress that it has identified more than 100 "significant spammers" and is targeting the worst 50 for "potential prosecution later this year," CNET reports.
- How Google stacks up
Even though most people use Google these days, its search results aren't much different from what you get at other search engines, a study found. The study, conducted by San Mateo, Calif.-based market research firm Vividence, surveyed and monitored 2,000 people as they used Google, Ask Jeeves, Lycos, Microsoft's MSN, and Yahoo, CNET reports. It found, for example, that in a search for the leading cause of death for people between 25 and 34, Google users found what they were looking for 55% of the time and people using its competitors reported success rates of between 52% and 54%. "The company found that Google clearly remains consumers' favorite, largely because of the search engine's less-cluttered interface. In fact, Vividence said almost 90% of Google users reported having a 'strongly positive experience'." Those figures were 68% at Yahoo, 50% at Ask Jeeves, 48% for Lycos, and 41% for MSN. And why do we need to know this? Well, Wellesley College found in a study last year that fewer than 2% of students surveyed used non-Internet sources in research they were asked to do. The study "also revealed the extraordinary confidence students have in search engines," its authors, two Wellesley professors said. For more on this, see "Critical thinking: Kids' best research (and online-safety) tool" in the 5/30/03 issue.
- It's elementary, my dear parents
Kindergarteners and first-graders are now using technology to design things the way graphic designers, businesspeople, and scientists do, USA TODAY reports in an article about small technophiles in Arizona. In one class in Tempe, first- graders "learn terms used in geometry by first shooting everyday shapes in the classroom and playground with digital cameras, then loading the pictures in PowerPoint presentations. It's vocabulary without boring flash cards." In Phoenix and Glendale, first-graders are designing PowerPoint presentations and digital greeting cards. As one school administrator put it, "in the land of technology, students are the natives and adults are the immigrants." But we parents knew that! ;-)
- Teens' close encounters
"Sandra," a 16-year-old in the UK, tells her own story at CBBC (BBC for kids) of how she and a friend almost met at McDonald's with a "19-year-old" man they'd gotten to know in a chatroom Because it was just a lark, and the two girls were together, they felt bold and agreed to meet with the man the minute he suggested it - after an hour a day of chatting over several days. It turned out there were two men waiting at McDonald's, both looking more like 40-somethings than teenagers, but the girls were smart and... I'll let Sandra tell the rest. An American girl's experience that didn't have as happy an ending is "Amy's Story," told in audio rather than written form, in the Teens section of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's NetSmartz site. These stories beg some questions that the WebSafeCrackerz.com (for young teens) answers - e.g., how you see people online and how they see you, how to set boundaries, how people manipulate others in chat or instant-messaging, etc. (see "World Wide Weirdos" and the ASL Files in the BlahBlahBlah.com section of the site). For parents, there's some level- headed advice on instant-messaging from a father of six in the 1/9 issue.
- 'Drugs' in online games
Besides the more typical threats of getting eaten by monsters or murdered by fellow avatars, a new one is turning up in multiplayer games on the Web, Wired News reports: "addictive drugs that can incapacitate or kill their characters." For example, the creators of Achaea, "one of the biggest online text- based games," have introduced the highly addictive "gleam" into its story about a crime ring trying to infiltrate the game's cities. "Characters who take gleam get hooked quickly - suffering typical addiction symptoms: violent vomiting, shivering, irrational sobbing, begging for the drug and even overdoses resulting in death," according to Wired News, which adds that "some of the game's players are angry about gleam's introduction into their world." This answers a question many parents would ask - how the drugs' effects are portrayed in these games? "Realistically" is probably a good answer. If young players see painful reactions and tragic results, this plot twist might be persuasive in a positive way. But email us your views.
- Mac security patch flawed
The unusual security patch Apple recently issued doesn't do the trick, CNET reports, citing the views of experts at several different computer security companies. The problem it fails to fix allows a hacker to upload and run a malicious program on a Mac - if the owner can be "enticed to go to a fake Web page on which the program has been placed." The problem is becoming more critical because of all the hacker instructions for exploiting it hat have appeared in online discussions that security experts follow, CNET reported in an earlier article. Be sure to tell the kids not to click on links in emails from people 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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