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March 4, 2005

Dear Subscribers:

Kid-tech news is on the increase, it seems! Here's our lineup for these first days of March:

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A dad on kids' blogs: How father & daughter worked through the issues

Dan in southern California emailed me recently about his 12-year-old's blogging. "I was shocked to see a picture of her, a profile, a Yahoo email address I did not know about, and profiles of all her friends that are hooked up on this site," Dan wrote. "A simple click on their pictures and you have public email correspondence for all to read." He and his wife weren't sure yet what to do about this - they didn't want to overreact - so for starters he wanted to learn a little about these sites (MySpace, LiveJournal, DeadJournal, Xanga, Blurty, etc.).

I told him he'd stumbled on a pretty big phenomenon of teen life these days....

Dan said there were a lot of pieces to this that concerned him: "the amount of info my daughter and her friends are putting on their blogs - pictures, school names, soccer teams, etc.... The whole secrecy thing is big." Dan and his wife had talked with their children about online issues and expected them to be up front. To create her blog their daughter had to have her own email account, "which she figured out how to get on Yahoo" without their knowing, he wrote.

Justifiable concerns: The Georgetown University study points out that "because teenage bloggers are revealing a considerable amount of personal information, as well as multiple ways to contact them online, the danger of cyberstalking and communicating with strangers online is a serious issue. An awareness of the dangers of revealing personal information online should be cultivated in young bloggers."

Dan added, "We have our work cut out. She is a good kid so we want to handle it right," he wrote.

A few weeks later he kindly told me how he and his daughter (we'll call her Jamie) worked through the issues together. First he and his wife waited to see if Jamie would bring it up with them. When she didn't, Dan put some extra Parental Controls on Jamie's AOL account, including blocking, the site where she was blogging. "I waited to see if she'd come and tell us there was something wrong with the computer," he told me in a phone interview. "It took about three days, and then she went to my wife and told her she needed a new password. My wife told her, 'Dad's concerned about that Web site,' and she didn't say anything.

"The next day," he continued, "when I came home from work, I told her, 'We need to talk about some of these sites.' Her response was, 'Well, you know [Jamie's friend] Cindy [not her real name] set it all up.' I just asked her if she thought other people could get to her personal information and picture, and she said, 'Oh no, you have to have a password.' So we went to the computer. I said, 'Let's pretend I'm Joe Perverted Dirty Old Man and I want to find a 12-year-old girl who I can stalk. Let me go to' It says, "Do you want to create an account?" 'Wow, I only have to put my email address in and create a password. How 'bout that?' So I created an account, to remind her how easy it was. 'Now I have seven or eight choices. Hmmm. One is "search members." Oh, this is interesting. I love girls named Jamie. I'll type in "Jamie" and see what happens. Oh, look at all these Jamies! I can go take a look and see how old they are [in their profiles]. Hmm, I live in southern California. Let's see if one lives in southern California. Oh, here's one!'" Dan told me they could see together that "every profile in there" had the town where the young person lived.

As so it went, as Dan and Jamie clicked around in MySpace the way a pedophile might. They found pictures of Jamie and her friends, their school name, the name of Jamie's soccer team, the grade she was in. Then they went to Google and easily got the school's address.

"Her mouth was wide open when we did this," Dan told me. "I said, now I'm going to be Jamie's dad" to show her that this could even get embarrassing. "I'm going to find out what I can about Jamie. Oh, there are all her friends. Let's find out what's going on with Cindy, what Cindy says about the boys Jamie likes. 'I can find out anything I want'."

Then he told Jamie, "Here's what my problems are: You did all this without talking to me. There shouldn't be any site you go to that you wouldn't be comfortable taking me to. The rule is: Don't go anywhere you wouldn't be comfortable showing me. 'But Chelsea's mom knows about it,' she told me. 'If you'd like, I can call Chelsea's mom,' I said. 'No, that's ok' was her response."

Wrapping it up, Dan told Jamie, "I don't care if you blog - it's kind of cool you can talk to your friends this way, but all kids need to be aware that people can read anything they post. She asked me, 'How do I get the information off?' So we did it together. We took her picture off the site. I showed her some of her friends' profiles - Susan, we found, had probably talked to her parents because there was a flag in the image spot instead of a picture of Susan. One girl had a picture of Paris Hilton on her blog. Anyway, we just deleted all identifiable information together ... kind of scrubbed down her profile."

You could call this online parenting at its best....

A teacher on blogs: Not long after this interview, a teacher - Molly, also in California - emailed our friends at about this very issue, even down to her concerns about kids' online profiles and! Must be a California thing. ;-) She emailed them because she wanted to get word out to parents:

"I am a middle school math teacher. I have allowed my students to Instant Message me using AIM with any math questions they have while doing their homework at night. I really enjoy being accessible to my students at times other than class. However, I have become very concerned with the 'profiles' my students post about themselves. These are not only their AIM profiles but also their MySpace sites. In order to have a 'myspace,' you must be at least 16 [site policy says]. But we have many 12- and 13-year-olds with these Web sites, posting pictures of themselves. It worries me to no end, because some of the girls say they're 18, put pictures of themselves just in bras, and publish to the world the town where they live in and the school that they attend. SCARY!"

I always appreciate receiving emails about your concerns, experiences, and solutions. They can be very helpful to fellow parents and educators. Email me anytime via

Links to the latest

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P2P update: New lawsuits, Supreme Court case, Musicians' view, etc.

  1. 753 more Americans will soon be hearing from the RIAA. The total number of lawsuits to date differs from report to report. P2PNet and MTV say around 9,100 people have been sued (the former makes a number of interesting anti-RIAA points), Australian Financial Review puts the number at 6,500.

  2. The P2P debate is red-hot in the US this month, as people take their positions for the Supreme Court case later this month. This week a group of prominent musicians and artists broke ranks with their industry in "urging the Supreme Court not to hold online file-sharing services responsible for the acts of users who illegally trade songs, movies and software," the Washington Post reported. While (in court documents) they condemn the stealing of copyrighted works, they also argue that that P2P services such as Grokster, Kazaa, and BitTorrent, "provide a legal and critical alternative for artists to distribute their material." To many musicians, they add, the benefits of file-sharing far outweigh the risks of copyright infringement. Legal docs are at FindLaw.

  3. iMesh - a popular Israel-based P2P service whose software was downloaded 715,000 times in just one week in Feb. - is currently enjoying record companies' approval. Why? Because it's working on using file-sharing technology to sell music, CNET reports. So is a soon-to-be-unveiled service called Mashboxx. So, for now anyway, users of these services won't get sued.

  4. Heads up to anybody buying cheap music from, a Russia-based site. It's under criminal investigation, according to another CNET report (for more, see "Cheaper online tunes").

  5. The UK is the No. 1 country in the world in downloading TV shows, the BBC reports.

  6. For the big picture on the Supreme Court case, see the Washington Post. Besides the basic pros and cons, it also looks at the impact this decision will have on other businesses' whose technologies file-sharers use (e.g., turning radio broadcasts into computer files that can be burned onto CDs). "Hundreds of existing products could be threatened, [these communities] say. And they fear that new products, and early funding, will die in the crib," the Post reports. Another Post piece updates us on the file-sharing scene itself. For a parent's-eye-view, see my "File-sharing realities for families."

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Web News Briefs

  1. Teens' exposure to sex online: Study

    For this study, the professor decided to see for herself what teenagers encounter in online chat. UCLA psychology professor Patricia Greenfield "entered a Web area devoted to teenagers - whose motto was 'Be seen, be heard, be you' - and was 'shocked' by what she found there, including unsolicited sexual advances from strangers," according to the press release of UCLA's Children's Digital Media Center, of which Greenfield is director. She writes, "The sexuality expressed in a teen chat room was public, linked to strangers and had nothing to do with relationships. It was very explicit and focused on physical acts, and often associated with the degradation of women. I started to receive private instant messages, including a crude sexual advance, just by hanging out at the chat room, even though I had not participated in any of the ongoing conversations." One of the study's conclusions: "Not only will children seeking pornography 'find it all over the Internet,' but children who are not seeking pornography are often inadvertently exposed to it when they conduct Internet searches on perfectly appropriate subjects." Here's a report on the study from Child Health News and here's the Children's Digital Media Center page at the University of California, Los Angeles.

  2. Garret the Ferret on digital ethics

    Kids themselves have named a new comic-book hero, Garret the Ferret, who the Business Software Alliance hopes will teach them digital copyright ethics. "That software you're copying is protected by copyright laws. What you are doing is wrong," Garret tells Shawn, a comic-book kid who's installing a friend's graphics program on his home computer late one night. They're the stars of "Copyright Crusader to the Rescue," a four-page comic/"curriculum" that the BSA is mailing to 30,000 fourth-grade teachers who subscribe to the children's publication Weekly Reader. So parents may soon receive a letter that comes with the companion teacher's guide. Both can be downloaded at the BSA's Play it Cyber Safe site. Here's the BSA's press release about the program.

  3. US's newest online-safety site - endorsed by the First Ladies of nearly every state as well as the very animated Faux Paw the Techno Cat and McGruff the Crime Dog - plans to educate children and parents nationwide about safe use of the Internet. Founded by Utah's former First Lady Jacalyn Leavitt, the nonprofit organization behind the public-awareness site aims to be an umbrella for online-safety projects throughout the US. The site contains messages from first ladies, a little movie starring McGruff, a comic book featuring Faux Paw, and online-safety tips for parents and kids. Eventually, the site will have online-safety games for young visitors to play - to help them develop their own Net-safety savvy. Here's coverage at WFIE in Indiana, KFSN in San Francisco, and the Salt Lake Tribune.

  4. Beware the new 'Bagle'

    This is a good time to remind your kids not to click on any email attachments. Moving fast, the new Bagle has already been sent to millions of email addresses around the world. It's a trojan virus that, when opened, attacks PC security programs like anti-virus software and firewalls (which of course leaves your computer vulnerable to further attacks and outside control), CNET reports. It also automatically connects your computer to a number of Web sites your family doesn't want to go to. Here's ZDNET UK's coverage.

  5. Scary side of Webcams

    A Webcam in a girls' locker room in the Nashville, Tenn., area. That's the story (and now lawsuit) with which the New York Times led. "Like each Web page, each [Net-connected Webcam] has an address, and unless the cameras have been concealed behind software firewalls, their addresses make them specifically searchable and identifiable [by any Web surfer]. A Google search one day last week indicated more than 10,000 such Web cameras," the Times reports. It looks like, as with many Net-related technologies, the law has not caught up with Webcams. Nor with the camera-security policies of sellers and buyers (such as schools) of Webcams. Then there's the difference between accidental and deliberate access to Webcam images. In the girls' locker room in Tennessee, the images of teenage girls in underwear were protected only by a default username and password that the school had never changed. "Lists of default passwords for many different types of computer systems are available on almost any 'hacking' site," and hackers probably aren't the only people interested in access to these kinds of Webcam images. Now we need to tell our young athletes to check locker rooms for cameras before they change. And we also need to find out where schools and daycare centers have security cameras installed!

  6. ID thieves targeting kids

    The latest surprise about identity theft is that it's now victimizing children of all ages. Some have bad credit records even before they get their driver's licenses. The Seattle Times led with the story of one 3-year-old whose mother tried to start a savings account for her, only to find someone had "beaten her to it," using the child's social security number in what the FBI is calling "one of the fastest-growing crimes in America." This is not just an Internet story, since in many cases parents don't know how the tiniest children's personal data are being stolen. But it's good Congress is taking notice of the problem, zooming in on one source: huge databases of personal info like those of ChoicePoint (from whom personal data of 145,000-500,000 people were stolen) and Westlaw, which one lawmaker said makes ChoicePoint look like "child's play." The Washington Post, New York Times, and CNET report (CNET's the latest).

  7. Cell-phone digital divide?

    Maybe not. Here, too, are work-arounds that may not be good for teenagers. Sometimes 17-year-old J.J. Payne in San Francisco goes without lunch so he can pay his $100+ monthly mobile phone bill, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Regardless of income level, cell phones are a hot ticket for teens. "Kevin Truitt, the principal of [J.J.'s high school], has struggled for years with students talking on their cell phones in class or text messaging under their desks. But now, it's the debt his students are racking up with their phones that has him concerned," according to the Chronicle. One student told Truitt he had a $2,000 debt. The scary thing is, one cell-phone service in the SF Bay Area allows minors to sign its contracts without a parent co-signing. For more on this issue, see "Young phoners in debt." [A 2004 Yankee Group survey found that half of US teenagers have their own cell phones, up from one-third the year before.] In the UK, the BBC reports on questionable financial tactics used by phone ringtone sellers - and some tough new rules they face. Looks like US providers could use some new rules, at least where minors are concerned. As for the earlier digital divide - the computer-based one - the World Bank says it's closing, Reuters reports.

  8. Video games: the bad & the good

    The state of Illinois is stepping up its anti-violent games effort. Two state legislators introduced a law that would ban sales of violent and sexually explicit games to minors, CNET reports. "California, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan all have similar proposals working their way through the legislative process." Internationally, Kanagawa Prefecture outside Tokyo "plans Japan's first ban on selling violent videogames to children," Australian IT reports. US courts have overturned similar efforts in St. Louis County, Mo., Indianapolis, and the state of Washington. Language in Illinois's proposed law could be a problem for passage, CNET adds, because "it doesn't rely on ESRB [Entertainment Software Rating Board] ratings but instead sets its own definition of objectionable content." In the UK, advertising has been the focus recently: television ads for the M-rated game Grand Theft Auto: Andreas have been banned during hours the children typically watch TV, the BBC reports. As for the upside: Surgeons are saying video games are good for developing skill in laparoscopic surgery, the New York Times reports. "The complex manual dexterity required to be a stellar video gamer and minimally invasive surgeon are strikingly similar."

    For more on games, see NFN's "Kids & video game violence," "Trash talk in online games," "10 worst video games," "Kid-tested, parent-approved video games," and "Check out the game ratings!".

  9. New game consoles & kid safety

    If they aren't already, parents will soon be bracing themselves for the kid-targeted marketing blitz that's coming. A three-page "FAQ" at CNET today is itself probably part of gamers' cyberspace-based speculations (aka "viral marketing") about what the consoles will look like and what they'll do - gamers are checking out CNET's little companion slideshow of "Nintendo insider" sketches and "Photoshop jockey" renderings. Buried on the FAQ's third page is a question a lot of parents will have: "What kind of online capabilities will it have?" CNET says that Sony's PS3 will only expand the Net-connected gaming opportunities PlayStation 2 provided. Nintendo executives "have vowed to steer clear of online games until they see a viable business model in it," CNET reports, adding, though, that they're bound to feel pressure to jump in. Xbox Live online gaming is central to Microsoft's strategy, and Bill Gates has talked about adding instant messaging to the service," CNET adds. The bottom line for parents is that the old days of merely filtering the family PC are over. Families need a multi-tech, multi-platform online-safety strategy that, ideally, involves thinking together on how to develop it (thinking together will actually make it a lot easier and a great opportunity to swap kid tech literacy and parent life literacy.

  10. Monitoring young drivers

    Parents are beginning to employ technology used by trucking companies to monitor their young drivers. "Figuring their children are better off annoyed than dead ... families are spending as much as $2,500 for microcomputers and 'black boxes' that feed speed and braking data into a home computer; cockpit video cameras; [and] Global Positioning System devices that track teenagers," the Washington Post reports. The Post leads with the example of soon-to-be driver's-license-holder Ben Ellison, whose new Mazda now has "a matchbook-size device plugged into the steering column near the knees of his cargo pants." But that's about half the battle - do these things monitor cell-phone texting and talking? In a story about whether laws against using handheld phones while driving do a bit of good, the New York Times has it that "no one doubts that using a cellphone can cause lapses in attention.... The question, at one time, was whether that was any worse than, say, unwrapping a cheeseburger or lighting a cigarette. Now it's also a question of whether a cellphone is more of a hazard than playing a DVD, using the calendar or email functions on a wireless hand-held device, or picking out a playlist on an iPod." My guess is, texting and MP3 players have just as much impact on driver safety as velocity. Studies are showing, the Times adds, that - even where just talking on the phone is concerned - it's the distraction of the conversation itself, not the act of dialing or holding the phone, that accounts for increased risk. I am really not suggesting we should monitor every move our children make - only that driver safety solutions, like online safety ones, are as individual as children are.

  11. Teddy-bear baby monitor?

    A slightly chilling sign of things to come or just a concept teddy bear? That's the question raised by this scenario from the Associated Press: The toy bear "sitting in the corner of the child's room might look normal, until his head starts following the kid around using a face recognition program, perhaps also allowing a parent to talk to the child through a special phone, or monitor the child via a camera and wireless Internet connection." AP reports that there are already toys for sale that "know a child's name or can incorporate other personal information." The problem is, what if that toy gets into the hands of someone with bad intentions? More and more I think parents need to be part of design teams because techies can get understandably excited about the capabilities they're developing; the downside just leaves their radar screens.

  12. Takeout from inside the game

    This takes the (pizza) pie, not the cake! Gamers at your house may soon be ordering dinner during play. Sony has built a pizza-ordering function into its latest multiplayer game, the Associated Press reports. "Type the command '/pizza' while playing Everquest II, a fantasy game with 330,000 active players, and get the Pizza Hut Web site, where you can place orders for delivery." Oh no, but what if you're playing in a non-Pizza Hut city?! USATODAY picked this piece up and, in its e-newsletter, headed it "Evercrust." So corny.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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