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May 27, 2005

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this last full week of May:

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A UK kids' site and a US law

It's notable that a UK children's site is willing to work with a US law - COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), specifically. Recently COPPA watchdog CARU, the US's Children's Advertising Review Unit, notified London-based that it was in violation of CARU's guidelines for protecting online kids' privacy under COPPA. The site, as described by CARU, "offers children the opportunity to be a part of a world-wide community and take part in, among other activities, Maramail (an internal email feature), chat, and join its kids club, with the ability to buy, sell and collect virtual pets."

CARU told the site publishers that, to be compliant, they should "implement neutral age screening," add a user tracking mechanism, post a privacy policy, and provide a downloadable parental-consent form." said it would do all that (including adding neutral age screening by 3/30), as well as delete its database of personally identifiable information of children under 13.

I asked CARU director Elizabeth Lascoutx what "neutral age screening" and "tracking mechanisms" are, thinking parents might want to know about these online child protections. "Neutral age screening is simply asking for age in a way that doesn't 'tip off' a child that there are any consequences to the answer," she replied in an email, since tipping off the child might tempt them to lie about his or her age. "So, 'You must be 13 or older to enter this site - how old are you?' would definitely not qualify," Elizabeth continued. "Neither would a choice between two categories: 'Under 13' or '13 or older,' or any permutation of that. Our preference is simply asking for date of birth...."

As for "tracking mechanism," it's "simply a cookie," she wrote, "which prevents a child from just hitting the back arrow and changing the date of birth to avoid having to get parental permission. A couple of sites we've seen have linked asking for the date of birth to providing the child with a horoscope reading - a clever way of rationalizing the request for a birthdate."

I'm telling you all this as an update on COPPA and online children's privacy. Protections that went into place back in 2000 (COPPA was passed in '98) are still in place and being acted on.

And the surprising part: a non-US site complying with COPPA. This may say something quite positive about how effective self-regulation can be (with good watchdogs and effective monitoring) in an international medium that by nature seems to defy regulation. It also suggests that if parents, kids, and children's advocates can become a tight, communicative interest community, we may be able to wield some clout even globally, in cyberspace!, et al

Other sites (or aspects of sites) that CARU has recently brought into COPPA compliance are...

For information on COPPA, here's the Federal Trade Commission's page for parents about COPPA and online kids' privacy.

CARU as advertising watchdog too

As part of the Better Business Bureau, CARU also does a lot of watchdog work in children's marketing, its original mission. Recent agreements were reached with:

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Web News Briefs

  1. Parents monitoring kids: Study

    Nearly half of US parents keep tabs on their kids' online activities daily or weekly, according to a survey just released by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Cox Communications. The other half (51%) "say they don't have monitoring software on household computers that teenagers use or don't know whether their computers have such software," CNET reports, and 42% don't review what their teenagers are "saying" in chat rooms or instant-messaging (58% say they do). In other findings...

    • 28% of parents "don't know or are not sure if their teens talk to strangers online."
    • 30% allow their teenagers to use the computer in private areas of the house, e.g. a bedroom or home office.
    • As for the lingo/acronyms kids use in IM, 57% of parents don't know "LOL" (laughing out loud), 68% don't know "BRB" (be right back), 92% don't know "A/S/L" (age/sex/location, which kids shouldn't give out online), and 95% don't know "POS" (parent over shoulder) or "P911" (parent alert).

    For monitoring help, here's a thorough survey by the Providence Journal of monitoring and other online-safety tools and services available to parents. For more, type versions of the words "filtering," "monitor," etc. into a (Google) search box, or go to's tools page.

  2. New 'Star Wars' IM worm

    Just another reminder to instant-messagers not to click on links in IM messages, even if they look like friends sent them. The new worm targets AIM users and comes in a message that goes something like, "hehe, i found this funny movie," with the word "this" a link, CNET reports. If an IM-er clicks on the link, they download the worm, which then sends itself to everyone on his/her buddy list (that's why the IM looks like it's coming from a friend). The best way to check is, before clicking on anything, to open a separate "conversation" with that buddy and ask if s/he sent the IM. If s/he either says no or is offline, the IM is bad news - log off and start over. For more on this, see "IM tips from a tech-savvy dad"). Also this week, a Star Wars phishing attack on Yahoo Messenger users. The link in the Yahoo IM goes to a site that is designed to look like a real Yahoo Web site but is actually a phishing scam to steal people's Yahoo user name and password, CNET says. These are just the latest in a growing number of IM-borne scams and attacks, CNET adds.

  3. FBI shut down P2P site, a site being used by BitTorrent file-sharers to download the latest Star Wars film before it was in theaters, was shut down by the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security yesterday, the Associated Press reports. It was "the first criminal enforcement against individuals who are using BitTorrent," federal officials said. "Revenge of the Sith" was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first 24 hours of its availability on the site," they said, adding that "Elite Torrents had more than 133,000 members and 17,800 movies and software programs in the past four months." The site's home page is now a notice with the Justice and Homeland Security Departments' seals saying that "individuals involved in the operation and use of the Elite Torrents network are under investigation for criminal copyright infringement." President Bush signed a law last month that included penalties of up to 10 years' jail time for distributing a movie or song before commercial release. Parents might ask what the risk is, here, for file-sharers at their house. Well, the key phrase in the new law is pre-release distribution. So, no matter what the "popularity quotient" would be at school, kids definitely should not be involved in the trafficking of any media before their public release, and even then "sharing" is what media companies filing lawsuits call "illegal distribution." A family discussion about file-sharing ethics is always a good idea; for ideas, see "File-sharing realities for families." Email me about how it goes (via!

    Meanwhile, the RIAA Thursday filed lawsuits against 91 file-sharers using the high-speed Internet2 to at 20 colleges and universities nationwide, Internet News reports, and against 649 people "making music files available on traditional file-swapping networks," CNET reports, referring to networks like Kazaa, Limewire, eDonkey, etc.

  4. Net-ed for families on Web

    What a logical place for parents to learn about kids' Net use: in cyberspace! Winn Schwartau - dad, computer-security expert, and author of "Internet & Computer Ethics for Kids" - is teaching a course about "what kids are capable of and what they are doing when parents and teachers aren't monitoring their computer use," as his company's press release describes it. It's as if he timed the unveiling to the findings about parental monitoring announced this week by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and Cox Communications (already picked up by China's official news service, Xinhua). The $3, one-hour online course and quiz are based on Winn's book (see my review back in 2001) and is part of a series of courses for better PC-security awareness (including virus protection, email safety, and ID theft). The $3 is per individual, with "deep discounts" for schools (works for grades 7-12 as well as for families). Here's the course and the Security Awareness blog.

  5. Video games' upside

    "This is why many of us [read: "parents"] find modern video games baffling: we're not used to being in a situation where we have to figure out what to do. We think we only have to learn how to press the buttons faster." This from Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best-selling "The Tipping Point" and now "Blink," in his review of "Everything Bad is Good for You" in the New Yorker (see also "TV makes us smarter?!"). Gladwell's referring to how we're more comfortable with games like Monopoly or gin rummy, which "don't have a set of unambiguous rules that have to be learned and then followed during the course of play." Video games, on the other hand, aid the other kind of learning we need: "collateral" as opposed to "explicit [textbook] learning," Gladwell explains.

    "Players are required to manage a dizzying array of information and options. The game presents the player with a series of puzzles, and you can't succeed at the game simply by solving the puzzles one at a time. You have to craft a longer-term strategy, in order to juggle and coordinate competing interests. In denigrating the video game, Johnson argues, we have confused it with other phenomena in teen-age life, like multitasking.... Playing a video game is ... [is] about finding order and meaning in the world, and making decisions that help create that order." Gladwell goes on to show how we discount this collateral learning in favor of the explicit learning with which we're more familiar.

  6. New scam, keep patching!

    From the "What Will They Think of Next? Department" the latest PC scam is a "cyber extortion" one. A malicious hacker group is "trying to extort money from Microsoft Windows users" by scrambling text files on our PCs so we can't read them, then telling us we need to pay for a computer program that will unscramble them, the Washington Post reports. How are they doing that? By exploiting a nearly year-old security flaw in the Internet Explorer browser to take control of text files and using "an encryption scheme" to scramble them. Victims are told to pay for the decoder software "by depositing $200 in the attackers' e-Gold account, an online currency that operates outside of the regulatory and legal controls of the US financial system." Prevention is simple: make sure your family PC is all patched up. To test it, just go to Windows Update and have it scan your system for critical updates, then tell it to install any necessary patches (note that you need to use Internet Explorer for this to work - it won't work with Firefox). "Think most people using Windows would have sense enough to apply Microsoft patches at least once a year?" the Post asks. "Think again. Some of the most prolific viruses and worms circulating the Internet these days infiltrate machines using Windows security flaws that are more than a year old." The other two all-important PC-security precautions, especially for DSL and cable Net connectors, are a firewall and up-to-date anti-virus software on your system. [See also "More browser options" and "The Firefox explosion."]

  7. Nintendogs & other family entertainment

    "It would seem that Nintendo's products are aimed at the child in all of us," the New York Times report . The question, though, is whether cute games like Nintendogs - which "lets players raise and train virtual pets on the [handheld player] Nintendo DS" - will help Nintendo stay a successful, third-place, niche game-device maker as Sony and Microsoft battle it out for first. "Over the last five years, Mario has lost market share to the thugs of Grand Theft Auto as the audience for video games has gotten older and the games themselves have moved into the mainstream of pop culture," according to the Times. At the big games expo in #3 last week, "while most game publishers showed sequels, sports simulations and shooting games based on grim tropes such as gang violence and World War II," Nintendo was promoting the new Nintendogs and Donkey Konga and old favorites like Metroid, Super Mario Brothers, and The Legend of Zelda.

  8. Online poker is huge

    Especially among college students. "See that guy who brought his laptop to class, the dude seated in the last row of the lecture hall? Odds are he's on or right now. The sophomore in the room across the hall who hasn't opened his door for 14 straight hours - and yet you know he is there? Chances are he is on or," Sports Illustrated reports. More than $100 million in bets passes through more than 200 online poker sites a day, according to stats cited by SI. Teenagers, too, are into online poker (so far, sites can't verify age, but players need a credit card or online bank account to play for money). What's the attraction? Privacy, accessibility, anonymity, poker experience, and the chance to win money, SI says (for some disturbing anecdotes about students and the money involved, see this piece). Is it legal? In a word, no, not in the US - that's why all the poker sites are off-shore. But it's a "low-priority crime," SI quotes a law professor as saying, meaning of low interest to prosecutors. How about university policy? There's very little; some schools even explicitly support it ("the Penn Poker Club receives an average of $1,000 per semester from the university's Student Activities Council"); other schools simply haven't gotten engaged; and very few provide counseling for gambling addiction. Here's the sidebar on the legal issues.

  9. Music on phones, pls: Youth study

    Young people's two biggest interests for next-generation cellphones were commercial-free radio and music-downloading, a recent survey found. Music videos were also an interest to the 13-to-34-year-olds surveyed by Management Network Groups, Reuters reports. "US operators are widely expected to provide full [music] download services to phones in the coming year but pricing such services for broad demand could also be tricky." The respondents preferred the idea of paying 99 cents per song rather than $19.95 monthly for up to 30 song downloads. The youngest respondents (teens) also liked the idea of multiplayer games on phones.

  10. Video of school fight posted online

    A beating that took place in a high school bathroom in California was videotaped and circulated on the Internet. A 17-year-old Iranian-American student "suffered a broken jaw after being struck several times by two attackers," the Associated Press reports. The video was posted in a UK media-hosting site called, which has a nothing-illegal policy and said it would've taken down the video if it had been informed about the posting. PutFile did delete the file. The family of the victim said it would sue the school district for failing to protect him, the AP later reported. Here's coverage of a statement from the Contra Costa County prosecutor's office and the latest, in the Contra Costa Times, on how the community is dealing with this event, which was widely reported.

  11. 'Eat well, receive iPod'

    ...or an Xbox, movie tickets, and other prizes. That's the message from Glasgow's school-meals service to all students in the city's 29 secondary schools, the Washington Post and The Scotsman report. According to the latter, "the award-winning Fuel Zone Points Rewards Scheme aims to promote a good diet among teenage pupils, with those who choose a healthy option rewarded with points which go towards prizes, such as iPod music players, Xbox computer consoles, tickets for the cinema and book tokens." A good thing, considering the fact that "the deep-fried Mars bar, served with a side order of fries, threatens to usurp the haggis as Scotland's best-known dish," National Geographic News (the Post thoughtfully links to this and other stories about some of Scotland's newer, beyond-haggis tasty treats). An interesting ed campaign! The question is, will they internalize the lesson? ;-)

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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