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July 29, 2005

Dear Subscribers:

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

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Major update on teen tech use

Were we this nuanced as teenage communicators?! I learned from the just-released study of "Teens and Technology" by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that, for today's 12-to-17-year-olds...

The last time Pew looked at this subject was five years ago, and the changes are significant. For example, 87% of US teens 12-17 use the Net (51% daily), compared to 73% (42% daily) in 2000; 81% of teen Net users now play games online (52% growth since 2000); 76% get news online (38% growth); 43% shop online (71% growth); and 31% get health info online (47% growth in 5 years). Also, phone text messaging has emerged as a "formidable force" (though still lagging behind teen texting in Europe and Asia).

Here's a noteworthy finding in the online safety area: Though the vast majority of US teenagers go online at home (26% in a private space like a bedroom and 73% in an open family area), growing numbers are logging on from libraries, school, and other locations. Think about what that says about the effectiveness of filtering or monitoring Net use on home computers (54% of US parents use filters). And then there are the other devices used for wireless connecting, such as cellphones and gameplayers, that don't yet have parental controls (84% of US teens have at least one "personal media device," 44% at least two).

A couple of interesting demographic highlights: 1) Online activity really kicks in at 7th grade (82% of 7th-graders are online, compared to 60% of 6th-graders); girls 15-17 are the "power users" - they have "a much higher level of engagement with a wide array" of online communication and info-seeking activities than do either boys their age or younger boys and girls.

And does all this technology enhance their social lives? Interestingly, parents and teenagers don't disagree on this that much. "Of the parents of teenagers we interviewed," the study's authors write, "62% say they disagree with the notion that teens who use the Internet to stay in touch with their friends have better social lives than teens who don't.... Teenagers themselves are slightly less likely to disagree. Almost half of all teenagers agree that the Internet can help teens have better social lives, while 51% disagree."

Just some highlights from a very meaty update on how teenagers are using technology. The study got reams of media coverage. Here's a sampler:

Readers, do your teenagers' online experiences reflect this study's findings, or are they experiencing the Internet quite differently? I always love receiving your stories and comments - please email them to me anytime via

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Web News Briefs

  1. Grandmother sues GTA makers

    Upset that she bought Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for her 14-year-old grandson without knowing it included hidden X-rated content, a grandmother in New York this week is suing Rockstar Games and its parent Take Two Interactive, the Associated Press reports. Filing her lawsuit in a federal court in Manhattan, Florence Cohen is seeking "unspecified damages on behalf of herself and all consumers nationwide, saying the company should give up its profits from the game for what amounted to false advertising, consumer deception and unfair business practices." Meanwhile, The Sims is facing fallout. "An anti-game crusader" and attorney in Florida is pressuring Electronic Arts to take action against people who modify The Sims 2 in a way that "unblurs" naked characters in that game, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The attorney, Jack Thompson, "who has tangled often with the makers of video games," says Sims 2 should be "next on the list to be re-rated as an 'adults only' game." EA responded that this was "nonsense," since even when the mod's in place, the "naked" characters look like store mannequins - they're not anatomically correct. For perspective, the Wall Street Journal reports that mods and "Easter eggs" are nothing new, and most aren't nearly as risqué as the "Hot Coffee" mod (for GTA: San Andreas) that sparked all the controversy. [Mods are bits of code circulating the Net that gamers can download to modify games, Easter eggs are hidden content within games and DVDs that are "unlocked" by mods or found in a kind of treasure hunt done with a remote. Many parents have heard of a third game tweak or add-on called "cheats," which are codes gamers get on the Web to enhance a character's powers, go to the next level, etc.]

  2. Ratings confusion

    What the controversy surrounding GTA: San Andreas really highlights is confusion over all the ratings - of movies, music, and TV as well as videogames. USATODAY reports that "a cry has gone out" to fix the game ratings system, in fact all the ratings systems. "Even though TV programs, movies, music and video games all carry labels denoting age-appropriateness, parents groups and politicians say the systems aren't working" (USATODAY thoughtfully provides a page of ratings charts that's about as clear as it can be). Critics cited are the Parents Television Council and the National Institute on Media and the Family. David Walsh, head of the latter organization, told USATODAY that universal ratings need to revisited because of the media convergence we're experiencing - the ability to hop from music video to TV show to game all on one device. Patricia Vance, head of the game industry's Entertainment Software Rating Board said the system's fine - San Andreas was an "isolated incident." It would be hear these experts discuss the pros and cons of a universal rating system, which would be complicated (here's 2001 testimony in the US Senate, about why it's "unworkable," by Douglas Lowenstein, head of the video and PC game industry's trade association). USATODAY cites a number of examples of commercial and nonprofit services reviewing child-targeting media for parents (the article should've included California-based, parent-awareness at a nationwide level is a costly challenge.

  3. Bloggers vulnerable to hacks

    Here's a good reason for bloggers to make sure only people on their blogs' friends or buddy lists can email or instant-message them. This might be a good discussion point for parents and teen bloggers: CNET flags a warning from security firm Websense saying that "cybercriminals are increasingly using blog sites and other free online services to spread malicious code." The criminals lure people to malicious sites with "enticing emails and instant messages." When bloggers click to the sites, their computers become infected. "In one case, a greeting card was displayed and a tune played in the background while spyware was being installed on the compromised PC." It's all about good privacy practices while blogging. Different services -,,,, etc. - have different privacy features (e.g., only designated friends can read profiles, posts, etc. or only friends can reply to posts or send IMs and emails). If you have a very young blogger at your house, you might go through those features together (your child will know where they are). For more on this, take a look at "A dad on kids' blogs: How father & [12-year-old] daughter worked through the issues."

  4. More anti-GTA pressure

    The US House of Representatives this week joined Sen. Hillary Clinton in asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the makers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The resolution calling for the investigation passed 355-21, the Associated Press reports. Lawmakers apparently were concerned about whether San Andreas's producer Rockstar Games and its parent Take Two Interactive intended to deceive the Entertainment Software Rating Board by concealing the X-rated content in the game. "Take Two initially said the scenes were not part of the retail version of the game, but were created by third parties. Later the company admitted the scenes were contained in its version," the AP explains. Here's the BBC's coverage. For more background see my feature last week. At the state level, meanwhile, "a new Illinois law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors is unconstitutional, software makers and resellers asserted in a lawsuit" filed in a federal court in Chicago on Monday," CNET reports.

  5. Kid exposure to porn on phones: Study

    A new study on kids' exposure to online pornography warns that wireless technology "opens the door for more unsupervised access by minors to online pornography," Wireless Week reports . "The Porn Standard: Children and Pornography on the Internet," released this week by "liberal think tank Third Way" and cited on NBC's Today show Wednesday, found that "one-third of children 11-17 have their own cell phones today," half will have them in the next couple of years; "pornography already constitutes half of the multimedia traffic carried by US wireless carriers outside of their own portals"; and revenues from pornography delivered via mobile devices are projected to increase by more than 50% this year, and "perhaps triple by 2009." For some of those numbers it cited other studies. The Today show picked up on these surprising figures in the report: "The largest group of consumers of adult material on the Internet was 12-17 years old" and "57% of 9-to-19-year-olds with Internet access have accessed online porn." Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas unveiled the study when she announced she'd be introducing a bill called the "Internet Safety and Child Protection Act of 2005." The bill includes a 25% federal tax on Net pornography and "new requirements for adult Web sites to help prevent children from looking at them," the Associated Press reports . (Senator Lincoln is listed as honorary co-chair on Third Way's Web site, according to the Wireless Week report.) Parental controls for cellphones are in the works in the US - for that story, see my 5/6 issue .

  6. Spyware: We are not alone

    It's somewhat comforting to know that even the experts struggle over the definition of spyware. Part of the problem is that there are conflicting interests - like advertisers vs. regulators - involved in coming up with a definition, and adware and spyware are "kissing cousins," as the Baltimore Sun put it. But key parties to the discussion, the AntiSpyware Coalition, have been working hard on a definition. The result is a 13-page report that doesn't exactly make for summer reading, but will help lawmakers draft anti-spyware legislation that actually sticks. The Coalition, which "includes small software specialists such as Tenebril and Webroot, Web giants such as Microsoft, Yahoo and America Online, and Internet activist groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology," is seeking public comment on the report until August 12. Here's the Washington Post's Brian Krebs, who illustrates some of the confusion (with spyware issues at his in-laws' house), then clears some of it up. As for the numbers, ClickZStats illustrates the spyware problem, and USATODAY quantifies our confusion. And what does all this spell? Buying new computers, apparently, because more and more people are just junking their spyware-ridden PCs and starting fresh, the New York Times reports.

  7. Teen vlogs?!

    Well, our teenagers are blogging. Pretty soon they'll be vlogging - some undoubtedly already are. Vlogs are video blogs, sort of the ultimate reality TV, only more amateur and, in some cases, a lot more yuck, since there's almost nothing vloggers aren't recording. I didn't even want to pass along to you all the examples the New York Times provides in its article on this today, but here are some: "Village Girl has posted a video of her 2-year-old dancing with a friend. Josh Leo taped himself browsing through his old baby pictures and art projects. (The first book he wrote as a child, 'No,' is excellent.) Fat Girl From Ohio is a man blogging largely about his wife's pregnancy." Most are adults, but the Times mentions one dad of two little girls, both of whom have vlogs ("Dylan plays with and talks about a boy who can't get her name right"). "At this point the video blogging world is still small enough that all vloggers appear to know one another and show up in one another's work." So we don't yet really have to worry about our teenagers' party vlogs, but - when you start wondering - talk to yours and for goodness sake make sure s/he's sure no last names are associated with the footage in those vlogs!

  8. Critics of kid phones

    A group of child advocates "including the singer Raffi, Harvard child psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, and conservative political operative Phyllis Schlafly" are calling on Congress to investigate the marketing and sale of mobile phones to children, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. In letters to the commerce committees of both houses of Congress, they're protesting the creation of the 8-12 market niche whereby marketers can bypass parents and "talk" directly to kids. They're also asking lawmakers to look into whether "adults other than parents could contact children by phone, and whether individuals other than parents could track the physical location of the child's phone." The letters register concerns about classroom disruptions, billing practices, and whether it's healthy for kids to use cellphones. The Sun-Times quotes the letters as citing Disney's soon-to-launched kids' phone service (in partnership with Sprint - see this); it's not clear if the writers mention others. But the Sun-Times adds some of the latest developments in this niche: "Firefly Mobile has signed up 100,000 users under age 12 since March. Firefly phones connect with parent-programmed phone numbers at the touch of one button.... Coming soon: child-targeted phone service from Enfora for children as young as 6, Global Positioning System through Wherify, a Barbie brand mobile phone from Mattel and one from Hasbro called 'Chat Now'."

  9. Tunes on phones

    In no time at all, digital music shops like iTunes will be on phones as well as the Web. "For years, wireless companies have watched with envy as Apple Computer's iPod became the best-loved pocket device in America, a role filled virtually everywhere else in the world by the cell phone. Now, they're getting ready to do something about it," CNET reports . Verizon and Sprint are leading the charge, planning on unveiling their own music services "as early as the end of this year." CNET adds, though, that all the major cellphone companies have announced phones that will store and play music. But watch out, tunes on phones are expected to be as much as three times as expensive as on computers.

  10. Christian gamemakers' big plans

    "A small but growing number of game developers are creating titles for Christian gamers," reports Reuters in an article pegged to the fourth-annual Christian Game Developers Conference in Portland, Ore., this week. One such gamemaker, N'Lightning Software, says half of videogamers are Christian. Some of these games are overtly edutainment, others don't sound much different from non-Christian games about medieval conquests, knights and vikings. N'Lightning's Catechumen, according to the company's Web site, is about navigating the catacombs of ancient Rome to free "brethren captured by the demon-possessed Roman soldiers." Then there are apocalyptic games (e.g., one called Left Behind: Eternal Forces, based on Left Behind books said to have a reader base of 10 million) and "The Bible Game," a trivia game with 1,500 questions for PlayStation 2 and a trivia-questions-plus-adventure game for Game Boy Advance. CNET says "Christian games traditionally have been the domain of the PC, which allows many developers to sell games online to their target audience. But with the first console game coming out, the industry will be reaching the mass-market audience that shops at Wal-Mart." Anybody know of good games about other religions?!

  11. Hackers focus on desktop software

    Apparently, Microsoft is doing a good job of fixing flaws in its Windows operating systems, because malicious hackers are no longer that interested in the OS. They're "now focusing on desktop software, like Web browsers and media players, that might not get fixed as frequently," Reuters reports , referring to a new report from the SANS Institute . "Many of the new flaws were found on products popular with home users," according to Reuters. "Flaws in media players like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes and RealNetworks Inc.'s RealPlayer could enable a hacker to get into a user's computer through a poisoned MP3 file. Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser could be compromised simply by visiting a malicious Web site, SANS said. Even the open-source Mozilla and Firefox Web browser, which has gained in popularity thanks to security concerns, had flaws as well." Make a point of checking often for updates to Firefox and RealNetworks software. Apple and Microsoft issue fairly frequent updates for their desktop software.

    Meanwhile this week, Microsoft will continue to provide security patches for all Windows users, but all other updates and add-ons to the operating system will now require verification (that one's copy of the operating system is "legit"), CNET reports . "Regardless of whether a system passes the test, security updates will be available to all Windows users via either manual download or automatic update. The Microsoft Update and Windows Update utilities, which provide notifications of new patches, will require validation." CNET goes on to say that this is part of Microsoft's "stepped up effort" to increase the number of users who are actually paying for its software. The company says about a third of Windows copies worldwide are pirated.

  12. Email from summer camp

    And your distant camper doesn't need a laptop! According to United Press International, s/he hand-writes a letter and hands it to the bunkhouse counselor who goes to the office and faxes the letter to a toll-free number at a company called Bunk1, which emails the note to the parents. Sounds more complicated than sending a letter! But there are other ways kids and parents stay in touch, UPI reports. "Many camps offer their own email service to campers. They charge the parents upwards of a $1 per message for the privilege of communicating daily, while still allowing the kids to experience nature." Video emails may be next (at a slightly higher fee)! 

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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