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November 11, 2005
Here's our lineup for this second week of November:
- 321chat.com & kids dont mix
- Web News Briefs: More risk-taking at home; Bloggers & France's riots; Student wins free-speech case; New Windows patches!; IM threats are up; Parental controls for phones; MI game law blocked; Sony's risky CDs; Huge 'homework help'; Grokster shut down; Other P2P news; MySpace's record label....
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321chat.com & kids don't mix
Heads up, parents of avid communicators: 321chat.com provides chatrooms specifically for kids and teens but doesn't protect their privacy. It's just one chat site but a clear illustration of how unmonitored chat puts kids at risk.
Watchdog CARU, the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the New York-based Council of Better Business Bureaus, has referred the site to the Federal Trade Commission because it's not compliant with the US Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which CARU helps enforce.
Because of this action, the site, with ads that link to adult-oriented dating sites right where children enter chat, temporarily shut down its "Kid Chat" room, designated for children 9-13. But that's definitely not enough, CARU says.
There's nothing stopping them from entering any of the site's other chatrooms, CARU writes in its press release (COPPA doesn't cover those chatrooms). "Children can easily click back to the home page ... and click on the icon for Teen Chat, labeled for those 13 to 19. Once there, children need merely enter a nickname and then begin to chat and enter any [personal information] they please [thus violating COPPA], without any form of age screening to insure that users are in fact age 13 or older.
"It is well known," CARU adds, that kids 9-12 "often prefer to see themselves as capable of participating in the activities, and sharing the interests, of teenagers. It is common sense that children unable to enter the Kids Chat room, will go instead to the Teen Chat room." And experts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children say that online predators go "where the kids are online."
I went into Teen Chat and within three seconds read a post saying, "if you want talk to 7th grader thats sexy lil devil, press e." This site certainly bears out what a mom emailed me recently and what a UCLA study found: that, for teens who use it, online chat is usually about sex (IM-ing is more for socializing with peers). The Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) only protects the privacy of children 12 and under, so CARU can't do anything about teen chat rooms - these and blogging services (used by a lot of people under 13 but marketing to adults) are what might be called an unregulated gray area of no safeguards for minors, putting the onus on parents.
Your comments, questions, and experiences are always appreciated. Send them anytime to email@example.com.
* * * *Web News Briefs
- More risk-taking at home
More risks online, that is. A new study of youth online behavior found that 51% of US 8-to-18-year-olds say their schools' computer-use rules are tougher than their home rules. "The findings suggest that less rigid supervision at home increases kids' freedom to surf inappropriate Web sites, download digital copyrighted works such as software and music without paying for it, and chat with strangers," said the press release of the Busienss Software Association, which sponsored the survey by Harris Interactive. The BSA also said that "one reason that school computer use is safer than at home is that, at school, children are much more likely to be online with adult supervision." Just 15% of respondents said they are online alone at school, as opposed to 62% at home. In other findings...
- 35% of 8-to-18-year-olds "are more likely to use a home computer rather than a school computer to chat with someone they don't know, divulge personal information online (24%), or go to Web sites they probably shouldn't visit (29%).
- 52% of teens 16-18 have downloaded software and 52% music on their home computers this year, and just over a third of 13-to-15-yearolds have (36% software and 38% music).
- Young bloggers & France's riots
French police are trying to control rioting on the Internet as well as in rundown neighborhoods, Reuters reports. "Young rioters are using blog messages to incite violence and cell phones to organize attacks in guerrilla-like tactics they have copied from anti-globalization protesters," according to Reuters. Two "youths" were under "official investigation" today, "one step short of pressing charges under French law, on suspicion of inciting violence over the Internet after urging people to riot in blogs." They were reportedly blogging at Skyblog.com, owned by "popular youth radio station Skyrock" and claiming to host 3 million blogs. Reuters says cellphones are also being used by rioters to connect quickly, get away from police, and "organize the fires." Police are saying that the riots are waning on this 13th night of violence.
- Student wins free-speech case
In light of a New Jersey private school's decision to ban student blogging a couple of weeks ago, this is interesting news: "A New Jersey school district will pay $117,500 to a student who was punished for creating a Web site that included critical statements about his middle school," the Associated Press reports. A federal judge ruled that the district had violated the student's free-speech rights. Two years ago, Ryan Dwyer, now in the 11th grade, created a Web site on his own time at home. "Comments posted in the site's 'guest book' section angered school officials, who suspended Dwyer for a week, benched him from playing on the baseball team for a month, and barred him from going on his class trip, among other discipline. The district's lawsuit said anti-Semitic remarks were posted on the site, which Dwyer denied writing." The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey helped the Dwyers sue the district, which they say never told them what school policy was violated. This is not a public school, as opposed to the N.J. school that recently banned student blogging, so these cases are different on several levels, but the question of what free-speech rights students have in the Internet Age is definitely unresolved and will make for interesting discussion for some time to come.
- New Windows patches!
Microsoft says they're critical, so all Windows PC owners out there need to get the patches here if you don't already have patching automated. To automate the process (which is a good idea), go here. "Two of [the security flaws they're patching] could allow a remote intruder to gain complete control over a Windows PC," ZDNET cites Microsoft's November security bulletin as saying. That loss of control could turn the family PC into a "zombie," a cog in the works of a porn spammer or an extortionist - not a pleasant thought, especially since it would be very hard to tell (sometimes zombie owners notice their computers have slowed down a bit, though).
- IM threats are up
Tell instant-messagers at your house! Threats like worms and viruses targeting IMs were up 1,500% over the past year, CNET reports, citing research by IM security firm IMLogic. These are attacks that lead to outsiders taking control of your PC. To help kids be on the alert, tell them all these attacks use some sort of "social engineering," IMLogic indicated - "such as tempting users with an enticement to click on a link or attachment," like "check out my blog," "look at my photo," or "check out this cool video clip" (only more enticing because probably using kid chatspeak and posing as someone on their buddy list). Over the year (10/04-10/05), MSN Messenger users got 62% of the attacks, AIM 31%, and Yahoo Messenger 7% (with the top two switching in September). For more on developing IM security smarts, see "IM tips from a tech-savvy dad" and "IM anthropology."
- Parental controls for phones
It's good news, but it's also a sure sign that porn is coming to ever-more-multimedia cellphones. The US's major cellphone companies this week agreed to adopt "a content rating system for video, music, pictures and games that they sell to cellphone users - a development that could pave the way for them to begin selling pornography and sex-oriented content on mobile devices," the New York Times reports. According to Reuters, rating guidelines were developed by the industry's biggest trade association, CTIA. The industry will provide filtering "initially" based on two ratings: "general interest and restricted content deemed appropriate only for people over the age of 18," the Times reports, adding that the carriers said they wouldn't make the restricted content available until filters were in place. No start date was apparent, just "soon." Reuters cites data from tech researcher IDC showing that about 21 million 5-to-19-year-olds had cellphones by the end of 2004. Meanwhile, cellphone upstarts like Amp'd Mobile are marketing directly to young "media savants" (teens and young adults) their ability to provide "pop culture in your hand" - music and video clips, dating services, celebrity news, games scores, and plenty of ads that "fill as much as half the screen," the New York Times also reports.
- MI videogame law blocked
Michigan's new law banning the sale of violent videogames to minors is on hold. "A federal judge Wednesday granted video game industry groups' request for a preliminary injunction preventing the state of Michigan from enforcing [the law]," Reuters reports. Judge George Caram Steeh said the state "had failed to show what harm could result from selling games to minors," and there was "obvious harm" to free speech. The law was to take effect December 1. The groups who won the injunction are the Entertainment Software Association, the Video Software Dealers Association, and the Michigan Retailers Association. Similar laws have passed in California and Illinois (also being challenged), and a legislator in Florida is working on one for that state. Reuters adds that "courts already have blocked similar legislation in Washington State, the city of Indianapolis, and St. Louis County in Missouri" for First Amendment reasons.
- Sony's nightmare could be ours
It's a pr nightmare for Sony BMG: the ruckus over the extreme copy-protection tech it put on about 20 of its CDs. But now it's becoming a real problem for music fans who have played the CDs on their PCs. The anti-piracy program these CDs automatically install on people's computers "is now being exploited by malicious software that takes advantage of the antipiracy technology's ability to hide files," the Associated Press reports. Once installed, Sony's technology is cloaked - it can't be found on the PC, which Sony doesn't mention in its user agreement. It's also very difficult to uninstall, and uninstalling reportedly disables the CD drive. Worse, virus writers have already taken advantage of the invisibility feature to circulate Trojan horse programs that anti-virus software can't detect (three are in circulation so far, PC security firms said Thursday). The Trojans take control of people's PCs. Apple computers aren't affected by either the Sony technology nor the Trojans. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a list of the Sony BMG CDs that have the offending copy protection on them. Sony has released a patch. The company has already been sued in a class-action lawsuit, Reuters reports, and CNET later reported that Sony has stopped manufacturing CDs with this tech on them.
- Huge online help for students
It's a pretty amazing trend: public libraries providing free online tutoring and homework help in many subjects. There are 29 library systems in California doing so, as are the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System in Washington (for students in grades 4-12 with library cards), the San Jose Mercury News and Seattle Times report. The service is also offered in some Arizona libraries and "in more than 800 libraries across the country through Tutor.com," based in New York, according to the Arizona Republic. The idea is to help students who don't speak English or can't afford expensive private tutoring. And there are other, non-library services on the Web, some free, some pay-per-query. The New York Times mentions Google Answers, Ingenio.com, and Wondir.com (which "fields about 10,000 questions a day"!). USATODAY points to sites and software offering help in spelling and writing, math and science, and history and geography.
- Grokster shut down
Grokster, the file-sharing service that played the "title role" in the Supreme Court case decided last June, has agreed in a legal settlement with the RIAA to stop distributing its P2P software, many tech-news outlets report. Illegal file-sharing probably won't be affected much by this and similar shut-downs, however, because "millions of people already have the Grokster software on their computers, and the company can't stop them from using it to get copyrighted songs free from other Grokster users," the Wall Street Journal reports, and file-sharers have also migrated to other services "to trade music online, notably BitTorrent, Gnutella and eDonkey." The Journal cites numbers from file-sharing consulting firm BigChampagne showing that "an average of 6.7 million people in the US were file-sharing at any given time in September, up from 4.7 million a year earlier. The Supreme Court ruled last June against P2P services' promotion of copyright infringement (here's my coverage of the decision). And here are CNET, the San Jose Mercury News, and Britain's The Register on this week's development.
- Other fresh P2P news
Litigation against file-sharers rolls on. On the film front, "potentially trying to avoid a pr disaster after suing a ... Wisconsin grandfather for $600,000 because his 12 year-old grandson downloaded four movies, the MPAA has offered Fred Lawrence a deal: pay $4,000 over 18 months to settle the case," BetaNews reports. The grandfather says he knows nothing about file-sharing, they already own three of the movies on DVD, his grandson knows nothing about copyright law, and he's on a fixed income and can't even afford the $225/month. Lawrence is going to fight the lawsuit. Here's the Associated Press on this. In Hong Kong, a man has been jailed for three months for file-sharing movies with BitTorrent, the BBC reports. "The authorities say he is the first person in the world to be prosecuted for passing on files using a popular file-sharing program called BitTorrent," the BBC adds. And South Korea's largest online music service, Soribada, shut down its file-sharing operation, as ordered by the Seoul Central District Court," The Register reports. The court order resulted from legal action taken by South Korea's equivalent of the RIAA, the Korean Association of Phonogram Producers.
- MySpace's record label
The social-networking site's new label, to launch next week, has a significant group of ears right up front: its some 35 million members. Reuters reports that MySpace Records's first title "will feature a mix of tracks by major-label, independent-label and unsigned acts, including Weezer, the All-American Rejects, Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy, AFI, Against Me, Plain White T's, New Year's Day and Hollywood Undead" (the last "a Los Angeles rock/rap act and MySpace's first signing"). More than 550,000 artists and bands have pages at MySpace, according to Reuters, and the site was ranked No. 4 in Web traffic in August (latest figure available), after Yahoo, eBay, and MSN - ahead of Hotmail, Google, and AOL!
Here's the latest article on "parents as filters" at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It has anecdotes about how other parents are dealing with the use of MySpace, Xanga, LiveJournal, etc. at their house and sidebars on signs of kids' online risk-taking and keeping kids safe on various devices.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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