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April 7, 2006

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this first week of April:

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Teen social-networking 'sting': On a TV set near you

I don't usually plug TV shows in advance, but this one stars a learning process a lot of parents and teens are going through right now. It also features recent contributor and kids' online-safety advocate Det. Frank Dannahey in Rocky Hill, Conn. He suggests that kids and parents watch this segment together - as a great "talking point" for family discussion. [See his "Teen photos & a police officer's story."]

Here's what Detective Dannahey emailed me about the NBC Dateline story airing this Sunday night at 7pm, Eastern:

"The half-hour segment takes place in Middletown, Conn. This was the site of a national news story concerning seven girls aged 12-16 who were sexually assaulted by older men they met on The story will give some information about that incident as well as its impact on the community.

"The other angle of the show will focus on three teens from Middletown and their moms. These teens allowed a virtual stranger onto their MySpace page and gave out personal information. One of the teens suggested to this 19-year-old stranger, who recently moved into their community, that they 'should meet sometime.' Two of the teens had 'private' pages that cannot be viewed by the public.... The two teens allowed the online stranger onto their page [added him to their "Friends" list], thus exposing him to their other young teen friends."

Find out what happens (why I called it a "sting") on Dateline Sunday night. The show is promo'd at at the top of an earlier show's page. NBC will update that page with the new story and video over the weekend.

Send in your family's comments on the show - via, or post them in our forum!

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Web News Briefs
  1. Webcams' darkside

    Webcams - and how they're used in the sexual exploitation of online kids - were the focus of a high-profile hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday. "The lead witness at the hearing [of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee] was Justin Berry," the New York Times reports, "who was molested as a teenager by people he had met online, and then went on to run a pornographic Web site for five years, featuring images of himself." Justin, 19, started using a Webcam to make friends online when he was 13, the Times reported in a front-page story last December (see my summary, with links), and he has provided help in "the prosecution of some of the 1,500 people who had paid him to perform on camera" in what another testifier, a pediatrician at the University of North Carolina described as "real-time child exploitation" (Justin discovered the very first day he put his photo in a Webcam directory that there simply were no friends to be found there, only people with exploitation in mind). Internet News reports that "congressional estimates put the online child pornography business at $20 billion a year and growing." It added that yesterday's hearing was "sparsely attended," though it was covered by news outlets nationwide and in South Korea, India, Ukraine, and other countries. The Louisville Courier-Journal and CBS News focused on Justin Berry's testimony at the hearing. The CBS piece links to an audio interview with Ernie Allen, CEO of the National Center of Missing & Exploited Children, who also testified at the hearing, conducted by CBS tech reporter and publisher Larry Magid.

    Speaking of child exploitation, a Department of Homeland Security official, Brian Doyle, was the same day arrested and "charged with 23 felony counts, including using a computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor," the Los Angeles Times and hundreds of other news outlets reported.

  2. MI videogame law killed

    A federal judge has overturned a Michigan law restricting sales of violent videogames to minors, saying the law is unconstitutional. "Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the law in September, and it was scheduled to take effect December 1," the Associated Press reports, but US District Judge George Steeh issued a preliminary injunction in November, which was made permanent with Judge Steeh's decision this past week. CNET reports that this is just one of a series of similar free-speech-related decisions concerning videogames, including federal court decisions in Washington, California, and Illinois. "One reason for the judicial skepticism," according to CNET, "is that academic studies have not established a link between simulated violence in video games and real-world action. (Under Supreme Court precedent, such a link between simulated violence and "imminent lawless action" would be necessary to make those laws constitutional.)" That's why, last month, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) "persuaded a Senate committee to approve a sweeping study of the 'impact of electronic media use'," CNET adds.

  3. Tougher to buy 'M' games: Study

    The US Federal Trade Commission did some undercover shopping at 400+ videogame stores nationwide and found that it's getting harder for kids to buy games rated "M" (Mature). The FTC had "secret shoppers" aged 13-16 try to buy M-rated games without a parent, and 42% were able to buy one, down from 69% in 2003. "National sellers were much more likely to restrict sales of M-rated games," the FTC found. "Only 35% of the secret shoppers were able to purchase such games there. Regional or local sellers sold M-rated games to the shoppers more frequently - 63%." The shoppers noted other improvements, too: More stores provided info about ratings, and more cashiers asked the shoppers' age as they were trying to buy M games. Here's coverage from and the Wall Street Journal, reporting that members of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, representing "nearly 30 of the top retailers accounting for nearly 75% of the market of electronic and videogames," had, under public pressure, committed in 2003 to "prohibiting the sale of the M games to children under 18 by the end of the following year." And here's the ratings-description page at the Entertainment Software Rating Board's site. For an update on anti-violent-game legislation and debate on Capitol Hill, don't miss this thorough report at GameSpot, with the subhead: "Psychologists and anti-game activists verbally spar with free-speech advocates, industry reps at Capitol Hill session."

  4. YouTube: The next MySpace?

    Not really. Facebook apparently wants to be the next MySpace, since it passed on a $750 million offer and is "reportedly on sale, with an asking price of $2 billion," Fortune reports. But is definitely a phenomenon, having seen "the number of viewings on the site shoot up from 3 million a day to 30 million since the Web site's December launch," CNET reports. The New York Times calls it "the latest medium for short, loud adolescent messages" (though it also has movie trailers and TV ads). It has some tough competitors with huge resources (Google Video,, and Atom Entertainment's, so - besides its huge popularity as a media-hosting site, it's like the early days of MySpace in this way: "Nobody knows how YouTube, which has 20 employees, plans to make money," according to CNET. Maybe advertising? Here's CNET on the competition.

  5. The Disney phone

    Marketed to parents but designed for kids. That's the approach of Disney Mobile, announced at the big wireless communications trade show in Las Vegas this week. This fairly customizable (and thus kid-friendly) camera phone for 10-to-15-year-olds (or more realistically 7-to-10-year-olds - can't imagine a 15-year-old using a kid cellphone) makes Mom or Dad the phone's "family manager," USATODAY reports. Parents can designate, on the phone itself or by computer, when and how much the child can both talk and text on the phone, as well as add ringtones and other downloads. "The manager is alerted when a kid bumps the limits and can raise them. When kids exhaust their allowances, they still can exchange calls with their parents and other designated numbers and can dial 911." There's also a GPS feature, so parents can find the phone (and hopefully its owner) from their own phones or on the Internet. The phones cost about $60, and usage plans can be found at Disney's not the only company to market kid phones, but "Firefly Mobile and Tic Talk from Enfora and LeapFrog are not full handsets with conventional keypads," USATODAY points out. Here's further coverage at ABC News and the New York Times.

  6. Phone with sex-offender alerts

    It's not the first phone with GPS technology, but it's the first one linked to a national database of sex offenders. Nextel's Cat Trax phone "allows parents to build a 'geofence' around every listed child predator that lives within their ZIP code. The phone alerts parents through an email, text message or pager if their child enters that zone," the Associated Press reports. This new feature will be available within two months and will cost $19.99 for the first phone and $9.99 each for additional phones. "Other products, like Wherifone and Teen Arrive Alive, also help parents keep tabs on their children's whereabouts and driving habits," the AP adds.

  7. Youth & cellphones: Study

    Younger cellphone owners have different feelings about and different ways of using their phones from those of older American phone users, according to a survey by AOL, the Associated Press, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project that was reported worldwide. For example, 18-to-29-year-old users (the youngest age group Pew looked at) "are more likely [than phone owners 30+] to use their phones as personal computers, digital music players, cameras, and more," the AP reports. Pew listed a lot more differences: Younger phone owners are "more likely to reserve their calls until the hours that do not affect the minutes used in their rate plan; more likely to make spontaneous calls when they have free time they want to kill; more likely to use their cellphone to avoid disclosing where they are; and more likely to feel burdened by the intrusions the cell brings into their lives; and more likely to experience sticker shock when monthly bills arrive."

    For teen phone users as well as the young adults in Pew's study, social-networking will drive the next-generation cellphone market, reports. MySpace will have its own phone, in a deal with Helio announced last month, and earlier this week "Facebook announced deals with Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless to enable users to post messages to their Facebook profiles via SMS text messaging." For further evidence, see also this press release about JuiceCaster 2.0 for phone-created Web content (enabling more kid-produced media on the Web).

  8. Rated 'M' for 'Missing info'?

    When buying videogames, parents "may be getting more than [they] paid for," reports ABC News, citing a study by the Harvard School of Public Health as finding - "more sex, violence and obscene language, that is." The study, which looked just at games rated M (Mature/17+), found that 81% of the games "were mislabeled and had missing content descriptors" (e.g., the M descriptor on the back of game boxes: "content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language"). On p. 3 of its report, ABC explains how the Entertainment Software Rating Board's rating process works. The ESRB did have a practical response concerning how much info can fit on game packaging. It "argued that the researchers in this study want to see game packages littered with descriptors." A parent who's a gamer himself told ABC parents shouldn't rely too much on any rating system: "He suggested parents spend time researching the games they buy their kids -- and themselves.

  9. Teens' sites: What to do?

    You know parents' teen-blogging woes have gone mainstream when Dr. Joyce Brothers is offering social-networking advice in a newspaper near you. In Saturday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, she was asked the question on millions of parents' minds these days: How can I get across to my teenage son/daughter that "the suggestive photos, dirty jokes, plenty of curse words, references to drugs and drinking, and even links to some porn sites" in his Web site are "in poor taste and reflect badly on him personally?" Her answer was more about restrictive rules (which a child may obey at home, where only some of his Internet use occurs, unfortunately) than about convincing him of the bad implications of activity Dr. Brothers herself says are "very normal for a young teen." Can't blame her for not really answering the question, though, since there probably aren't enough newspaper column-inches to answer it satisfactorily for all parents. But in this user-driven phase of the Web's development and at teens' stage of brain development, one thing is clear: helping teenagers to think about what they put online and to be alert in online communications is much more effective than mere rules. Teenage brains - especially the frontal-lobe part with its "executive functions" ("planning, impulse control and reasoning"), according to the US National Institute of Mental Health - are very much works in progress.

  10. Teens arrested for uploaded video

    It was a homemade video allegedly showing two teenagers firebombing an old airplane hangar in the Novato, Calif., area. They had uploaded the video to their pages, police saw it, and the boys were arrested "on charges of possessing destructive devices," the Associated Press reports. "Police officers stationed at each middle and high school in Novato regularly surf the MySpace site for signs that local teenagers may be involved in criminal activity such as drug or alcohol use, sexual assault or vandalism," the AP added. Police said the damage to the building, part of an Air Force base that was closed in 1976, was "minimal." The two boys have since been released and their case "referred to the Marin County District Attorney for possible prosecution."

  11. Net-music update

    Music file-sharing hasn't been on US media radar screens much in recent months, but it certainly was across The Pond this week. File-sharers face what the BBC called a "legal onslaught," as the IFPI, the international umbrella for recording industry associations like the US's RIAA, announced it was suing nearly 2,000 P2P service users in 10 countries. Reuters added that the IFPI released data showing it had lost 1 billion pounds ($1.8 billion) in the past three years, due to file-sharing (see "File-sharing realities for families"). But piracy isn't only on the P2P front. Two California men "involved in what US authorities called the largest bust of pirated music CDs [burning some 200,000 of them] and computer software in America each pleaded guilty to five criminal counts on Monday, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, if you're looking for legal ("podsafe") music to enhance your homemade videos (so they won't get deleted from because the copyright owners complained to the Webmaster), PCWorld has some sources (and explains "fair use" in these days of self-published media). Finally, the Associated Press updates us on the argument between Apple and the record labels on pricing of legal online music.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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