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June 9, 2006

Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this first little snippet of June:

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Web News Briefs
  1. Parent poll on Net safety

    Where their kids' use of the Internet's concerned, parents' greatest fear is sexual predators, a new study by found. "Still, they perceive other dangers to be more likely to occur: 80% are concerned about sexual predators online; 39% think that they are likely to happen to their kids, according to the study press release. Among media in general, the Internet is seen as the most risky - 85% of parents thinks so, vs. 13% for TV. In other findings:

    • Other concerns after sexual predation are kids' exposure to values parents don't agree with (72%); kids' exposure to ideas they're not ready to see (70%); lack of outdoor time (71%), computer viruses (76%), and experimentation with porn (55%).
    • 82% said there was "no excuse for not knowing enough to protect your kids."
    • 98% said they trust their own instincts where the Net's concerned.
    • 53% of parents say their kids have accidentally found inappropriate content in a Web search.
    • 70% know their kid's email password, vs. 52% for the IM password
    • 78% feel social networks are not a safe way for kids to meet new people online.

    Here's coverage of the study at USATODAY and the San Francisco Chronicle. CommonSenseMedia now has an Internet-safety Web site too.

  2. Teen lured to Mideast

    A 16-year-old Michigan girl somehow persuaded her parents to get her a passport, then flew to the Middle East to meet a man she "met" in MySpace, the Associated Press reports. She "left home without notice." After not returning her mother's calls to her cellphone, her disappearance was reported, and the Tuscola County [Mich.] Sheriff's Department "contacted the FBI, which was able to trace the teen to a Wednesday flight from New York's Kennedy International Airport to Tel Aviv, Israel, with a stop in Amman.... US officials persuaded her to return home from Amman [Jordan]," according to the AP, which added that the girl apparently contacted the man about three months ago. Whether or not the girl initiated contact, a key take-away for parents is that the vast majority of these "traveler" cases are consensual - the child is not forcibly abducted, but rather persuaded or "groomed" to go meet the predator. In the case reported by the AP in February then believed to involve "up to seven" Connecticut girls (12-16) allegedly sexually assaulted by men they'd had contact with in MySpace, all the girls told police the sex was consensual (see my coverage). To understand how the "persuasion" works (and make sure your kids are alerted to manipulation), see "How to recognize 'grooming'" and "How social influencing works."

  3. Texters: Future pro writers

    Here's a concept: "With their mouths largely shut but their laptops and flip phones open, teenagers' bedrooms are beginning to sound like the library." Seriously, text is far and away today's hottest communications medium, a USATODAY report indicates. So parents concerned about teen blogging and social networking may appreciate a definite upside, expressed beautifully in a sidebar to the USATODAY piece: Today's teens may not be talking, but they're writing regularly and eloquently. Amy Goldwasser, a Manhattan-based freelance editor and writer who's about to submit to publishers a collection of essays by teenage girls from across the USA, says the 1,500 submissions she has received about "life and death and God" are fluid, articulate and intimate." Could people in the publishing industry say that about us when we were teenagers? Here's an in-depth piece about Australia's avid teen texters in the Sydney Morning Herald.

  4. Cyberbullying & social networking

    The Times of London went in-depth this week on this new venue for bullying - in the UK, specifically in Bebo and MySpace. It describes a few particular vicious cases (including one mom finding out about an egregious attack on her 13-year-old daughter from her 17-year-old son) but tries to provide perspective. "Although largely harmless, the boom in social networking sites has been accompanied by the spread of 'cyberbullying,' a trend that some experts believe is fast getting out of hand and may be being exaggerated in the UK by Bebo's focus on schools [Bebo has 4 million users in Britain]. In a recent Microsoft survey of 500 UK 12-to-15-year-olds, more than 1 in 10 (11%) said they had been bullied online." Research into digital bullying has only just begun in the US, but USATODAY reported on a small study of 65 girls aged 15-18 that showed how mobile bullying is getting. Presented at a meeting of the American Educational Research Association, it found that "self-identified female bullies most often text-messaged harassment by cellphone, preferring it nearly 2 to 1 over email, Web sites and instant messaging. About 45% had been victims of cyberbullying." Bullying's victims, of course, are not kids. A 14-year-old student in suburban Chicago faces felony harassment charges for "threatening the life of a school official on," the Associated Press reported this week.

  5. Gangs in social-networking sites

    Not too surprisingly (because social networks are just a reflection of our culture), "gangstas" are showing up on these sites. The Dallas Morning News reported that is not just gang members but also "wannabees" acting out (posting photos of themselves displaying gang symbols, holding weapons, and partying) bragging about their exploits on social-networking sites. Police investigators are reporting this, but it's great that they're also reporting that some of it's a big act. "Many of the Web postings come from kids who merely want to imitate the gangster image, which is not illegal, investigators say." But parents, get this: "They add that they have to take the sites seriously because some of the postings come from serious gang members and many of the 'wannabes' can become real dangers." Just another clear reminder of how important it is for us to help our kids think through the implications of their behavior in digital public spaces.

  6. MN's twist on game legislation

    Most state laws about violent videogames involved fining retailers if they sold adult videogames to kids. Minnesota's new law fines kids. Just signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the law, SF 785, "imposes a $25 fine on minors who purchase games rated M for Mature or AO for Adults Only," reports. "The bill is scheduled to go into effect August 1, but it could be pushed back or struck down entirely." Later in the week, the Entertainment Software Association announced it would sue Minnesota to overturn the bill, arguing that it's unconstitutional, CNET reported. Meanwhile, you'll be hearing more from Washington too about violent and sexually explicit videogame. The subject has "resurfaced on politicians' agenda as the November election draws near, " CNET reports, and "a US House of Representatives committee on consumer protection says it will hold a hearing ... later this month, with a focus on 'informing parents and protecting children' from the alleged dangers of those types of games." And the BBC had a story on Christian game development, reporting that "later this year Left Behind Games will release Eternal Forces, an action packed story set in a New York landscape where soldiers take on demons. There's no blood and a no cursing rule - curse and your energy level drops. The makers hope it will be the first title to take Christian gaming mainstream."

  7. Parents, public service & the Net

    Parents in public service have a new publicity worry to add to their lists: having their parenting experiences disseminated in social-networking sites. The Rockford (Ill.) Register Star tells the story of a school board president whose daughter had a party that got out of hand. The mom/school official had to end it early. But the kids partied on in cyberspace. "Details of her daughter's party got onto the Internet via the popular Web site MySpace. Party attendees chatted online about how [the school board president's] daughter may have gotten into trouble with her parents and that partyers were drunk." The result was a police visit to their home "to determine if charges against anyone were warranted. While authorities said charges don't appear necessary, school board president Kalchbrenner now wonders if punishment is already being doled out." She wondered if her position (which she has served in since 2001) meant her family was subjected to more scrutiny than most families and who would, in the future, be willing to serve under such conditions.

  8. YouTube's upgrade

    Nearly every day a star is born on, Reuters reports. It's like an interactive, online "American Idol," with much less buildup and much lower production values. Examples of YouTube idols: "Anthony Padilla, aka "smosh," now semifamous online for lip synching the Pokemon theme song, and littleloca, who fans recently outed as an out-of-work actress, but who presents herself on YouTube as an 18-year-old Latina living in East Los Angeles." But the news is, YouTube just got more personalizable. It unveiled a major upgrade with "channels," allowing users "to create playlists that can be shared with similar-minded fans." Half of the site's visitors are under 34, and they watch 50 million videos a day on it, Reuters adds.

  9. Phishers' fake MySpace

    PC security researchers have discovered another MySpace-related phishing attack (stealing personal info), The Register reports. In this case, it's a link sent in an instant message to AIM users. People who click on the link are connected to a fake MySpace page telling them to log into their MySpace account. When they type in the information, it's collected by the phishers, and victims are forwarded to a real MySpace page. The phishing scam also sends a cookie to victims' computers which stops the fake page from displaying again (so victims don't become suspicious about being tricked). Tell your kids to be careful about what they click on in IMs - to be sure the IM is coming from a friend, and even so to start a new conversation with that friend and ask him or her if s/he sent the link.

  10. Gamemaker's settlement with FTC

    Last year several lawmakers asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into hidden sexually explicit content in Grand Theft Auto. This week, the FTC released its report and the news of a deal with GTA's makers. "When the scandal [about GTA's hidden "Hot Coffee" mod] broke in July 2005, the game's publishers, New York-based Take-Two Interactive Software and Rockstar Games, agreed to change the rating to AO [Adults Only] and subsequently incurred $24.5 million in costs due to returns of the game," CNET reports. "Under the terms of Thursday's settlement with the FTC, Take-Two and Rockstar Games agreed to 'clearly and prominently disclose on product packaging and in any promotion or advertisement...content relevant to the rating.' Any violations would mean hefty fines." For NetFamilyNews coverage, see "Grand Theft Auto's X-rated content?" and "Videogames turning point."

  11. PC security wars: Good!

    Microsoft's OneCare is shaking up the whole field of PC security, and that's great for family PCs. It's not to say that viruses, phishing attacks, and other pests are going away overnight, but it does spell better, cheaper, more family-friendly protection, according to CNET. "A number of companies, including perhaps unexpected ones such as AOL [with its "Total Care," coming this summer], are readying security and maintenance packages for home computers, following Microsoft's launch last week of Windows Live OneCare." If you have not one single clue about which way to go with this growing number of options, you are not alone! Here's a handy chart CNET has prepared, comparing PC care products available right now. It doesn't do quality comparisons but it does say whether they have features like antivirus, antispyware, antiphishing, firewall, backup, and even "safe Web searching." See also this transcript of a conversation between Washington Post PC security reporter Brian Krebs and his readers about the latest security threats and what to do about them.

  12. Online dating, fraud & the law

    There are some themes, here, that might be of interest to parents of social networkers (especially those who use online dating sites!). Online news magazine recently looked at the state of online dating. Kind of an older, earlier version of social-networking (though Slate includes MySpace in this category), it has a similar, possibly greater, level of fantasy associated with it. "Everybody is blond and skinny in cyberspace. And that can be a problem. Consider the number of marriages ending because one of the parties just met their one true love on Yahoo Personals," says Slate, suggesting that people don't want this aspect of "e-commerce" regulated because they like the fantasy, the privacy (courting in the privacy of one's own home), and the anonymity. "Heavy regulation would mean that the blurry lines between reality, fantasy, and wishful thinking would be patrolled and enforced by cyberlove cops" - even though there have been some pretty shady practices. Slate elaborates.

  13. Illegal?

    Lots of digital-music news this week. Much of it centers on a story about a little Web music store with global-sized impact. Russia-based, which has long purported to sell tunes that were legal but very cheap, "could jeopardize Russia's long-sought entry into the World Trade Organization," according to the New York Times. "Operating through what music industry lobbyists say is a loophole in Russia's copyright law, offers a vast catalog of music that includes artists not normally authorized for sale online -- like the Beatles and Metallica," the Times reports. "The songs are sold by the megabyte instead of individually, and an album of 10 songs or so on AllofMP3 can cost the equivalent of less than $1, compared with 99 cents a song on iTunes." Those AllofMP3 songs also come with no DRM, or copyright protection, an added incentive for music customers. For some time the site has been kind of legal middle ground between "expensive" mainstream music retailers and free but illegal file-sharing. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that British record companies would be suing In other major digital-music news, the BPI, which represents UK record labels, announced that British music fans UK music fans "no longer face the threat of prosecution for copying their own CDs on to PCs or MP3 players, as long as the songs are only for personal use," the BBC reported. "Consumers would only be penalised if they made duplicates of songs for other people."

  14. Online vigilantism in China

    The largely online (but sometimes offline) vigilantism we're seeing in the US (with, smaller groups, and individuals) is nothing compared to the very "real world" Chinese version. The Chinese call it "Internet hunting," according to a New York Times report that leads with the story an "an impassioned, 5,000-word letter on one of the country's most popular Internet bulletin boards from a husband denouncing a college student he suspected of having an affair with his wife." The story ended with "total strangers forming teams that [within days] hunted down the student, hounded him out of his university and caused his family to barricade themselves inside their home. Immediately, hundreds joined in the attack." Comparisons are being made between Internet hunting and frightening mobs taking "justice" in their own hands during the Cultural Revolution (China's marking its 40th anniversary this year). Check out the Times piece to see what Beijing and local authorities are doing about it.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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