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June 30, 2006
Here's our line-up for this last week of June:
- Web News Briefs: Over-exposure; Pentagon 'social networking'; Net-safety laws mulled; LunarStorm challenge; Teens mug adult MySpacer; BGCA's Net savvy; ISPs help child-porn fight; Protect kids from themselves?; SN keeps morphing; P2P update; SN nichifying; BEBO; MyspaceWatch; TX teen's case; Plagiarism update; Teen filmmakers; Digital yearbooks; 'Party patrol' changing....
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Web News Briefs
- The age of over-exposure
If not the age of surveillance, certainly the age of over-exposure is dawning. And USATODAY writer Janet Kornblum highlights the fact that kid photogs and videographers are major contributors to this ongoing reality show that is American life - "featuring themselves -- and anyone else they see along the way," unthinkingly without permission, of course. Right now, all these images stored in "government databases (taken from places such as traffic cameras and satellite images) ... [and] on the computers of our friends, our neighbors and family and in the databanks of Internet companies that host photo sites ... are relatively benign because technology doesn't yet allow us to search through images," according to USATODAY. But of course that's changing, and we and especially our kids are going to have to get a lot smarter about the taking and sharing of images. And watch out, the headline of a New York Times story this week is "Video Catching Up to Photos When It Comes to Sharing." It explains the basics of video-sharing by email and home and Web "broadcasting" via services such as PIXPO.com, HomeMovie.com, Snapfish.com, YouTube.com and Metacafe.com.
- Pentagon to peruse social networks
While the Bush administration's anti-terrorism monitoring activities are in the news, we might as well look at the social-networking angle: "New Scientist has discovered that the Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks," the London-based magazine reports. By monitoring the social networks, NSA, New Scientist says, can connect people and groups better than with mere phone logs. "Clusters of people in highly connected groups become apparent, as do people with few connections who appear to be the intermediaries between such groups. The idea is to see by how many links or 'degrees' separate people from, say, a member of a blacklisted organisation."
- New Net-safety laws mulled
Lawmakers are vowing to take legislative action against child exploitation online, CNET reports. "At a hearing [Tuesday] before the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, politicians served up a dizzying slew of suggestions about what kind of new federal laws should be enacted. The ideas were all over the map," but new anti-child-porn legislation seems to be top-priority, CNET adds. The article describes some of the other ideas lawmakers are talking about: e.g., outlawing some hotlinks; monitoring what Americans are doing online; a child-porn database and associated ISP filtering, as in the UK; ISP records of who's assigned what IP address; "search and destroy" bots on P2P networks; restricting Webcam use; regulating search-engine advertising; and a government definition of child pornography. For their part, Internet service providers "told Congress on Tuesday (6/27) they're doing all they can to combat online child pornography, but they were told to expect legislation," the Washington Post reports. Consumer privacy came up in the discussion. Several representatives of ISPs "voiced skepticism about creating new laws that would force them to retain data about their users' online activity," the Post added.
- LunarStorm challenges its peers
LunarStorm, a social network reportedly used by 90% of Sweden's high school students, has started its international rollout in the UK, and UK CEO Matt Colebourne challenged his fellow social networks in an interview he gave The Register. He said his company monitors its network for potentially illegal activity but doesn't get into the morality issue. However, he said the pedophilia threat is "very small" - "the biggest problem, he says, is not the most high-profile, but is bullying by the peer group," according to The Register, which adds that LunarStorm targets only 17-to-19-year-olds (though it can't stop people younger or older from registering as 17-19).
- Adult MySpacer mugged by teens
A 22-year-old Florida man was mugged at gunpoint by two teens who allegedly posed in MySpace as an 18-year-old woman, The Register reports. When 22-year-old Earnest Evans "arrived at their agreed rendezvous, Evans told police, the two girls approached him and asked to borrow his phone. Once he had handed it over to one of the girls, the other held a loaded gun to his head and demanded his wallet and money," according to The Register. The girls reportedly have been charged with armed robbery and carrying a concealed weapon, and a 21-year-old man who was also on the scene has been "charged with furnishing minors with firearms."
- Net-savvy Boys & Girls Club
Faced with the decision to ban after-school social networking or not, a San Francisco Boys & Girls Club went with not. There's a story behind this that CNET tells. After "two teenagers from rival schools used MySpace after school ... to 'cyberbully' other kids," the Mission District BCGA decided to join a few other Bay-area Boys & Girls Clubs in banning MySpace. Then the Mission District youth center changed its mind. Somehow, it got what a lot of politicians don't yet see - that, on the user-driven Web, rules, bans, and laws only really reach those willing to comply, whether they're kids or corporations. This is true with music file-sharing too, that noncompliant young people, Web sites, and companies (both in and outside the US, of course) find work-arounds. The Mission District's BCGA's tech director told CNET that they realized their young members would just log into MySpace elsewhere, so better to educate them about how to use the site safely - as well as establish rules for safe use and human monitoring of online activity. If I can editorialize here, that's the safer choice for teen social networkers, whether parents, youth centers, or governments are making the decision.
- ISPs help in child porn fight
Five of the US's biggest Internet companies have announced they will help the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) build a database of child porn images as a tool in the fight against child pornography. AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, EarthLink, and United Online (which runs NetZero and Juno) have formed a coalition and together pledged $1 million to develop the database "and other tools to help network operators and law enforcement better prevent distribution of the images," the Associated Press reports. The database is expected to be in place by year's end, and the ISPs will probably scan images associated with IMs and emails sent by their users against the database and report offending ones to the NCMEC, but the details are still a bit fuzzy. "AOL chief counsel John Ryan said the coalition was partly a response to US Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales' speech in April identifying increases in child-porn cases and chiding the Internet industry for not doing more about them," according to the AP. Here's the New York Times's coverage.
- Protect kids from themselves?!
Here's a parent who gets it: the Houston Chronicle's Loren Steffy. He worries about sexual solicitations of kids online, but "I also believe that it's easier to teach children to protect themselves from others than it is to protect them from themselves. Here's what worries me about Myspace more than cyber predators: Written words are permanent. Writers learn early on, sometimes the hard way, that words are permanent and they are judged by them. To kids posting on Myspace, such concerns seem laughable. Yet we may well see Myspace sites posted on courtrooms of the future, routinely reviewed as part of the corporate hiring process or even cited in political campaigns: 'My opponent once wrote that...'." We are already seeing blog and social-networking posts used as evidence in courts. Steffy continues: "I keep coming back to this point, and the New York Times ran a front-page story about it, so let's talk about it now at the BlogSafety.com forum - it's time to hear from fellow parents about it! Any wisdom you can share about "teaching kids to protect themselves from themselves"?
- Social networks keep morphing
Nobody knows better than parents that the only constant is change. That goes for social networking as well as kids, the people who are evolving it and the Web more than any other group of people. The blog of ZDNET's Dan Farber points to some new sites and developments in this youth-driven space. "In the last few days, I have heard about KickApps, a 'white box' social networking platform; iBloks, a 3-D environment for sharing and playing with rich media and games; MOG, a music-based social network; Markaboo, a new social bookmarking service; Boompa, MySpace for car enthusiasts, as the TechCrunch blog reports; NooZ, a news aggregation service with social features (voting, commenting, sharing, etc.) for the MySpace crowd; and Q121.com, a new social networking site for cell phones."
Marketers are certainly seeing the power shift, so don't parents need to consider the implications: "There is a massive shift to empowered people expressing their individuality - a trend of 'mass individualism'," writes digital marketing consultant Bob Schwartz in Manhattan Beach, Calif. And Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Buzzmetrics in Cincinnati writes at ClickZ.com that, "as a parent with a blog dedicated to my kids, you can bet our huge stash of diapers I'm asking hard questions about how much information we make public on the Web.... Thanks to the MySpace wake-up call, parents and just about everyone else are learning a lot more about how the Web really works."
- P2P 1 year after Grokster
By "Grokster," I mean the Supreme Court's landmark decision last year involving Grokster and other defendants in the file-sharing case. The San Jose Mercury News takes a look at what's happened with P2P over the past year. One thing we've learned over the past year of unabated P2P activity worldwide, is that shutting stuff down sends Internet users underground, making their activities tougher to police. A very apt model for the current social-networking discussion in Washington, as lawmakers - with the Delete Online Predators Act working its way around Capitol Hill - look to do some censoring. "File sharing, most of which is illegal, continues to grow. Nearly 10 million users worldwide simultaneously clicked into peer-to-peer technology last month - 12% more than May 2005," the Mercury News reports citing research from L.A.-based BigChampagne, which monitors file-sharing traffic.
- More social-networking niches
Just this week, two more stories on new, more vertical-interest SN sites: AOL's new action-sports site, Lat34.com, "billed as a kind of MySpace for 12-to-34-year-old male BMX-riders and snowboards," Reuters reports (the San Diego Union Tribune and many other news outlets covered it too). Then there's the new safety-conscious niche, but one site eSchoolNews mentions is Whyville, which is more online game world (or edutainment) than social network (see my "Alternate-reality school?"). Another service in this niche, though more purely about entertainment, is Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom, which Tim O'Reilly blogs about here. I guess it's possible, though, that social networking could be more like a game to 8-to-12-year-olds. Maybe that's entirely appropriate. But another example eSchoolNews points to is the kid-blogging/social-networking startup Imbee.com (see my coverage). Oh, and another niche site I just read about in the sidebar to an Observer article on social networking, though it looks like it's been around for a while and is only now being called a SN site (we'll be seeing a lot of this label-morphing): Gaydar.co.uk, "the No. 1 gay bar in cyberspace, with 1 million UK subscribers and 3.5 million worldwide." There's more on the "nichifying" at ClickZstats.com.
- 'Blog Early Blog Often'
Did you know that's what Bebo stands for? Well, that's what its founders Michael Birch and Xochi Birch came up with after they bought the site's domain name, The Observer reports in "How to make 80 million friends and influence people." They originally intended to make the site for 30-somethings but quickly found out that there's no controlling what Web 2.0's drivers will cotton to, and they are not 30-something. The Observer goes in-depth on the some 25 million-member Bebo, noting some very interesting things (e.g., that Michael Birch believes SN is rapidly becoming a utility like file-sharing, rather than a destination, which I'm seeing too). And here's an interesting anecdote: Birch told the Observer that a Beboer in Ireland (where it's "a cultural phenomenon" told him that people in the Beboer's small town weren't getting along. But after a lot of them happened to join Bebo and got to know each other virtually, there was an unprecedented "community spirit in the town pub." Bears out what we're seeing about the way teens use MySpace - mostly as the digital version of and hangout for their real circle of friends.
- Downside to 'MyspaceWatch'
MyspaceWatch is a simple tool barely in the "parental controls" category that monitors people's use of just the one social network (it can't help with kids' accounts at Xanga, LiveJournal, MyYearbook, Hi5, etc.). As CNET points out, it's free for monitoring one profile, $6 for up to five, and it only has 30 paying members (the rest of its 3,800 members use the free version). It's really just a convenience tool, because it sends parents alerts about what they can see anyway on MySpace, its 24-year-old creator Alex Strand told CNET. The disturbing downside of a service like this is that anyone can use it. "Half of MySpacewatch members are parents, Strand estimates, while the other half are primarily people who monitor a friend's MySpace profiles, or their own. Despite some worry that MySpacewatch is used by predators to watch kids pages," Strand told CNET he hoped not but didn't know. Meanwhile, other MySpace-focused services KidQuery.com and Singlestat.us have folded for legal reasons, CNET adds.
- TX teen: How much of a case?
The story of the Texas 14-year-old who is suing MySpace, News Corp, and her alleged assailant for sexual assault is a tragic one, but there are indicators it's not a strong case (see my earlier "Teen suing MySpace"). "In total, the suit seeks damages of $30 million. But ... insofar as the suit names MySpace and News Corp. as defendants, it is on shaky ground," writes University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry in FindLaw.com. "The girl's damages may, in practice, be limited to those she can recover from [19-year-old alleged assailant Pete] Solis himself." The professor looks at several assumptions and current law, but "on the topic of responsibility for the fates of underage customers," she points to a tragic case in Seattle in which seven people, including two teenagers, were shot in a shooting spree at a party after an all-ages rave. "Should the club that hosted the rave be responsible for the harm that followed at the separate after-hours party? Similarly, should pen pal clubs, and newspapers that publish personal ads, be penalized if predators exploit their services to lie about their age and/or engage in harmful behavior?" Ramasastry continues: "One reason to say no is that it may be unfair to put these institutions in the position of policing their users' activities in places the institutions don't control" (please see her commentary to get the connection). An editorial in the UK's The Register makes a similar point in The Register's unique style.
- Cut 'n' paste plagiarism: Update
In-class oral exams and essay writing are replacing term papers as a way of assessing student knowledge, the Los Angeles Times reports. Why? I'm sure you guessed: the Internet makes it so easy for students to plagiarize or purchase ready-made papers. Term papers still exist, of course, but "teachers who still assign long papers -- 10 pages or more with footnotes and bibliographies -- often require students to attach companion essays that describe every step of their research and writing." Even so, teachers still do their own Web research for "borrowed" phrases and use plagiarism-detection software to dig them up. Such software indicates that "about 30% of papers are plagiarized, either totally or in part," according to the L.A. Times, which adds that one such program, Turn It In, "evaluates 60,000 submissions a day."
- Teen filmmakers' online opps
We read about all the everyday writing experience teen bloggers are amassing; the same is happening with young videographers, veejays, and filmmakers. The Minneapolis Star Tribune tells the story of 15- and 16-year-old Anthony Hernandez (15) and Dustin Gillard (16) of Austin, Minn., whose 10-minute video "Anywhere USA" focusing on illegal immigration "was chosen as the grand prize winner in a national contest sponsored by CSPAN (see StudentCam.org). "Making movies has become a favorite pastime for many teens," the Star Tribune reports. "Armed with digital cameras, film editing software and limitless imaginations, they're riffing on everything from gay marriage to gun control. And their films are debuting at local youth film festivals and on such internet sites such as www.youtube.com." Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times editorializes about how it looks like the music industry may take a different approach with YouTube (kind of the new Napster) than the way it dealt with Napster. "Some labels and songwriters are looking for a way to turn online video into a profit center." And CNET reports that one label, EMI, is "courting" YouTube and other video upload sites to help it fight piracy.
- Yearbooks or MyYearbook.com?
MyYearbook.com, the social-networking site started by teenage siblings on their spring break, is in comScore Media Metrix's Top 6 SN sites but has only just started making money. "Jostens, which sells yearbooks, class rings and other scholastic memorabilia ... reported $348.5 million in yearbook sales in 2005," the Associated Press reports. By comparison, MyYearbook.com just started bringing in money - about $40,000 a month with strategically placed banner ads on its site." But the AP cites one high school student who prefers the free online "yearbook" and plans to get all his friends to establish accounts on the site. He wants a "living" yearbook that friends can use to stay up-to-date on each other's lives rather than something one puts on a shelf and never looks at again. Most of the site's users are high school students, but about 30% are in college, the AP reports, unlike Facebook, the vast majority of whose users are at colleges and universities.
- 'Party patrol' has changed
With teen communications tools (IM, phone-texting, comments in profiles) silent now, parents have fewer cues about busy teen socializing. But it does help to be on your child's friends list. "On MySpace, users can send out a bulletin to everyone on their friend list - potentially hundreds of people - that shows up on all their friends' home pages. Students also post messages to each other that may mention parties," the Seattle Times reports. "Parents also need to monitor social networking sites such as MySpace after parties are over," the Times cites one online-safety expert as saying. "Pictures of illegal activities or provocative dress" can be a problem later, when college admissions officers or prospective employers are checking out teen profiles too (the Seattle Times's source is Nancy Willard, director of the Eugene, Ore.-based Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use). Another silent communications tool, instant messaging (which 90% of teens and young adults use), doesn't work the same way, but at least parents can IM their kids when they seem to be very focused on their computer screen and ask what their weekend plans are!
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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