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May 25, 2007

Dear Subscribers:

Lots of kid-tech news this week! So just the key stories summarized for you. Here's the line-up for this third week of May:

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Web News Briefs
  1. MySpace & AGs agree

    MySpace and the state attorneys general have worked out a solution. Apparently without notifying MySpace, eight AGs last week publicly called for the social site to turn over sex-offender information. MySpace countered saying that federal privacy law required a subpoena or some other legal instrument before such data could be turned over. Today MySpace announced the two parties had arrived at "a process to expedite the delivery of useful information to enable the attorneys general to use it in their pursuit of any of these individuals who are breaking the law." The Associated Press reports that MySpace general counsel Mike Angus "said the company, owned by media conglomerate News Corp., had always planned to share information on sex offenders it identified and has already removed about 7,000 profiles, out of a total of about 180 million." Here's last week's coverage.

  2. File-sharing's risks: New study

    After Jon Dudas, director of the US Patent & Trademark Office, read this study, he decided to send out an official USPTO report because so many file-sharers (or parents of file-sharers) who think they're just downloading free music are actually jeopardizing the security of very personal info on their computers. He was also motivated to because, he says in the Foreward, he's a dad who "manages a home computer." Two key takeaways from this 80-page report (press release here): 1) research has found that 45% of popular downloaded files contained malicious software code, and 2) "At least four of the [five popular P2P file-sharing programs the study analyzed] have deployed partial-uninstall features: If users uninstall one of these programs from their computers, the process will leave behind a file that will cause any subsequent installation of any version of the same program to share all folders shared by the 'uninstalled' copy of the program. Whenever a computer is used by more than one person, this feature ensures that users cannot know which files and folders these programs will share by default." In other words, parents of file-sharers need to look at the preferences or options of any P2P software on the family PCs to see what folders are designated for sharing the files in them. See this on the FTC's thorough P2P study.

  3. Kids' summer screentime, media use

    Because of all that free time summer gives kids, the season calls for a little extra thought and family communication about the mental and physical health effects of more screentime. In fact, Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer recommends a "media diet" for summer vacationers, reports's Larry Magid in - because kids in general spend 45-50 hours a week consuming media, let alone when school's out. When screentime starts eclipsing physical activity, of course, obesity becomes an issue. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that that since 1980 the proportion of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled, and the rate for adolescents has tripled," Larry reports. Steyer's "diet" includes setting screentime and technology limits and sticking to them, whether young people's favorite pastimes involve social networking, blogging, IMing, or videogames. Larry offers tips for constructive use of both the Internet and videogames. Here are Common Sense Media's "Tips for a Healthy Media Diet."

  4. Social-networking training wheels

    Remember Beanie Babies? Cabbage Patch Dolls? Well, now there's Webkinz. The only (significant) difference is Webkinz have a social site/virtual world for their young owners - kind of a starter MySpace for people below its minimum age. "Last year, Webkinz brought in more than $45 million in retail in the U.S.," CNET reports. The writer went through hoops to acquire her Webkinz, named Cneta, then more to register at the site, where - like all members - she started with 2,000 units of "KinzCash," which goes fast because next she needs to decorate Cneta's room in the site and accessorize her new virtual pet. She bought Cneta "a salmon strudel feast for Cneta, as well as a batch of her favorite food, marshmallows, rainbow-patterned boots, a blue striped bed set, a scooter and some horn-rimmed specs." She quickly needed more KinzCash for all this self-expression, and she could earn it by playing games in the site, passing quizzes, and doing virtual jobs. Communications on the site is even more restricted than on ClubPenguin. "The only way to communicate with a Webkinz owner, it turns out, is if you already know someone with an account," which would probably be good news to many parents of Webkinz owners. But not all parents are thrilled with the product/service - see the article for more (including photos). And here's the big picture on kid social worlds from Business 2.0.

  5. Barbie vs. the penguins

    Even though she reigned supreme on Web 1.0, as more and more kid-oriented virtual worlds like ClubPenguin and WebKinz open on the Web, Barbie's struggling to keep up, according to a CNET analysis . "Mattel's and have the highest concentration of girls age 2 to 11 on the Web, according to researcher Nielsen NetRatings, but their overall audience hasn't grown much over the years." It adds that got about 1.9 million unique visitors last month, down from 2.1 million in April 2006 (ClubPenguin attracted 4 million visitors, Webkinz 3.6 million, and Neopets 3.2 million last month). This summer Mattel's coming out with an MP3 player "that can be accessorized like a doll and used to unlock special animations, make friends and shop in a virtual world on the Web." Here's an item on Sony's rumored interest in acquiring ClubPenguin at tech news site .

  6. Spam: Fact of life?

    That's how Americans are beginning to view it, apparently. A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that US Net users are becoming more resigned to having spam in their in-boxes, and parents will be glad to know that porn spam is on the decrease. The Associated Press reports that "37% of US email users say they are getting more junk in their personal email account, about half say they have not noticed a change," and more than a quarter (28%) say spam isn't a problem at all, up from 16% four years ago. Spam containing pornography "appears to be dropping in relation to pitches for drugs and financial opportunities, as well as scams for sensitive data like passwords." Here's the Pew study.

  7. Texting's costs for teens

    What a bummer - having to work over summer vacation not to make money but to pay off one's text-messaging debt. That's what 17-year-old Sofia in the Washington, D.C., area faces because of a $1,100 monthly cellphone bill for 6,807 text messages last month, and her parents' plan included only 100 free text messages, the Washington Post reports. "Forget minutes. It's all about the text allowance. It needs to be supersized, now that instant messaging has leapt from the desktop to the mobile.... Think it, text it, keep it short, have to have it," the Post adds. Now, anyway, since texting teens is nothing new in Saudi Arabia or the Philippines, much less Europe and the rest of Asia. Last month Verizon Wireless "introduced an unlimited texting plan because even its highest bundle of free text messages - 5,000 a month - wasn't enough" for teens, according to the Post. It tells of a group of teens heading to Morocco with no phones, and of a mother wondering how they'll deal with communicating the old-fashioned, face-to-face way.

  8. Social Web's complexity: Illustration

    The story on, though not about youth, clearly illustrates how complicated the user-driven Web is. The site - whose mission is to out "rats" (informants or what judges call "cooperators") by publishing court records - is a lot like a social-networking site. It "offers biographical information about people whom users identify as witnesses or undercover agents. Users can post court documents, comments and pictures," the Associated Press reports. How hard it must be to tell who's telling the truth about who, whether an "outing" is purely out of revenge - if the person behind a profile is really exposing a snitch or just bullying someone who did nothing wrong. The site says it's "a resource for criminal defendants and does not condone violence." For a very balanced examination of the site, don't miss " Two views of outing witnesses" at It says - rightly, I think, regardless of who set it up and why - that "what ... should be done about such sites ought to be a tough call for anyone interested in balancing the interests of law enforcement, witness protection and free speech."

  9. Classified-ads abuse

    This unnerving story could involve any classified-ads service on the social Web. A woman who apparently wanted to "get back at her aunt" for being unfair to her mother placed an ad in "inviting the public to 'come and take anything you want' from the [aunt's] house," Scripps News reports. The public did, and the woman has been charged with "one count each of second-degree burglary, first-degree malicious mischief, and first-degree criminal impersonation in the incident." Court documents say the person "had disliked the victim for years and was upset because the victim had evicted her mother from the house in question without letting her mother get her possessions."

  10. Videogames, boys & 'muscularity'

    The University of Illinois released an unusual study about youth and videogames. Researchers there "discovered exposure to video gaming magazines has a stronger influence on pre-adolescent boys' drive for muscularity, or desire for muscle mass, than does exposure to magazines depicting a more realistic muscular male-body ideal," United Press International reports. It's the extreme muscularity depicted in videogame mags' that seems to have such appeal - interestingly, for Caucasian not African-American boys. Self-image doesn't seem to come into play - the results were the same for all body types.

  11. Videogame hooks kid on reading

    Here's something you don't hear often: Playing videogames can help kids get into reading. It happened to 8th-grader Christopher. He told the Press-Enterprise (in southern Calif.) that there are action games and storyline games, and he found he really liked the latter (he was reading below grade level at the time). One of those, Tales of Symphonia, was recommended to him by a relative, and "quickly discovered if he was going to have any success - if he was going to win this game - 'I had to read to keep up'," the Press-Enterprise reports. "He's probably logged 200-plus hours playing - and winning. And he's gone retro. Now, he's reading books" - specifically Brian Jacques' "Redwall" series of eight books and Kathryn Lasky's "owl-populated fantasy series, Guardians of Ga'Hoole." A call to a teacher at Christopher's school told writer Dan Bernstein that Christopher was not alone in this "Video-to-Book Phenomenon."

  12. Defaming site: 3 teens accused

    The profile, which was online for four days in February, impersonated the father of a classmate of one of its alleged creators and "featured a confederate flag and racial slurs," the Carlisle (Penn.) Sentinel reports. The town police chief Alan Houck said he wasn't sure why the kids created the MySpace page but thought they might've decided to "smear the family name" because of a disagreement with the son. He said he "intends to file identity theft and harassment charges against the teens unless the juveniles come forward to talk to him. In that case, Houck said, he may consider filing lesser charges."

  13. Cyworld's 'video studio'

    The social networking service that started in South Korea and launched in the US last summer is kicking video-sharing up a notch. Social Computing Magazine reports that it has launched its "Video Studio and Plaza, a forum for members to upload, edit, mix and share videos or photos." With this feature, social producers or video sharers can use effects like "slow motion, cross-fades, color enhancements, and special effects."

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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