Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this final week of March:

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Privacy's everywhere (the subject, that is)

It's one of the hot topics of the Web world these days: our online privacy. The Internet industry's announcing products, senators are writing laws, the Federal Trade Commission's long been sniffing out violators, and now there are two - count 'em - two Web "privacy seals." All of this to keep the marketers behind Web sites from using our personal information inappropriately. Besides, as one industry executive (Novell CEO Eric Schmidt) puts it, identity is the Internet's next frontier. Here's a sampler of what's going on:

  1. Out of the "pipe."

    "The Pipe" is networking softwaremaker Novell's name for its new-product-development lab. And what's coming out of it, according to the New York Times, is a privacy software product called Digital Me. The Times calls Digital Me "a digital safe-deposit box for personal information." It will allow a Web surfer to control the personal information (name, address, credit card numbers, maybe even the code that identifies one's PC and tracks Web travels) that a Web site gets when the surfer visits it. Novell plans to make this software free to the consumer - and make its money on licensing fees from other companies. We all know why there's a growing market for this software, but we can't resist the way Michael Sheridan, head of Novell's Pipe, put it (for Times writer John Markoff): "Increasingly, corporate Web sites are Hoovering virtually everything you can do on the Internet." A backhanded compliment to the vacuum-cleaner company if we ever saw one!

  2. More on privacy - from Congress.

    Meanwhile, two senators are championing our online privacy. According to the AOP Bulletin, Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) say they'll be introducing privacy legislation in the next few weeks. The AOP says the bill will "extend the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act passed last year to require Web site operators to disclose how they use any personal information collected from users, require consent before collecting the information and provide a means to safeguard the collected data."

  3. The Better Business Bureau weighs in.

    As Wired News puts it, it's another attempt by the Internet industry to "head off federal regulation": the Web privacy seal of the Better Business Bureau, or BBBOnline. The first was that of the Truste program, whose licensees include hundreds of companies such as AOL, Microsoft, and Wired Digital (the first two are also funding the BBB program). Wired also cites a privacy watchdog group called Junkbusters, which offers an important perspective outside the government-industry axis.

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Kids 'n' chat

If your child understands "g/g c ya" and IMNSHO, s/he speaks "chat." Last year we talked to a mom in New York State who worried about the impact of online chat on her son's language skills. Well, now there's a full-blown academic debate on the subject, according to the New York Times. The basic question: "whether the Internet invigorates language or strips it of its expressive power." Writer Amy Harmon mentions a classics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, James O'Donnell, who actually thinks chat lingo is a good thing. She says he "argues that the trend toward informality points to a society moving toward less institutional control, a less hierarchical social structure and a more democratic marketplace of ideas. That is a trend he says should be embraced, even if it will probably lead to the elimination of tenured authorities like him." Now there's a very forward-thinking classics professor!

What do you think? Do you have someone in your house fluent in "chat speak"? Do you worry - or not? Please e-mail us your own feelings on the subject via

Speaking of the New York Times….
Previous reports on the demise of girls' computer gamemaker Purple Moon were not exaggerated, but they also were not particularly enlightening. Leave it to the New York Times to get the story behind the headlines: Amy Harmon reports that, ironically, the company that was trying to create alternatives to Barbie, sold its assets to Mattel. It's a Silicon Valley business story, a gender story, and a toy story.

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CyberAngels on Teens

This week from CyberAngels' executive director, Parry Aftab, on a great role for teens (a neat followup on a news item we ran on the teen-age teachers last week:

"The more I talk to teens, the more I realize how much they already know about teen safety online. Last week, while speaking at an assembly of teenage girls at a Catholic High School in New Jersey, I learned how concerned teens are for their younger siblings, nieces and nephews, and kids they babysit for. Rather than the expected questions on filtering, personal profiles, and romance online, they asked the hard questions about online predators and how to protect their younger loved ones. Interestingly enough, they wanted to teach their younger charges how to surf safely and how to stay out of the hands of predators.

"What better way to teach younger children how to surf safely than by having teens teach them, using language only those under 16 can understand ? That's why we are working with teenagers to write an online safety guide for younger kids and to produce a video for schools. Want to help us with this project? We're looking for sponsors who are interested in co-branding the guide and video." You can e-mail Parry about this.

[Material supplied by our partners, CyberAngels, reflects their views, not necessarily those of The Sage Family. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at]

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As for preteens….

The online life of 11-year-old Sarah in Westchester County certainly confirms Parry's findings. We thought you'd be as interested as we were in hearing about her online experience. In an interview, Sarah's mom, Barbara, told us that Sarah and the (count 'em!!) 75-100 friends on her Buddy List on AOL are verrry avid - and sophisticated - online users.

"Everyone's connected in this school system - all the fifth-graders, everyone in her class," Barbara said, adding that they chat, e-mail each other, and use Instant Messaging constantly. "It's a way of doing the kind of socializing that they're afraid of doing face-to-face," Barbara said. "They chat boy-to-girl, not just girl-to-girl. And they flirt. They'd be too shy to socialize this way in person. It's certainly not where I was when *I* was 11 - maybe when I was 14!"

Barbara set Sarah up on AOL as a "young teen," where there are still some controls on a child's activities, though chat is an option. "She made it known to me recently that she was blocked from looking at a certain site because she had a young-teen ID. So she used my log-on." They got to talking about the kinds of sites Sarah and her friends would go to. "I asked her, 'How would you know to go to a site about sex if you didn't know its URL?' She said, 'Mom, all I have to do is type in' She obviously understands the tools. She also tells me her friends log on as adults…. I asked her, 'Doesn't your friend get junk e-mail and sex e-mail?' Her answer was, 'Yeah, she just knows how to delete them.' I told her that I'm more comfortable with having her user-ID set-up the way it is."

Like the thoughtful teenagers Parry's encountered, Sarah's clearly thinking about these issues. When Barbara told her she was thinking about doing some volunteer work to help underprivileged children get connected, Sarah told her: "You'd have to do it, Mom, so that it'd be safe for them."

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Our thanks to Homework Central for pointing us to the following remarkable site:

Life at Camp Funston

A piece of American history through the eyes of a loving son. That's "Life at Camp Funston" in a nutshell. Tom Johnston at Oklahoma State University found his father's letters among his mother's effects when she passed on in 1992. His father, who died when Tom was six months old, "served during World War I as a member of Ambulance Company 239, 10th Sanitary Train, at Camp Funston (part of Ft. Riley) Kansas."

The site, complete with Charles Johnston's letters to the future Lucille Johnston, is both family scrapbook and history book. Writer Tom Johnston calls it a "grassroots window on national and regional history." It is. We learn about life on a stateside military base during WWI, the impact of war on sweethearts and families, the roots of the interstate highway system later built by President Eisenhower (and what it was like to drive long distances in 1919!). Actually, there's a lot about all of us in this Web site. In his conclusion on the home page, Tom Johnston tells us why; he quotes John Donne (Meditation XVII):

"No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
…any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee."

Appropriate words for the situation in Kosovo this week, perhaps.

Send us a site you, your children, or your students have found useful - as well as your (or their) review of it. We love to receive, and publish, your contributions. Just e-mail us!

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Subscribers write…

From subscriber Julie in South Carolina in response to our Y2K update last week:

"What are we doing about preparing for Y2K? We are slowly increasing a reserve supply of non-perishable foods plus plenty of bottled water. Our local water supplier said they will start preparing for Y2K this summer. I think that is a little late. If they do find some problems with their computer system, I am concerned that the problem will not be fixed by January 1. I feel most other systems should be okay for our area."

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From subscriber David Withe in response to our question last week about whether our subscribers want to know what sites their filtering software is blocking:

"I feel strongly that users should have editing access to the list of excluded words and Internet sites which a filtering engine uses. I am a Christian of the primitive Methodist tradition, and I have seen several news pieces in various sources stating that several of the filtering engines have started excluding Christian Internet sites under the radical 'Political Correctness' rationale that biblically based Christian thought is damaging and akin to hate speech. (I believe it was Cybersitter that was mentioned by name in the articles I saw.) This turns the efforts of responsible people to protect themselves from the filth and actual egregious sites on the Internet into an avenue for the PC thought police to surreptitiously censor the type of 'free speech' which the First Amendment was actually written to protect: religious and political dialogue. The choice of what to exclude from my computer should be ultimately in my hands not the hands of some committee, however well meaning they may try to be….

"I am using filtering software on my home computer. I have set up the personal firewall in the eSafe antivirus/vandal software from Eliashim Software to filer x-rated sites and content. But it is just like digital viruses; the porn industry constantly changes site names and key phrases in content to get around that type of filtering. I don't have the time or resources to keep up with them. I have recently started to use the filtering services of the Christian Internet site. I don't have enough experience with them at this time to evaluate their service, but what I have seen looks encouraging. One plus for them is that their service and software (customized Netscape 4.0) is free so the price is right. I appreciate your newsletter, it is the only Internet subscription which I look forward to receiving. Keep up the excellent work."

[Editor's Note: Thanks, David. Please let us know what you think of the CrossingGuard filter once you've had time to evaluate it. We always appreciate subscribers' comments on Web products and services.]

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Editor's Note No. 2: More news on disclosure of filtered sites

The issue does seem to be escalating. In the news this week is the filtering software used by a whole state public school system, and its failure to disclose what it was blocking. The story comes from the Salt Lake Tribune and an Internet watchdog group called, which wrote a 61-page report on the software after not being permitted to view the its blocking criteria. The filtering product, called SmartFilter, is used by the Utah Education Network (which connects the state's public schools and libraries to the 'Net). says it blocks access to the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, anti-drug information, and the Koran, as well as speeches at Mormon church conferences. The American Civil Liberties Union is looking into the case., a youth organization against 'Net filtering, sent us a press release on the story.

Sage's position is that such products should at least make their key-words lists (used for blocking sites) available to users, and - even better - allow users to edit the list. What's your opinion on the subject? Do e-mail us.

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Share with a Friend!! If you find the newsletter useful, won't you share that information with your friends and relatives? We would much appreciate your referral.

To subscribe, they can just send an e-mail to (SafeKids is our partner site) - no need to type anything in the Subject field or the body of the message.

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


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