May 10, 2002
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this second week of May:
- A subscriber's questions: Children's vs. pornographers' rights on the Net
- Web News Briefs: Online kids increasingly on public radar screen; Moms online; Critical IM flaw; Art or porn?; Net-connected kiosks help; Young child-porn offenders; Distance learning's lessons; 'Link rot'; Tech support house calls!...
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A subscriber's questions: Children's vs. pornographers' rights on the Net
Subscriber and grandmother Mary in North Carolina emailed us shortly after the US Supreme Court's virtual-child-porn decision (see our 4/19 issue). She'd long had concerns about online kids running into sexually explicit material on the Net and last fall started a letter-writing campaign to politicians and the media, after making a promise to her granddaughter. We'll let her tell you that story first, then below it link to some responses that she - and you - might find useful.
Mary wrote, "My son is a single dad. When he travels on business, I stay with my granddaughter. Hannah [not her real name] was 15 in April. Last October while my son was away, Hannah had just finished her homework. She had been working on her computer and was going to get into a site for teens and typed in 'teens.com' instead of 'teen.com.' Her computer is located in the kitchen, so I was right there with her when 'teens.com' came up on the screen. As soon as the images came up on the screen she screamed, 'this is pornography!' Before I could get to the computer she had closed it out. I told her I knew she must be mistaken, it could not be. I told her to pull it up one more time and let me see.... I promised her then and there, 'I will do all I can to change this. This should not happen.' I told her as soon as I got home I would call the SBI [NC State Bureau of Investigation] and try to put a stop to it....
"This was all new to me, but as soon as I arrived home I called the SBI and found out there is nothing that can be done. While I was talking to the agent on the phone, she was scrolling down the site. She said it was really bad. She told me about the whitehouse [porn] site and how third-graders were getting into porn doing research on our nation's White House. I asked her what grandparents could do to fight this. She said there was nothing. I asked about writing letters. She said please write to newspapers and our lawmakers, asking that laws be created and passed to change these sites to prevent children from getting into them. She told me about filters and not allowing children to have their computers in their bedrooms and making sure parents were seen often while the child was working.
"I called Hannah that night and told her about my conversation with the SBI agent. She was very excited and said she wanted to help. She has had several big projects to complete for school in the past few months. When we are together, she works on those assignments and I work on mine. I believe watching me try to keep my promise to her will have an affect on her life even if we don't bring about any changes in what we are trying to accomplish. That is why this commitment is so important to me. This promise I must keep."
Would that every teenager had such a grandparent! What follows are two questions Mary asks in her letter-writing campaign. She sent them to us, too. We answered them and a few additional ones as best we could from an observer's perspective, but we also asked Mary if we could publish her questions with responses from experts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Center for Democracy and Technology. We think their comments, plus the just-released report by the National Research Council (see our coverage last week) will help hone and focus all our efforts to keep kids' online time safe and constructive.
Mary's tough questions are:
- "Why are the rights of porn operators more important than the safety and well-being of our children? I can't understand why the First Amendment seems to apply only to a small group."
- "Why can't porn be moved out of '.com' to another domain, such as '.xxx,' so that it's not so easy for kids to stumble upon?"
Here are responses from Rob Courtney, policy analyst, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Daniel Armagh, chief legal counsel, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. You'll also find an observer's response and links to key media reports from Anne Collier, editor, Net Family News.
Now we'd like to hear from you! Always feel free to send in your questions and comments. We try to respond intelligibly to every one - or obtain an expert's view from the best sources in children's online safety and advocacy. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Web News Briefs
- On the public radar screen: Online kids!
Public concern about what kids can encounter on the Internet continues to grow because of the sheer numbers of kids using it, according to Nua Internet Surveys. It cites an AOL study finding that 81% of US children between 12 and 17 go online to email friends and relatives, while 70% use instant messaging to keep in touch. "While it's encouraging to see kids benefiting from using the Internet, there's obviously a downside to this, and that is, that the more time a child spends online, the greater the chance that they'll come upon inappropriate material." However, Nua adds, referring to the National Research Council report announced last (see our coverage), "despite our wish to find an easy solution to the problem of children accessing dangerous material on the Net, there is none. The report concluded that while filtering programs and legislation can help protect children from sexually explicit material, they're not enough in themselves."
- Moms online
Well-timed for Mother's Day, eMarketer.com this week ran a report on how much time US moms spend online. On average, they spend 16 hours and 52 minutes online per week, compared to teenagers' average of 12 hours and 17 minutes a week, according to Digital Marketing Services figures. The Top 5 US locales for moms' online time were Charleston, S.C. (21 hours, 8 minutes); Tampa, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Pittsburgh, Penn (19 hours, 58 minutes). The study also found that the most popular online activities for mothers are communication (email or instant messaging) at 97%, getting news and current events information at 93%, getting local information (shopping, entertainment, directions) at 90%, getting health information at 88%, researching products and services at 83%, surfing kids and family Web sites with children at 80%, and searching for discounts and coupons at 80%.
- MS instant-messaging flaw
This week Microsoft warned users of a "critical" security flaw in its IM service. "Critical" is the word the company used in explaining that the flaw could enable remote attackers to take control of users' - even non-active users' - computers," the Washington Post reports. Microsoft advises customers using MSN Messenger, Exchange Instant Messenger, and MSN Chat "to immediately upgrade to a new version released today." Here's the Microsoft bulletin that links to pages where that downloading can be done.
- The next virtual child porn law advances
This week a US House of Representatives subcommittee approved legislation written in response to last month's Supreme Court decision to strike down a law banning virtual child pornography. "By voice vote, the Judiciary Committee's Crime Subcommittee passed the 'Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act of 2002'," the Washington Post reports. The law would criminalize the distribution of images that are digitally altered to look like child pornography.
In "When Kid Porn Isn't Kid Porn," Wired News this week sheds light on the murky, legally questionable area of "child erotica" on the Net. Porn-vs.-erotica was part of the discussion leading to the Supreme Court's virtual-child-porn decision (our 4/19 issue). Wired News shows how Web purveyors of technically legal images of children are testing laws, law enforcement, and the courts in the US. "Most of the child erotica sites link to the same legal boilerplate which characterizes the sites' content as art and manifests a 'vehement' opposition to child pornography," Wired News reports. "For good measure, many of the sites provide a direct link to the US code defining child pornography." We can link to the Wired News piece because of the unusual policy decision the editors made for this piece: "An unwritten but conventional Wired News policy is to provide links to websites covered in our stories. However," the editors point out, "we have made an exception in this case. Because of the nature of the content of these websites, we have serious reservations about directing our readers to the images that can be found there."
- Help via Net-connected kiosks
There are about 100 Net-connected kiosks in UK towns and cities so far. They provide email access, news, and local council information. They're also "providing a lifeline to victims of domestic violence in the UK," according to the BBC. The kiosks have a domestic violence channel, and "about 5,000 women have sought advice and information at these kiosks since the program's launch less than a month ago." That translates to about 200 women a day, most of whom print out information, the BBC says, citing anonymity as one of the factors for the program's popularity.
- Child porn offenders: Minors vs. adults
Children's advocates in Britain are advising prosecutors to be lenient toward teenagers arrested for downloading child pornography. According to The Guardian, "Children's Charities Coalition for Internet Safety (CHIS), a taskforce set up last year following a series of high profile cases involving online pedophile rings, has called on the courts to distinguish between adults and children arrested on child pornography offences." CHIS said it believes counseling and support would be more appropriate treatment of minors than prosecution and placement on sex offender lists. The subject is in the public eye because of the April 25 arrest of 27 people in "Operation Magenta", "the biggest ever police operation against suspected internet pedophiles in the UK," the Guardian reports. Among those arrested were two boys under 18. (Our thanks to QuickLinks for pointing this article out.)
- Distance learning's lessons
Universities and distance-learning companies have found that, even in their case, Web users don't want to pay for content. The New York Times reports that universities have spent at least $100 million on Web-based courses with disappointing results. The Times cites the case of Fathom.com: The two-year-old company financed by Columbia University "has an impressive roster of a dozen partners, including the London School of Economics and Political Science, Cambridge University Press, the British Library, the University of Chicago and the New York Public Library." Many of its courses are provided by its member institutions, the Times adds, and many offer credit toward a degree. "But after spending more than $25 million on the venture, Columbia has found decidedly little interest among prospective students in paying for the semester-length courses." It's now trying a different tack, based on a time-honored marketing tradition: giving away free samples.
Meanwhile, online learning is faring far better in US K-12 education. In fact, a piece in Education Week (reprinted in the Washington Post says it's "e-defining" the K-12 landscape. A recent Education Week survey found that "already, 12 states have established online high school programs and five others are developing them, 25 states allow for the creation of so-called cyber charter schools, and 32 states have e-learning initiatives under way." The report estimates that "40,000 to 50,000 K-12 students will have enrolled in an online course by the end of the 2001-02 school year."
- 'Link rot'
This one's relevant to anyone who uses the Web for research. Having links to once-meaty research and reference pages turn up "File Not Found" messages apparently has become such a problem that people have done a study on it: "Broken links: The ephemeral nature of educational WWW hyperlinks." According to Wired News, two researchers at the University of Nebraska discovered that hyperlinks disappeared even before they finished developing distance education courses. They'd also heard plenty of comments about disappearing links from other people, but they hadn't heard about anybody monitoring the phenomenon. So they did. What they found Wired says, is that after 20 months, 18.8% of the all the links had disappeared, with more than 11% of dot-org, 18.4% of dot-edu, and 42.5% of dot-com links had disappeared. The study also found that a handful of the links had turned into porn pages.
- Tech support making house calls!
A very positive trend, most families would agree: These guys come to your house fully equipped with "a CD burner, an extra modem, cans of compressed air (for cleaning hard drives), manuals, software and an extra power source," the New York Times reports. " They get a rush out of drive mapping, defragmenting and data recovery," and their numbers are growing, God bless 'em! Look in the white pages for companies with names like Geeks on Call (with 32 franchises so far), Computer Troubleshooters, and PC Housecalls.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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