October 11, 2002
Dear Subscribers:The newsletter's taking next week off (this time really!) for a long-planned holiday. We'll be back in your in-boxes on October 25. Here's our lineup for this second week of October:
- Family Tech: The newsletter's taking next week off (this time really!) for a long-planned holiday. We'll be back in your in-boxes on October 25. Here's our lineup for this second week of October:
- 'Growing with Media': New resource for parents
- 'New Zealand conference': Calling for speakers
- Web News Briefs: How to stop Bugbear; Child age-verification flaws; File-swappers beware; New music 'portal'; Politics affecting kids; How tech helps have-nots....
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Family Tech: The Net dilemma
The Internet is looking more and more like Times Square in New York City once did, writes SafeKids.com's Larry Magid in his latest column for the San Jose Mercury News. "There was a time when you couldn't walk through New York's theater district without stumbling upon an endless number of porn shops, drug pushers, and pan handlers," he writes. "Like the Internet today, New York was (and still is) a wonderful place with many great resources, but you couldn't get to them without bumping into distractions that ranged from the annoying to the dangerous."
That leaves Larry - a dad, child advocate, and strong supporter of free speech - increasingly conflicted, he acknowledges. "As a long time Internet user, I'm angry," he writes. "I realize that the Internet is a microcosm of society, and I know all the civil liberties arguments. I've used them myself and I continue to use them when I feel that lawmakers are getting a bit too heavy-handed when it comes to our liberties. Yet, I worry that the Internet, like Times Square of old, will degenerate to the point where parents are justifiably reluctant to let their children go online." He goes on to describe his daughter's online experience and some of the tools and mechanisms that can tackle parts of this problem, but the Net's development just seems to be asking for the kind of public support that regulators and censors are seeking - however laws are written and jurisdictions dealt with to keep up with this complex international medium. Watch this space!
And send comments - on this and other issues concerning . children and the Internet - via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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'Growing with Media': New resource for parents
At least in media-saturated countries like the US, probably 99% of parents wonder how media - TV, movies, video games, the Internet, etc. - affect their children's development. "Growing with Media", a just-launched Web site under the US's Public Broadcasting Service umbrella, starts parents down the road toward finding answers to that huge question in a thoughtful, responsive, age-appropriate way.
The site gives parents access to one very rich resource: Shelley Pasnik, its producer. We ourselves have tapped Shelley's expertise a number of times, and now you can too - not just reading the information in the site but also by emailing her your own kids-and-media questions. As a researcher for the Center for Children and Technology, she's been criss-crossing the US for more than a decade, talking with children, parents, educators, businesspeople, fellow researchers, children's advocates, and government officials about media and technology intersect with children's lives. PBS gave her as much free rein as a fairly bureaucratic organization can to develop the site the way she feels really works for parents.
"Children and media is a very large, ambiguous category that tends to lump all kids together," she told us in a phone interview this week. "So it's important to look at where children are developmentally" - because, she adds in the Web site, "how children use media has a lot to do with who they are." So the site has four basic sections:
- Age- and development-based "Dilemmas" that parents have shared with Shelley, such as "My son would be happy to play on the computer all day - how much is too much?" Her thoughtful response is a page long, then links to further information out on the Web which she has researched herself. There are dilemmas for every year of a child's life, 3-12, and for teens 13-18 as a group.
- Milestones - e.g., one for age 4 is "I ask lots of questions, including ones about being born and dying." Each milestone is matched with a response called "What You Can Do." As with "Dilemmas," there are milestones for every year of a child's life, 3-12, as well as for teenagers.
- Resources - Links to tried 'n' true information and resources on and off the Web. Shelley told us they're culled from her travels over the past decade as well as from specific research for the site.
- Ask a Question (from a form on the site, parents can send Shelley their own dilemmas, which go directly to her personally). One caveat on the page: "Though we read and try to incorporate all of the questions we receive into the site, we can only directly answer a few questions each month."
Readers, tell us what you think of "Growing with Media" - and what you're looking for in a parenting resource on the Web. Email us anytime. We appreciate getting your views!
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New Zealand conference: Calling for speakers
For anyone interested in speaking or presenting a paper in Auckland this summer, New Zealand's Internet Safety Group invites you to submit topics and credentials by January 31. The July 9-13, 2003, conference (last year's had about 500 participants) will address Internet safety in the home, classroom, and workplace, and will also discuss "legal, ethical, and cultural issues related to Internet use." Profs. Ilene Berson and Michael Berson at University of South Florida emailed this week asking that we pass this along to fellow subscribers. Here are details for potential speakers.
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Web News Briefs
- How to stop Bugbear
It may not be the most sophisticated virus ever written, but it's virulent and the fastest-spreading one on the Net right now - worldwide. Part of the problem is, Bugbear doesn't only activate if someone opens an attachment. "Even if you don't open the attached file, Bugbear exploits a known vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer to infect your computer. Because Outlook uses Internet Explorer to render HTML mail, just previewing the message in Outlook is enough to contaminate a PC." If you have version 6.0 of the Internet Explorer browser, you're fine" says ZDNet, but users of version 5.01 and 5.5 need to download Microsoft's "patch" here. Computers on a network - whether a corporate one or one of the music file-sharing networks like Kazaa's - are also especially vulnerable, because the virus spreads through networked PCs' file-sharing "ports" or channels. There are other symptoms, such as Bugbear's ability to steal passwords and credit card numbers (by logging your every key stroke) and disable anti-virus software and firewalls.
To keep Bugbear from happening, 1) don't use Explorer, or better, 2) download IE 6.0, or 3) download the patch for earlier versions (all are free). Users of Microsoft's Outlook email software also need to be extra alert - viruses usually target Outlook just because so many people use it, and Outlook uses Explorer to allow users to "see" html mail (email that uses Web-style code so that it looks like Web pages). Just previewing an email with Bugbear without actually opening it (double-clicking on it) can infect a computer. The usual advice of being sure no one in your family opens an attachment from anyone s/he doesn't know is always good to heed. And never open an attachment in a spam email - Bugbear disguises itself as just another piece of junk email. Finally, be sure to keep your virus-detection software up-to-date so that it detects the latest worm or virus malicious code writers want to throw at you. Computer-security subscription services like McAfee's or Norton's that automatically notify you whenever you need to download an update are the best, because then you don't have to remember to check.
If you get infected, ZDNet says, "most antivirus companies offer instructions on how to remove it. For details, visit Sophos, McAfee, or Symantec.
- Net age-verification flaws
Just about any porn operator on the Internet will tell you that their age-verification system doesn't work, Wired News reports. Usually the system involves requiring a user to type in a credit card number to be identified as an adult. Most porn publishers use age verification because they want to fend off tougher regulation by being perceived as self-regulating. But there are obvious limitations to credit card-style verification. Wired cites 1999 figures showing that 28% of people between the ages of 16 and 22 had at least one major credit card, "and since then credit card companies have been making it even easier for minors to get cards in their names - a clear attempt to tap into the $4.8 billion that Jupiter Research estimates teens will spend online by 2006." Alcohol and tobacco companies have similar tech problems, as well as enforceable laws against selling to minors (legislation outlawing porn sales to minors is still held up in US federal court). For example, Miller Brewing Co. "requires visitors to enter a date of birth before they can access any of its Web sites. Visitors who enter dates that fall within the last 21 years are not admitted," Wired reports. Miller says it works pretty well - most users don't lie about their age. For backup, the company relies on a third-party consumer information database to filter out minors who get onto the site and sign up to receive additional marketing information, which also obviously has its limitations.
- File-swappers beware
Record companies have asked a judge to force an Internet service provider to identify one of its subscribers accused of copyright piracy. According to the Washington Post, "a music industry win would give copyright holders leeway to get hundreds of names of Internet file-swappers without going to court first." Which could have direct impact on a music file-swapper at your house (e.g., people using Kazaa or Morpheus for file-trading). In one case the Post cites, a user accused by Warner Bros. for illegally sharing the film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was actually sharing a book report. A victory for the music industry would also, in effect, turn ISPs into file-trading cops. Maybe one reason why the industry's going after individuals is because it'll be so hard for it to shut down Kazaa - and its 60 million users in more than 150 countries - the way it did Napster. The New York Times explains why.
Meanwhile, file-traders themselves seem undeterred by such litigation danger. Their numbers are growing, the BBC reports - especially as broadband connecting increases. "Nearly 40% of surfers use their broadband connection for sharing music on the Net," the BBC reports.
- New music 'portal'
But Web music news isn't all about litigation, thank goodness. Here's a breath of fresh air for anyone interested in American music and composers. Just unveiled, the New Music Jukebox is "a powerful Web portal for contemporary American music and the composers who create it, as well as performers, professionals in the larger field and the musically curious," reports the New York Times. This creation of the nonprofit American Music Center in New York offers New Music Jukebox offers a 24-hour "virtual listening room," composer biographies, works lists, publishers, performance data, and other cross-referenced information. But sadly even this resource is potentially vulnerable to lawsuits, the Times adds, even though it doesn't provide file-sharing software.
- Politics affecting kids
As Americans' Election Day approaches, ConnectforKids.org has pulled together a great resource for voters who care about kids. "Kids & Politics" looks at how various issues and propositions directly affect children and families. There's background information on what's at stake this election year, questions to ask a state or federal legislator or candidate, and "steps to maximize your political power."
- How tech helps have-nots
Though some 600 million people worldwide are connected to the Internet, that leaves 5.5 billion who aren't, the BBC points out. Few politicians now talk about the digital divide as a major development issue, the BBC adds, perhaps partly because technology has sometimes been part of problems around the world rather than their solutions. But the part about Internet access that is useful is the way it can keep people informed and connected. The BBC refers to farmers able to monitor global and regional weather patterns, tides, and pest infestations as an example, adding: "While getting Internet access to remote hill villages in the Andes or in India may not be as important in itself as getting clean water or effective healthcare, the Net - through e-mail or the Web - is often a gateway to other resources and to self-reliance."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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