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Friday, September 03, 2004

Misc. resources for online familes

I get lots of email from makers and publishers of resources for parents. I don't endorse products and software because, as a little nonprofit, Net Family News doesn't have the resources to test them properly, but I do occasional roundups in case there's something you've been looking for among these (I do check out every Web site and only pass along the ones I feel are worth a look). Click here for links to "Sleepy" software, finding housing around 3,600 colleges and universities, online character ed, a new "safe e-playground," image filtering, parenting from Oz, and "turn-based" games on the Web.

Kids 'n' cell phones

Fifty-six percent of US kids 13+ have cell phones, according to Common Sense Media, which suggests that parents are dealing with some phone issues. The kids' media literacy organization offers some good advice to head off some of the harsher of these - suggestions such as forging a family contract that establishes who pays for extra minutes each month, deals with protecting young phone-users' privacy, alerts kids to behavior that becomes cell-phone cyberbullying, and promotes good mobile manners. See also my feature last spring on the prospect of cell-phone parental controls, with thoughts from Lynn Hayes, a mother of three teenagers.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

IM: Grownups catching up?

Well, the numbers are growing - more than 40% of online Americans 18+ now instant message (53 million), according to just-released figures from the Pew Internet & American Life project. But look at the breakdown from AOL's survey that included teens (in 20 large cities, as opposed to Pew's rural and urban sample): 90% of 13-to-21-year-olds IM, 71% of those 22-34, 55% of people 35-54, and 48% of those 55 and up, the Washington Post reports. Something important that parents might want to remember: Adults use IM differently from kids, and it behooves parents to get a handle on how their kids are using this popular tool of the teen social scene. Here's the online safety piece: expression vs. protection in IM. "Instant messagers use the expressive tools of IM [buddy icons, online profiles, avatars] more frequently than the protective tools that allow them to block unwanted communications. Buddy list management also occurs relatively infrequently, with users reporting adding or deleting buddies from their list no more than a few times a month." For more on this, have a look at "IM risks & tips," based on an interview with Tim LaFazia, PC security expert and father of six.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Youth covering the convention

Young reporters with Children's PressLine are covering the Republican National Convention just as they did the Democratic one (see "Kids & politics" in my blog). One reporter asked a delegate from Texas about how Republicans will address children's issues, and was told that "providing social services is the job of 'churches and Christians. If it's done through the churches ... children will be taken care of properly ... all [the federal government] has done is take care of the outside of children and we haven't provided them with what they need inside to be better people and grow up to be productive adults." Don't miss the rest of what they got at See also answers from both George Bush and John Kerry to Connect for Kids questions on kids' issues. For more on teaching kids about the democratic process, see KidsVotingUSA and

VoIP: How to phone online

Have family overseas? Want your college kid to call home freely? Now, using the Net for long-distance phoning is easy on the family budget as well as easy to do. It starts at $29.95/month for unlimited calls anywhere in the US and Canada and 4 cents/minute for international calls. The Washington Post lays it all out very clearly - the two types of Net telephony (using your regular phone or special equipment); the cost; the providers; the how-to-plug-in; and two important caveats (911 service and electrical outages, which suggest that we not eliminate land lines entirely). As for Mac users, CNET reports that Skype just launched its service for them this week (in beta, but don't let that deter you - Skype for PCs had at least hundreds of thousands of users while it was still being beta-tested).

A whole US city wi-fi'd?!

Yes. It's in the works in Philadelphia - all 135 square miles of it, the Associated Press reports. For what city officials estimate will cost about $10 million, that would turn Philly into "the world's largest wireless Internet hot spot." The AP says the plan involves having hundreds, maybe thousands of small transmitters placed around the city, probably on top of lampposts. "Once complete, the network would deliver broadband Internet almost anywhere radio waves can travel - including poor neighborhoods where high-speed Internet access is now rare." The AP adds that the city is likely to provide this wi-fi access for free "or at costs far lower than the $35 to $60 a month charged by commercial providers." This could be a precedent for other cities, which - if they jump on this potential bandwagon - could help close the digital divide in US urban areas. Families who can't afford high-speed access will now just have to be able to acquire a router, hub, and wi-fi card, not to mention a computer in which to install that card!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Uncle Sam's PCs hijacked

Families who've had their computers infected by some worm and then hijacked by spammers needn't feel embarrassed. So has the US government. "Hundreds of powerful computers at the Defense Department and US Senate were hijacked by hackers who used them to send spam e-mail," USAToday reports, referring to hackers' practice of turning unprotected PCs into "zombies" and zombie networks for the purposes of spamming (to make money) or mounting denial-of-service attacks (to shut down important Web sites and services). The government's problem was uncovered during the Justice Department's recent crackdown on cybercrime, as reported by many media outlets, including the Washington Post (see also "Anti-P2P momentum" in last week's issue). For more on PC hijacking and what to do about it, see "What if our PC's a zombie?!," "1 very illegal summer job," and "How spammers distributed porn."

Fresh Apples

How appropriate that Apple should unveil its slim, chic G5 iMac in Paris. Apple's calling it "the world's thinnest desktop computer," because it "tucks all of its components, including its hard drive, processor and DVD drive, behind a wide-screen [17- or 20-inch] liquid-crystal [LCD] display," CNET reports. The $1,299 (base price) computer is about 2 inches thick (see photo at CNET). It was designed by Apple's iPod folk. Here's the Washington Post's roundup of G5 coverage and Apple's own page about it. For the techies among us, this skinny little computer has a G5, 1.6GHz processor (IBM's PowerPC 970); Mac OSX v. 10.3; 256MB of RAM; an 80GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive; Nvidia's GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics chip; and 64MB of dedicated graphics memory (don't ask me to explain all of that). The $1,499 and $1,899 models have more, of course (the priciest one a 20" screen).

Monday, August 30, 2004

Even kids can be 'phishers'

Parents might want to know that it's so easy to become an online scam artist now that some of our tech-literate kids could be tempted to try it just for fun. CNET reports that these kits contain "all the graphics, Web code, and text required to construct the kind of bogus Web sites used in Internet phishing scams." The sites will have "the same look and feel as legitimate online banking sites," so people can be tricked into revealing personal financial information to someone posing as their bank. [It's happening to a lot of people. The US Justice Department last week announced more than 100 arrests of online scammers who've affected more than 150,000 victims, PC World reported.] Many of the "phishing" kits also contain software that turns computers into spamming machines. So, if not a scammer, your kid can also become a spammer!

Here are tips from the Anti-Phishing Working Group on "How to Avoid Phishing Scams" and "What to Do If You've Given Out Your Personal Financial Information."