Friday, February 25, 2005
Police tech for protecting kids
Not easy to read, but this article at NorthJersey.com provides a wide-angle snapshot of the downside of various technologies where child-exploitation is concerned. "The battle against child pornography on the Internet began more than a decade ago, when pedophiles began exchanging explicit pictures of children through e-mail. The rapid development of digital video cams, peer-to-peer file sharing and camera phones made the problem more complex. Now it's real-time gaming and mobile videos - mini-movies on wireless phones - that vex law enforcement." But cops are now, for example, using file-sharing technology to track file-sharers who traffic in child pornography. "The software has already identified 200,000 people who have downloaded child pornography, about 3,000 of them in New Jersey," NorthJersey.com reports. They also can now intercept pedophiles' Web cam photos and extract photos from camera phones "even after they've been erased." As for multiplayer games online: "Real-time gaming, which allows X-Box and PS2 players to compete against people across the world, may pose a new problem, law-enforcement authorities fear. Young players could become comfortable with a competitor they know nothing about and begin to divulge personal information, they said." (Thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this piece out.)
18-year-old spimmer arrested
Young New York resident Anthony Greco was recently arrested at Los Angeles Airport in what federal prosecutors said was the first criminal case involving "spim" (spam via instant-messaging). He is "suspected of broadcasting 1.5 million ads for pornography and cheap mortgages, the Los Angeles Times reports. He is also allegedly an accomplished extortionist. Prosecutors said they "lured him" to L.A. for "what he expected would be a meeting with the president of MySpace.com," a blogging service popular among teens. "Greco had threatened to tell other spammers how he sent the unsolicited instant messages to MySpace users last fall if he wasn't given an exclusive marketing contract with the company, according to a sworn investigator's statement filed in Los Angeles federal court." About 39% of IM users under 30 have received spim (66% of 19-to-30-year-old Americans IM), according to figures cited by ClickZ Stats (figures for teen IM-ers weren't available as of this writing). Although not as common as spam, serious spim growth is expected - "from 1.2 billion messages by year-end 2004 to 17.9 billion messages in 2008," InfoWorld reports. Here's the latest news on spim viruses at ZDNET.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
This is not really news: We computer users (and our children) have never had more distractions. "In the era of email, instant messaging, Googling, e-commerce, and iTunes, potential distractions while seated at a computer are not only ever-present but very enticing," reports the New York Times. The problem is, we can do so much more than fix a sandwich or sharpen pencils. Now we can remix a song, send baby pix, carry on multiple simultaneous conversations, and check the weather from four different sources on one's desktop - all at once, of course. This still amazes me. The good news is, "a growing number of computer scientists and psychologists are studying the problem of diminished attention." Not all, it seems, view it so much a problem as a reality. "And some are beginning to work on solutions." For example, "one piece of software in development learns to assign a level of urgency to incoming email messages while shielding people from messages they can see later - based on an assessment of how busy they are." What a relief! ;-)
Kids & 'toys'
My headline should actually be "Kids & electronics." The latter stole the show at the American International Toy Fair in New York, the Los Angeles Times reports. One toy industry publisher said he doesn't even call it a toy fair anymore. On the floor cell phones, digital video cameras, walkie-talkies, edu-game systems, and digital "pets" were the hot new items. "Even the most old-fashioned of toys, such as stuffed animals, are getting electronic makeovers," according to the Times. Such as Mattel's Elmo and Winnie the Pooh plush toys, which - for $39.99 - allow a parent to use computer software and a USB cord to configure them to know their child's name, sing his or her favorite song, and say, "it's time for your nap."
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Ignore 'FBI' email
Tell your kids to delete any email that looks like it's from the FBI, and definitely don't open the attachment the email tells you to open. Not much is known about these virus-carrying emails, but this: They "appear to come from an fbi.gov address. They tell recipients that they have accessed illegal Web sites and that their Internet use has been monitored by the FBI's 'Internet Fraud Complaint Center," the FBI told the Associated Press. The FBI is investigating the email. Here's CNET's coverage of this and its roundup of recent virus attacks.
Phone viruses on the rise
They're not a big deal yet, but if a cell phone user at your house comes to you some day and says, "Mom, my phone's making calls without me!", it may be a virus. The "cabir" mobile-phone virus has been spotted "in the wild" in the US, ZDNET reports. It "turned up in two Nokia 6600s on display in a California mobile phone store, in what is believed to be the first 'on-the-ground' sighting of the virus in the United States." The phones could've been "infected" by someone walking by the store window who had a phone with Bluetooth on it (technology that connects PCs, phones, printers, etc. wirelessly). It's just a sign of things to come, although there are 30 known cell-phone viruses so far, compared to some 112,000 for PCs. "Experts confirm that there's no need to panic, but admit the threat is growing" as mobiles become the main way to access the Net, ZDNET reports in another article. The ZDNET articles explain which phones are more vulnerable and what past and present phone viruses do to phones (and potentially users' family budgets). Some examples: forcing phones to dial premium-rate numbers, emergency services, or users' entire address books.
P2P lawsuits: Behind the scenes
"Woman Silenced by Music Mafia," the headline reads. Let's be clear: It heads an opinion piece by a student at the University of Texas, Austin (as a demographic group, university students have been a primary target of anti-P2P litigation). But it provides insights into what it's like to be sued for file-sharing by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). For example, in the notice she received from her Internet service provider, Time Warner, "Evelyn" is given the phone number for a "Settlement Service Center" in Seattle, "a business that conducts settlement negotiations with individuals who have been sued." The SSC representative tells her that this wouldn't have happened if she'd shared fewer than 500 music files, the Daily Texan reports. The Service Center then proceeds to sell her on settling with the RIAA. The Daily Texan reporter did a little math on these lawsuits in general: "In January, the Big Music Mafia boasted it had launched another 717 lawsuits against people who share music online, bringing the total number of those victimized to a shocking 8,423. If each one of these victims settled at the pre-inflated average of $3,000, then the RIAA is set to make an easy $25,269,000." [Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this article out.]
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Anti-violent games momemtum grows
One good way to look at the issue of kids' access to violent video games is the way Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich boiled it down in his state of the state address: "Buying these games should be up to parents - not kids." So far - because there aren't the age restrictions on sales of "Mature"-rated games that there are on retail sales to minors of alcohol, cigarettes, and sexually explicit magazines - the onus is still on kids. Part of the problem, of course, is that technology is involved - "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" is much more familiar parenting turf than technology is for many parents, it seems. Anyway, the momentum toward violent-game regulation continues. California and Alabama have just joined the list of US state and municipal governments wrestling with this issue (see "More moves against violent games," 2/4). Leland Ye, father of four, child psychologist, and Speaker pro Tem of California's State Assembly is sponsoring legislation "aimed at curtailing the sales of ultra violent video games to children under 17," CommonSenseMedia.org reports (Speaker Ye had a guest editorial at CSM Friday). He cites some arresting stats: "Right now, according to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 70% of 13-to-16-year-olds are able to purchase M-rated video games, which are designed for adults. Ninety-two percent of children play video or computer games, of which about 40% are rated M (Mature)." For the latest on Alabama, see the Associated Press article in today's USATODAY.
P2P: New faulty floodgate
It makes you wonder if anything can really stop the flood of file-sharing - lawsuits from record companies, detection software for parents, or low-cost legal music Web sites? Napster.com, which *was* the original "underground" file-sharing service (before Kazaa, BitTorrent, and all the other 2nd- and 3rd-generation P2P networks) and is now a legal music retailer online, is now widely publicized as the victim of an easy hack that turns it back into a vast global jukebox of free, unrestricted digital tunes. "Word spread across the Web recently that a few tweaks of WinAmp, a popular music-playing program, and a small plug-in available on the WinAmp Web site would allow users to take a music file protected with Microsoft technology and produce an unprotected copy," the New York Times (and many other outlets) reports. It adds that AOL, "which owns the company that makes WinAmp, removed the problematic plug-in from the WinAmp site," but copies popped up elsewhere on the Web, and there undoubtedly will be other work-arounds created. This ongoing battle epitomizes the challenges the Internet represents to so many age-old institutions and behaviors - the law, government, ethics, business, and *parenting*, to name just a few. Here are Wired News, and CNET on this, and Napster's challenge of the rumors at InformationWeek.
Info for ID-theft victims
This isn't about our usual kid-tech topic, but it may come in handy if anyone you know has the misfortune of experiencing identity theft. And the ChoicePoint debacle (the consumer-info clearinghouse having been tricked by an identity-theft ring into revealing the profiles of nearly 150,000 people last fall) has been in the news a lot lately. Slate.com took the time to answer the question: What do I do if identity theft has happened to me? Here's more from USATODAY, including a chart showing how many residents in each state have had personal info stolen from ChoicePoint. I *really* hope none of you need this information! [Here's the big picture from the New York Times on the law and commercial data vendors like ChoicePoint.]
Monday, February 21, 2005
Would that protecting online kids were as simple as hitting the Ctrl, Alt, and "Protect" keys on the family PC! "For some parents, the idea of vulnerable [young] minds trolling cyberspace is as frightening as seeing a fourth grader driving, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. But are they doing something about it? A recent survey by the New York-based Conference Board indicated they are - that 95% of US parents say they monitor their children's online activities (see "Parents monitor kids," 1/21). The Inquirer took a hard look at the survey. If nothing else, the article suggests, the figure shows a healthy increased awareness: "It's significantly higher than any other previous survey findings, perhaps reflective of parents knowing that they should be scrutinizing what the computer is spilling into their homes - whether they really are or not." Experts quoted in the piece were skeptical of the 95% figure. But what really matters is how much communication there is between parent and child about what the latter is doing, seeing, and talking about on the Net. David Walsh, president of the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family, "remains convinced" that "there is precious little inter-generational communication about cyberspace." The Inquirer goes on to give anecdotes about how some parents in the Philadelphia area are monitoring their kids - always the best part of articles like this. [The Duluth (MN) News Tribune also ran this article.]