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Friday, November 04, 2005

Introducing 2 new family resources

In my newsletter this week, details on a couple of resources of special interest to parents of online kids: OnGuardOnline from Uncle Sam and FamilyTechTalk, from yours truly and my partner, Larry Magid of The former offers plainspoken help on all aspects of PC security and online fraud - and what to do about them. The latter is family-tech news you can *listen* to! Read on....

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Porn: 'Vast amounts' on iPod?

Just last week Wired News reported that the adult industry was "largely staying away" from the new video iPod. This week we learn from Reuters that massive amounts of it will soon be available - and searchable - to video iPod owners. A little-known search engine called Guba is set to offer pornography and other video files (lots of TV shows, which will draw a lot of mainstream traffic) formatted for the iPod. "Guba is a subscription-only search engine that culls video files from the Usenet newsgroups - much of it adult, pirated or both." Reuters adds that it "specifically searches through Usenet's multimedia content, which is not indexed by popular search engines such as Yahoo or Google." Guba says it will offer a "safe mode" to filter out adult content, but there aren't too many kids who won't be able to turn the filter off. So the porn industry is only part of the concern - there's plenty of amateur stuff on Usenet - which means, of course, that the industry will probably follow suit sooner than it indicates.

Sony anti-piracy move: Music fans irate

Who would've thought a music CD could harm the family PC?! That's basically what digital music fans have discovered about Sony BMG CDs that've been sold since last March, and there is quite an uproar about it, the Washington Post reports. It does make one think twice about buying Sony CDs if the copyright-protection tech on them can make one's computer vulnerable to hackers and viruses. The company that developed that technology for Sony has even issued a security patch! The controversy started earlier this week, when "computer security researcher Mark Russinovich published an analysis showing that some new Sony CDs install software that not only limits the copying of music on the discs, but also employs programming techniques normally associated with computer viruses to hide from users and prevent them from removing the software," according to the Post. Here's Post security writer Brian Krebs's blog yesterday about how the Sony software affects PCs. All his readers' feedback at the bottom, much of it saying they would be boycotting Sony products of all sorts, is longer than the blog post itself.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Teen 'content creators'

Most of us knew teenagers love to communicate online, but we now know more about their avid interest in creating content there, thanks to a just-released survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Pew found that "fully half" of all US 12-to-17-year-olds, about 12 million (and 57% of those who use the Net) "have created a blog or Web page, posted original artwork, photography, stories, or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations."

* 19% of online teens keep a blog and 38% (or 8 million) read them (as opposed to 7% and 27% of adults, respectively)
* Older girls (15-17) "lead the blogging activity among teens"; 25% of online girls keep blogs, as opposed to 15% of boys.
* 51% of online teens say they're downloading music files, and 31% video files.
* 75% of teen downloaders think that getting free music is easy, and it's
unrealistic to expect people not to do it.
* Teens are just as likely to have paid for music online as they are to have
tried P2P (file-sharing) services like BitTorrent or eDonkey.

USATODAY this week zoomed in on just the blogging/journaling part of teen content creation, with "Teens wear their hearts on their blog." USATODAY cites market research firm Intelliseek numbers as saying at least 8 million teens blog (compared to Pew's 4 million).

Spam scams on phones

Watch out, it may be coming across the Pacific. I'm referring to a tech plague: Apparently, junk SMS messages, including fraudulent ones like the nine scams that, reportedly, have bilked victims out of 1 million yuan (about $124,000) in less than 20 days, may be coming to a cellphone near you. "China has declared war on scams using mobile phone short messages that promise everything from fake cash prizes to sexual services to contract killings," Reuters reports, adding that "China's mobile phone market have fallen behind its explosive growth, which has generated huge profits for short message service providers." China had 330 million mobile-phone users by the end of last year, having sent "a total of 217.7 billion messages" in 2004, according to Reuters.

Teen in court over email 'bomb'

The legal world is watching this case because it's testing Britain's Computer Misuse Act (CMA). In the case, a teenager is accused of launching a denial-of-service (DoS) attack on his former employer by sending the company 5 million emails, CNET reports. So far, no Briton has been convicted for launching a DoS attack (which is like "bombing" a corporate network or Web site). "According to those familiar with the case, the teenager's defense will argue that launching a DoS attack is not illegal under the CMA," according to CNET, which adds that "the CMA does not specifically include a denial-of-service attack as a criminal offense, something some members of … Parliament want changed." Later today CNET reported that the judge cleared the teenager of charges - that DoS attacks were not illegal under the CMA.

Update on $100k virtual land

Remember last week I linked to coverage of the $100,000 (real-money) purchase of a virtual resort-in-development in "the treacherous but mineral-rich Paradise V Asteroid Belt" in the online game Entropia? Well, it turns out that buyer Jon Jacobs, an avid Entropia gamer/citizen who appeared in a 2003 dance music movie Hey DJ!, plans to turn his virtual real estate "into a nightclub to change the face of entertainment," the BBC reports. He told the BBC that he "wants to call it Club Neverdie [after the name of his character in the game] and sees it as the perfect vehicle to bridge reality and virtual reality." It's hard to tell from the BBC piece how he'll do that - but maybe by providing live music for gamers while they play. He also told the BBC he's talking with "some of the world's biggest DJs" about doing the real music in his virtual nightclub."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lively alternate lives

This is one of those mind-blowing stories about how whole lives can be lived - not just dragons slayed and death stars exploded - in cyberspace. Check out a New York Times piece about Second Life, pop. 75,850, where people in 80 countries "live"; take balloon rides; hold Nascar races; dance at nightclubs; buy and sail boats; purchase, subdivide, and sell real estate, get married (in real life), and kiss (virtually) distant spouses (in real life). "A handful" of players earn six-figure (real) incomes in profitable virtual businesses in the game, according to the Times. What parents might want to know, not readily found in site info is the fact that parts of this massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) are X-rated. "Like most virtual worlds, Second Life also sees its share of cybersex, in which two people will use a private chat channel within the world to type suggestively to each other," the Times reports. "But Second Life adds a visual element to cybersex that chat rooms lack…. In addition, there is a virtual sex industry," the Times adds. Which is why there's a Teen Second Life (see my coverage of this in August).

Child-porn filter in Denmark

Large Danish phone company and Internet service provider TDC has "activated a nationwide filter to help fight child pornography on the Internet," reports. Developed by TDC, Denmark's national police and Save the Children, the filter checks Web addresses against a database of addresses of sites containing illegal pornographic content (involving minors) and blocks illegal ones. The police and Save the Children together do the work of identifying the sites for the database. A similar project in Norway "daily blocks 10,000–12,000 attempts to get access to addresses with child porn, and in Sweden, 20,000–30,000 attempts are blocked," according to Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.

Web therapy: Kids & adults do it

Let's hope mental healthcare people are paying increasing attention to what people are saying online - especially in specialty sites such as, for people with Asperger's Syndrome. The Los Angeles Times reports that, "in the weeks before 19-year-old William Freund donned a cape and mask and went on a shooting rampage in his Aliso Viejo neighborhood, he reached out for help" at Another example was reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The blog of Alex Stirlen, 17, at "came to light … after he was charged with the murder of classmate Erin Mace, 16…. She also had a blog on the local punk rock Web site that linked to Stirlen's and vice versa." Those are horrible extreme examples, but research shows that "nearly half of [the Net's some 15 million] bloggers consider [blogging] a form of therapy," the Washington Post reports. AOL sponsored the research, which also found that "although AOL provides tools that allow bloggers to limit their audience to selected viewers, most don't." Making one's inner thoughts very public seems to be the whole point of blogging, whether you're a teenager or an adult - something healthcare professionals should be aware of. Of course, some are. Ron Scott, a St. Louis-area psychologist mentioned in the Post-Dispatch article, has thought a lot about this phenomenon. And the Washington Post cites a warning by psychologists that "although it may feel good to blog … going public with private musings may have ramifications, and … little research has been done on the consequences of the Internet confessional."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Filtering too much

School filters overdo it, was the basic take-away from a study of US high-school English students' research. The study, conducted by Lynn Sutton, library director at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, found that "Internet filters are apt to block legitimate educational content," eSchool News reports. "Tech-savvy students … argue that administrators should have more faith in their judgment and ability to deal with inappropriate content, and they blame the school - not their teachers - for prohibiting them from conducting sound, unbiased research," according to eSchool News. The students, in both advanced rhetoric and basic composition classes, experienced both overblocking (of sites needed for their research) and underblocking (inappropriate content got through) in their Internet work. Sutton, whose study was part of a PhD dissertation, concluded that schools should "carefully consider" if filtering is necessary, at least at all grade levels. [See this item for the latest from Consumer Reports on filters.]

Zombie masters caught

I know, I sound so sci-fi. But there's nothing other-worldly about zombie masters, unfortunately. An awful lot of family PCs like yours and mine are "zombies" (computers that have been infected by Trojan software that gives control of them to the senders of the Trojan carrying worm or virus), unbeknownst to us! The "zombie masters" are the people who control whole networks (called "botnets") of these hijacked PCs to send spam (to make money) or launch denial-of-service attacks (against retail and other Web sites, sometimes for extortion money). Zombies in people's homes are by no means unusual. Microsoft, which has been working on this problem, believes "more than half of all spam is sent by zombies" and that there are tens of millions of zombies worldwide," CNET reports in an article about the company's progress in tracking zombie masters and shutting them down. Microsoft has identified 13 different spamming operations that use such zombies" so far, according to CNET. The US's Federal Trade Commission has been encouraging the Internet industry to take more action in this area. For example, it has asked Internet service providers (ISPs) to quarantine zombies and help us customers clean our infected PCs. For its ongoing investigation, "Microsoft intentionally created a zombie computer" - a PC not unlike one in anyone's household. "Over a three-week period, the PC was accessed 5 million times by its remote controllers and used to send out 18 million spam messages advertising more than 13,000 Web sites" (though Microsoft reportedly blocked the spam before it got sent). For more on this, see the latest from the Washington Post on local tech support and my "What if our computer's a zombie?!"