Post in our forum for parents, teens - You! - at

Friday, August 11, 2006

Teens online: Major study

'Tis the season for surveys about online teens, it seems. Several have just been released, but the biggest news in Net safety this week was the much-anticipated "Second Youth Internet Safety Survey" (the first, much-quoted, study came out in 2000) from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, sponsored by the US government-funded National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Let's look at it first because it's a milestone (in my newsletter next week: two interesting studies that fold in online parenting, one focusing specifically, and so far unprecedentedly, on MySpace).

USATODAY's coverage came with a *very* at-a-glance sidebar with three points that sum up quite effectively what has changed in kids' online experiences over the past five years: 1) Sexual solicitations are down overall (in spite of social networking's rise), 2) exposure to porn is up (despite increased use of filters), and 3) peer harassment (cyberbullying) is up. Of course some qualifying is needed. First the contact issue: Even though "a smaller proportion of youth Internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations" (13% in this study, down from 19% in 2000) and a smaller percentage are interacting with strangers (34% down from 40%), "aggressive solicitations [defined as solicitors trying to meet in person] did not decline," and 4% of young people surveyed said the solicitors asked for nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves (not surprisingly, digital photography is now showing up in the research, which means it needs to show up in Net-safety education at home and everywhere – and, parents, beware of Webcams and picture phones!). As for increased exposure to porn despite greater use of filters, my guess is this is not so much a comment on the effectiveness of filters as on the effectiveness of relying on filters installed on home computers when the exposure increasingly happens in multiple locations on multiple devices. In other words, this finding is a comment on young users' experience of the broadband, everywhere wired and wireless Web 2.0 – and on how important it is to work with our kids on *self*-protection and critical thinking wherever they access the Web. Please click to this week's issue of my newsletter for a few more key findings of interest to parents.

One very connected girl

Parents of young teens might enjoy the story of 14-year-old Julia Schwartz of Pacific Palisades in "Girls Just Want to Be Plugged In – to Everything." "Julia's voracious appetite for all types of entertainment - and the tech-savvy ways she consumes it - is typical of girls her age, according to a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll that surveyed the habits of 12- to 24-year-olds. Girls ages 12 to 14 are the most deeply motivated by TV: 65% say they are influenced by a TV show or network, are more likely to multi-task than boys of their age group and are easily bored - 41% say there are too few choices of entertainment," reports the Los Angeles Times, adding: "They're also the most carefully monitored by parents: 68% say their parents know how they spend their time online." This is the fifth in a 5-part series of articles on teen tech and entertainment based on several L.A. Times/Bloomberg polls released this month.

Our Web searches are us

What we type into Web search boxes says a whole lot about us – very personal information most of use wouldn't want to be public. A recent "colossal miscalculation" at AOL, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, highlighted how easily our privacy can be breached. A team of AOL employees "publicly posted the Internet search topics of hundreds of thousands of customers online. The goal was to support academic research about Web traffic, and AOL users' names were replaced by numbers. But that didn't guarantee anonymity," according to the Monitor. The New York Times was able to trace one of those user numbers (4417749) to the woman in Lilburn, Ga., it represented. "AOL removed the search data from its site over the weekend and apologized for its release," the Times reported, "but the detailed records of searches conducted by Ms. Arnold and 657,000 other Americans, copies of which continue to circulate online, underscore how much people unintentionally reveal about themselves when they use search engines — and how risky it can be for companies like AOL, Google and Yahoo to compile such data." This has bearing in the online-safety field because state attorneys general have recently been calling for age verification in social-networking sites. Verifying children's ages, ID verification experts tell me, would require a national database of children's personal info against which verification technology could check.

'Bully' the videogame

Jimmy Hopkins, 15, can be anything you want him to be. That's because he's the main character in Bully, a new game for PlayStation 2 that has stirred up a lot of controversy. According to USATODAY, which got a "two-hour exclusive preview" of the videogame set for release in October, "the 'Columbine simulator' fear appears to be meritless. There are no guns in the game and no killing. Schoolyard fisticuffs are a central element, but there is no blood or black eyes, and nobody seems to get seriously hurt." The fears might have come out of the fact that Bully was created by Rockstar Games, "the company that created the ultra-violent, ultra-popular Grand Theft Auto titles." Meanwhile, KXAN in Austin has a report about a videogame, Re-Mission, that helps young cancer patients.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Very social media players

Gadget makers are taking a cue or two from MySpace, it appears. How so? Media players are increasingly social tools, just as MySpace made teen blogging a social phenomenon. In fact, media players and personal communicators are now being called "lifestyle devices." One example is Microsoft's Zune MP3 player, expected to launch this fall, which "aspires to be one part MySpace, one part iTunes and one part Xbox Live," Reuters reports. Then there's Sony's mylo, which stands for "my life online" and targets 18-to-24-year-olds who want their media, IM, Net-phone, and email capabilities everywhere, all the time, CBS News reports. That would be in addition to their cell-phone talking and texting options, which seems like one gadget too many to carry around, but I'm no 18-to-24-year-old, the Associated Press reports. Mylo "doubles as a portable media player. It can play music, photos and videos that are stored on its internal 1 gigabyte of flash memory or optional Memory Stick card. It also can stream songs between mylo users within the same network, as long as the users grant permission to share their music files." Sony has partnered with Yahoo and Google for IM (it's working on folding in AIM), and Skype for Net-based phoning.

Social-network investigations

Law enforcement people see the online social scene as "part of their jurisdiction now," reports Fox Carolina in the Greenville, S.C., area. They do a lot of their investigation work right in social Web sites. "Sometimes people talk about crimes they've committed, other times they brag about those they plan to commit. And it's also a way to catch adults soliciting under age kids," according to Fox News. It gives three examples: a MySpace page a Fox Carolina reporter found "that helped Easley police get critical information on a suspect in a pawn shop murder"; Houston police tracking "a suspect in four murders all the way to Greenville through his MySpace page"; and this week's arrest of "an Anderson County teen after his MySpace page contained vivid descriptions of shooting at cars."

Homeland Security on PC security

Patch your Windows, the agency said in what ZDNET called "a rare alert" on PC security. If you haven't already automated security patches for your Windows PC, Homeland Security "recommended Wednesday that people apply Microsoft's MS06-040 patch as quickly as possible. The software maker released the 'critical' fix Tuesday as part of its monthly patch cycle." Microsoft this week issued a dozen patches as its regular monthly security update, saying nine of them were critical. "However, the flaw addressed in MS06-040 is the only one among the updates that could let an anonymous attacker remotely commandeer a Windows PC without any user interaction," ZDNET adds. Go to Windows Update (using the Internet Explorer browser) for more info.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Google: MySpace's new search source

The good news is it may be easier to find your kid on MySpace; the bad news is it may be easier for other people to find your kid on MySpace. It looks like MySpace is going to have a better internal and Web search engine: Google. The two just formed a partnership that means Google will provide MySpace and other News Corp. sites advertising and search. News Corp. also receives $900 million over three years for letting Google do so, the San Jose Mercury News reports. For one thing, this means Google text ads will appear on users' profiles - the type of ad that's "triggered by the content of a page or keyword typed into a search box - the popular 'Ads by Google' feature on many sites," according to the Mercury News. In its coverage of this development, the New York Times says MySpace will pass the 100 million-member mark this week. Pundits have been saying MySpace hadn't yet figured out how to capitalize on its huge traffic. This should help. Other News Corp. sites to receive Google search and ads are, GameSpy, TeamXbox and 3D Gamers, as well as Rotten Tomatoes, a movie site. The Times reports that Google will not try to put ads on every MySpace page, that "fewer, better ads" was the solution. That's probably good news for parents, too, and also likely includes MySpace's recently announced policy not to display racy ads to users who register as under 18 (see my coverage). Here's the Los Angeles Times.

Universities on social networking

Heads-up, freshmen! Along with all the other warnings your college-bound kids will be getting about partying and credit card debt, this year they'll be told to be careful about what they post in blogs and social-networking sites, the Associated Press reports. "From large public schools such as Western Kentucky to smaller private ones like Birmingham-Southern and Smith, colleges around the country have revamped their orientation talks to students and parents to include online behavior," according to the AP. Some even include role-playing skits about online socializing in their orientation programs. But note that the schools are warning not banning. "College administrators say they can't -- and wouldn't want to keep students off sites such as Facebook. Many welcome the kind of community-building the sites facilitate, and they recognize they have become an important, and usually harmless, venue for the kind of identity formation and presentation that's an important part of the college experience." The AP adds that these sites actually help with the bonding that is one of student orientation's major goals.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Google's help for searchers

This is a great development for people (like kids) who haven't quite mastered "think before you click. "Google has started warning users if they are about to visit a Web page that could harm their computer, the BBC reports. If you're using Google and you click on a link that would take you to a page that would download spyware or other nasties to your machine, you'll get a little pop-up window warning you. "The warning suggests that people try a different site but if they want to continue to the potentially dangerous webpage Google will not stop them," the BBC adds. It works like McAfee's "Site Advisor" software, which does about the same thing. A recent survey found that 4-6% of sites have harmful content on them, and if someone's looking for "free screensavers" or games, that percentage goes a lot higher, since those sites' owners try to lure people in with freebies or "easy winnings."