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Friday, September 22, 2006

UK kids on cellphones

More than 90% of UK 12-year-olds have mobile phones, according to a recent study in that country. The BBC reports that, among the 1,250 11-to-17-year-olds polled in the Mobile Life Survey, almost 80% "said they felt safer having a mobile and that they had a better social life as a result." Texting is much preferred to speaking on phones in this age group. The survey also found that, while many schools have banned cellphones, 50% of people 11-17 have sent or received text messages during class. Many respondents, "especially teenage girls, admit they would feel unwanted if the day passed without their mobile ringing; overall, 26% said they would feel left out, compared with just 11% of parents. Most parents (71%), the survey found, believe mobiles help keep track of their children. Here's another BBC article on the realities of accessing the Web via mobile phone.

Overexposed pranks, bad results

Unhappy students have been pulling nasty things on teachers as long as there has been school. Now, on the very public participatory Web, these actions can cause more trouble than intended for all parties concerned! Case in point: Apparently in a project about viral marketing, a marketing professor at Virginia Commonwealth University "gave his class an assignment to make his 6-year-old pug [Oscar] famous," the Associated Press reports. Most of the students "posted fliers around campus with the pooch's picture on them," but one student reportedly posted a threat on his MySpace page that he would kill Oscar – even though the assignment said students couldn't harm or kill the dog or threaten to do so. The effect was that "animal activists and others around the globe" called the university and police to report the threat. "After investigating, Richmond police issued an alert saying, 'this threat is the result of a VCU student's assignment that went awry. We want to stress that at no time was any animal in danger'." Charges won't be filed, the AP added, but the university said the student might "receive sanctions, including expulsion," because he violated "VCU's honor code and rules regarding the use of university computers."

The courting of Facebook

Facebook's 22-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg is undecided about Yahoo's $900 million offer for the site, the New York Times reports. He is "a member of the Google generation … too young to remember all the ambitions dashed and fortunes lost when the last dot-com boom ended," which may be one reason for his indecision, the Times suggests. The good news about this offer, if Mark is worried about maintaining control, is that Yahoo "it will keep the company somewhat independent, with Mr. Zuckerberg in charge. This has been its model with other acquisitions like Flickr, a photo-sharing site, and, a social bookmarking service that lets members share lists of their favorite Web sites." Here's the San Jose Mercury News on the Yahoo/Facebook discussion. As for recent changes at Facebook, The Tartan at Carnegie Mellon zoomed in on their real impact (e.g., students at that university will still only have access to fellow Facebookers on that campus). The Tartan also looked at a just-released study by CMU professors, “Awareness, Information Sharing, and Privacy of Facebook." It found that privacy awareness isn't high – "close to 50% of Facebook users surveyed gave the wrong answer when asked about who could view their Facebook profile. The researchers also found that most students tried to protect their privacy by controlling the information they revealed to the online community, rather than adjusting the site’s privacy controls. When the survey highlighted potential privacy concerns, only about 5% subsequently changed their online behavior" (parents, the figure is probably not much different on any social site populated by teens).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Social networking's impact

"While older adults go online to find information, the younger crowd go online to live," reports, in a thorough, multipart look at the social Web. Most interesting to me was MIT professor and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle's reflecting on the impact of social networking on individual users and society in further accentuating "the tethered self" – a person who understands himself and his feelings more in relation to others. "It seems to be part of a larger trend in media culture for people not to know what they think until they get a sense of what everyone else think.," Turkle says in the NewScientist interview. Parents, check out the example she gives: "Tethered adolescents are given a cellphone by their parents. In return, they are expected to answer their parents' calls. On the one hand, this arrangement gives the adolescent new freedoms. On the other, the adolescent doe not have the experience of being alone, of having only him or herself to count on: there is always a parent on speed dial. This provides comfort in a dangerous world, yet there is a price to pay in the development of autonomy. There used to be a moment in the life of an urban child, usually between the ages of 12 and 14, when there was a first time to navigate the city alone. It was a rite of passage that communicated, 'You are on your own and responsible.' Tethering via a cellphone buffers this moment; tethered children think differently about themselves. They are not quite alone." And time alone to digest, reflect, and form our own views - not just in relation to how our friends or fellow IM-ers or social networkers think – is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Key PC security advice

A newly discovered flaw in Internet Explorer can render family PCs vulnerable to some nasty hacks, the Washington Post reports. Just by going to some Web sites with Explorer, a user can download "an entire kitchen sink of malicious software." Right now it's just a handful of sites, mostly those publishing pornography, but that number is expected to grow, and porn won't be the only kind of site serving up these nasties: e.g., "the incredibly invasive Spybot worm," trojan software that takes control of PCs, and keylogger software that records every key stroke. The Post's PC security writer, Brian Krebs, suggests that, "if you or someone you care about [like your kids!] is in the habit of cruising the Web with IE, now would be a very good time to get acquainted with another browser that doesn't use IE's rendering engine, such as Firefox or Opera." But if you continue to use IE, "make sure you have Windows set to receive automatic software updates, and be very careful about visiting Web sites that are off the Internet's beaten path." Also see Brian's Sept. 19 12:06 a.m. update for further good advice. Also, if you're concerned about identity theft, the Post has a great resource on it, including info on how to avoid it and what to do if you've been victimized.

Popular new kid YouTube

YouTube is like the new kid at school everyone wants to meet (or compete with). This week's signs that the video-sharing site has truly arrived are: use of the site by the US government, fresh competition from Microsoft, and deals with Warner Music and ABC. The White House is using YouTube to expand its anti-drug public-service advertising, putting made-for-TV anti-drug videos on the site," the Associated Press reports. They'll "compete for viewership against hundreds of existing, drug-related videos that include shaky footage of college-age kids smoking marijuana and girls dancing wildly after purportedly using cocaine," according to the AP. "Other YouTube videos describe how to grow marijuana and how to cook with it." At last count, YouTube gets 34 million visitors a month, MySpace Video gets 17.9 million and Google Video 13.5 million, according to the BBC. So Microsoft, whose MSN Video used to be the most popular video-sharing site (before YouTube's arrival), has unveiled some fresh competition (in beta testing): "Soapbox" , obviously designed to integrate well with MSN instant messaging more closely matching the MySpace video-sharing experience. Meanwhile, Warner Music's ad-revenue-sharing licensing deal with YouTube is an unprecedented experiment that some analysts are calling a legal "minefield." Warner's the first major label to authorize YouTube to show its music videos, the New York Times reports. Under the agreement, " will use special software to identify recordings used in videos posted by users and then offer the owner of the copyrighted music a percentage of the fee for advertising that would run alongside the clip. The deal also provides for the copyright owner to demand that YouTube remove the clip instead," according to the Times, which also ran a "video mania" business story. Another deal YouTube announced this week was with ABC and Cingular: a talent hunt for the best unsigned bands on YouTube. The winners will get to appear on ABC's Good Morning America, Reuters reports. This week Forbes aptly asks, "Can YouTube Grow Up and Stay Cool?"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Google's quiet 'precedent'

Google's agreement to turn over user data to the Brazilian government may turn out to be a precedent for how the social networks deal with governments (including those of their home countries), and vice versa. Google's Orkut - with 20 million total users, about half of them in Brazil - is that country's No. 1 social site. Brazilian authorities recently threatened a lawsuit to get Google, which last year refused to turn over search data to the US Justice Department, to give them "data that could help identify [Orkut] users accused of taking part in online communities that encourage racism, pedophilia and homophobia," the Washington Post reported. As the Christian Science Monitor put it, "Google's corporate motto is 'Don't be evil.' But the … company recently found itself defending the privacy of alleged pedophiles and racists against São Paulo's attorney general." He threatened Google with a daily fine of $23,000, and Brazilian human rights groups - which counted "some 40,000 images of child porn posted on Orkut between Jan. 30 and Aug. 22" and "thousands of communities dedicated to racism, violence, anti-Semitism, and cruelty to animals" - were "infuriated" by what they saw as Google's stonewalling, according to the Monitor.

Google eventually turned over user data to Brazil that was much more specific than what the Justice Department had earlier asked for ("Google's entire search index, billions of pages and two months' worth of queries," according to the Post). The Internet freedom desk at Reporters Without Borders said it was good that Google made Brazilian authorities go directly to headquarters in the US, so that the American justice system could be involved. At some point, Reporters Without Borders told the Monitor, US Internet companies will have to deal with repressive regimes with regard to social networking. Google said it intends to be cooperative with governments as long as their "requests are reasonable and follow an appropriate legal process."

Online school in demand

Demand for online-only high school in the state of Washington definitely exceeded expectations, the Seattle Times reports. They were expecting maybe 250 or 300 students and each got about 650, with hundreds wait-listed or in the application pipeline. Washington's "two newest online schools" are Insight High School and Washington Virtual Academy, which is K-8. And who are these applicants? "About one-quarter of Insight School's students previously were home-schooled…. Some had dropped out of high school. Some don't like the high-school social scene. Others want the flexibility of the online schedule so they can hold down jobs, or, in a few cases, because they're elite athletes who have an extensive training and travel schedule." If not the level of interest, the schools did expect these fairly diverse characteristics among their students. About all they have in common is that they or their schedules just don't jive with traditional schooling. Pls see the article for the views of both supporters and critics.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Social Web: Early warning system?

People who want to ban the social networks might consider what can be learned on them about at-risk youth. Peers and adults can detect and have found threats in blogs and profiles in time to avert violence, and law-enforcement people certainly are monitoring the sites. The challenge is the obscurity of some of them, such as, where shooter Kimveer Gill posted many hints about violent intentions (he committed the mass shooting at Dawson College in Montreal last week), New Criminologist reports. The Ottawa Sun looks at the importance of early detection. It mentions the arrest of two 17-year-old Wisconsin teens after threats of violence they allegedly made were reported to the principal of their school. "Officers found guns, homemade bombs, ammunition, mannequin heads used for target practice and even suicide notes written by the pair in their homes. They were depressed, hated school and felt like outcasts." Monitoring social sites can also aid the detection of suicidal tendencies, the US's National Suicide Prevention Lifeline told us (it has profiles on MySpace where teens can get their friends help), as well as of eating disorders, self-mutilation, and substance abuse.