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Friday, October 26, 2007

Social networker age verification revisited

Parents often ask us why on Earth social-networking sites can't just block teens altogether - verify their ages or something? After all, it's all over the US news media that attorneys general are calling for age verification. Well, we have been replying for months that it just wouldn't work (e.g., see "Verifying kids' ages: Key question for parents"). But don't take it from us this time. The UK-based Financial Times has an editorial on this saying the exact same thing. Why wouldn't it work? "The practical problems are considerable. Fourteen-year-olds do not have drivers’ licences and credit cards that can be checked via established agencies. The sites could insist on verifying the parents, but anyone who believes that a teenager will not 'borrow' his father’s Visa has never been 14 years old." Also, think about how hard it is accurately to verify kids' ages in person, at the door of a nightclub, much less over the anonymous Internet with no physical evidence or view of the person's face.

And then what would the result be? "The consequences of successful age verification, meanwhile, would be even worse," the FT continues. "Minors would be driven off mainstream sites such as MySpace and Facebook and on to unaccountable offshore alternatives or the chaos of newsgroups," which we tell parents all the time - because kids are experts at finding workarounds. "There they would be far more vulnerable than on MySpace, which now makes efforts to keep tabs on its users." In other words, parents probably want their kids in sites that have customer service departments that actually respond to abuse reports and parents' complaints. MySpace has an email address just for parents (, as well as ones for educators and law enforcement. [For more on age verification, see a blog post from Adam Thierer of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, complete with a podcast he did with other experts on the issue. The FT also this week published a summary on where social-networking sites, attorneys general, and all the rest of are on all this.]


US sites, foreign social networking

When the user-driven social Web meets the fairly evolved consumer-privacy and free-speech laws of the US (where many social-networking sites are based) meets the laws and sensibilities of the country where the US company's customers are, things get complicated. And very messy, sometimes. Take Brazil, for example. There, Google's social-networking site "has become a major center of Brazilian social life, with two-thirds of all Internet surfers using the service, many of them children, the Wall Street Journal reports. And some of them criminals. While many Orkut "communities were built around such themes as soccer, love and overcoming injustice" (almost 400,000 people are members of a group called "My mother is the best on Earth"), "criminal elements also connected with each other and recruited sympathizers on the site, including neo-Nazis, organized gangs and pedophiles." So early on, in its zeal to protect its users' free speech and privacy, Google was much less responsive to Brazilian users' complaints and law-enforcement subpoenas than some prosecutors - and potential advertisers - in Brazil found satisfactory. Thus the story of how one country - and its watchdogs, in the business community and children's advocacy - is dealing with the social Web, an interesting case study for everyone interested in this intersection of law enforcement, civil liberties, and the social Web.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Microsoft's moves in social space

More obvious this week were Microsoft's plans for the social Web both mobile and fixed. CEO Steve Ballmer said in a keynote at the mobile phone industry's (CTIA's) big fall 2007 trade show in San Francisco that the mobile phone is becoming "the universal remote control for your life" (see this CNET blog post). That's becoming true especially for teenagers, who already move fluidly from computer to phone to "real life" when they socialize, whether they're talking, texting, blogging, commenting, or sharing music, photos and video - and mobiles are simply the most handy, portable device to enable all that social self-expression. Microsoft right now appears to be focusing more on the business ("enterprise") mobile market, but it certainly gets the importance of mobile devices going forward. The company also announced this week it would pay $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, beating out similar bids from Yahoo and Google. This probably won't affect young Facebook users much. It just says something about the current value and possible staying power of social networking on the Web. "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks prescient for refusing to sell the Palo Alto startup to Yahoo for an estimated $1 billion last year. Wednesday's deal sets the worth of the 23-year-old, who owns a 20 percent share, at an estimated $3 billion," the Chronicle adds.

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Social-networking sights on Asia

There's a "colossal scrum among the world's biggest social networks for the hearts and mouse clicks of millions of people in India, China, and elsewhere in Asia," Business Week reports. It adds that MySpace and Facebook are scrambling to replace "established homegrown networks and foreign sites, especially Orkut and Friendster" (Orkut has a well-established beachhead in India, which also has at least a dozen "homegrown" social sites, and Friendster in Southeast Asia). MSNBC reports that "MySpace began rolling out local language sites about a year and a half ago and now has 24 in 20 countries, in 12 languages, including French, German and Japanese," though France-based Skyrock has about 70% of that country's social-networking market. " In Poland, local site has a strong following, with more than 1.3m registered users. In Russia, LiveJournal, a San Francisco-based blogging site, has a strong following, and Yandex, a local company that dominates the country's internet search market, far overshadowing Google, owns its own social networking site,"


Oz kids: Pros on Web

Most Australian children go online for the first time between the ages of 5 and 10 and quickly become Net regulars, "with two-thirds of children logging on from home at least twice a week and 43% doing so daily," Australian IT reports, citing a new report from Nielsen/NetRatings. Nearly half of Australians 6-17 are online daily, the study also found. Older teens "are wedded to the world of Wikipedia, email and social networking, with 75% of those aged 15 to 17 going online daily for study and to chat with friends." Adults with children are likely to be more Net-literate than those without, and parents have "a high level of trust" in the way their kids are managing their personal info online, according to Nielsen. On a recent visit to Oz, author and pundit Howard Rheingold had some thoughts for parents, recorded in the Sydney Morning Herald. And brace yourselves, fellow parents Down Under: video-sharing just got more convenient and local for your kids; YouTube launched its Australian site, Australian IT reports that YouTube just launched its Australian site.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kids' screen time

Nearly half of US parents say their kids watch too much TV and "about a third of parents believe the Internet sucks up too much of their child's time," CNET reports. Where the Net's concerned, how much time is that? "More than three-quarters of Americans age 12 and older spend about 8.9 hours online per week, up about an hour from a 2005 study from the USC-Annenberg Digital Future Project," CNET says. "But young people, specifically ages 8 to 18, spend about an hour on the computer and 49 minutes playing video games per day, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation." The article cites the view of founder Jim Steyer that the need is for engaged parents promoting balance among all of a children's activities, on screen and off (see Common Sense's "Tips for a Healthy Media Diet for Young Kids").

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Family PC purchase decisions

There's help from the Wall Street Journal, where tech writer Walt Mossberg says people who prefer Windows XP can still get it on some new PCs (e.g., Dells), and there's reason to do so. He offers a host of tips on what to look for in purchasing any PC or laptop, from OS to hard drive to memory to the benefits of buying home vs. business computers.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Teen privacy: New standards?

It seems self-exposure, or assertively forgoing privacy, is for teens "as natural as brushing their teeth," writes Janet Kornblum of USATODAY. They seek feedback on themselves constantly, Janet quotes one expert as saying. Another told her that teens understand privacy but simply choose to be "out there" because that's how things happen. It's about marketing. Or just staying in touch, which outweighs the potential downside (reputation issues). So they just develop a thicker skin and/or learn how to manage their public persona (see "Online spin control").

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New platform for self-exposure

Consider the privacy issue in light of the social networking that's becoming increasingly common on and with cellphones. "Almost 55% of all mobile phones sold today in the United States have the [GPS] technology that makes friend-and- family-tracking services possible," the New York Times reports, zooming in on one such service, loopt. In another article, it reports that Google has just acquired phone-based "micro-blogging" service Jaiku in Finland. The article talks about the potential for 24/7 "live diaries," which doesn't sound that different from a Web-based social-networking profile or blog; it merely provides a new platform for teenage self-exposure. Jaiku says it's trying to strike a balance between giving users privacy options and the convenience they seem to expect. The problem is, as an executive told the Times, a lot of people have this illusion that they enjoy privacy when they actually don't. I suspect that's even more true with teens if they even care about privacy - they err on the side of believing their privacy's protected. Jaiku told the Times it "extracts a lot of information automatically" from user's phones - something for parents, online-safety advocates, and policymakers to think seriously about. [Last month Google bought mobile-social-networking startup Zingku last month, the San Francisco Chronicle reports in "Mobile social networking taking off," which also mentions phone-based photo-sharing services Radar and Zannel. Photo-sharing is another favorite social activity among teens and 20-somethings.]

[We'd love to hear your views on and experiences with any of the above in our parent-and-teen forum,]

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Copyright protction on social Web: Latest

If your child loves creating his or her own music, ski, or skateboard videos or mixing others' footage and music into new mashups, that is really cool. But now would be a good time to talk with him or her about how Web sites are getting more strict about protecting copyrights. A handful of very large media and social-Web companies have created a coalition designed to protect copyrights on sites such as MySpace, the Associated Press reports. YouTube would logically be one of them but didn't join the coalition, possibly because of Viacom's lawsuit against it; it did, however just announce its own copyright protection plan (more on that in a moment). The coalition announced some copyright-protection guidelines for the industry to follow, including 1) having in place by the end of the year "filtering software that blocks all content media companies flag as being unauthorized," 2) keeping the filters up to date, and 3) "cooperation between media and Web companies to allow 'wholly original' user-generated videos to be posted and to accommodate 'fair use' of copyrighted material as allowed under law. Coalition members include Disney, Viacom, CBS, NBC, and News Corp. on the media side and Microsoft, MySpace (whose parent is News Corp.), Veoh Networks and Dailymotion on the Web side. YouTube's new copyright-protection system employs "software to find unique characteristics in the clips so it can detect copies posted by YouTube users without permission," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Media companies can ask Google to automatically delete every unauthorized copy - or to slap ads on the clips and promote them." Both the AP and the L.A. Times said neither the new coalition nor YouTube have as yet defined "fair use," though both said fair use of copyrighted material would be allowed. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, interest in watching TV shows on the Web is growing. "This week, two research organizations, TNS and the Conference Board, issued a report indicating that the number of people who watch TV shows online has doubled in the last year," the New York Times reports.

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