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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Celebrity news, holidays & malware

Families certainly don't need computer hassles during the holidays, but this highly social time is right when everybody needs to be a little extra alert to social engineering. Here's what social engineering looks like this week, at the convergence of last-minute holiday distractions and the sudden death of a young actor, Brittany Murphy. "As a young star in movies that were highly popular with a younger audience, Brittany may currently be the search engine topic of choice among your own children," writes Trend Micro's Net-safety activist Lynette Owens in her blog. "Regardless of whether or not you knew who she was or how much talent you thought she had, many people are crowding on the internet to find out more about her and what lead to her death." So what happens? "Alongside the stories about Brittany in a Google search, researchers at Trend Micro found links to hoax Web sites purporting to offer information about her death.... If you clicked on these links you would see a pop-up message telling you that your computer has been infected with a virus and you need to scan it immediately." Select "ok," and you get a screen saying your system's being scanned. Once the fake scan is "done," you get another screen prompting you to download free security software. Click "ok" again, and the intruder opens a door in your system that can give the source of this scam control of it.

Another scam this year is offers of "free" versions of the film Avatar. In its security blog, Symantec says "there are literally hundreds of ... scam sites and pages trying to cash in on the hype around this new film. All of these sites are offering full free downloads or streaming videos of this new film.... Some are collecting email addresses, others are trying to get you fill in surveys, IQ tests, and so on that will eventually ask you to enter in your mobile phone number, which will sign you up for some unwanted and subscription-based, premium-rate services," among other potential problems.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

YouTube, Facebook & friends' videos

YouTube's getting a little more social with Facebook. It's a little buggy as yet, CNET reports, but "YouTube is pushing its Facebook Connect integration further by allowing its users to see the videos that their friends share on Facebook. YouTube users had previously been able to find their Facebook friends on YouTube as well as update their Facebook profile with their various actions from the site." This certainly makes sense. Here's YouTube's version of the story. There's a screenshot of what the integration looks like in Facebook in the CNET article.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Soft power' works better: Parenting social Web users

We're in quite a fix, we parents, over this "sexting" phenomenon. On the one hand, sexting "is causing growing concern among parents," HealthDay cites a University of Michigan survey as finding. On the other, "the real problem sets in when grownups get involved," writes columnist Conor Friedersdorf, pointing to the evidence: "In most cases, teens who conceal their sexting from authority figures suffer negligible adverse consequences.... Perversely, however, tragic stories that begin with 'sexting' are all too frequent when principals, police officers, or district attorneys get involved. The two known suicides attributed to 'sexting' actually resulted from adults who exacerbated, rather than stopped, the abhorrent 'slut-shaming' that peers callously directed at girls whose naked photos were spread around school; and authority figures in at least six states charge less troubled teens who send naked pictures of themselves with distributing child pornography!" [And I can't resist quoting where Friedersdorf goes with this child-porn-law point: "Should technology ever permit humans to download our brains' mental images to a hard drive, every last teenager in America will wind up prohibited from living within 10,000 feet of themselves" – but maybe quite a few adults too, no?]

I think he's right. Whether or not you agree that sexting is digitally exacerbated normative adolescent behavior, I hope you agree that adults need to tread very lightly or at least carefully in these situations, with child-pornography law a factor (see ConnectSafely's tips). But forget about school policy and law enforcement for a second and just think about parenting: Certainly we need to apply our values to our parenting and, if those values call for it, try to mitigate the sexualized media environment surrounding us all, but it's best to spread that teaching and parenting out over time and not allow ourselves to be so shocked by what we're seeing as to react in ways that send kids into determined resistance, "underground" online, where our values probably don't have much influence at all.

Cornell University assistant professor Sahara Byrne, while presenting a survey of parents and kids about online-safety strategies at the Harvard Berkman Center last week, found all kinds of evidence that "the more angry kids are, the more they're going to try to restore their freedom" – or assert it. That's why sudden changes in parenting style like overreaction or anger, banning technology (which to a teen can be like banning a whole social life), or suddenly installing monitoring software can have unintended, sometimes risky effects and workarounds.

So we're not really in such a fix, fellow parents. We just need to mindful of the concerns we have and channel them wisely. Trying to make our children avoid risk altogether can be riskier than being consistent about "our family's values," letting them do developmentally appropriate adolescent risk assessment, and being there for them when stuff comes up. I love how parent and media professor Henry Jenkins says it – that we need to "watch their backs rather than snoop over their shoulders."

Related links

  • "Sahara Byrne: Parents, Kids & Online Safety" in the blog of Prof. John Palfrey, co-director of Harvard Unviersity's Berkman Center for Internet & Society
  • Latest data (from Pew/Internet last week): "Sexting: New study & the 'Truth or Dare' scenario"
  • Prof. Sahara Byrne's presentation on parenting & online safety (I'll be posting more on this)
  • "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth"
  • ConnectSafely's tips to prevent bad effects from teens sexting

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  • Monday, December 21, 2009

    Teens taking Facebook breaks together

    I think it's not so much taking a break from technology as it is from high school drama – though social networking does make it easy to have the drama in their faces 24/7, if they allow it to. The New York Times tells of two high school juniors in San Francisco who, "by mutual agreement," allow themselves to log on to Facebook only the first Saturday of each month. "The two are among the many teenagers, especially girls, who are recognizing the huge distraction Facebook presents – the hours it consumes every day, to say nothing of the toll it takes during finals and college applications, according to parents, teachers and the students themselves," the Times reports. Some deactivate their accounts, others form support group (not Facebook groups!) to help each other stay away. The Times cites the view of a psychologist and "Internet addiction" center director that Facebook's just like any other addiction. I'm no psychologist, but I do think it might be partly the real-life reality TV of school life that's addictive. On p. 2 of the article, the view of educator and author Rachel Simmons seems to agree when she refers to how hard it can be for teens to turn away from the sort of ticker tape of their social circle represented by Facebook's News Feed when they're "obsessed" with where they stand in that "social landscape." I'm impressed with the initiative they're taking (are they feeling that reflection time is healthy and acting on that?). But I wonder if, by creating agreements and forming support groups they're any less tethered to each other (see MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle's "Always-On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self") and using technology that much less. Do they not need texting and talking on mobile phones to maintain pacts and check up on each other? Still, I'm sure there are some adults just as addicted to drama who could take a queue from these high school students.

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