The Internet Parent
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Friday, September 28, 2007

Steriods for Sale on MySpace

And what else?

Just a quick Friday afternoon entry. The New York Times reported today in Steriods Sold on MySpace, by Thomas Kaplan, that, well, steriods are being sold on MySpace.

According to the article,
For teenagers who flock to the Web site to watch videos and connect with friends, ordering anabolic steroids took no more than a few extra mouse clicks, the authorities said. And with the Web site’s popularity among young people, some coaches in this area described the case as an unpleasant reminder about how easily minors can surreptitiously obtain performance-enhancing drugs.

MySpace users would simply send a message to a seller’s profile, according to Kevin J. O’Connor, the United States attorney in Connecticut.

AG Blumenthal of Connecticut has been applying pressure on MySpace for almost two years, looking for tighter controls, among them, age verification. As quoted in the article:
"Our focus as attorneys general has been on pornography and predators, but marketing illegal drugs is equally troubling and certainly shows the need for stronger controls and verification of age and identity. To put it very bluntly, if a seller of steroids knows that his identity will be checked and his age verified, he is much less likely to use a social-networking site."

It's yet another reminder that the Internet changes everything for your kids, and for you as a parent. As so simply and frankly stated by Tom Brockett, head coach of a top-ranked football team,
"The problem is, kids can get anything online, any day, anything they need. The more it’s thrown in their face, the easier it’s going to be."


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Facebook in NY AG's Cross-hairs

Safe from Predators, or Slow to Cure?

The New York Times reported in its September 25th article
New York Investigating Facebook's Safety Rules by Anne Bernard, that Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Attorney General, is investigating Facebook, the second largest social networking site behind MySpace, for "materially misleading" its customers. From the article:
On its site, Facebook calls itself a “trusted environment,” bans the posting of obscene or harmful material, and promises parents that it will remove offensive messages and photos and act appropriately in response to complaints.

At issue is whether Facebook is actually up to the task. The NY AG conducted what might be called either a "sting operation" or a "controlled test", depending on your perspective. After setting up fictitious profiles of girls (one identifying herself as 13 years old, which is not allowed by Facebook's terms of use, and one as 14), the profiles received (of course) sexual solicitations.

Then the investigators contacted Facebook in the role of the parent, identifying the offending content and profiles, and insisting on action. Neither the posts nor the profiles of the offenders were removed.

And what, exactly, does it mean when the company says,
"As our service continues to grow, so does our responsibility to our users to empower them with the tools necessary to communicate efficiently and safely."

It sounds a little like they're sidestepping their own responsibility to enforce their terms of use. A 13 or 14-year-old is not going to have the maturity to protect him- or herself, which is why kids have parents. And so if acting as a parent doesn't deliver the results -- because the company is either unwilling or incapable of acting -- all the user-tools in the world won't help.

I'm interested in what AG Cuomo discovers.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

MySpace to Offer Customized Ad Spots

From "My Billboard" to "Deep Inside My Closet"

If you thought that MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites were the epitome of lost privacy before, wait 'till you hear what's up next. According to the September 18th article MySpace to Discuss Effort to Customize Ads by Brad Stone of the New York Times (also published here at CNet), some rather personal things will be up...for sale.

Imagine all your most passionate likes and dislikes. Imagine them placed in context, like where you go to school, what teams you root for, and your favorite hang outs. Imagine further that they're placed in an almost idealized demographic profile that you have personally, painstakingly tuned.

Now imagine that they're all collected in one place, magically. But wait...there's not really any need to imagine, because that's your (or your kid's) MySpace page. I've always referred to it as "My Billboard".

Now, imagine that all that information is now for sale to the highest bidder, in the form of targeted ad space on that MySpace page.

Do the advertizers know the details of your child's lives? Perhaps not (yet). But any notion that your MySpace information is "just for fun and friends" is now officially out-the-window. Termed "hyper targeting", it's only a matter of time and temptation before the target becomes dramatically -- identifiably -- small.

And, according to Stone,
MySpace also plans to give its advertisers information about what kind of people its ads have attracted. "We want them to leave knowing more about their audience then when they came into the door," Arnie Gullov-Singh, a senior director at Fox Interactive.

I'm with Jeff Chester of the Center of the Center for Digital Democracy, who said,
"People should be able to congregate online with their friends without thinking that big brother, whether it is Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg, are stealthily peering in."

So, are you (and your kids) aware that "A Place for Friends" is about to be replaced by "a Goldmine for Advertizers"? Do you think that MySpace, FaceBook, and others are engaged in deceptive trade practices?

And, given that it's privacy we're talking about, does anybody under 25 care?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Books, Bits, or Both?

What's a Librarian to Do?

The Internet is a cultural tsunami. It even affects the quiet corners and stacks of your local public library. In the AP story, Libraries Face Internet Traffic Jam, Anick Jesdanun highlights that many libraries are struggling to balance their historical role of providing books and encouraging reading with their emerging role as Internet Cafe.

Not just a question of books vs. bits, librarians have to wrestle with how much Internet access capacity they should budget for, and what kind of "Internet experience" is within their charter. Because the Internet is much more than just an online bookshelf, we have to ask hard questions about why a library should provide Internet access, and for what purposes.

Priorities, priorities.

The question would be so easy to answer if the only thing folks did online was read and do research. But should we spend scarce public funds to make more room for Second Life, MySpace, and online chat users? Should we instead refocus those dollars on good, old-fashioned books and periodicals? Should we try to restrict the kinds of Internet activities that are allowed in a library, not for moral reasons necessarily, but for budgetary reasons?

What the heck is a library for, anyhow?

Tough questions. What do you think?

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Privacy Is The New Black...

...But There's No Money-Back Guarantee.

Major Internet companies are changing their policies regarding data retention, shortening the life of the information they keep. In March, Google announced that it will keep your data for only 18 months (previously until the year 2038). Microsoft is making similar moves. Government pressure and emerging privacy regulations are major drivers.

Several innovations are emerging to help you "sweep up your digital litter" and keep you anonymous. As cited in Wired Magazine, MyPrivacy, by ReputationDefender, lets users control how their personal data is brokered across the web. AskEraser from will let you scrub away your personal nuggets from that search-engine's data mine.

At the other end of the spectrum are Rapleaf, UpScoop, and their ilk, making a living of blending together your digital leftovers to create a delicious meal for the hungry marketer (see my previous post on the topic).

In the face of the assault on our privacy and the increasing risk of identity theft, we have to begin to ask difficult questions about how regulation and law should protect an individual's online information and identity. Hard questions to answer to be sure...and in many cases, hard questions to even formulate.

Worryingly, as pointed out on the EphemeralLaw blog, the courts are ruling that identity theft isn't a problem until it's too late, and serious (and potentially irreparable) damage is done. In a case of documented theft of customer data (from a bank, mind you!),

The consumers requested that the court grant them, among other relief, payment for the cost of credit monitoring services - a seemingly reasonable request, given the fact that their personal data was now in the hands of criminals who had likely stolen it for the specific purpose of facilitating identify theft. However, the seventh circuit decided that the harm suffered by the consumers was only potential harm, and therefore was not compensable under the relevant state law. True, the consumers had to pay for credit monitoring, but the court pointed out that they could not show that their identities had been stolen (yet), so the case was thrown out.

This approach has other fans. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) has a privacy framework based on the same notion. Google has proposed this same framework as a global privacy standard. In this article from CNet, Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleicher stated,
"Privacy standards should focus on actual harms to consumer privacy. Other countries have an ideological bent...APEC has a pragmatic focus on privacy harms...not abstractions."

I suggest that it doesn't look good for our privacy heroes. Why? Because in today's world where data is everywhere, and free, privacy costs money. And it seems that folks would rather be less poor than more private.

So while privacy might be the new black, it appears not to be as attractive as the old green.

What does this have to do with Internet Parenting? Simple: the sooner your kids start depositing digital litter, the harder it will be to erase their digital trail -- and you can be sure they're being tailed right now...

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Social Network Scrapers Make You Visible

Private I, Robot Is On Your Case

Stefanie Olsen of CNet wrote two articles (At Rapleaf, Your Personals are Public and People Search Engine Rapleaf Revises Privacy Policy) that shed light on an obscure and disturbing aspect of the new phenomenon of "reputation sites". Ms. Olsen introduced us to Rapleaf and UpScoop, two companies who, if you give them an email address, will provide a "report". UpScoop actually asks you to dump your whole contact list, so they can create a field of information about the connections and characteristics of your whole social circle.

The only problem is that, along with providing that information to you, they also keep it for themselves, so that when someone else comes along and asks about that same email address, the information is ready to hand over.

Are they violating privacy? Perhaps not. Remember, they're using all the public information available on the Internet to crawl through and assemble a picture. Kind of like an online private investigator trolling through your Internet litter.

And suddenly, you're much more visible.

I foolishly provided an email address of mine to Rapleaf. They promptly responded, "We don't know anything about this person...", and then, ominously, "...but we will soon!" I'm sure they meant it to sound helpful and cheery, but I found it disturbing.

Sure enough, several days later they had sent me an email, inviting me to "profile" myself. And not only that, they had cross-correlated my first email to a second email of mine, and sent me a profile invitation there, too.

Be careful. The Internet is a public place. And what you put out there is now being scoured by an army of well-trained digital "private dicks". And, according to Olsen, they'll share their findings with anyone who knows your email address, for the right price.

Does anybody else find this wrinkle to be a dark development?