By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: June 29, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Alex Strand, a 24-year-old techie, got the idea for parent-friendly software to monitor kids' MySpace profiles in March, following a battery of negative news that painted the social network as a haven for child stalkers and clueless kids.
Strand's site MySpacewatch.com is like a search engine, as he calls it, that alerts users to changes in MySpace member profiles, their log-in history and any comments posted to a particular page via RSS. For access to stats on one MySpace profile, the service is free. Keeping tabs on up to five profiles costs $6.
Far from a hearty business--Strand says it has only 3,800 members, 30 of which pay--it seems to be more of a social experiment.
"I started it as being a way for parents to check out what their kids are doing in a good way," Strand, a self-described "consultant," said in a phone interview. "I've gotten a lot of strange parents, too, that use it as a way (to monitor kids) instead of talking to their kids, which I think is backwards."
Half of MySpacewatch members are parents, Strand estimates, while the other half are primarily people who monitor a friend's MySpace profiles, or their own. Despite some worry that MySpacewatch is used by predators to watch kids pages, Strand said he "would hope not, but realistically, I don't know."
However, he pointed out that the site does not provide any more information than what people can already access on MySpace. And MySpace's new safety controls, which restrict pages of kids under 16 from access by older people, would naturally bar rogue members. The safety controls even bar parents from viewing their child's page, according to Strand, who has gotten several requests from parents to hack into private pages.
"I always tell parents, 'I'm not trying to circumvent that,'" he said. If they ask, which they have, "My position is like, 'You're crazy.' If you do that for a parent, then any weirdo out there can use it for the same reason."
Still, plenty of tools are cropping up to monitor usage on MySpace. A service called Chatchecker recently added tools that let parents snoop on kids using MySpace instant messaging. Among its services are e-mail alerts to "dangerous conversations" in IM that include specific words. Still, many kids use acronyms or specially constructed language in their conversations with the knowledge that their parents might be watching.
Strand may run into some trouble with his project. Another MySpace-watch service called KidQuery.com closed after one of the engineers realized it could violate the terms of service of MySpace, which restricts other services from crawling and lifting data from its network. And recently, a site called Singlestat.us, which displayed member profiles from MySpace users that were listed as single, received a cease-and-desist letter from the company. Singlestat.us promptly shut off its service.
"I'm just waiting for the cease-and-desist letter," Strand joked, quickly clarifying that's not what he wants.Face-off with Facebook
Meanwhile, more schools have out and out barred social networks from their campuses.
The latest is Kent State, which has banned student athletes from posting profiles on Facebook--the most popular social network on college campuses. The athletic department has reportedly given students until Aug. 1 to remove their profiles.
The reason? The school was concerned with protecting its image--at least one student athlete had posted a shirtless photo of himself holding a Miller Lite. The school says it also wants to shield students from over-eager fans or predators who might extract personal information from their profiles.
But that mandate might not go over well with free-speech advocates or students, many of whom have grown accustomed to giving out their Facebook name, in lieu of a phone number or e-mail address.
(As many as 75 percent of college students have used Facebook, according to the company.)
Earlier incidences at colleges including Elon University in North Carolina, and Loyola and Northwestern Universities in Chicago have prompted those athletic departments to restrict use of Facebook. Elon University, which was founded by the United Church of Christ, crafted rules against posting photos online after pictures of its men's baseball team dressed in women's underwear surfaced on Facebook, and then resurfaced on Badjocks.com, a sports gossip site.
While colleges are dealing with a little too much technology, grammar schools and high schools can't seem to get enough.
According to an annual survey issued this week, 50 percent of U.S. teachers said that they would integrate technology into the daily curriculum if it weren't for time and budget constraints, as well as lack of access to reliable technology. Elementary school teachers were more pressed for time, while middle and high school teachers said they just didn't have the technology on hand, according to the survey, called Teachers Talk Tech.
The study, conducted by software company CDW Government in partnership with a Scholastic subsidiary, drew on interviews with 1,000 K-12 teachers from around the country.
The majority of the teachers said they believed technology was key to engaging students and improving their performance--and that technology-aided lesson plans would prepare kids for future careers in the 21st century. Despite that, only 37 percent of instructors said they use technology in the classroom daily. Sixty-seven percent said that they involve technology in the classroom three times a week, however.
"Today's students already know how to operate computers; they blog, they text message, they have their own Web sites. We want to help students and teachers see technology as a means to improve learning and performance," said Chris Rother, a group vice president of CDW-G, a unit of CDW that sells software for the classroom.
Send insights or tips on this topic to email@example.com.
Stefanie Olsen covers science and technology for CNET News.com. In this series, she examines the young generation's unique immersion in the Web, cell phones, IM and online communities.
Sit down with children when they're online, and make sure they visit only Web sites that are parent-approved. The American Library Association lists great sites for kids on its Web site.
Use child-friendly search engines or one with parental controls. KidsClick, for example, is a Web search site by librarians.
Establish a family e-mail account.
Talk to children about their online activities and online friends because to them, the Internet is an extension of the real world.
Establish rules for the Internet. Studies from Canada's Media Awareness group have shown that children respond positively to established rules.
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