Friday, January 25, 2008

Beginning of the end for online predators?

MySpace® is in the news, having reached an agreement with at least 49 states and the District of Columbia attempting to prevent sexual predators from using the site as a cyber trap. MySpace has agreed to add several layers of protection and develop new technologies including ways to verify the age of users.

It’s a common tactic used by predators and deviants to create false identities to lure unsuspecting kids. That cool 16-year-old guy might actually be a 45-year-old weirdo with a long rap sheet, his true identity hidden by online anonymity.

Keeping kids safe online isn’t new. Back in 2000 President Clinton signed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA legislation was originally introduced by Sen. John McCain of Arizona. There was a Supreme Court challenge to the law made by the American Library Association (ALA), but the court upheld the law.

This is all great news. Who isn’t against protecting our kids from the worst of society, predators who will stop at nothing to exploit or even kill a child lured by a trap set on the Internet?
"The Internet can be a dangerous place for children and young adults, with sexual predators surfing social networking sites in search of potential victims and cyber bullies sending threatening and anonymous messages," said New Jersey state Attorney General Anne Milgram.

I learned a lot about all this while working with author and cybercrime expert Jayne Hitchcock on our new tutorial, Protect Yourself Online. The Internet is full of anonymous users who can post just about anything they want, regardless of the truth. Predators and just plain cyber bullies troll the Net for victims.

Texas psychologist Shari Julian was quoted in a Denver Post article, “Craigslist develops a dark side” that the Internet has created “an “artificial” sense of community among the hateful.” Julian said “When you have a venue for ventilating your rage, your belief in that rage is ratified.”

For proof look no further than the story of a 13-year-old Missouri girl who was the victim of what she thought was her new cyber boyfriend on MySpace. The posts eventually turned hateful and due to this she committed suicide. It turns out the posts were actually the work of her next-door neighbor, the mother of a former friend.

Legislation and enforcement are two very different things. Again, when you have a group like the ALA challenging such laws, it makes it that more difficult to protect our kids from anonymous predators.

A novel approach is being taken in the Missouri case. According to the Los Angeles Times, a federal grand jury is issuing subpoenas to look into the circumstances of the case. Prosecutors are considering charging the neighbor, Lori Drew, with fraud against MySpace for creating a false account.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s the line between constitutionally protected free speech and conduct that is illegal, immoral or untruthful.

A long time ago, prosecutors never did nail Al Capone on murder. They instead convicted him of tax evasion. It will be interesting to see if the tactics taken by Los Angeles authorities, making MySpace a victim, will actually work.

At best, there may be some minor punishment doled out but as Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson said, “I doubt it’s really going to lead to the type of punishment people really want to see, which is the woman being held responsible for the girl’s death.”

It could set an important precedent and as with Capone, at least a measure of justice.

The announcements made by MySpace and laws like CIPA, are all tiny steps, which will be challenged by those who put the First Amendment above the safety of our kids. I really don’t think it has to come to choosing between the two.

Let’s not give up, especially when it comes to protecting kids from those who lurk on the Internet under a cloak of anonymity.
What do you think? Write me at


John W. Scherer

Friday, January 18, 2008

Small is big at CES

Imagine a football field sized room filled with all sorts of electronic toys and goodies. Then, multiply that by 90! That’s the size of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that was held January 7-10, in Las Vegas, Nev. Strangely, consumers aren’t invited to the show, just those in the business and those who cover the business of selling to consumers.

Among the highlights, Sony® introduced a 150 inch plasma TV. If you have over 12 feet of space on a wall in your house, this screen is for you. Also, Bill Gates bid farewell as he approaches retirement from Microsoft®.

The real news, however, is that small is big. To call the economic situation uncertain is an understatement. Many companies are hoping you’ll spend money on the content pipeline, multiple connected media types that fit in your pocket or purse, rather than the larger (and more expensive) TVs that take up an entire wall. While the line is becoming blurred between computer and TV entertainment, the mobile phone is becoming the true center of attention.

We’ve developed an insatiable appetite to be connected to the Internet regardless of where we are, simply because we can.

Music, e-mail, pictures, Internet access and even live television will all be options available to you on your phone.

However, no device does it all.

Simply because of content providers and owners, no studio, record label or other outlet is able, nor willing, to come up with a universal pricing policy. It would take an electronics industry version of the United Nations to make it work and let’s face it; the UN simply does not work very well.

That said; you as a consumer will be in pretty good shape when it comes to choice based on competition. We’re all part of an international market place and while you won’t be able to have it all, you will still be able to have a huge variety of content and a fast connection. You will even have choices between either low-cost or free service, if you’re willing to watch an ad before you make a call or access certain content. Which means it’s entirely possible for those political ads you hate so much to be on your phone or latest electronic device!

A generation ago, we bought televisions and phones with the expectation of having them for several years. Today many of you think in terms of just several months, because something newer and better is always around the corner.

Bob Dylan had it right years ago. “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” so is technology and the availability of the next big thing.

It’s always good to hear from you, drop me an e-mail anytime at


John W. Scherer

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thanks for making my point, Goofy!

I was among the millions going to the movies over the holidays and once again the folks at Walt Disney® proved they're simply the best at what they do. I hope you had a chance to see "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." Without giving away the plot, I am happy to report that there will be yet another sequel! I wonder what's on page 47?

A nice surprise before the movie started was a genuine, old-style Disney cartoon starring Goofy. At first I thought it was a nostalgic cartoon from the Disney archives. When I looked at the art and animation, I thought I was in for a wonderful trip back to the days of my childhood when before every movie there were a few cartoons.

The subject matter, however, was definitely 21st century. In the cartoon, Goofy is portrayed as a TV and sports nut who realizes he's missing out on the modern technology of HD flat screens, Digital Video Recorders with movie theater sound along with satellite or digital cable.

So ole' Goofy heads to the nearest electronics superstore and buys the latest in video and audio technology in sight.

The cartoon takes a hilarious turn when he waits for everything to be delivered. You know, the “between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.” promise that is never met. Once his packages arrive, Goofy is surrounded by stacks of boxes with “easy” instructions that look more like the plans to the International Space Station than directions on how to set-up your new flat screen TV.

Goofy gives it his best shot but when he plugs in the power, everything blows up, including the roof of his house sending Goofy into orbit.

This, of course, reminded me of the commercial featuring a couple of guys who are playing a baseball video game using sensor controlled hand devices . One of the guys accidentally tosses the controller at the flat screen TV on the wall, shattering the TV.

When mainstream media starts poking fun at something, you know it's truly arrived.

In order to keep up with the ever-changing technology, I decided to produce our “Digital Devices Made Easy” lesson.

It is very likely that there was a high-tech device under your tree this year from phones that play videos, music and yes, even make phone calls to a home theater sound system and flat screen TV that actually places you in the middle of your favorite sport or movie.

And this week video rental giant Netflix® announced an agreement where they'll deliver rental movies directly to your television via a set-top box produced by LG Electronics. You'll need to have high-speed Internet to use the system.

More wires and more boxes.

While all this is very cool and fun to use, hooking it all up is another matter! Instruction manuals remain complicated. You can choose the option of hiring someone to do it for you, just remember the installers do not work for free and always come with a “between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.” promise.

I would hate to see you end up like poor Goofy, or go goofy trying to hook cables to outputs and inputs, making sure your woofer isn’t where your satellite dish should be or vice-versa.

I recommend you take the least goofy route and try “Digital Devices Made Easy” for free.


John W. Scherer

Friday, January 04, 2008

How guarded is your gate?

I recently read a story about a home in a high-end gated community that was burglarized. The place was ransacked and many valuable items were taken. The owners were surprised because they lived in a gated and walled community.

The police told them the crooks simply crawled over those gates and walls.

So how about the gates and walls around your computer?

We just partnered with author Jayne Hitchcock for a new set of lessons based on her book, “Net Crimes & Misdemeanors.”  Not only is the book a real page-turner, it’s also an eye-opener. Look for our new lesson set called Protect Yourself Online from Video Professor this month.

I was once a victim of identity theft. So was Jayne. You can understand why we’re both so passionate about this subject. The Internet is an amazing thing. It’s an incredible cyber universe to explore, learn, socialize and shop, but it also has many dark and dangerous alleys.

Even some of the well-lit streets on the Net can be dangerous to the uninformed. You’ve likely heard of the Nigerian money offers scam where you receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be a relative of a deceased millionaire. You have been singled out amongst millions of people to assist them in moving several hundred millions of dollars from one bank account to another. Of course, you will be rewarded handsomely for your efforts. It all sounds, and is of course, preposterous. Yet, some very intelligent people fall for it, and lose thousands and thousands of dollars.

So if something as obvious and transparently bogus as the Nigerian money offers scam fools people, you can only imagine other devious tactics being used to separate you from your money, identity or both.

Twice as dangerous are the stories involving Internet predators. They’re especially adept at seeking out young and innocent kids via a myriad of social sites and chat rooms available on the Internet today. If you’re a worried parent, I don’t blame you one bit, just read the headlines every day. You can learn how to monitor your child’s activities on the Internet. It’s actually quite simple.

Other people will try to rip you off using fake auctions. One trick of some Internet auction sites is to conduct several, small transactions so you build up a good rating. Then the crook offers something of real value, you win the auction, send the check or even worse, turn over your credit card information, and then wait for something that never arrives.

Have you ever received an official notice from what appears to be your bank or a government agency? These look absolutely legitimate, right down to logos, language and forms asking for your personal information. This kind of online fraud is called phishing. I received one such e-mail last week. It had the logo of my bank on it and informed me that my account was locked and that I needed to click on the supplied link to verify my account information. It looked official, but misspellings, poor grammar, etc. quickly confirmed my suspicions. I notified the bank and deleted the e-mail.

Thousands of people fall for these phishing schemes each and every day, and lose their money, identity or both.

O.K., I guess I’ve scared you a bit. Truth be known, the Internet can be a very safe place. It’s a place to conduct business, to learn, to meet people and to expand your life experience. Who could have imagined earning a college degree from a prestigious university via computer, buying a car or booking a dream vacation via computer?

When you were a child your parents always told you to look both ways before crossing the street, you have to do the same thing on the information superhighway.

Like the folks who thought they were safe living in that gated community, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Working with Hitchcock was a great experience. I think you’ll both enjoy and be enlightened by this new set of lessons, available either on CD-ROM or online, which can be streamed directly to your computer.

Have prosperous and safe, 2008.


John W. Scherer