Parents, teens should discuss dangers of file-swapping
By Karen Thomas
Copying files from other people's computers raises copyright and ethical concerns as well as privacy and security issues.
You don't want strangers snooping around in your PC and gaining access to files. Or destroying information on your hard drive.
That's why parents need to talk with their teens about tech.
But talking about online habits can be difficult, says Anne Collier, creator of NetFamilyNews.org, a weekly online newsletter. "It's too hard to explain to Mom and Dad what they're doing online, and it's just daunting. ... Even though more parents are becoming aware of file sharing, it's still not top-of-mind for them."
It should be. Dozens of online companies, such as KaZaA (www.kazaa.com), LimeWire (www.limewire.com) and Gnutella (www.gnutella.com), offer networks for peer-to-peer file sharing, or P2P. P2P software allows an individual on a home PC to connect directly to the computers of other people they don't know and make copies of their files. When your computer is online, others have access to your files, too.
According to market research firm Ipsos-Reid, some 40 million Americans 19 percent of those ages 12 and older use P2P software. Dozens of private P2P networks now allow fans to pass files back and forth.
While some online files may be original creations posted by the copyright holder (a home-recorded original song, for example), many files are illegal. In addition to music, videos and commercial movies, some users of file-sharing programs trade in "warez" (pronounced "wares") slang for commercial software that's been pirated and posted online. Viruses and porn also are common.
Yet until there's a problem, many parents don't even know their kids have installed a P2P program.
Among specific concerns:
Security breaches. A report from Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs this summer cited a study that assessed the security problems with KaZaA. "A parent (with) ... a secure ... connection to a corporation for downloading and working on important confidential files, (could) have them inadvertently shared by a teenage son or daughter, without either party's knowledge," the report says.
Spyware. In attempts to make file sharing a profitable business, some P2P program creators have begun to bundle in "adware" and "spyware" applications, which allow marketers and other third parties to track consumers' online surfing and shopping habits to better target online ads.
Copyright issues. Unauthorized use of copyrighted material is a violation of most Internet access providers' terms of service, and companies are increasingly taking action against users when violations are reported.