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July 28, 2001 02:36am
Lawmakers Say Napster's Heirs Expose Kids To Porn
Source: News Wire

Teenagers in search of music at any one of dozens of peer-to-peer file sharing networks that have sprung up since Napster's demise are more likely to find smut instead of the latest pop single on such networks, a congressional report warns.

"When I looked at what's available to our children 24 hours per day, seven days a week - without restrictions or any cost - through these new programs, the debate over V-chips and rock lyrics seems almost quaint," said House Governmental Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Henry Waxman, of California.

Waxman said he and Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., commissioned the report after learning that file-sharing networks such as BearShare, Aimster, MusicCity and Morpheus allow users to download not just music files, but also explicit video and text files. And lots of them, it seems.

According to the committee's Special Investigations Division, a single search for the term "porn" on BearShare yielded over 25,000 entries, more than 10,000 of which were video files that require no charge or age restriction to download. Six of the top 10 searches on a recent day were for "porn," "sex," "XXX," and other porn terms, the report notes.

When special investigations division used the popular file-sharing program Aimster to search for videos of Britney Spears, over 70 percent of the results were pornographic files.

In the wake of Napster's legal defeat at the hands of the recording industry, its millions of users have flocked to peer-to-peer networks in search of music files. Unlike Napster, peer-to-peer networks BearShare and Aimster do not rely on a central server but instead operate like a series of interconnected virtual private networks, making it nearly impossible to hold any one person or group accountable.

While Napster use has dropped off precipitously in the past three weeks, the study notes that during the one-week period between July 8 and July 15, more than 3 million copies of the new file-sharing programs have been downloaded from just one of the many sites that offer the free software.

"Just last night, there were over 500,000 users who were simultaneously logged into just one of these programs, Music City," Waxman said. "That makes Music City just as popular as Napster was one year ago."

There is ample evidence that kids are tuning in to the new offerings. At the annual Plug.In digital music conference in New York City this week, a panel of teenagers was invited to speak their mind on the new file-sharing technologies.

Dan, a 17-year-old from Long Island said he formerly used Napster, but now he's now a dedicated LimeWire user, in large part due to its abundance of scintillating content.

"The selection is not that big, and sometimes it's confusing," Dan said. "But you're all adults, I'm not gonna lie to you: being able to download free porn is definitely a plus."

The lawmakers said parents who blindly expect Internet content filters to block access to the files over peer-to-peer networks are kidding themselves, as such software is generally designed to block access to pornography from Web sites, not through file-sharing networks.

When installed in their default configuration - the setting most used by parents - five of seven popular parent control programs examined in the report did not even offer that functionality for pornography obtained through peer-to-peer networks.

David D'Andrea, a product developer for NetNanny, said the company is working to incorporate some form of protection against porn obtained via peer-to-peer networks in the next version of its software.

"We in the midst of trying to determine what type of features to block and peer-to-peer is numero uno on the list," D'Andrea said. "The biggest problem we have with our software is the fact that the kids are smarter than the parents and know how to disable this."

While it will continue to offer support for legacy systems, D'Andrea said, NetNanny is banking on Microsoft's upcoming Windows XP operating system to add some degree of added functionality to its software. XP is expected to allow users to manage a number of user accounts on one computer, each with its own set of privileges and rights that can be set by the administrator - presumably the parent.

Largent and Waxman acknowledged that there is no real legislative remedy for the problem, saying the purpose of the report was to raise parental awareness. Largent said lawmakers would continue to call on the Justice Department to enforce obscenity laws on the books, adding that he has written U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft about the issue.

"Our major point is to let parents know about the problems posed by this new technology," Waxman said. "Parent's can't develop a strategy for coping with the issues associated with file-sharing networks if they don't even know that these issues exist."

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