OPINION

Death by Prank, Why Disney Is Safest Online, How Apple Plans to Kill CES, Product of the Week

It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re probably thinking more about what you are going to open tomorrow than anything else, so I was tempted to keep this light.

However, I was pulled onto a TV news program to talk about what may be the most dangerous prank of the year and I want to make sure you and your families are protected from it.

In addition, last week I spent some time going over Disney’s current and future Web properties and have concluded that Disney is likely the most serious about the safety of your children of any of the properties targeting kids — and their “Pirates of the Caribbean” game is actually rather good.

We are also approaching CES, and Apple stole its thunder last year with the iPhone. It plans to do it again, and the Silicon Valley is buzzing with speculation over Apple’s plans.

As always, we’ll close with my product of the week. This week, it is a security product that includes general support for your entire PC, which helps give folks like me some needed time off during the holidays.

Swatting: The Most Dangerous Prank Yet

Swatting is something even I hadn’t heard about until recently. It is the practice of spoofing the caller ID system to make a 9-1-1 call that looks like it is coming from somewhere else.

The caller alleges that they are reporting some kind of armed attack, which results in SWAT being called out to the target home and the target family being put under gunpoint. It sounds kind of funny until you realize that these police officers might be pulled from a real emergency where they could be saving lives, could mistake a home owner for a criminal and accidentally shoot them dead, or be injured during the response.

Folks who have been caught doing this have received felony convictions and sentences that can exceed 15 years in prison, which certainly takes the smile off of their faces. Having a felony conviction also will keep them out of a wide variety of jobs and sports for the rest of their lives.

This is not trivial, and the practice has been accelerating, so it may be wise to make sure your kids are not foolish enough to get involved in this. It isn’t particularly hard to do, sounds like a lot of fun, and kids’ generally don’t yet comprehend consequences of their actions. So far, I’m not aware of this happening to schools, other public institutions or companies, but I think it’s only a matter of time. Company policy and practices should be altered to deal with this from a disgruntled customer or employee.

The new year will likely see an increase in a broad number of cyber-attacks, and swatting is only one of a number we are seeing in the market. It’s the only one that has the potential to be life-threatening, so we are mentioning it here. However, you should make sure your kids and employees are alert and know where to report anything that looks suspicions or anyone who is talking about doing something like this (and at least have the tools to talk them out of it).

Why Disney Online Is So Safe

Speaking of safety, with all of the concerns surrounding MySpace and predators, it was refreshing to do a deep dive at Disney Online and be walked though the huge effort made there to make sure our children are safe. There are a lot of concerns surrounding both violence and controlled substances in games and the tug-of-war between the game industry and concerned parents in this regard. In this, Disney is on the parents’ side and it goes though a great deal of trouble to make sure its sites are not attractive to predators.

This is achieved by making sure parents control just how much freedom their kids have on Disney properties and by employing tools like speed chat (you can only chat using preapproved menu-driven phrases, which actually is faster than normal chat) white-listed chat (you can only use approved words, and phrases are moderated), or moderated full chat, which can identify and boot children or adults who are misbehaving.

Unlike most gaming companies, Disney actually builds sites for little girls, and its Fairies site is an example of that. There, little girls can design their fairies, dress them and design the room the fairies reside in. They have thousands of girls safely participating in this activity. Of course, as I’m watching the presentation, I’m thinking that with some automatic weapons and missiles, these little guys would be a lot more fun once we go to the 3-D Web and I can raid Second Life meetings — but that’s not the goal of this site.

Perhaps the most advanced of the Disney games is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” offering. While this has some violence, it is actually much less than is actually in the movie, and the extreme care Disney took to balance the fun of the game with the need to keep the violence at a play — rather than reality — level.

You can actually play a lot of this game for free, and if you want to have your kids kill a little time over the Christmas break playing pirate, this is arguably the safest place they can do that. What else makes this different is the game runs on relatively old hardware so most kids can play this. It is amazing how good an experience they give with that in mind.

Finally, if you want to just see some truly excellent targeted Web design and haven’t seen the Disney site, you should check it out. We actually do Web design as a company, and the Disney property represents one of the best tightly targeted sites on the Web. Simply excellent work.

Apple’s Plan to Eclipse CES Again

Talking about excellent work, 2007 was Apple’s year, and it clearly plan to do it again in 2008. Personally, I think Apple will have a problem given how many folks want to stomp it out next year, but the folks in Cupertino are clearly starting with a huge effort if the rumors buzzing around the Silicon Valley are correct.

We already know about the 3G iPhone — thanks largely to AT&T’s loose lips — but there is nothing to say it can’t be refreshed a bit since 3G will require a more power-hungry radio. Apple also is expected to announce the long-anticipated native Microsoft Exchange support and security features, which could get it accepted into large businesses. Some of this may be retrofitted to existing iPhones so current users don’t revolt.

However, the big buzz is on the laptop refresh. The new products are supposed to be vastly thinner, and there is even a credible rumor that we might actually see one with the first PC multi-touch interface. Solid state hard drives are expected at least as an option, if not a standard configuration. This would result in battery life and performance advancements to go with the svelte new appearance.

Given Apple appears to be moving to metals, I’m thinking this is likely as well. The new Apple notebooks — you have to admit the line was looking kind of dated — could return Apple to the design lead that Dell and HP have been working to take away.

Of course, there is a massive amount going on at CES to offset this, so this year there may be more of a fight than last year but we’ll be watching Apple for some big surprises come January.

Product of the Week: CyberDefender and Free Day of Tech Support

CyberDefender makes a nice antivirus product that often gets eclipsed by the bigger offerings. The reason it is my product of the week is that you get a free day of setup and tech support on Dec. 26, when a lot of you will be trying to get your new computers working.

Given I tend to get a lot of calls on this subject on this day, my hope is you’ll call them rather than folks like me and get real professional help and let your family or neighborhood tech support guy have the week off. We need it.

As part of the package, CyberDefender offers full-system call-in tech support, which has been getting strong positive feedback.

In any case, anyone that gives me time off anytime will be a natural for my product of the week, and that clearly is the case here.

It is my hope you have a wonderful holiday season and that you and your family have a nice safe, fun and relaxing holiday.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


1 Comment

  • I don’t normally sign up to web sites. but I did register with Technewsworld purely so I could comment on Rob Enderle’s piece about "How Apple Plans to Kill CES" I happened to be casually reading this item when I noticed the phrase "I think Apple will have a problem given how many folks want to stomp it out next year".
    I should declare my interest to the extent that I am an Apple Mac user and have been since 1989, and I am not unaware of the "badinage" between PC and Mac users, but in truth I don’t really take that much notice of what goes on in this rivalry.
    My point is, (and my disquiet at the tone of the article) is why would anyone want to "stomp on" Apple? What does that mean? Do people want to destroy Apple? Do other companies want to throw thousands of people out of work? Do rivals want to cripple the Company so it ceases to function properly? Does Ford want to "stomp on" Nissan? Does Rob Enderle want to "stomp on" other Tech columnists who might beat him to a story?
    Apple has certainly had some success over the last few years, but I don’t really see any other Companies hurting as a result (perhaps one or two on-line music providers – hardly the core of America’s industrial future).
    Rtaher than "wanting to stomp on", I would have thought the US tech sector in particular and US industry in general would want to celebrate and proclaim Apple’s success.
    Never mind that it is likely that we will probably all be feeling a severe recession next year, it’s a very competitive world out there and the industrial, political and cultural landscape is experiencing a tectonic shift, where America is by no means certain to emerge a winner.
    US industry should raise their eyes above the parapet and support success rather than try to destroy each other for some short term and ephemeral gain.
    And commentators like Rob Enderle should be leading the cry against such nasty and self defeating strategies, not observing (or I suspect cheerleading) that Apple may "have a problem next year".

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