Category Archives: Technology

Digital Privacy is a Civil Right

There has been a lot of talk in the news about the weaponization of social media. What is often not discussed in these arguments is the interconnectedness of social media and digital, data privacy. While a great deal of attention has been paid to hacked and/or misused information (such as the Cambridge Analytica fiasco), the issues with digital privacy are much deeper than the lack of accountability by Facebook or Twitter.

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Even with all of the ink (digital and analogue) spilt on the topic, most individuals do not understand what data privacy is, why it’s important, or how it is used. The reality is that laws and regulations have not kept up with the rapid influx of computing devices and interconnected experiences in the world. As such, our information is out there – available to the world in never before seen ways, with unprecedented access and consequences. And social media (where some people argue you offer up your information freely) is not the sole bastion of privacy invasion. Internet search histories in your own home, household shopping tied to rewards or even credit cards, email exchanges, browser history, even parking data all fall into this realm of unprotected data privacy. Even more disturbing is that many of us (and our children) have smartphones which have become a portable GPS, telling our apps (and whoever they grant access to) a history of our daily travels.

Because we have virtually no regulations on how these firms collect, use, and share our data, digital privacy has become practically non-existent in the United States. The consequences for this are quite dire. For example, because we have no data privacy, it has given hostile, foreign governments an insight into our collective psyche and an avenue to sew greater decent. While Russian election meddling news coverage largely focused on conservative and right wing voters, the Russian governments insidious methods also focused on people of color. A report recently issued to the United States senate reported that Russian bots specifically targeted African Americans on Facebook and Twitter; the likely result was lower voter turnout and stoking of racial tensions and divisions in the United States.

Congress has failed to educate itself on how the internet and computing tools work, highlighted in their interviews of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. While coverage (and internet memes) focused on how clueless law makers are about “how the internet and technology work,” the real concern here should be how little congress has invested in learning about these tools and thus instituting effective protections for their constituents.

While there has been some focus on data privacy, the small and attainable semblances of it are still reserved for those who can pay. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, was lauded for his speech in Brussels in which he lambasted his fellow Silicon Valley technologists for their lack of concern over privacy and highlighted that Apple does not participate in data mining and distribution. However, Apple products cost a premium for their users (often 20-30% above their competitors), reserving Apples protections for those who can afford to pay.

This is not the bastion of only online tools and hardware. In my city of Miami, the Miami Parking Authority has just announced that they will be raising parking rates for non Miami-Dade residents starting January 1. Residents will receive a discount if they register with the Park Mobile app. While this may seem benign, a little digging demonstrates that the only individuals able to register with the park mobile app must have a smartphone and a debit or credit card, meaning that it will cost a premium for the county’s poorest residents. Additionally, Park Mobile is not a government app. Rather, it is owned and operated by the BMW Group (the largest car manufacturer  in the world). This means that unless users are okay with handing over their name, address, license plate number (tied to their vehicle), and credit card along with their data privacy for where they go and where they park (along with geo-location which is enabled on the app) to a for-profit car manufacturer, they will also pay 20% or more for parking in the city of Miami.

The reality is, we live in a hybrid, digital-analogue world and these services are no longer “optional” for operating in it. Going without a smartphone and/or internet use is akin to “dropping of the grid” and makes day to day activities such as: getting work done, parking, depositing checks, and other routine actions all the more difficult, time consuming, and more expensive (or even impossible). Data privacy is more crucial than ever. We cannot rely on these companies to regulate themselves. In fact, they have proven that they will spend millions of dollars to prevent just that. The New York Times did an amazing (and disturbing) expose on Facebook’s role in Russian interference in the 2016 election and its ongoing attempts to cover up their own culpability.

While the United States has been slow to act, other than with some limitedly enforced laws relating to children’s data (see COPPA and FERPA), Europe has started to address this issue with a heavy hand. The much publicized GDPR initiative in the EU has removed the physical barriers tied to data lies and recognizes that data storage and transition operates on a global scale. It allows users to better manage their online privacy. The United States, however, has been slow to regulate and adopt. This has in part has been hampered by a lack of understanding of this issue on Capital Hill coupled with powerful lobbying by digital giants such as Facebook and Google. However, we need to do more. This issue will continue to expand and creep into our lives until it is omnipresent. If our representatives won’t address data privacy, then we as constituents must force their hands. California passed a sweeping digital privacy law just this year, it is time for other states and lawmakers to follow suit. Digital privacy is not a partisan issue, it’s an American one.

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Learn to Spot Fake News by Creating It (In a Game)

badnews-tablet-intro.pngFake News, disinformation, and conspiracy theories are not just the subject of political investigations and Sunday night commentaries, but there are a legitimate concern for those who need to teach digital and media literacies. To that end, a developer has created a free online game called Bad News.

According to its creators:

The Bad News Game confers resistance against disinformation by putting players in
the position of the people who create it, and as such gain insight into the various
tactics and methods used by ‘real’ fake news-mongers to spread their message.
This, in turn, builds up resistance.

They have also created an Educator sheet to help teachers and specialist employ the game and teaching digital media literacy skills at their institutions.

How & Why to Report a Post on Social Media

A few weeks ago, I wrote a response to the political activation of the Parkland students entitled “Don’t Call Them the Selfie Generation!” The March for our Lives movement, along with other topics in the news, have highlighted that Social Media is powerful and impactful in the modern world. It has been especially potent in the hands of young people, as we have seen with the latest political movements surrounding school shootings. JSTOR recently posted an article highlighting “What Parkland Tells us About Teens and Social Media.”

As the story continues, and we are closer to the March 24th March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., I have been following the voices of these students who continue to talk and speak up in spite of some very real consequences like school suspension and targeted harassment from anonymous sources and political pundits. When I speak to my own students about how I can help empower their voices, they tell me: Let US speak; even if you mean well, don’t speak for us. What they want, is their voices heard.

As Twitter (my favorite social media platform) has become the platform of choice for this movement, I have started to take a few minutes every day to report targeted harassment and threats against these teens and others. Twitter has made a concerted effort to stop harassment on their platform. However, the human component is an important element for success. Therefore, as a means to help amplify their voices and support legitimate, challenging conversations on social media, I report bots and harassers. It’s pretty easy to do this. Here is a step by step way to do just that.

When you see a posting that issues threats, uses slurs, encourages self harm, or is part of a systematic threat system, you can report that account and/or that tweet. To do so, Click on the button on the top right of the tweet (it looks like a carrot). 

You will then be given the option to report the tweet.

Twitter allows you to report for a myriad of reasons (spam, harassment, etc).

Twitter allows you to report tweets on behalf of another person (which I have been doing).

 

You can also include example tweets to support the case.

Social Media is not going away any time soon. I encourage you to help make it a true democratizing place by reporting abuse, threats, bots, and spam. Amplify the voices of others by keeping them safe from harassment and threats.

 

Sustainable Innovation in Schools

Innovation…. the cause of and solution to all of our problems, at least it is according to every article, book, or keynote speaker in the last couple of years. It will reinvent education, but only after it destroys the standard schoolhouse. We seem to act as though innovation is a 21st century invention. However, education has long been a realm of

innovation, from one room school houses, to the standardized classroom, to the open classroom; from slate, to paper, to computer; or from abacus, to slide ruler, to calculator. The story of modern innovation could be told in a classroom. Unfortunately, the word “innovation” has been so overused that it risks entering the lexicon of buzzwords. This is a shame because innovation has an important and strategic role in education.

I do not mean to diminish the power of innovation but rather the contrived manner in which it is applied as a panacea to what ails us. Rather than being respectfully regarded as the logical extension of inquiry and exploration, it is often viewed as the result of luck or happenstance; the deus ex machina of our times. In a realm as important and vital as education, this can be problematic or even dangerous thinking. For innovation in education to be truly impactful, it must be sustainable. To be sustainable, it must be devised thoughtfully and applied strategically.

Innovation, at its heart, addresses a need: productivity, efficiency, or opportunity. Innovative practice is one that is methodical and incorporates regular feedback. To determine the heart of our innovative needs and practice, we must employ a discerning eye for what Heidi Hayes Jacobs calls classical vs antiquated educational practices. What is classical is timeless and enduring, what is antiquated worked for a time, but that time has passed. Let us look at the graphing calculator replacing the slide ruler. It allowed students to more readily apply higher order mathematical practice in order to quickly and accurately solve complex equations. However, any good math teacher will tell you that it’s not the calculator alone, but its application and process. The tool evolved to fit the modern needs of the skill set. This is why calculators have endured, while other “innovations” (like the open classroom) have failed. Innovation in schools and classrooms should be meaningful, address contemporary challenges, and enrich the learning environment. Only by doing this will innovation in schools be sustainable and enduring.

The Jobs of Today May Not Exist Tomorrow – How do we Prepare Students?

Not long ago, I wrote a blog post entitled: Lifelong Learning is an Essential Skill, not a Buzzword. The more I read about future-readiness, 21st century skills, job market reports, and advances in technology (especially AI), the more I understand this to be true. Recently, PEW Research published a report on the Future of Jobs & Job Training.

This report reaffirmed the fact that in the near future, millions of jobs will be lost to automation and AI that can do these tasks not only just as well, but often better than their human counterparts. These are not just rudimentary, repeatable tasks, but sophisticated, white-collar jobs that have generally been considered “safe” from automation: dermatologists, journalists, claims adjusters, financial reporters, and more. With the rise of automated driving, millions of workers who rely on driving as their means of employment are looking at becoming obsolete (long-haul truck drivers, taxi drivers, delivery wo/men, and more).

Pushing aside the very real, and daunting, questions of what this means for our job market and even Capitalism, for educators and parents this means: how do we prepare students for the stark realities of an ever shifting job market? While new technologies may be depleting jobs, knowing how to leverage them will become an even more essential skill in the future.

“The education system will need to adapt to prepare individuals for the changing labor market. At the same time, recent IT advances offer new and potentially more widely accessible ways to access education.”

Looking at how and when people learn job skills and other training will also need to be examined. Will a traditional high school, college, and beyond model remain the default given the rapidly changing employment models?

“A central question about the future, then, is whether formal and informal learning structures will evolve to meet the changing needs of people who wish to fulfill the workplace expectations of the future.”

PEW delves deeply into this topic, asking experts about their vision of the future and determined 5 Major Themes:

Five major themes about the future of jobs training in the tech age

Considering the uncertainty of the future, what we do know is that we must prepare young people to be flexible and agile learners, critical thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators, and to know that they must develop a passion and drive for lifelong learning.

While the article is long, I strongly encourage my readers to check out PEW’s publication and put together your own thoughts.

Cybersecurity is the Most Critical Element of Digital Citizenship (and Rarely Taught)

Just recently, someone close to me was the victim of a rather pernicious form of identity theft. A criminal was able to steal their cell phone number and use it to raid their financial accounts. What followed was hours on the phone with a cell phone provider, banks, and credit agencies trying to reverse the damage already done and to prevent further fraudulent activity.

This type of crime is becoming more prevalent. However, few people are aware of how common this type of identity theft is becoming. In fact, cell phone numbers are being viewed as the new social security number. Many of us have had our numbers for years… even decades. Many individuals have eschewed landlines for cell phones. Additionally, if you run a business or network, you likely give your cell number to a lot of people. Couple this with some rather high profile data breaches and you have a recipe for an identity theft crisis.

However, many individuals (adults and children) are woefully ignorant on the needs for cybersecurity and protecting various elements of their identity in the meantime. Students may be taught “don’t share your password,” rarely are they instructed in the merits of two-factor authentication.

Cybersecurity crimes in the form of identity theft are on the rise and will likely continue to be a challenge going forward. If we are not preparing students to protect their information and take action when their security is breached, we are doing them a disservice.

Consciously Disconnect from your Devices

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Courtesy of Britany Lynne Photography https://www.flickr.com/photos/84335369@N00/6902184950

Wednesday was my birthday. Growing up with a birthday just two days after Christmas taught me a few things: I would never have a “real” birthday party, my friends are out of town, everyone is broke from the holidays, and I would never get cupcakes at school (this one smarts the most). So, I’ve decided to make the day about me and I always book a spa day. It’s a few hours in which I can just focus on relaxing, reenergizing, and regrouping. It’s the best treat I can give myself.

While preparing for a luxurious day at the spa (trust me, in Miami we have some of the best), I locked up my phone and put it in my locker. Spa time is me time. No interruptions, no distractions; it’s magical. This time, when I walked out into the spa area, I was struck by something: many people were on their phones! Now spa etiquette tells you no phones! In fact, they post signs all over reminding you of this. However, when I looked at the haman style chairs next to the mineral pool, I saw people checking email. In the silent room, I saw others scrolling Facebook! In this sanctuary from the world, our devices have made a pernicious entry!

What struck me after my spa day this year was that all of us need to make a conscious effort to unplug…. regularly! Trust me, I am not great at finding balance around my devices. I own…. far too many devices and I check them too often. In recent years, however, I’ve been making more of an effort to maintain a better school-life balance. Am I perfect at it? No. However, by making an effort to “consciously unplug” I’ve been able to prioritize my life while at work or at home.

What does it mean to “consciously unplug?” This means making a conscious decision to turn off your devices or not checking them. For me, I set and keep hard and fast rules for no device time. I have limits on when and where I will check my devices; not always effectively. I also prioritize my “me time.” So while I may not always adhere to a “no emails after 8pm” policy, I do take email off of my phone on all vacations. Think about it. When was the last time you got an email so important that you had to read it right away? I’m going to guess never. Why? Because if it’s an emergency, someone will call you! Here are my rules:

  • I read books in analogue format or on my Kindle e-reader. No tablets or phones (with email and notifications). My phone is off when I’m reading for me.
  • No devices at shared meals. I enjoy my social time with friends, colleagues, and my boyfriend.
  • Phone is OFF (not on silent) at any show or event. If I’m there to watch baseball, a movie, or a play, I’m enjoying the event.
  • I remove work email from my phone during vacation times. I will check work email via the web every few days.
  • When in doubt, the phone is off. If I’m questioning if I need it, then I don’t.

These are my ways for consciously disconnecting. They will be different for different people. If you’re a surgeon on vacation, you probably can’t have your phone off at meals. If it’s hard for you to avoid temptation, you may want to take more drastic measures. For example, a colleague of mine just turned in their smart phone for an old fashioned flip phone because their phone was giving them too much anxiety. Now, I will never go that route, but I never question other’s methods.

So, the next time you’re thinking about your time outside of work, consider how you’re going to unplug. Do it consciously. Devices have become far too ubiquitous for us to let it happen organically. Pay attention to how your devices make you feel and when they make you feel that way. Set reasonable rules for yourself and your family (and be flexible when necessary). Also, don’t bring your phone into the spa! First, it’s bad etiquette. Second, it undermines the reason you are there!