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Some Children’s Apps My Not Be As Safe As You Think

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA, is a federal law designed in part to protect children under 13 years old on websites designed for kids, but a recent study found that just because a children’s app is certified complaint, it may not be any better than apps that are non-certified. The study, published in the journal Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies, states that because  app certification may not guarantee security, parents should research apps their children are using and make sure they understand if and/or where personal data is stored or whether the information is being traded. It is also important to research what information the app can access from the device on which it is downloaded. For more information, check out the Federal Trade Commission site on Kids and Mobile Apps.


Adrift in the Fake News Era

National Public Radio recently interviewed the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, about his thoughts on fake news online. It is interesting to remember that Wikipedia used to be the sole subject of so many teachers’ ire because students often used information from the site in their reports without vetting it, but now that seems almost quaint in the face of other fake news scandals.

Wales feels we all need to be skeptical of the sources of things we share online. He said many times people will find a story that confirms what they already believe about a particular subject, so they go ahead and share it. But the truth is, anyone could have written that article, and without a quick google search to vet the sources, you could just be perpetuating the problem.



Facebook’s Clear History Feature is Coming

Facebook recently announced it is working on a new feature called Clear History, leaving many critics to ask why something like this hasn’t been available all along. The feature will allow you to see which websites and apps send information to Facebook when you use them, let you delete that information from your account, and turn off Facebook’s ability to store that information. While the feature will not be available for a few months, Facebook continues to try to add privacy features to belay user’s heightened concerns about online exposure of their personal data.


Good Vibrations?

Facebook is working on a technique that allows people to feel smartphone notifications through their skin when they are unable to access their device.  According to a paper published by the social media giant’s research team, in-house scientists are working on a sleeve-like prototype that translates words into vibrations delivered by pads onto the arm. The wearable device could be useful in situations when a person is unable to check their smartphone, such as during a meeting or while in class. Undoubtedly that will make for some interesting changes to a school’s smartphone user policies!


Social Media and College Admissions – The Latest Take

How much is social media considered in college admissions? About 68% of admissions officers say they reserve the right to check a prospective student's social media presence, but only 29% reported doing so, according to a series of surveys by Kaplan Test Prep. That’s actually down from the 35% last year who admitted checking an applicant’s social media presence. The data also shows that 20% of schools have set policies around checking students' social media, with just a third of those forbidding the practice.


Schools and Their Use of Facebook

Does your school use Facebook to post messages and news about what is happening at school? In light of the current headlines about Facebook sharing personal data without permission, many schools are worrying about protecting their students. Concerns over data privacy have some advocates calling for increased protections or, more harshly, recommending schools to stop using the platform all together. The National Education Policy Center has deleted its account and has encouraged others to take similar steps, but most schools are keeping their accounts but rethinking what they post.


Alexa for Kids: Manners Count

Amazon is listening to the concerns of many parents who were worried about their kids using Alexa devices, whether it be for privacy or moral reasons such as worrying their children would have no sense of etiquette after being able to order Alexa to do something without a “please” or “thank you”.  Now Amazon is offering a new line of kid friendly and pro-etiquette products that encourage children to be polite. It turns out that kids are some of the biggest fans of voice assistants, with some learning to talk to Alexa, Apple's Siri or Google's Assistant before they can form full sentences. The new products are in the Echo Dot series and will have durable candy colored cases. Amazon is also adding parental controls to the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus to help limit when a child can interact with their technology.


Digital Literacy Ideas for All Ages

Looking for ideas for teaching digital citizenship? Understanding at what age to introduce particular digital citizenship skills is part of the formula for success. For example, for young children who are first being exposed to technology and social media, it is important to teach how the digital world and the real world are connected and to emphasize treating people online just as you would treat them in the real world.  Once those your kids are in middle and high school, it is a good idea to introduce topics such as privacy, ethical dilemmas and what to do about your digital footprint.


Digital Self Cyberbullying

More teenagers may be engaging in digital self-harm -- the practice of anonymously posting negative comments about themselves online. In a survey published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, about 6% of students said they have cyberbullied themselves.

Why is this happening? Some kids, who feared they would be bullied by other kids anyway, felt it was better to beat others to the punch or even possibly deflect the bullying since it would appear that some one else had bullied them first. Others could just be looking for attention from either adults or their peers - wanting to see who would worry about them or stick up for them, or even to show how tough they are. No matter what the cause, it is a trend parents need to be aware of and schools counselors will need to figure out how to contend with.


What Many Are Thinking About Facebook These Days…

A recent survey from Creative Strategies found that 20% of respondents don't use Facebook, and most of those say the top reason is privacy concerns. The research also showed that consumers who do use the platform don't mind ads, but are more worried about how Facebook is tracking the rest of their browsing activity. Almost half the respondents also said they are using Facebook less and limiting how much information they share on the platform.


Teens Worry About Privacy Too

There is a misconception that young people don’t care about privacy, but research is showing that just isn’t the case. The latest take on the subject is shown in a small, but in-depth study by Claire Fontaine of the Data & Society Institute. The study finds that young adults (16-20)  are very aware of online privacy, spend “significant time managing how they present themselves on social media”, and worry about what digital footprints they leave behind.

Perhaps most eye opening about this study is Fontaine’s take on schools and the message they are sending out on privacy. She contends that schools frame online privacy for students as primarily a matter of personal responsibility, which these days really isn’t true. That’s because Silicon Valley's current business practices and a lax regulatory environment can make anyone who participates in life online vulnerable no matter how safety conscious they are. She also feels schools are falling behind in their adoption of new technology and therefore failing to keep up with their students. That failure to keep up makes it harder for teachers and administrators to guide students who have concerns, leaving them alone to wrestle with huge questions about privacy, data collection and distribution that—if recent headlines are any indication—even the adults and institutions in society are ill-positioned to handle.

This interview with the author of the study further explains the findings of the study. As Fontaine puts it, we are seeing the “adultification of teenage-hood. “ We tell kids that online privacy is a matter of personal responsibility, but the truth is that it is likely that no amount of personal responsibility can completely secure your privacy and security online. That means a much better discussion to have with kids is about the tradeoffs associated with the technologies we use. That’s not an easy task, obviously, but undeniably more realistic.”


Twitter Joins Study to Reduce Abuse on the App

Twitter is participating in an experiment proposed by to determine whether displaying rules of behavior to its users can cut down on abusive content. Results of the study, which also aims at improved privacy protection, will be evaluated independently. Other similar research has shown that the clear display of rules by institutions makes people more likely to follow them. The news of this experiment could be an interesting discussion starter with kids on online abuse and etiquette. Do they think displaying the rules could change people’s behavior online?


Simple Tech Supports for Students with Dyslexia

The website of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Edutopia, features an article with 5 simple supports for students with dyslexia. These tech oriented supports include information on where to find free or inexpensive audiobooks, resources for note-taking apps, ideas for voice note players,  and suggestions on text-to-speech technologies. They also have a suggestion for teachers you might want to pass along - take away the stigma of “ear reading” by offering audiobooks as a reading option for the whole class. Kids may also discover that while often more enjoyable, listening to a book takes longer than reading it, giving them a new perspective on the challenges that dyslexic classmates face.


Sandy Hook Mother Devises Program to Tackle School Violence and Bullying

Scarlett Lewis, mother of a student killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, has developed a free program that seeks to promote social and emotional learning and safety in schools and reduce bullying. Lewis says the Choose Love Enrichment Program is designed to bolster resiliency and other skills in students.


YouTube Accused of Targeting Children with Ads Violating Privacy Laws

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant being challenged over its collection and use of consumer’s information. More than 20 consumer advocacy groups have recently filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission against YouTube, alleging they have been gathering the personal data of children who use their platform and then using this data to target advertisements, in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

COPPA requires commercial websites and apps to get informed parental consent before collecting any personal information on children under 13. YouTube, which is owned by Google, allows any visitor – regardless of their age - on its platform to search for content on the site and watch videos without signing in or verifying age. Although YouTube has a “kids version”, a 2017 survey by Common Sense Media found that more children watch YouTube on the main platform than on the kids' app. Of parents of kids ages zero to eight, 71 percent said their children watch videos on the main website or app, while 24 percent said their kids watch on the kids' app. 


Text Messages Encourage Teens to Go to College

A platform called Siembra -- Spanish for sowing seeds – provides communication tools for school admissions professionals and high school guidance counselors. The tools utilize student data analytics to target under-served and under-represented students for efforts encouraging them to go to college, including the ability to send text messages to low-income, first-generation, and racial and ethnic minority high-schoolers. Less than 20% of US students whose parents do not have college degrees go on to earn a degree themselves, according to data from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.


Twitter and Facebook Support the Honest Ads Act

Twitter and Facebook are supporting the Honest Ads Act, a proposal that calls for platforms with a minimum of 50 million users to retain and make available for public viewing all political ads bought by groups investing more than $500. The bill would also require political ads to be labeled with "clear and conspicuous" disclosures and would require that platforms make "reasonable efforts" to prevent ads from being bought by foreign agencies.


Zuckerberg and Facebook Take Up Kid’s Privacy Issues

The privacy of students' data was discussed during Mark Zuckerberg's recent testimony before a congressional committee. Facebook's founder and CEO was asked about the privacy of a Messenger application for minors and about youth technology addiction. Zuckerberg remained composed during two days of hours long questioning by members of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees, conceding and taking responsibility for mistakes concerning data privacy, possible election tampering, hate speech and fake news, and pledging changes to address the issues. He reiterated that the platform's goal is to bring communities together and repeatedly mentioned that the company is willing to work with lawmakers on the "right" kind of regulation.


One thing your children may have noticed during the questioning of Zuckerberg is the lack of experience with Facebook and knowledge about the platform that many of the Senators seemed to have. It brings to light a generation gap and is a good reminder to parents that it is important to make an effort to stay somewhat current with technology – and to never be afraid to ask your children questions about what they are doing with technology. Being open to learning new things, especially from your children, is important.


YouTube to Offer Handpicked Selection of Kid’s Videos

YouTube will soon launch a new choice for parents seeking programming for their children with a version of its Kids app that offers only videos handpicked by YouTube staff  - aka the “whitelisted” version. The algorithmically suggested version will still be available, but this new version should, in theory, cut down on the number of videos that sneak through the automated selection process that could include language and jokes inappropriate for kids.


Truth Measure Implemented in Facebook Advertising

Facebook has announced that it's implementing a new authorization process for advertisers that want to place ads on its platform related to political issues and for those that manage accounts with large follower numbers, requiring them to disclose their locations and identities. Election advertising on the platform will include a "Political Ad" label, as well as disclosures about who paid for the advertising. Be sure to point this out to your kids in your discussion of digital misinformation and the importance of vetting sources.