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Resources to Fight Bullying and Harassment

Edutopia recently updated their list of websites, organizations, articles, planning guides, lesson plans, and other resources that are dedicated to preventing bullying and harassment. For parents, teachers and districts, it is definitely worth a look and is just in time for October’s National Bullying Prevention Month, an initiative of the PACER Center.


Screen Time and Kids – It’s a Delicate Dance

It is a delicate dance figuring out how much screen time is too much for kids in a world where it is also important for them to be digitally savvy. A National Public Radio Education blog entry entitled Kids and Screen Time: Cutting Through the Static explains why it is so important, especially in the formative years, that kids have lots of face to face time. Real life interaction will give them practice reading emotion in voices and posture, and will help them navigate the turmoil of early adolescence. That is a kind of social learning that just won't fit in the palm of your hand.


Spy App Maker Indicted

We recently discussed the availability of smartphone spy apps that allow users to monitor a target’s smartphone, including calls, texts, social and media postings, while also tracking the smartphone’s location and secretly activating its microphone to take recordings. The technology is similar to that used by police to track suspects, however the use of this kind of surveillance by private individuals may actually violate federal law. Federal officials have indicted the maker of one of these spy apps called StealthGenie, making it the first criminal case that has been brought against the marketing and selling of a mobile spyware app. There has been no official ruling on the subject yet, but activists against domestic violence have long expressed concern that surveillance software can lead to attacks on women suspected of infidelity. Time will tell if this kind of app is declared legal, but in the meantime if someone seems to have too much information on you or a family member learn how to check for mobile spyware on your own device.


Phone Lock Up

You should have a password set up to protect the information on your cell phone - that’s Digital Smarts 101. Until now, though, phone manufacturers like Apple and Google could unlock that code if given a court order. Now Apple has announced that the new operating system for iPhones, iOS 8, will not give the company access to passcode-protected phones, making it technologically impossible to comply with governmental requests. Google/Android is following suit, upsetting the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

What measures can government agencies take to make someone unlock his or her phone? A defendant or witness can be held in contempt of court and jailed for failing to unlock a phone, but there is a possibility that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination could block such demands. Such a case will probably have to be settled by an appeals court or even travel as high as the Supreme Court. Interestingly enough, it appears that a giving a fingerprint isn’t considered testifying against yourself, making Apple’s fingerprint ID system just a way of the government collecting biometrics. Either way, this new policy takes the responsibility of corporations out of the equation. If you thought remembering your password was important before, it may now be even more difficult to get help opening your phone if you forget.


An App That Could Save Your Life

Perhaps you have been told to create a contact in your phone labeled ICE, for “in case of emergency,” filled with the name and number of a spouse, parent, child or friend who should be notified if anything should happen to you. The problem with that is if your phone is locked with a passcode or fingerprint, it might be impossible for someone to find that contact in an emergency. Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 8, has created a possible solution to allow access to emergency contacts without unlocking the phone. The process to set it up is quite simple:

1) Click on the new Health app that is now part of every iPhone running iOS 8, and choose Medical ID from the lower-right-hand corner.

2) The first time you do this, you’ll get a descriptive screen about Medical ID and a button to Create Medical ID. On future visits to the Medical ID page, you’ll see an Edit button in the upper right.

3) Make certain that Show When Locked is activated (if you don’t, no one will be able to see this without first unlocking your phone). Then enter your name, date of birth, medical conditions, allergies, medications and critical notes about your health. You can also enter several emergency contacts. Judgment is key here, but for most people 2-3 contacts seems like a good number. You never know where you’ll be when an emergency strikes and who might not be reachable. It’s also probably a good idea to include a photo here, just to reassure someone who is trying to help you that they have the correct person’s information.

Although this feature requires you to give up a bit of privacy here, you are giving emergency responders and Good Samaritans a chance to get your information quickly.  For that reason, you might not want to include information about your health that isn’t critical for someone to know, and you might want to limit whose phone numbers you place there. There are a myriad of privacy issues that could arise, so you have to decide for yourself if having this information accessible on your or your children’s devices is a good safety solution for you. As a parent, you might just want that info readily available on a young teenage driver’s phone. For Android users there are similar apps available, such as Medical ID.


Research Says Many Facebook “Likes” Are Bogus

Researchers from England have found that “likes” on Facebook for companies and celebrities are not all they are cracked up to be. In what the MIT Technology Review calls “the first systematic investigation into the nature of “like” farms and how they operate,” researchers found that the “likes” paid for by companies to boost their Facebook followings are, more often than not, fake. Automated bots also generate “likes” by the thousands.


Head of Google Hands On Nine Tips for Handling Email

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has passed on his set of rules for not getting overwhelmed by email in a new article in Time magazine. One of his recommendations is to send quick responses, reminding readers that less said in an email is often more. In addition, he brings up the point that using the blind copy (bcc) feature has become rather useless in a transparent world where so much of what we send ends up in front of unintended audiences anyway. He also suggests forwarding emails to yourself that contain items you may want to recall later and adding a few keywords that will aid in a future search for that email. This email forwarding trick is useful for important documents that you might need to access to on a phone or other digital device if you need them when you are away from home.


All Secrets Can Be Told

“All Secrets Can Be Told” is a FREE lesson plan, along with a video called “Tom’s Secret,” that is available for parents, schools and other child-serving organizations. It was developed by Child Lures/Teen Lures Prevention, a group that works to prevent all forms of mistreatment, including sexual exploitation. One of the biggest challenges parents and teachers have is getting kids to talk about things that might be happening to them. The goal of this group and their materials is to promote “ongoing conversations with children about healthy social relationships, personal boundaries, mutual respect and kindness towards others - from an early age through college.” Through the distribution of their materials they hope to give kids the courage to ask adults for help with safety issues and to talk about secrets without feeling coerced or threatened to keep them, especially those sexual in nature.


Do Parents Need Screen Limits?

Do parents need screen limits? It has been a hot topic of late with some research showing a possible link between smartphone ownership and a rise in emergency visits for kids under the age of 5. Take a look at this article entitled “Screen Time Limits for Parents” on the Common Sense Media site for ideas on how to model digitally smart behavior for your kids.


Mobile Apps Failing Basic Security Tests

Technology research firm Gartner has predicted that within the next year, 75% of all mobile apps will fail the most basic of security tests. Although the apps will still be functional, the hidden security risk of using an app that has access to your personal information, location, and other user specific data can become a potential issue. It is now than ever important to monitor the apps that you and your family download and the kind of personal information they require to run or store. Don’t know which ones have your personal info? Download an app like MyPermissions and find for sure.


Some Notions of What to Do With That Old Smartphone

The announcement of a new Apple iPhone always creates a scurry of activity in the smartphone arena as people decide whether or not to upgrade or change platforms. But what about that old phone of yours? Some may suggest selling your old phone, but many experts feel that can be risky. Identity theft is still a possibility even if you think you have cleared that phone of all your personal information. Jennifer Jolly, a USA TODAY tech columnist, put together a list of Genius things to do with an old smartphone. Some of her suggestions include using your old phone as part of video surveillance system for your home, or as a baby monitor. You can also use it to keep doing many of the functions it is already doing – media player, digital camera, or even as a toy for your kids and their apps.


Hudway App Helps with Low Visibility Driving

In order to comply with state-mandated attendance requirements, schools are under pressure to hold off on announcing weather related closings until conditions are officially declared unsafe by the state or the town. The chance that parents will be trying to get kids to school in bad rain or heavy fog or snow is increasing. Hudway, an app that helps drivers focus on the road and keep their hands on the wheel, can help you navigate in low visibility conditions by using your smartphone to project onto your windshield information you need to find the road and stay on it. No additional equipment is needed and the voice assist feature can help you also navigate curves and other dangerous road conditions. Try the free version on the Apple App store or Google Play.


Privacy Tools 101

Did you know that your online activity is tracked on average over 200 times a day? Take a look at this guide to tech tools like PrivacyFix that can help you get a snapshot of what information is being shared.


Smartphones and Domestic Abuse

There is a lot of discussion about the dangers and risks that come with using technology. Privacy concerns, cyberbullying and identity theft are all hot topics, but even scarier is the rise of cyberstalking. The use of digital tools by husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers, and exes is becoming more and more common in cases of domestic abuse. An article on the National Public Radio site entitled Smartphones Are Used To Stalk, Control Domestic Abuse Victims lays out exactly how tools like mSpy work to monitor targets and how they become a way for their users to dominate and control victims. Contacts, call logs, text messages, call recordings, photos, video files, and browser history can all be accessed using mSpy. There's a keylogger function that records everything the target types into his or her smartphone (including web addresses, usernames and passwords), and a location tracking function that shows where the device has been, how long it was there, and how it got there and back. In addition to pulling information from the device, mSpy also gives stalkers the ability to alter settings on the phone, such as blocking calls from a certain number.

Of course this software isn’t marketed as an app for an obsessed lover. Spyware like this is marketed to parents who want to watch their kids or employers who want to watch their employees – supposedly with their full knowledge. Apps like mSpy have hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and even though customers sign an agreement acknowledging it's illegal to secretly spy on someone, no one is monitoring how and on who these digital tools are being used.


Privacy Concerns Among Millenials Surface

Facebook users seem to be rethinking online privacy, with millennials proving to be more wary about giving up their personal information than older users. "Previously there had been a sort of undue trust in the magic of cloud services. People are starting to reconsider that," says Justin Brookman of the Center for Democracy & Technology. Despite years of resistance, Facebook recently changed its default for new posts from “public” to “friends”, and introduced tools to  untag yourself in other people’s photos and change old posts from public to friends-only. When did you last check your privacy settings to make sure you are taking advantage of the new protections Facebook offers?


Want Get Paid for Your Data?

Your personal data is worth money to online data brokers who gather it from the searches you do online, your buying habits and even your marital status. Now several new services are asking why these data brokers should be the only ones making money off of your information. Several new services, such as Datacoup, Handshake and Meeco, are set to launch in the summer of 2015 and all share the same goal: to cut out the data-mining middleman. They each allow users to voluntarily share their personal information with companies — and get paid for it.  Each service uses a different model, for example, by paying you to fill out directed surveys or by using a private cloud to store your data and brand preferences in return for a discount at a retailer. Both options let you choose where your information ends up rather than with some unknown and unseen data broker. These new systems offer consumers a sense of empowerment while giving them the opportunity to earn or save some cash. Stay tuned for more on this effort to turn the tables on data brokers who operate with a fundamental lack of transparency.


Headstrong Nation – Dyslexia is Not a Disease

If you have a child who has been recently diagnosed as dyslexic, or if you have been supporting a child with dyslexia though the pitfalls of your local school district, you may want to take a look at the resources for parents on the Headstrong Nation site. It is a site that stresses the empowerment of dyslexic students and adults through technology and other accommodations and reminds parents that they are not alone in trying to help their dyslexic children. Their catch phrase is “Dyslexia is not a disease. It’s a community.”


Millenials and Information on the Internet

Millenials’ lives revolve around technology, but results from a new survey by Pew Research surprisingly found they were more likely than their elders to say there actually is important information NOT available on the Internet. Approximately 98% of those under 30 use the Internet, and 90% of those Internet users say they use social networking sites. Over three-quarters (77%) of younger Americans have a smartphone, and many also have a tablet (38%) or e-reader (24%). Despite their embrace of technology, 62% of Americans under age 30 agree there is “a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the Internet,” compared with 53% of older Americans who believe that. At the same time, 79% of Millennials believe that people without Internet access are at a real disadvantage.


The Push to Teach Coding Collides with Teacher Shortage

Digital job opportunities are expected to rapidly increase over the next decade, and coding skills are going to become more and more valuable to have. Many schools throughout the country are embracing the addition of computer coding programs to their curriculum, but this change has resulted in a unique challenge: There are not enough trained educators to teach the subject. Some schools have responded by offering in-house training, but this could potentially cause teachers to leave their positions for better paying jobs in the private sector. More and more school districts are being challenged to find teachers with in-demand coding skills.


Basic Manners for Social Media

Although written with a business audience in mind, this helpful infographic on Social Media Etiquette is a telling synopsis of the dos and don’ts of getting along with others on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linked In, and Pinterest. Bottom line for all these platforms seems to be 1) keep it simple and to the point, 2) don’t over post or hashtag and 3) give credit when using someone else’s post or material. That’s called a “hat tip” on Google Plus, and just like everywhere else in life, most people on these social networking sites want to be credited for their contributions.