Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘privacy

This timely tweet reminded me to ask some questions.

Other than “learning styles”, are career guidance programmes here going to keep wasting taxpayer money on Myers-Briggs tests for students and the same training for teachers?

Are people who claim to be edtech, change, or thought leaders still going to talk about “21st century competencies” and “disruption” this decade?

Might people keep confusing “computational thinking” or “authoring with HTML” with “coding”?

Will administrators and policymakers lie low in the protection and regulation of the privacy and data rights of students?

Are vendors going to keep using “personalised learning” and “analytics” as catch-all terms to confuse and convince administrators and policymakers?

Are sellers of “interactive” white boards still going to sell these white elephants?

Are proponents of clickers going to keep promoting their use as innovative pedagogy instead of actually facilitating active learning experiences?

I borrow from the tweet and say: Please don’t. I extend this call by pointing out that if these stakeholders do not change tact, they will do more harm than good to learners in the long run.

It takes a thief to catch a thief. By that reasoning, a computer hacker might be the best person to suggest some tips on securing online privacy.


Video source

The hacker in the video above had these three tips:

  1. Do not geotag posts
  2. Direct message companies privately
  3. Keep account settings private

We do not own many things in life. One of those things is your word. Another is your privacy. We can choose to give it away or have it taken away from us.

We have all probably experienced this and our reaction might be similar. But the effect and impact of clicking on a paywalled article is not that simple.

The experience and reaction is shared if you consider only your perspective and what is immediately obvious.

It is not if you consider the possible metrics for the newspaper, e.g., clicks (successful or not; which headlines work better), insidious ads (e.g., those running in the background or whitelisted by your adblocker), records of paying and non-paying visits, cookies that track what grabs your attention (e.g., op pieces over fluff), etc.

In the longer term, the newspaper gets something out of you — data about your habits and preferences and maybe even some ad revenue — even if you do not get what you want from a click.

That is why one of my concerns of late is our digital rights and privacy [1] [2]. I am even more concerned when the target audience is school-aged kids and young adult learners in institutes of higher education. They are tracked as they access content and learning management systems.

Some of the tracking is necessary, e.g., to take note of where the learners were last at and where they might need to go next. But some tracking is not, e.g., if data is mined by third parties without the knowledge of the learners or their parents.

Clicking on a link to get what you want (or to be denied access) might seem like a simple transaction. However, there are insidious transactions that we might not know or care about. This is like throwing plastic bags away and not knowing or caring where they end up.

We need to know and act better. We need to be more digitally and information literate. If the agencies that guide us do not have compasses that point north [example], we need to teach and police ourselves.

Recently I tweeted a comprehensive opinion piece that critiqued the amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act.

I agree that Singapore needs to do more by way of legislation and regulation to protect the data privacy and rights of minors. I also favour doing the same for young adults in the context of higher education and LMS use.

But I wonder what unwanted signals this declaration makes:

Thankfully, Singapore has not experienced such high-profile incidents relating to the breach of children’s digital privacy or online harms.

Does it take a “high-profile incident” for us to take action? It should not. It speaks poorly of us as a people if we only react when tragic things happen to important people.

Does the the paucity or absence of data for a phenomenon mean it does not happen? I think not.

I recall having a passing conversation with a university staff about how much abuse was swept under the table. This was right before high profile cases made the news and universities here seemed to react with countermeasures.

Universities were already aware of what was happening in their campuses. It was just that the data was not shared and so the issues were not transparent to the public.

So shit still happens and about as regularly as we have bowel movements. They seem mundane or are unpleasant to talk about. But if they reveal a health problem we might have, are we going to try to flush the symptoms of an underlying problem away?

One thing I do to sense changes in my field is watch relevant YouTube videos. YouTube’s algorithms take note of what I am interested in and recommend similar videos.

For example, in 2017 I watched and archived in a playlist this video about how an engineer explained virtual reality (VT) to learners at five different levels.


Video source

Last week, YouTube recommended the video below to me.


Video source

Not only was this one way of staying current with technological trends in education and training, it was also a useful resource for a Masters course I will be facilitating soon.

Some folks like to complain about much current technologies seem to know about us. They might forget that strategically letting some information go can be a good thing.

Yesterday I had a meeting at a Starbucks with someone who just learnt that its free wifi expired after 30 minutes.

I realised that what I took for granted was news to others, so I decided to type out a few of the many things that make a local road warrior’s office tick. I focus on wifi today and an assortment of tips tomorrow.
 

 
Wifi is the lifeblood of the road warrior. But if you use the free wifi offered by places like Starbucks or McDonald’s, you pay for the convenience with some inconvenience.

Starbucks in Singapore currently partners with MyRepublic and wifi access is free after you register. However, you are limited to 30 minute sessions and must reconnect in between. (Disclosure: This is not a sponsored piece.)

If you do not want your workflow interrupted, you might do what I do — I set a timer for 29 minutes by Googling “timer for 29 minutes” as a reminder.

At other eateries, you might be able to set up a mobile phone and laptop for automatic connection to Wireless@SGx. The mobile and laptop apps that facilitate this process and can be downloaded here.

M1's FAQ #8 on Wireless@SGx.

Note: There is the Wireless@SG variant (no “x” at the end) that requires a manual login via SMS, but this service is less secure according to one local telco’s FAQ.

Most malls offer free wifi in exchange for some personal information. I do not risk abuse of this information, so I recommend avoiding them. If you must connect, use temporary email and generic contact numbers. These are good options if messages are not sent to the email and number for verification.
 

 
Regardless of the wifi source, it is always a good idea to use a VPN service to protect your connection. I have used Private Internet Access (PIA) for years. It costs me only about SGD3.50 a month for peace of mind. (Disclosure: I have not been paid in any way by PIA to mention this.) Here are some paid and free VPN alternatives.

If you are not on VPN, do not conduct transactions like banking, billing, or otherwise logging into sensitive sites.

Using VPN is not without its hiccups. One mall I frequent blocks VPN services on its free wifi. Some online services like Google Drive, Google Photos, and macOS Notes might not sync or work properly when connected to public wifi protected by VPN. For me this happens on my laptop, but not on my phone (VPN is on all the time), so I am not sure what it going on.

Where public wifi is not available, you may need to tether your phone to a laptop with a suitable cable or use your phone as a hotspot.

To ensure that my laptop sips data instead of gulps it, I make sure that background processes are shutdown or paused. File sync and media streaming services can rack up your bill.

We have it relatively easy in Singapore with free wifi almost everywhere. But the convenience should not lull road warriors into a false sense of security. Better to be safe than sorry.

I had an uncomfortable gut feeling when I read this CNA article about biometric payments being available to schools here in 2018.

I had to dig deep for why I was uncomfortable. After all, I am all for technology making lives better. And therein lay the problem: In doing good, there was also the potential for harm.

The good is the sheer convenience of going cashless while being able to track spending. This might be the start of basic financial literacy.

According to the news article, the system has safety measures:

Fingerprint information will not be stored on the device. Instead, the prints will be encrypted and stored securely in a cloud database.

Anti-spoofing technology will also be put in place to ensure that the fingerprints are real and that the person making the payment is present.

This is the trifecta of data accuracy (reading), data security (keeping), and data integrity (reliably identifying). If just one to fails, the system’s users are harmed. Take the recent Instagram hack, for example.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the three data concepts are sound in practice. What is the harm then?

To answer this question, we need to ask at least one other question: What else can vendors do with the data that is accurate, “stored securely”, and reliable?

The short answer is lots. One needs only look at what Facebook and Google did (and continue to do) with our data. They offer their services for “free” to us because our data serves up advertisements which make these companies money. Lots of it.

One needs only to casually search for data breaches and infringements involving these two companies. For example:

The last item was not so much about the privacy of data as about the use and manipulation of data. That is my point: Assuring stakeholders that data is accurate, authentic, and safe is not enough; it is the lack of transparency and foresight about what can be done with that data.

Students are particularly vulnerable because adults make decisions about their data and the kids have no say in the biometric scheme. By this I am referring to the scheme being employed as a Smart Nation initiative, not the choice of whether to join the scheme.

The issue is so serious that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has tips for teachers about student privacy. These include:

  • Making digital literacy part of the curriculum
  • Advocating for better training for teachers
  • Getting parental consent
  • Selecting technology tools carefully
  • Building community of like-minded privacy advocates

A Smart Nation needs people to make smart choices. To do that, people need good information. Where is the information about how the data might be used both intentionally and peripherally? What promises and standards of practice can service vendors and providers be held to? Where is the public debate on the data privacy of the especially vulnerable?


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