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Google Really Wants You to Use Different Passwords

Apparently "Guest123!" isn't the most secure password on the Internet. Who knew? If you are guilty of using common passwords, or the same password for various websites, you should consider enhancing your online security. Google's Security Checkup function now alerts users to when websites for which it stores a password have been compromised. The alert not only urges users to change the password for that particular site, but also might nudge people to not use the same password across multiple websites.

Going to a Protest? Some Tips for Protecting Your Digital Privacy

While smart phone videos taken by ordinary citizens have changed the conversation about policing in the US, it is important to know that there are privacy issues you should be aware of when taking your smart phone to a protest. Digital surveillance tools, including facial recognition technology, can be used to identify protestors and monitor their movements and communications. Furthermore, investigators and prosecutors have come to view protestors phones as potential treasure troves of information about them and their associates, setting up legal battles over personal technology and Americans’ Constitutional rights. And while protesters are within their rights to take pictures and video at protests, the images they capture could lead to unintended consequences for participants.

Addressing Privacy in Video Conferencing on Online Classes

A reminder for parents and kids that participating in a video meeting for school work, extracurriculars, or just socializing, provides a window into your homes. Parents should help kids think about their surroundings and what may be visible during an online class meeting. Both Zoom and Meet allow users to change the background image, a feature that addresses privacy and helps students who might feel insecure about their homes. Cyberbullies love to feed on any kind of personal information that might be revealed in what is hanging on your walls, interactions with family members while online, and other clues to your family’s life, so it is worth taking the time to creating the right background for an online class and reminding family members to give the online participant space.

Understanding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

It will be very interesting to see what effect the new Executive Order that President Trump signed recently targeting Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act has on cyberbullying and misinformation online. While you may have never heard of this section of the law, it was created almost 30 years ago to protect Internet platforms from liability for many of the things third parties say or do on them. But now it’s under threat by President Trump, who hopes to use this act to fight back against the social media platforms he believes are unfairly censoring him and other conservative voices. Some critics say he is trying to bully these platforms into letting him post anything he wants without correction or reprimand, even when he has broken a site’s rules about posting bullying comments or questionable information.

In a nutshell, Section 230 says that Internet platforms that host third-party content (for example, tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook, photos on Instagram, reviews on Yelp, or a news outlet’s reader comments) are not liable for what those third parties post (with a few exceptions). For instance, if a Yelp reviewer were to post something defamatory about a business, the business could sue the reviewer for libel, but it couldn’t sue Yelp. Without Section 230’s protections, the Internet as we know it today would not exist. If the law were taken away, many websites driven by user-generated content would likely be shut down. As Senator Ron Wyden, one of the authors of the Section 230 says about it, the law is both a sword and a shield for platforms: They’re shielded from liability for user content, and they have a sword to moderate it as they see fit.

That doesn’t mean Section 230 is perfect. Some argue that it gives platforms too little accountability, allowing some of the worst parts of the internet — think cyberbullying that parents or schools struggle to have removed or misinformation that stays online for all to see with little recourse— to flourish along with the best. Simply put, Internet platforms have been happy to use the shield to protect themselves from lawsuits, but they’ve largely ignored the sword to moderate the bad stuff their users upload. It is also important to remember that the cyberbullying that occurs is less than one tenth of one percent of all the traffic online, but it still is important for these sites to acknowledge their role and do more about it.

All that said, this protection has allowed the Internet to thrive. Think about it: Websites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have millions and even billions of users. If these platforms had to monitor and approve every single thing every user posted, they simply wouldn’t be able to exist. No website or platform can moderate at such an incredible scale, and no one wants to open themselves up to the legal liability of doing so. But if that free flow of information and creativity goes away, our online world will be very different.

So where do we stand? While the executive order sounds strict ( and a little frightening with the government making “watch lists” of people who post or support “certain kinds” of content) , legal experts don’t seem to think much — or even any — of it can be backed up, citing First Amendment concerns. It’s also unclear whether or not the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to regulate Section 230 in this way, or if the president can change the scope of a law without any congressional approval.

How To Keep Your Kids Safe While Playing Games Online

During the pandemic it has been almost inevitable that kids and adults are playing more games online. The usual top pieces of advice about keeping your kids safe with online games is to be familiar with the games they play, to play with them if possible, and to talk to them about how they feel about these games. With luck, parents may have had a little more time to do just that during the lockdown. Beyond that basic advice, there are several categories of things parents should also be thinking about:

  1. Privacy
  • Make sure your child picks a username that protects their identity. Try to pick something that has no clues to name, birthday, hometown, school or phone number. Be creative!
  • Remind kids to never share with their password or gaming account with anyone else, even good friends. That password may be a way for a stranger to figure out passwords for other accounts if they are similar. Having that information, even if only for a “joke,” can let someone else use their account to harass, bully, or post inappropriate things.
  • Kids are easily led into sharing little tidbits of information about their life but instruct them to keep any conversations with people they are playing with about the game itself. If someone starts asking personal questions, it might be best to stop talking to them.
  • Most online games and gaming apps have privacy settings that you can set (an online search to help you find out how for any particular game). Many have privacy settings that have options for showing information such as when you're online and what games you're playing. Additionally, consider limiting who can play with your kids in the game.
  1. Avoiding Cyberbullying
  • Kids should understand that people can and do lie about who they are online, especially when they are playing games. While it is fun to talk to people kids meet while playing, it is smart to assume they are lying about who they are. They should always treat online “friends” as strangers and never agree to talk to or meet them in real life.
  • Cyberbullies have discovered gaming is a great place to find targets. Your children need to know that they can tell you when someone is being mean to them online and that their experience isn’t going to bring an abrupt end to their gaming life. When they do tell you about an incident, talk to them about what happened and help them figure out how to block that person. Emphasize to them that it is never okay for someone to send mean messages or mistreat them while playing a game, but sometimes things can be said in the heat of the moment when someone is angry about losing. It is important for them to know that repeat patterns of harassment or abuse are not acceptable.
  • Most important, keep talking to your kids about their gaming experiences. Reiterate the importance of protecting their personal information and listen carefully when they are talking about their online friends for any clues to that fact that there may be bullying going on. Ask if they have needed to block anyone. Questioning them about what their character in a game is currently doing can also help you decide if the game is appropriate for them.
  1. Beware of Scams and Expenses
  • Caution kids to avoid downloading tip or cheat sheets for online games as they may contain a virus or spyware, even if these come up in the game itself or appear on the website of the game developer.
  • Help your children to review ratings and reviews on games before they play. Always make sure a game is appropriate for your child’s age range. Make sure that other players say they enjoyed the game and did not experience technical issues.
  • Turn off in-app purchases so your child can’t run up a bill. Some games are free to download and may also offer free game play. However, these games are often set up for in-app purchases if players want access to higher levels. Your child may accidentally make expensive in-app purchases while they’re playing, which can result in a huge bill. Open the app or mobile settings on your child’s phone and switch off in-app purchases
  • Other players may offer to sell your children characters or gear, but as with anything on the Internet, it may not be what it seems. Be sure to research that the person is active on gaming sites and has been around long enough to have the characters or gear they’re selling. It’s better to pay through a service like PayPal so you can file a claim if the person is scamming you.
  1. Set Limits and Offer Breaks
  • Gaming is fun, but kids can get carried away and not realize how long they are playing. Limit how much time your child can play in a single session.
  • Tell you children they can’t play games until their homework or chores are done.
  • Offer alternative activities like getting outside to play catch, take a walk, play with the dog, etc.
  • Make sure your kids are taking breaks when they are tired, hungry, or getting frustrated by a game.

Are Tech Tools THE Safety Solution in the COVID-era?

Tech companies have been creating apps and devices for tracking employee wellness and promoting customer safety as restaurants and other businesses start to reopen, but experts caution that they could give employees and customers a false sense of security and possibly do more harm than good. "Some companies are embarking upon things that are not going to help and may actually set us back," said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Tools that the technology relies on, such as antibody test results and infrared thermometers, can be inaccurate, leading to a false sense of security.

Facebook Planning to Use Artificial Intelligence To Combat Hateful Memes

Facebook is combating hate speech and misinformation by developing natural language processing models and a database of meme examples for training artificial intelligence moderators. The company, together with DrivenData, will also launch the Hateful Meme Challenge, which will award $100,000 to researchers who develop AI models that can detect hate speech in memes.

Coronavirus Tracking Apps Could Threaten Personal Privacy

The coronavirus tracking apps coming onto the market, initially hailed as an important tool for containment of the virus, have quickly encountered fears about privacy, cybersecurity and effectiveness. Tracking apps are already in use in Australia, India, China, Singapore and South Korea, and under development in France and Germany. In the United States, tech giants Google and Apple are teaming up to develop “exposure notification” software for use in iOS and Android apps. The technology uses Bluetooth signals to determine the distance between phones. A person with a confirmed case of coronavirus can automatically send notifications to other phones with the contact tracing app, alerting users that they may have been exposed to the virus. The software, which is in beta testing, will be shared with local health departments. Apple and Google say location services will not be used and any personal data would be anonymized and stay on the user’s phone, rather than going to a centralized database. However, researchers say that anonymized data can be reverse-engineered and mined for valuable particulars including gender, age and marital status.

Digital Cheating on the Rise

During the shift to remote instruction, many educators are using online proctoring services to monitor students for signs of cheating while they take traditional closed-book exams. Some students are speaking out against these services, objecting to everything from the design of the software to remarking that the whole process is a huge distraction to test taking. The University of California Berkeley has already banned online exam proctoring, with some students saying they may not have the high-speed Internet connection or living situation to make remote exams happen effectively and equitably. Of course, other students are finding ways around these safeguards, using tips and tricks they find online, such as hiding notes underneath the view of the camera or setting up a secret laptop. But as two can play at that game, so remote proctoring services are constantly coming up with countermeasures. On its website, one online proctoring service even has a job listing for a “professional cheater” to test its system. 

How Safe Are Those Video Chat Apps?

The Mozilla Foundation recently released a report detailing how the top 15 video-conferencing apps -- including those used by schools, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams -- measure up when it comes to privacy and security. Of those studied, 12 met the company's minimum security standards.

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