RESPECT: Makes young people safer online

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Aretha said it best in 1967

The conversation around Internet safety has moved a long way since the 1990s when it focused mostly on porn and predators and we’ve even evolved since 2009 when ConnectSafely published Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth.

Along with colleagues, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to position online safety messaging and how to integrate it with offline risks (the overlap is pretty major) and with youth rights — an important part of the discussion that is often missing.

I realize that something as complex as the way we interact with connected technology can’t really be reduced to a soundbite or even an acronym, but that didn’t stop me from trying. So, to make things simple, I’m paying homage to Aretha Franklin, whose classic song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” sets the tone for how I think we should be talking about youth online safety and rights.

Read on to “find out what it means to me.” And when you’re done, click on the image below to listen to Aretha sing it out.

Rights and Responsibilities:

Human rights for young people are essential to their safety. And that not only includes their right to be safe, but their right of free speech and assembly. These rights are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and they apply online as well as off. Blocking access to social media, for example, violates their rights and, I would argue, their safety as well. Rights also tie into privacy, such as student rights to the privacy of their personal data on their own devices and school servers.

And to help safeguard our rights and the rights of others, it’s important to be Responsible for our actions online and off.

Emotional literacy (AKA ‘Social Emotional Learning’):

No matter how hard we try, adults can’t possibly stomp out all bullying and cruelty, But there is research to show that we can help head it off at the pass by teaching emotional literacy, also known as Social Emotional Learning, from kindergarten on. Helping young people learn compassion, empathy and kindness will go a long way toward creating the kind of world that we all want to live in.

Security:

You can’t be safe or free if you’re not secure. We need to not only get industry and government to help secure our devices and infrastructure, but teach everyone — starting with children — how to protect their devices and their data against unauthorized intrusion.

Privacy and Protection:

We all have a right to privacy. Whether it’s government, companies or even prying educators and parents, kids have a right to keep their information private. Sure there are exceptions when it comes to some parents’ need to monitor and guide their children but, as a general rule, children should be treated RESPECTfully, which includes respecting their privacy.

Young people do have the right to be protected from harm, but it’s impossible to shield them from all potential harms, which is why resiliency is so important.

Education and digital literacy:

Digital literacy can go a long way toward protecting us online. And it’s not just knowing how to operate computers and mobile devices. It’s developing the critical thinking skills and internal compass to help make good decisions in our digital lives, including making good media choices.

Consideration:

Being considerate of others means not just treating them with respect and kindness but also respecting their privacy and their rights. It’s about taking the time to think about how our actions will affect others and doing the right thing.

Thoughtfulness and Tolerance:

“Think before you click” is just one of many sound bites that come under the general category of thoughtfulness. It doesn’t take long to think about the implications and consequences of what you’re about to do, especially in a medium like the Internet where there really is no such thing as an “eraser button.”

Tolerance means accepting and celebrating our differences and giving ourselves and each other a break now and then.  Embracing the notion that it’s OK to be different goes a long way towards reducing bullying and meanness.

 

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UN bringing child rights into the digital age

By Larry Magid

Attendees at the UCRC day of discussion listen to recommendations

Attendees at the UNCRC day of discussion listen to recommendations

In 1989 the United Nations passed an important human rights treaty. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified by all countries in the world except Somalia, Southern Sudan and — believe it or not — the United States.*

Rights and protections

And even though this document was written before kids started using the Internet, it spells out protections and rights of freedom of expression and access to media for children around the world. Some have defined the rights as the 3 P’s: protection, provision and participation. But, as several attendees pointed out, the UN has mostly focused on protection (see Anne Collier’s analysis).

Living document and day of discussion

Just because the UNCRC predates the commercial Internet, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be applied to the digital age, just as the more than 200-year old American Bill of Rights has been interpreted to guarantee freedom of expression and privacy rights for Internet users in America.

The UNCRC is a living document, subject to modern interpretation. But, just in case there is any doubt about its application to the digital world, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, an 18-member international body that monitors the implementation of the convention, convened a “general day of discussion on digital media and children’s rights” at the UN’s sprawling Palace of Nations complex in Geneva.

The day of discussion took place at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva

The day of discussion took place at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva

My ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I participated in that meeting, along with about 300 other attendees representing governments, non-governmental organizations (non-profits) and human rights groups from around the world.

After a brief introductory plenary session, attendees divided into two working groups. One focused on children’s equal and safe access to digital media and ICT (information and communication technology) and the other on children’s empowerment and engagement through digital media.

After several hours of discussion, rapporteurs from both groups summarized the discussions and made some recommendations to be considered by the Committee.

The recommendations — summarized below — were divided into four categories: empowerment, access, digital literacies and safety.

Empowerment

  • Empowerment of all children should be founded on a balanced approach between protection and participation where children are the drivers of a safe and participatory digital world.
  • Give children digital literacy and promote digital citizenship.
  • All stakeholders need to understand their responsibilities with the respect to the rights of children in digital media.
  • Different stakeholders need to play different roles: States, parents, families, teachers, civil society, NGOs, private and public sectors and children themselves.
  • Any approach to limit the risks of harm that children face in their digital lives should be balanced against the enjoyment of other rights, including the freedom of expression, right to participation and right to association.

Accessibility

  • Ensure equal access to digital media and ICT by technology infrastructure ensuring free or low-cost access that is targeted for different groups of children, particularly girls, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups of children.

Digital literacy

  • Provide digital education to all children, parents, teachers and all those working with and for children and ensure it’s good quality.
  • Include online education methods in school programs including children with disabilities.
  • Ensure training in social behavior online — social literacy.

Safety

  • Ensure awareness-raising for children and adults of all the risks and harms.
  • Provide training for law enforcement and others working with children.
  • Ensure legal and self-regulating mechanisms to guarantee safety on the Internet.
  • Develop technological solutions for prevention and protection.
  • Ensure availability of assistance and support, including child-friendly complaint mechanisms, helplines and compassion for victims.
  • Children should play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers against harm.

My takeaways

I was gratified to see that the Committee and fellow working group members were sensitive to the importance of rights as well as protection and that there was a general agreement that online access and free expression are critical rights. I was also pleased about the recommendation that children be empowered to “play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers” along with the concept that “children are the drivers of a safe and participatory digital world.”

As other attendees pointed out, the discussions were a bit vague on specifics and how these rights might be implemented and there was no consensus on how the vast cultural, political and legal differences between countries should apply to these rights. For example, there are several countries that filter the Internet for all users — not just children. And even in the United States and Western Europe, it is common for schools to block social media, which I interpret not only as vehicles for free expression, but also freedom of association as guaranteed in the UNCRC. Another limitation of both the UNCRC and the day of discussion was the lack of differentiation by age. The UNCRC defines “child” as people under 18, but as any parent knows, there is a vast difference between toddlers and teenagers and any discussion of rights and protections needs to take these differences into consideration.

*As per the United States — even though we haven’t ratified the Convention (scroll down in this document from Amnesty International for the why), freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and there is nothing in the Constitution that says these rights are applicable only to adults. Still, the U.S. has a longstanding tradition of giving parents control over their children and giving schools “in loco parentis” controls while children are at school. While no one would question a parent’s right and responsibility to supervise their children and protect them from harm, there are families in the U.S. and elsewhere where parents are interpreting those rights in an arbitrary manner. I worry about LGBT youth whose parents are not supportive of young people who are exploring religious or political views that might differ from their parents’ beliefs.

Next steps

The recommendations of these working groups will be studied by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child and then passed on to member states. Some, I suspect, will embrace them while others are likely to ignore them. Most, I’m pretty sure, will interpret them according to local laws and customs, which means that — even if adopted — not all of these recommendations will be implemented. Still, it’s an important step toward updating the interpretation of the UNCRC so that rights that are guaranteed offline are also applied online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IGF attendees complain about censorship in Turkey while some advocate it for youth

(Istanbul, Turkey)  Censorship is very much on the minds of attendees at this year’s Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul. One reason, of course, is because the meeting is being held in a country that has censored the Web. Earlier this year the Turkish government blocked Twitter and YouTube for awhile and continues to block thousands of websites, including some that reportedly have content that goes against government ideology.

But you don’t have to live in Turkey, Russia, China or Iran to be affected by censorship. Young people in every country — including the United States, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe — face it every day.

Two hundred and twenty three years after the U.S. passed the First Amendment to its constitution, kids are being censored online in school, in some libraries and in some homes. The stated reason for this censorship is to protect them from “harmful content,” but it’s not just a matter of blocking porn, hate sites or sites that promote self-harm. Many schools in the U.S., UK and Europe block social media sites, for example, even though Facebook and most other responsible sites have their own policies against so-called harmful content.

Here at IGF, a number of speakers have advocated protecting children from such content for their own good, yet hardly any kids I’ve spoken with think Internet filtering is either appropriate or effective, except for young children.

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Olivia (right) presents at IGF session on youth rights

Olivia, a 15 year-old attendee from Denmark, made the point better than I can at a session here in Istanbul:

“This is our world, the Internet we’re talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can’t keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it…. You have to help your children instead of trying to control them.”  (Quote courtesy of NetFamilyNews.org)

The folks in that workshop applauded that comment but it didn’t stop several adults at various sessions from advocating more controls over the types of materials that young people can access.

I didn’t get his name, but one attendee from the Turkish government spoke proudly about how his country was blocking “content that is harmful for children,” but he never defined what he meant by harmful content.

 

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Protecting children online needs to allow for their right to free speech

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 2.48.46 PMI’m writing this column on a flight to Istanbul and then on to Geneva for two United Nations conferences.

 Istanbul is the site of this year’s U.N. Internet Governance Forum (IGF), while the Geneva meetings will focus on digital media and children’s rights per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world, except the U.S. and Somalia.

The IGF is an annual event where “stakeholders” from governments, industry, nonprofits and academia discuss a wide range of Internet policy issues. Anne Collier and I are representing ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization where we serve as co-directors. (Disclosure: ConnectSafely receives financial support from some tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Yahoo.)

The workshops I’m participating in focus on child online protection, protecting child safety and child rights, and empowering youth through digital citizenship.

I organized the child safety and child rights workshop because I want to explore how to protect children against potential online harms in ways that don’t take away their free speech rights or their right to explore all the amazing resources available online. In a way, it’s a perfect segue to the Geneva conference about digital media and the rights of the child. Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”

FirstAmendment

The First Ammendment to the U.S Constitution assures free speech rights to all, regardless of age.

Clearly, “any other media” includes the Internet, which means that by international treaty, children have codified rights when it comes to what they can read and what they can say. And even though the U.S. hasn’t ratified this convention, Americans do have First Amendment rights which, as far as I can tell, apply to everyone, including minors.

Yet, in the interest of protecting children, we sometimes deny them the right to access material and express themselves.

Many schools in the U.S. and other countries employ filters that restrict access to some websites or apps. These types of filters have been around for a long time and were first mostly used to block pornography and, over time, have evolved to also block sites that advocate or depict violence, the use of alcohol or illegal drugs or promote self-harm such as cutting or anorexia. A purest interpretation of the First Amendment or the Convention on the Rights of the Child could be used to argue against the use of these filters for any purpose, but I think most people would agree that parents have the right to protect young children from potentially harmful or disturbing content, and that schools, even public schools that are run by governments, have a right and responsibility to keep kids from accessing certain content within their facilities. But such filters are not just used to block porn, violence and self-harm.

Depending on how they are configured, filters can also block access to social media sites, which is common in many schools in the U.S. and other countries. They can also be used to ban sites that officials in some countries simply don’t want students to access. Ironically, Turkey — which is hosting this year’s governance forum, filtered the Internet for all of its citizens, blocking Twitter and YouTube, for a while earlier this year for what appear to be purely political reasons.

I’m particularly concerned about schools blocking social media. While it’s certainly fair to argue that students should be focusing on their studies while in class, it strikes me that a wholesale ban on social media sites raises some troubling free speech issues.

Social media is where people exchange information and ideas and it’s frequently used for political, cultural and religious expression, not unlike what’s printed in newspapers or discussed in hallways. And, while some schools block social media, teachers at other schools encourage its use and incorporate it into their curriculum as a way to encourage kids to express themselves, broaden their horizons and share learning resources with peers and others from around the world.

I’m also troubled by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a well-meaning federal law that has the unintended consequences of preventing kids under 13 from expressing themselves on most social media platforms unless they lie about their age. Millions of kids have lied to use these services, often with their parents help.

Of course there are risks in social media, but there are also enormous benefits. Sports can be risky, but that doesn’t stop most schools from encouraging kids to participate. If schools treated sports the way they treat social media, they would ban baseball, football and soccer on school grounds and deny their students access to safety equipment, rule enforcement, coaching and camaraderie associated with school athletics, knowing full well that kids would still play those sports when they are away from school.

Whether you’re a decision maker at home, for a school or an entire country, protecting children from harm will always be a major priority. But avoiding harm also means protecting children’s rights, including the right to access media. It’s a delicate balance that requires thought and, most of all, respect for children and their rights and it’s not too much to ask.

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

 

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It’s time for schools to upgrade both technology and pedagogy

by Larry Magid

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

A_Village_Saves-_National_Savings_in_Lewknor,_Oxfordshire,_England,_1941_D3661

Teaching methods, in some schools, haven’t changed much since this picture was taken (Creative Commons License)

As students return to school, it’s time to think about absolute necessities like pens, paper, school clothes, a laptop or tablet and, of course, a learning network that enables them to interact with fellow students and teachers.

OK, that network may not yet be mandatory. But an increasing number of teachers are flocking toward “connected learning,” which involves changing not only educational methods, but also some fundamental assumptions about the nature of education.

Connected learning

An infographic at ConnectedLearning.tv offers up a definition that refers to connected learning as a model that holds out the possibility of “reimagining the experience of education in the information age.” It goes on to suggest that the power of technology be used to “fuse young people’s interests, friendships and academic achievements” through hands-on production, shared purpose and open networks.

That’s a refreshingly forward thinking definition of the term. For many educators, “connected learning,” simply means using the power of the Internet to make it more efficient to bring resources into the classroom. It reminds me of a presentation I saw a few years ago at an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, in which a smart board vendor demonstrated her product by modeling a teacher-dominated geography lesson, using the smart board in almost the same way teachers have long used chalk boards to display information in a top-down fashion. It struck me at the time that much of today’s so-called “technology in education” is nothing more than using 21st century technology to enhance 19th century pedagogy.

And that brings me back to “reimagining” education by finding ways to disrupt the processes and power relationships that have so long defined students as both the consumers and products of the educational system rather than co-creators and collaborators.

Student networking

Not all companies are thinking of ways to reinforce old learning models. 1StudentBody (www.1sb.com), a Palo Alto startup run by serial entrepreneur Mandeep Dhillon, is leveraging the power of networking to help students help themselves and their peers.

Mandeep Dhillon

Mandeep Dhillon

Dhillon views “peer-to-peer connections” as a powerful way to connect students within and among schools to collaborate in the learning process. His just released app, NoteSnap (initially available only for iPhone and iPad, with an Android version coming), enables students to use their smartphone to take notes in class and, by default, share them with other students. The app lets students use the phone’s camera, for example, to take a picture of the classroom’s whiteboard to share the content with others in the class. The app automatically cleans up the image to improve readability and immediately shares it with others. It also allows students to ask questions, and there is the option of asking anonymously if you “don’t want people to think you’re clueless.”

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Notesnap for iOS and soon Android

I asked Dhillon why students would want to use the app. After all, schools are often competitive, and sharing with other students helps them, but not you. His answer was aspirational. The product is not simply designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of getting a better grade, but reflects his philosophy that learning and work will be increasingly collaborative.

It makes sense to me. In the real world, you’re rewarded not for what you know, but how you’re able to leverage your knowledge, skills and talents for the benefit of others. Not only are companies increasingly encouraging workers to share their knowledge among colleagues, but there is also a growing open-source movement that encourages competitors to share some aspects of their intellectual property for the benefit of the entire industry and the world at large. In the real world, success is not a zero-sum game where your success depends on other people’s lack of success.

I grew up at the tail end of the industrial age and got to live through the information age which, said, Dhillon, is about over now that information has become a commodity. “We’re now in the networked age,” he said, where what you know is far less important than your ability to use networks to obtain whatever it is you need and share it with others.

Other apps and services

There are, of course, other apps aimed at students and educators, including Edmodo, a network of 37 million teachers, students and parents designed to help teachers manage coursework and encourage all users to collaborate. Another app, ShowMe interactive whiteboard lets you use an iPad to create “whiteboard-style tutorials.”

Evernote isn’t specifically for students, but it does allow users to take notes, snap pictures, save and share Web links and organize and share bits of information.

And, for the more animated students and teachers out there, there is GoAnimate for Schools that lets users create amazing animated videos by dragging and dropping and adding audio dialogue, complete with lip-syncing. One of my favorite features is an animated whiteboard that lets you type in text for your character to write on the board.

 

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IAC’s Ask.com buys Ask.fm and hires a safety officer to stem bullying

Ask.com, which is owned by IAC/InteractiveCorp., has acquired Ask.fm, a Latvia-based question and answer site that has come under criticism because of past incidences of bullying. The site, which allows people to anonymously ask questions of others, is widely used by teenagers who — in some cases — have been known to be less than civil.

As part of the acquisition, Ask.fm’s founders are leaving the company and it will now be managed by Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds. Ask also reached an agreement with the Attorneys General of New York and Maryland to establish a safety center and hire a chief trust and safety officer. That person is Catherine Teitelbaum, former director of global safety and product policy for Yahoo, and a well respected advocate for online child safety. The company is also working with former federal prosecutor and former MySpace chief safety officer Hemanshu Nigam, who currently heads up SSP Blue – a safety, privacy and security consulting firm.

As part of the agreement with the attorneys general, IAC has also pledged to maintain a user-initiated reporting mechanism on the site for reporting concerns about misuse, harassment, inappropriate content and misuse by children under 13. They will also remove users that have been the subject of three complaints and take “reasonable steps to block those users from creating new accounts under different user names.” The company also plans to work with non-profits to address issues such as suicide prevention and online safety and register with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (whose board I sit on) “and comply with all reporting requirements of sexual exploitation images.”

ask

Safety is good business

In an interview, Leeds said that safety is not just the right thing to do, but also a good business decision. “In order for this site to become something bigger than it is today and hold a significant place in the pantheon of accepted social media sites, it had to put safety and the perception of safety as one of the very first things that it cares about.” Nigam agrees. “People who go to engage in interaction with others in a social media setting are not going there to be hurt, not going there to be bullied, they’re not going there to experience an unsafe environment. They’re going there to enjoy themselves, to learn and grow.”

Leeds said that he reached to the Attorneys General because he wanted their input before taking over the company.

Social media ‘flipped on its head’

Ask.fm., which was launched in 2010, has 180 million registered users and 42% of them are under 18. In describing the site, Leeds said, “It was flipping on its head” the push model of social media where people post that they think might interest others and instead “created this pull model where you post those things that other people want to know about you.” In other words, instead of my posting something that you might not care about, you would ask me a question that you do care about and I would answer it.

Anonymity isn’t necessarily bad

The site does allow anonymity, which means it’s possible for someone to ask questions without revealing their identity. The good news is that only the subject of that question will see it unless he or she chooses to post it, but it can still lead to some very hurtful interactions if people ask things like “why are you so ugly.” Although the site’s new administration will strive to reduce these types of hurtful questions, they do plan to maintain the ability for people to post anonymously. Teitelbaum said that “the option to ask questions anonymously is super important.” She pointed out that anonymity is not new to social media. There are numerous historical examples of anonymous authors and social benefit from other anonymous interactions such as tips to law enforcement. “It has an important role particularly for teens as they explore their identities and who they are going to grow up to be,” added Teitelbaum. As I wrote on a CNET post in April, Anonymous isn’t synonymous with ominous, there are lots of legitimate reasons for people to post anonymously ranging from whisteblowing, to exploring sexual identity to simply not wanting to forever be held accountable for what you’re thinking at the moment.

Shared responsibility

Ask.com’s efforts – and those of attorneys general and other law enforcement agencies – can help make things safer and more pleasant for users of all ages, but no matter how hard companies and cops work to protect users, the ultimate responsibility for safety remains with the user online just as it does in the physical world. People need to be aware that what they post affects others and themselves. Self-respect and respect for others along with engaging people in a civil manner (even while disagreeing) goes a long way towards creating a social media environment that we can all enjoy. The non-profit that I co-direct, ConnectSafely.org, has plenty of tips and advice on how to safety navigate social media and mobile services but — at the end of the day — it’s pretty simple. Be nice, respect others and remember that there is no such thing as an “eraser button” when it comes to online media.

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

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Safe computing includes minding your ergonomics

 I recently set up a new home office, which not only involved countless trips to Ikea, but also having to deal with ergonomics — something I hadn’t thought much about since the last time I set up an office.

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines ergonomics as “a science that deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely.” But like many things in life, it’s really part science and part art. While there are guidelines for such things as keyboard and monitor height, lighting and how you’re seated, it is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

An Ikea table top and four adjustable legs allows you to tailor the height of your desk

An Ikea table top and four adjustable legs allows you to tailor the height of your desk

For example, the proper height of your keyboard or monitor depends not just on your overall height, but on the size of your torso and the length of your legs. The lighting in your office depends on the position of your monitor and even the type of computer you’re using. Even the acoustics matter. A noisy fan can affect your mood, even if you don’t notice it.

Even though I spend a lot of time using my MacBook Air, I’m one of those people who still has a desktop PC. But regardless of whether you use a laptop or a desktop, it’s important to have it at the right height and be sitting in a good chair. Having said that, I admit that I sometimes use my laptop at coffee shops, the kitchen table or even on a couch, where my posture and position is far from optimal. But even when you’re away from your usual work area, and regardless what kind of device you’re using, it’s still a good idea to think about ergonomics.

Most dining room tables and even traditional “writing” desks are too high for the average computer user. For my work area, I set up a desk that’s about 27 inches from the floor because that height seems appropriate for the length of my legs and torso and the position of my chair.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that “when keyboards are too low you may type with your wrists bent up, and when keyboards are too high, you may need to raise your shoulders to elevate your arms.” OSHA recommends that you “adjust the chair height and work surface height to maintain a neutral body posture” and suggests that elbows be “about the same height as the keyboard and hang comfortably to the side of the body,” with shoulders relaxed, and wrists not bent up or down.

It also recommends that you position your computer monitor directly in front of you, and not farther than 35 degrees to the left or right. And don’t squint. If the type is too small, you can adjust it within most programs (Microsoft Office and popular browsers allow you to zoom) or within the operating system.

Rather than buy a desk or computer workstation, I picked out a table top at Ikea along with four adjustable legs that I could position at any height. The legs cost $15 each and the top about $30, so the entire desk (made of fake wood with a rather nice looking veneer) cost about $90. I actually set up two identical desks in an L formation so I have plenty of room for two monitors, my laptop, a printer and the gear I use for my CBS News and KCBS radio broadcasts.

There are plenty of other ways to customize your work area. You could, for example, lay a door over two small filing cabinets, as long as the cabinets aren’t too high. If they’re too low, you can raise the height of the door or table top with pieces of plywood. I noticed that my desk was a little shaky when I typed so I put a matching 25-inch-high cabinet under the desktop and made up the difference using shims (small pieces of plywood) so it now helps support the table top.

Even if you don’t use your home office as a broadcast studio, you might still want to dampen the noise a bit or get rid of any echoes. For that I went to the House of Foam in Palo Alto and bought foam for the walls, which I then covered in decorative cloth that I picked out at FabMo, a Mountain View organization that lets people pick up designer fabric in exchange for a small donation. You can also use a foam mattress (about $20) or hang a rug on the wall.

My office chair has an adjustable seat height and tilt and, because it’s not quite firm enough, I added a lumbar support that helps my lower back.

Of course, equipment is only part of the solution. It’s also important to sit up straight, not slouch and be aware of your posture when you’re using a laptop or tablet away from your desk. And if you search for “cellphone ergonomics,” you’ll also get advice on how to use a cellphone without straining your neck.

My parents gave me good advice by telling me to watch my posture and sit up straight. But back then they couldn’t have anticipated how our work would shift from those old writing desks in today’s on-the-move technology-immersed work styles.

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Safety, security and privacy risks of fitness tracking and ‘quantified self’

Symantec is out with a report that raises questions about the safety and security of wearable technology.

In a report, How Safe is Your Quantified Self, Symantec “found security risks in a large number of self-tracking devices and applications,” including the finding that “all of the wearable activity-tracking devices examined, including those from leading brands,are vulnerable to location tracking.”

report from ABI Research estimates that  wearable computing device market will grow to 485 million annual device shipments by 2018 but lots of people are already wearing fitness trackers from Fitbit, Jawbone, Samsung and others and even more are using smartphone apps that track their movement throughout the day.

Report shows security risk of wearable devices

If your device is hacked, said Symantec, the perpetrators could know:

  • The mileage that you are covering
  • When you usually go running
  • Where you usually go running
  • Where you live
  • Your age, sex, height, and weight
  • Your heart rate
  • Your altitude
  • Steps taken
  • Where and when you are on vacation

In the clear

The report also found that 20% of the fitness apps “transmitted passwords in the clear.” A staggering  52 percent of apps examined did not make available privacy policies, according to the report.

The report suggests that “the information could be useful to governments, marketers, businesses, and of course cybercriminals.”

In an interview, Symantec’s Director of Security Response, Orla Cox said that “some applications were actually communicating with up to 15  different remote locations,”including “analytics companies and a variety of different organizations.” She said that “there are companies interested in this data,” and that “attackers are very much driven by money so it’s possible that this data could be taken and sold to third party companies.”

Cox said that securities companies are looking at developing security software for wearable devices. Symantec, like most security companies, already has software for mobile devices which, typically, are used to send the data back to servers, but that software isn’t likely to protect you for data that’s transmitted from the device itself, such as the Bluetooth signal it uses to connect with the phone.

Recommendations

Cox recommends that users of these devices turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if you’re not using them and being “a little bit more wary when you’re installing applications and getting an understanding of what the application is going to do with your data.” She also suggests that device manufactures make it easier for consumers to turn off these signals when they’re not in use.

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The MoveC300 watch I wear from Lifetrack is able to sync with Android and iOS devices but you have to press a sync button each time you want to transmit data. That not only makes it harder to hack but also preserves battery life, which is one of the reasons the watch can run for up-to a year on a coin-sized battery.

LifeTrack Move 300 requires you to press a button each time you sync

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Don’t let stalkers or abusers and creeps track your phone’s location

Modern cell phones know where you are. This can be a very good thing, but — in the wrong hands — it can also lead to potential abuse.

As Kaofeng Lee and Erica Olsen point out in the article, Cell Phone Location, Privacy and Intimate Partner Violence from the website of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV):

Sharing one’s location can be quite dangerous, however, when a stalker or abuser uses this information to stalk, harass, and threaten. For victims of domestic violence, assault or stalking, knowing how much information may be inadvertently shared about them is key to planning for privacy and safety.

NNEDV has more advice at Cell Phone & Location Safety Strategies

Fortunately, there are ways to control your phone’s location features. I’ll get to specifics for iPhones and Android phones later in this article.

Location for first responders

Although there are now plenty of commercial uses for location-aware devices, they were first put there — and required by the federal government — so that first responders could find you in an emergency. If you dial 911 from a landline, the operator knows exactly where you are because they can trace that phone’s location. That didn’t used to be the case for cell phones but now 911 operators have access to geolocation data from GPS satellites, Wi-Fi hotspots, Bluetooth signals and cellular networks.

Lots of location apps

But now that data can also be used for navigation, commercial purposes and a wide variety of apps, including some designed specifically to share your location  with others. There are “phone finder” apps that allow you (or anyone who knows your Apple or Google ID and password) to track your phone. There are apps designed to share your location with friends or family and there are apps like Yelp, Facebook and Foursquare designed to share your location with the app developer and — depending on how you use them — your friends on those services. Even photos you take with your smart phone (or a regular digital camera) can record your location and disclose it to those you share the photos with.

Turning off location (almost) completely

The good news is that (with the exception of e-911), you can turn off location completely or limit what apps have access to that location. Here’s how to turn it off (almost) completely:

iPhone or other iOS device:
This advice applies to iOS 7. Here’s an Apple help page that covers other versions

1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services

2. Turn location services off by touching or swiping the Location Services slider. You can also turn off location awareness of specific apps by touching or swiping their slider just below the general location setting.

loc_off

Android

Location settings can be slightly different on different Android devices but in general:

Go to Settings and scroll down until you see Location. In some cases you need to first select General and then Location.

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Controlling location history and what apps have access

You may want to use location for some purposes, such as navigation, but turn it off for other apps.

On an iPhone just below where you turn location on or off completely, you’ll find a list of apps that may be location aware. Simply turn off location for any apps that you don’t want to be able to access that information.

On an Android phone you can sometimes control location awareness from individual app’s menus. If not, consider deleting the app or turning off location in general.

Google also stores location history but you can turn that off or delete what’s been collected.

  1. Open Google Settings  from your device’s apps menu:
    • Devices running Android 4.3 or lower: Touch Location > Location History.
    • Devices running Android 4.4: Touch Account History > Google Location History > Location History.
  2. Touch Delete Location History at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Read the dialog box that appears, check the box next to “I understand and want to delete,” and touch Delete.
    (Source: Google location help page)

You can also delete specific location history by logging into your Google account and going to Google’s Location History website. From there you can delete individual locations, locations by date, or your entire location history.

Other considerations

Be aware that anyone who has physical access to your device can change the settings, so be careful who has access and check the settings periodically if you have reason to worry. Also, be careful about the apps that you install and how you use them. Look at the permissions that they ask for (especially location) and if you do install an app that can disclose your location, be careful how you use it. Something as innocuous as recommending a restaurant you’ve visited could get you in trouble. Kaofeng Lee & Erica Olsen recommend that domestic violence survivors “put a lock code on the phone” to make it harder for an abuser to modify your settings and they further warn survivors to “be careful not to install programs that are unknown, especially if the suggested app is from the abuser or mutual friends. Survivors should also make sure that family and friends do not download apps onto their phone without knowing about it or knowing what the app does.”

Parents can get mobile phone advice from A Parents’ Guide to Mobile Phones from ConnectSafely.org (the non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director).

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

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Don’t let stalkers or abusers and creeps track your phone’s location

Read the full post at Forbes.com

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