Google, anti-trust and trust

google-76517_640The fact that Google has been fined around £3.8 million for “antitrust” violations (read more here) highlights a potential issue which students need to be aware of; the fact that the big tech companies, google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, etc, are businesses at the heart as opposed to being focussed on the public good.

I will carefully qualify the above in that I most of what companies such as the above do does provide public benefit plus that they also make great contributions to philanthropic, research and charitable endeavours.   The issue is that given their size and resultant power there is the potential for inappropriate activities or activities not in the public interest to take place.   There is the potential for decisions and actions to be taken in pursuit of the dollar, or pound for us here in the UK.

As we provide the big tech companies with more of our personal data, as we sign up and eagerly consume the subscription services they provide, we are feeding them power.    This power can be used, as is suggested in the claims against Google, to leverage and bully other organisations, establishing monopolies and reducing public choice.     This power can be used to influence individuals and groups through profiling and targeted advertising as was the Cambridge Analytica scandal that impacted on Facebook appeared to suggest.    This power might even be able to revise history or to change the “truth” in the future, assuming this isn’t already happening.

Do students consider how the services they subscribe to might be used to influence them?   Do students consider the competitive market and the impact of overly powerful monopolies?   Do they consider how data, the new oil in terms of value, might be used?

I wont be stopping using the above companies any time soon as they each provide excellent services which help me in my work and life however I am aware of the implications of their use.    I believe it is important that we have discussions with our students in relation to these issues, to ensure they too are aware before the sign up to yet another service.    Do they trust these sites having consciously considered it or do the trust blindly?




Ban watches in schools!!

smart-watch-821559_640The issue of mobile phones in schools is once again raging with various schools deciding to ban mobile phones.   On social media teachers and school leaders are split.   Some occupy the ban all mobiles camp citing mobile phones as a distraction and also concerns around student mental health in relation to overuse of social media.   Others support the use of mobile phones in classrooms as it provides teachers with an additional tool which can be used to engage students in their learning opening up new opportunities and learning experiences not available without mobile phones. 

I have repeatedly stated my view, in that I am for allowing mobile phones in schools.    In the real world we all have phones vying for our attention.   Some adults manage this potential distraction and even addiction better than others.    It is due to this I feel we have a duty to work with students and help them learn to manage their mobile devices, their online presense along the potential resultant distraction.   If teachers don’t spend time working with students to discuss and consider these issues then who will? 

The one question that I would like to raise via this post is, has anyone thought of discussing this issue with students?     We are hearing plenty for educational bodies and individual school leaders and teachers but what about the students.   I so far have heard little if not nothing in terms of students views.   Have we discussed with them as to the potential concerns and risks are mobile phone use, that result in the view from some that mobile phones should be banned?    Have we discussed with them as to the potential positive benefits of having mobile devices in school and in classrooms, along with the potential ways that such devices could be used?    Have we discussed creating an agreement for the proper use of mobile devices in school, developed collaboratively between staff and students? 

To me banning something is seldom effective.   Work arounds are created making bans ineffective.    I suspect the Smart watch may be one such work around.   The students phone would be silent and out of sight however their Smart watch would allow students to continue interacting with social media without ever having to get their phone out and get caught for having it.    Are we going to start banning watches next? 


Another cyber security breach!!

Another week brings yet another cyber security breach.   This time the breach relates to company which encompasses the Currys, PC World, Dixons and Carphone Warehouse brands.    5.9 million payment card records and the personal details of 1.2 million people were involved in the breach which looks like one of the largest if not the largest in the UK to date.

For me this highlights the need for students to be aware that through no fault of their own their data may be leaked online if it has not been already.

pwnedIn discussing this with students my favourite site continues to be Have I Been Pwned which allows students to enter their email address and see if their details have been involved in one of the many breaches for which the site has data.    To date 1 in 3 of the students I have had enter their email have found out they have been part of a breach.

The key message which I take from this is:

Use strong passwords:  Most sites hash their passwords for security reasons however a weak password can easily be resolved from a hash.   As such a strong password is added security should your details including a hashed password be involved in a security breach.

Avoid using password across key sites:   If your password is leaked and resolved from a hash or even worse the site stores it unencrypted, the first thing a hacker will do is try the same username and password combination for other sites.     As such using the same password across sites represents a risk.    Either use a password manager to allow for individual passwords for each site or make sure critical sites such as banking, your main email account, your amazon account, etc have different passwords.

Review your passwords:  Although it is no longer advised that your change your password frequently it is still advisable to consider how long you have used passwords for and especially for where passwords have been reused across sites, to change these periodically.

I am sure it will not be too long before the next breach is reported on the news.    As this pattern of an increasing frequency of breaches continues we all need to become more and more aware of the risks and of the precautions we can take.

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Cyber emotional intelligence?

feedback-3239758_640A recent twitter post highlighted the Goleman book, Emotional Intelligence, a book which currently sits on my book shelf having been read a couple of times.   Goleman’s book focuses on the importance of interpersonal skills, of emotional intelligence rather than the academic intelligence measured by testing and indicated by your Intelligence Quotient or IQ.

My current reading is that of “The cyber effect” by Mary Aitken.   I have found the book to be instantly interesting particularly in its discussion of online dis-inhibition and escalation and how the internet is effecting our behaviours and leading to new norms.

I wonder about the implications of the convergence of these two books and their different topic areas.   If we treat the cyber world as a distinct place within our current world then the theories of emotional intelligence would seem to apply when interfacing with others on Facebook or via email.  The Cyber world would just be another place or location much like our home, our school, a shopping mall, etc.   This seems logical however there may be differences in applying emotional intelligence online versus face to face given the lack of the physical cues associated with face to face communication when communicating online.    It may be that Emotional Intelligence in our new technological, hyper connected and hyper socialised world may be different than the Emotional Intelligence which Goleman referred to in 1996 when publishing his book.   The extent to which it differs, I am unsure.

Given Aitkens comments on online dis-inhibition and escalation, there may be a need for a different kind or emotional intelligence, an online or cyber emotional intelligence, when communicating online.   Emotional Intelligence online may involve being able to deal with more charged exchanges between individuals resulting from dis-inhibition.   I must admit to having seen some evidence of this on forum discussion boards and on twitter, where individuals have traded barbed comments and insults resulting from differing viewpoints.    I would suggest that online there is a tendency towards individuals adopting more polarised viewpoints or at least towards expressed their view points in a way as to suggest polar opposition.   Cyber emotional intelligence may also require individuals to be able to adjust to very quick escalations where initially polite and constructive comments quickly degenerate to trading insults, far quicker than would be expected in the real, face to face, world.   Again, this is something I can attest to having seen online.

Aitken discusses how our cyber world may result in the generation of new norms.    I wonder if we are sufficiently aware of this process where new norms are being created or are we simply being swept along by the tide.    The use of email to communicate even when it doesn’t represent the best communication method is one new norm which I think has occurred without much notice.

I think we need to start to consider human behaviour in relation to technology use in much more detail.   Technology is shaping our behaviours which in turn is shaping our use of technology much in the same way that organisational culture and behaviour interact.   This goes to suggest another possible area of thought in how organisational culture and technology might converge in the culture of technology use, however that’s for another post.



Useful articles/videos

internet-1181586_640I thought I would share some links to articles or videos which I have came across recently which may be interesting starting points for discussions with students in relation to digital citizenship.


Volkswagen Cars Open To Remote Hacking, Researchers Warn

As we connect more devices to the internet, such as our car, do we increase the risks.  In the case of a hacked car for example there would be both the physical risk if key systems like braking were compromised but also the data risk of outside individuals knowing every detail of our travel habits or being able to eavesdrop into in-car discussions.

How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day

An interesting TED talk looking at how tech companies such as FaceBook and Google are vying for our available attention, and in doing so attempting to influence or control us, or to addict us to their platform.   The discussion in relation to Snapchat in particular is relevant given the common use of SnapChat among students.  The discussion of profiling users to target then with a “lie” or fake news is also apt considering the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Online risks are routine for teens, most bounce back

Adults often worry about what students are exposed to online but are students more resilient to these issues than we anticipate.   This article refers to a limited study into children’s online activity and the impact on their lives.

Google faces mass legal action in UK over data snooping

An example of a big company being caught in how they gather data from users.   Links nicely to discussing the data we generate and how it might be accessible and/or shared along with the possible uses or misuses of such data.

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

An interesting article again about how companies providing Apps or online services seek to bet users “hooked”.   Also an interesting point regarding these companies having “no ethics”.

AI, Autonomous Vehicles and Philosophy

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two important and interesting topics for discussion with students.    Given the increasing use or at least experimentation with AI and machine learning, it is likely that they will become a more common part of life for the students which current occupy our classes, therefore it is important we get them thinking about the implications of these new technologies.

One use for AI and machine learning is the development of self-driving vehicles.   A number of companies are currently experimenting with this technology.    It does however present a very interesting philosophical dilemma.   How do we program vehicles to make ethical decisions?

How do we train an autonomous vehicle to make decisions where such decisions will either impact the safety of pedestrians or others drivers versus the safety of the occupants of the car itself?    Take for example the situation where a car can either avoid a group of pedestrians but in doing so crash causing injury to the occupants, or hit the pedestrians causing serious injury or death.    Is the likely injury of a person worth it when saving a person from death?   The answer I get to this when I ask students is to save the pedestrian by crashing the car despite the resultant injury to the passenger; A life is worth more than an injury.   What if there were 4 passengers who might all be injured?       What if the passengers were children or rather than injury there was a potential for a fatality among the passengers?     Would we still crash the car to save one person but risk 4 children? How can we program cars to make these decisions when we are unable to resolve such complexities ourselves?

The other issue is the habits which will come out of continued use of autonomous vehicles.  If we routinely use such vehicles without issue, it is likely that we will be unable to act in the event that something goes wrong.   Do we want to become slaves to our electronic chauffeurs?   Would we still know what to do to avert an accident following years allowing the cars autonomous systems to drive us around?

The recent Uber incident seems to be case in point in that the driver, who currently by law is required even where the car is autonomous, appeared unfocused on the road, clearly used to allowing the car to do the driving.  Sadly, she was not prepared for the tragic accident which occurred.   From the footage, I am unsure that she would have been able to do anything even if he had been fully focused on the road and had taken control of the vehicle.

The video below shows the moments leading up to the accident.

Please note some people may find it upsetting.

The crash also brings to light another issue, being that of who is responsible in the event of an accident.   Since the accident there has been mention in the press of the backup driver who is required by law to be in vehicle to take control in the event of an incident.   There has been mention of the company owning the vehicle, Uber plus of the company which provides the sensor technology.    Additional organisations involved could include the car manufacturer and any maintenance staff, as well as software programmers among what I would expect is a long of organisations and individuals involved in this project.    The question is who is responsible where an autonomous vehicle goes wrong?

Autonomous cars perfectly highlight the philosophical and ethical issues with surround the increasing use of technology, AI and big data.    It is easy to see the issues as their are lives at risk.    In other areas such as our internet searching, our consumption of online news stories and our online shopping the issues are not quite so apparent, although they are equally there.   They may not result in possible death but they may result in the shaping of beliefs, viewpoints and even cultures.    This is a deep area for discussion but one I believe we need to be having with our students.

Big data and digital literacy

technology-3178765_640The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal is a perfect discussion topic for use with students when looking at the implications of big data on our lives, or more importantly on the future lives of the students which currently occupy our classrooms.

For me one of the first areas for discussion is to try and get an appreciation for all of the data which we make available to organisations such as Google, Facebook, etc.     As we use their free services we provide them data.

The second area for consideration is the fact that the data provided can then be used to identify further data or to extrapolate probabilities of certain characteristics.    A perfect example is how Target gathered data in the hope of identifying which female shoppers were pregnant due to the tendency for pregnant women to be profitable for the organisation.   Looking at a women’s spending habits including changes in habits over time, Target were able to assign a pregnancy probability rating to its customers, therefore identifying which customers were the most likely to be pregnant.

Ethics and privacy are another area for discussion.    How comfortable are students with the fact that companies such as target might be able to identify such private aspects of our lives such as whether a woman is pregnant?     Is this an invasion of our privacy?

One of the main issues which surround Cambridge Analytica is the possible use of data to profile individuals and then to influence them and their decision making.    Through targeted marketing, targeted specifically at individuals based on the data which is available on them, they may have had their voting decisions shaped.    Their decisions may not have actually been their own decisions.    Is such a practice of profiling and influencing individuals ethical?

We also have the issue of information sharing.   If we provided the information to Facebook or Google do they have the right to share this with other and if so, are there limitations on what such a third party might do with this data?   The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights this in that the data gathered came from a questionnaire app, however made use of sharing functionality in Facebook to hoover up far more data than it was directly given, gathering data on the friends of users of the app.

The fact we don’t pay for Google or Facebook is another area worthy of discussion.    The phrase, If your aren’t paying for it, you are the product, seems appropriate here.    We don’t pay for using Facebook as Facebook gets its revenue from advertising.    It therefore is sharing data with advertisers to allow them to target the appropriate customers to maximise the return from advertising expenditure.   Are we happy that Facebook and Google too are in effect sellings us?    This also leads us to the purpose of Google and Facebook.   Both appear to be companies providing services which enhance our lives.    Although this is true it is also important to remember that they are also companies with shareholders and therefore companies out to make a profit.    Does the safe, ethical and responsible use of all the data we provide trump their need to make a profit?

As we use more and more technology, with more and more of it being online, we are generating more and more data.    This data is being gathered by organisations.    I don’t believe there is any easy answer to this situation as proceeding oblivious or ignorant to the implications is ill advised as is total disconnection and an attempt to avoid generating any data.    For me the key is for our students to be consciously aware of big data and its implications.