Analyzing Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and You

The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook hit this month because of its involvement in the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The company used an app developed legitimately by a Cambridge University researcher, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, as a personality survey called "This is Your Digital Life."

I recall learning about that app about 3 years ago in a presentation at an EdTech conference. By using it as a quiz on Facebook, about 270,000 users gave permission (because most people are unaware of the access they allow) to their data which was collected but then used to additionally collect some public data from their friends.

I suspect a majority of social media users are unaware of how their data is used, and what permissions they have granted (perhaps by default in some instances).

Have you ever used your Facebook login as a way to sign in to another website or app? It asks you if you want to login using your Facebook ID and that seems to save a step or two and is great if you forgot your actual login to that other site. 

When those Facebook users took the "This is your digital life" quiz using their Facebook login, they allowed that app's developer to tap into all of the information in their Facebook profile (that includes your name, where you live, email address and friends list).  [Note: Currently, apps are no longer permitted to collect data from your Facebook friends.]

I don't give Dr. Kogan, Cambridge Analytica or Facebook a pass on this activity even if users did opt in. Kogan shared it with Cambridge Analytica which Facebook says that was against its policy. Facebook says it asked Cambridge Analytica to delete all of the data back in 2015. Facebook also claims that it only recently found out that wasn't done.

A lot of people seem to have given up on privacy, accepting it as something we just can't control any more. But there is a lot you can and should do.

settings

For example, a very simple change to make in your Facebook privacy settings is to "Limit The Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline." That means that posts on your timeline that you've shared with Friends of friends, and Public posts, will now be shared only with Friends. Anyone tagged in these posts, and their friends, may also still see these posts, but the public (which includes apps) will not be able to access them legitimately.

Facebook's API, called Platform, allows third-party apps and websites to integrate with your Facebook account and exchange data with them via developer tools. It can be convenient for users, such as decreasing the number of login/password combinations you need to remember, but it has potential for abuse.

When you use the "Log in With Facebook" feature on a site, you grant a third-party app or service access to your Facebook account. It will ask for permission to receive specific Facebook data from you - email address, birthdate, gender, public posts, likes and also things beyond your basic profile info. I have seen cases where when I deny access to some information, it tells me the app can't be loaded. That is a warning. But some legitimate apps, like the scheduling apps Hootsuite and Buffer, do need a lot of permissions in order to allow them to post as you on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. In these cases, by using the app I need to trust that developer and the service it is connecting to via an API.

Being educated about how technology works and knowing how you can protect your own data and privacy is more important than ever. And, of course, you can always not use a service that doesn't seem to help you do that.

Are All Schools Prep Schools?

What do you think of when you hear the term "prep school?" Do you think of elite, private schools that look and act like little Ivy League colleges?

A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (shortened to preparatory school, prep school, or college prep) is a type of secondary school, but the term can refer to public, private independent or parochial schools primarily designed to prepare students for higher education.

But aren't all high schools preparation for college? That answer has varied over the centuries. While secondary schools were once only for middle and upper class kids who might go on to higher education, schools also went through a period of being "comprehensive" and trying to provide preparation for those going on to college, and for for those going on to a job. 

In the early 20th century, there were efforts to imitate German-style industrial education in the United States. Employers wanted wokers who were "trained" more than "educated." Teachers of high school academic subjects and some colleges thought the preparation for college was being watered down. So, vocational education emerged as a way to prepare people not planning on college to work in various jobs, such as a trade, a craft, or as a technician.

Historically, the German Gymnasium also included in its overall accelerated curriculum post secondary education at college level and the degree awarded substituted for the bachelor's degree (Baccalaureat)[1] previously awarded by a college or university so that universities in Germany became exclusively graduate schools.

Préparatoires aux grandes écoles (Higher School Preparatory Classes), commonly called classes prépas or prépas, are part of the French post-secondary education system. These two very intensive years (extendable to three or four years) act as a preparatory course with the main goal of training undergraduate students for enrollment in one of the grandes écoles. The workload is very demanding - between 35 and 45 contact hours a week, plus usually between 4 and 6 hours of written exams, plus between 2 and 4 hours of oral exams a week and homework filling all the remaining free time.

 

Making University Websites Global-Ready

globalIn one survey, 94 percent of students Yes to the statement: Prior to considering a school, I examine its website. That is not surprising and we know that an attractive, clear website does a lot to sell the school and promote its brand.

Mix that into globalization and internationalization and you have to consider where your website stands with an international audience.

The emergence of the "knowledge society," online programs and the use of English as the lingua franca for scientific communication are all connected to globalization. Universities often have international interests. Those include everything from study abroad for its American students, international student recruitment and enrollment, research and scholarly collaboration, and programs that have international and intercultural dimension.

Clearly, there is more here than just the look of a website because with an international interest you need to provide and attract prospective and current students, prospective and current faculty, researchers, parents, alumni, and employers while accurately reflecting the institution's style, activities, and reputation.

Much more on this, along with "Best Practices in Institutional Websites for International Visibility" by Dr. Gabriela Geron, EDUCAUSE

 

How On-Demand Culture Affects Learning

tv viewerI wrote recently on another site about "cord-cutting" and about the rise of the group I call "The Disconnected" My Millennial son has cut the cord to his cable provider. He did it not only to save money, but because he simply doesn't have time to watch everything that is out there. Like many people, he mostly watches things on demand, either via a DVR or sites that allow on-demand viewing. He hasn't cut all his viewing bills to $0. He purchased Sling services which currently starts at $20 a month and offers streaming options. He still has his Netflix streaming account and can get movies and shows using his Amazon Prime account. He thinks I am a dinosaur for still getting Netflix DVDs in the mail. Netflix probably feels the same way and I am sure mailing DVDs will disappear entirely in the near future. I'm getting all kinds of offers (see bottom of post) to alternatives to my cable subscription.

I picked up a book in the library recently called On-Demand Culture that focuses on how this is changing the movie industry. Media is not my focus on this site, but it is a good example of on-demand culture.

It is not just about people watching films at home, but how the movie industry is changing because of digital technologies. Most people don't think about that film distributors now send films to theaters electronically. But consumers not only purchase or rent movies instantly online, but they are streaming them to high-definition televisions, their laptops and often to small mobile devices. When TV made its entrance bigtime in the 1950s, the movies reacted by going big with wide screens and color that TV couldn't compete with in quality. TV has caught up in many ways with that quality issue. (You can download parts of that book at https://muse.jhu.edu/book/24204)

Amazon is offering me an Amazon Channels Free Trial and suggests using Prime to watch thousands of movies and TV shows on demand. They even asked me to try an HBO Free Trial, which I would think is almost their competition these days.

With all these deals, why wouldn't everyone cut the cord? One reason people hang on is because many of these other services don't offer your local channels and some "basic" cable channels like CNN or sports channels.

modern HDTV antenna

A friend of mine was in that situation and started to investigate the HDTV antennas that are available. This seems like a throwback to the 1950s and 60s when every home had an antenna on the roof or a "rabbit ears" antenna on top of the TV.

The current generation of antennas allow you to pull in HDTV network programming for free - just like in the old days - with no monthly fee or subscription. It sounds ideal, but you are not going to get all that cable content, though you should get your local CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates and some other channels.

Adjusting your TV antenna 60 years ago had become a kind of art. You learned which way to turn it for channel 2 as opposed to how to get channel 7. People hooked up additional wires, tin foil and other things to them to increase the pickup. The new 360º multi-directional designs eliminate constant adjustments and they support up to 1080i HDTV broadcasts. But they have limits.

Many products say they can pull channels from towers that are within 40 miles of your TV. I live well within that range of New York City, so I probably could get all the local channels. Most of these products also have disclaimers that reception quality and channels received will depend on not only your distance from towers, but broadcast power, terrain and other factors like buildings and power lines. 

modern, old-style, outdoor antenna

I found that you can still buy rooftop TV antennas that look a lot like the ones from 50 years ago, though they are much more sophisticated and include amplifiers and other devices.

All of this media movement is part of the "on-demand" movement that started with VCRs that allowed us to "time shift" our viewing habits and terrified the TV industry. We still have some live event TV that is rarely watched at a later date. The upcoming Oscars and certainly the Super Bowl are perfect examples of "event TV" that is viewed live and that advertisers and channels love because they can easily measure the audience share.

I still like to go to a movie theater, but I go far less than I did in the past. Going to a theater has also become a kind of event. I go to films that I don't want to wait to see in a few weeks or month when they make it to my TV.

An “on-demand culture,” is shifting not only our viewing habits but many of our other expectations. When do people want to shop, or fill in an application? Any time at all is the answer. On demand. Even education, which has been my life's work, has gone on-demand with online content and online courses that allow student to time shift their education and pick and choose what content they want to view and when they want to view it. Most college professors have had to become proficient at creating digital content even if they still teach face-to-face in a classroom. Am I ready to cut the cord?  I'm watching the examples of my friend and my son. Maybe this dinosaur sees an asteroid headed his way.


 
 

Your Social Credit Score

data wave

You don't have a social credit score today, but you might in the near future.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic since first hearing of a Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government that is starting to take shape. It is essentially a national reputation system with the intent to assign a "social credit" rating to every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

If it sounds more like a science-fiction horror story of the future, that was what I thought at first. It reminded me of a 2016 episode of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror shown on Netflix. In that episode ("Nosedive"), people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, and the protagonist is someone obsessed with her ratings. When her rating drops, she panics and goes on a campaign to bring her score back up.

A Chinese app called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score. "Zhima Credit" rates you from 350-950 based on finances and and other factors. 

Reputation systems are not brand new ideas. They are programs that allow users to rate each other in online communities in order to build trust through reputation. You already have a reputation score if you use E-commerce websites such as eBay, Amazon.com, and Etsy or online advice communities such as Stack Exchange. Reputation systems are a trend in decision support for Internet mediated services such as shopping and advice.

A variation is collaborative filtering which aims to find similarities between users in order to recommend products to customers.

The Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government is meant to rate every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.  Does that sound like a mass surveillance tool using big data analysis technology? Well, it is.

On the surface, it is a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market. This can be called "surveillance capitalism," a term (introduced by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney) that denotes a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance.

The idea was popularized by Shoshana Zuboff who says it emerged due to the "coupling of the vast powers of the digital with the radical indifference and intrinsic narcissism of the financial capitalism and its neoliberal vision that have dominated commerce for at least three decades, especially in the Anglo economies."

It is a new new expression of power she calls "Big Other" which makes me think of a new novel plot combining Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the Internet Information Age. She feels the concept was first discovered and consolidated at Google, who are to surveillance capitalism what Ford and General Motors were to mass-production and managerial capitalism a century ago.

Facebook and others have since adopted the concept for ways to extract, commodify and control behavior to produce new markets of behavioral prediction and modification.

The Chinese government's "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)" focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be "societal integrity."

One news story I heard said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored - trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police? Eight companies were picked by the People's Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said in a frightening quote I can use in that new novel that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

Her is hoping that you will be able to move freely and without obstruction in the future.