Being Secure on Chrome

The Chrome browser’s “not secure” warning is meant to help you understand when the connection to the site you're on isn’t secure. It is also a bit of a shaming motivation to the site's owner to improve the security of their site. But that process of getting the httpS site is not really easy in some cases and for non-tech average web users. 

Google made a warning announcement nearly two years ago and there has been an increase in sites that are secured. They started by only marking pages without encryption that collect passwords and credit card info. Then they began showing the “not secure” warning in two additional situations: when people enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

Their goal is to make it so that the only markings you see in Chrome are when a site is not secure, and the default unmarked state is secure. They will start removing the “Secure” wording in September 2018, and in October 2018, they will start showing a red “not secure” warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.

Source: https://www.blog.google/products/chrome/milestone-chrome-security-marking-http-not-secure/

Did You Lose Twitter Followers Recently?

This month Twitter started removing tens of millions of suspicious accounts, especially those that are identified as bots and fake accounts.

That means that users may be finding that they have lost followers.  Of course, if you were a user who inflated your followers by buying followers, I'm glad your numbers dropped. And if I lost a few who were fake, all the better.

Twitter declined to provide an exact number of affected users, but said it would drop tens of millions of questionable accounts and that would reduce the total combined follower count on Twitter by about 6 percent.

Full disclosure - I own Twitter stock and though I don't want to see the stock drop, I do want reform. Twitter has far fewer users than Facebook or Google, but has also come in for criticism for allowing abuse and hate speech and for playing a role in the Russian influence during the 2016 election.

Twitter did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year, and Twitter Inc.'s stock slipped 10% last week after the news about the suspended accounts came out. Those accounts impact the company's tally of monthly active users, a key growth metric that is closely monitored by Wall Street investors. The MAU (monthly active users) jumped to 336 million in April, up from 330 million in the previous quarter.

I have always told my social media clients that followers is not the best metric to measure the success of your social media strategy. Everyone wants followers, but I get new followers every day on multiple networks that I can see are only following me in the hopes that I will follow them back. 

As others have observed -

Removing bots enables Twitter to take control of this situation, and improve the credibility of their metrics – as social media marketing becomes a more significant element in modern business, people are also becoming more informed about what those numbers actually mean, and how to identify real influence, as opposed to those who’ve bought their way to prominence.

If people repeatedly see influencer lists filled with people who they know have cheated the system, that reduces their trust in such data, while it would also skew Twitter’s algorithm which favors content from more prominent users, and with higher engagement stats (both of which can be gamed).

Students Are Still Suffering From Summer Melt

Summer melt is the phenomenon of prospective college students' motivation to attend college "melting" away during the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college. I wrote about this summer melt last summer and this summer (inspired partially by a week-long heatwave in my part of the country) I decided to check in in and see if things have changed. Basically, things have not changed.

There are some intervention programs at schools that seem to help prevent summer melt, but for the majority of schools students are still melting away.

This phenomenon is especially prevalent in low-income minority communities, where students who qualify for college and in some cases even register for classes ultimately end up not attending college because they lack resources, support, guidance, and encouragement. The melting is also common for students who are the first in their family to get a chance at college. That was the case for me many decades ago.

I vividly remember trying to fill in the FAFSA forms for financial aid (which was critical to me attending). My father had died three years before and he was the one who wanted me to attend college and get the opportunities he never had. My mom couldn't provide money for college and couldn't really help in completing the forms. She had no idea what college was all about. I had no one to turn to, so I did it all myself - probably badly, as I didn't get the financial aid that I clearly should have gotten based on our financial situation

But I persevered and I got to Rutgers College in September. And I hated it. College seemed so much like high school all over again that first semester that if I could have gone to an office and gotten all my money back, I would have quit in October.

I couldn't get a refund and I stuck it out, and by the spring semester my perspective had completely changed. I found my place. I found the places to go when I needed help. I was able to get some additional student loans.

Many students were helped on their college path during their years in high school by counselors and probably a few trusted teachers. But that support is gone in the summer after high school graduation and most colleges are not supporting incoming freshmen until orientation.

These students who melt away are not going to other colleges. They are going nowhere.  

The summer melt student rate varies by schools but runs about 10-40% of students, according to a study from Harvard University. According to surveys, the general number given is about one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college never arriving at any college campus that fall.

That's the problem. What about the interventions and support?

One project I read about targeted 1,422 students and offered them up to two hours of counseling (which is not much) over a five-week period following high-school graduation. About 500 students received assistance through in-person meetings or over the phone. About one in three of them received help filling out financial-aid forms; another third got help with transcripts. One in 10 merely sought emotional support and reassurance to manage pre-college anxiety. This Summer Link program set a budget of $48 per student to cover costs.

But some of the interventions are not costly and may not involve much staff time. I would not let the high schools totally off the hook when it comes to support. Realizing that almost all high school counselors are 10-month employees and off for the summer, high schools can still support their graduates by texting weekly reminders to check their email, complete their financial aid forms and register for classes can go a long way to keep students on track. If there is any summer staff, being available for help would be a tremendous intervention even if it is more of a group session than 1:1 support. 

For colleges too, texting programs (email seems to not be the way to communicate with these students - though many college are still using that and snail mail as their way to communicate) can make it easy for counselors to reach large numbers of students quickly.

Social media should also be used. Having incoming freshmen follow an Instagram account for their particular class (not the general college accounts) that post photos and brief notes on deadlines, numbers to call etc. would also be better than email and snail mail.

When feasible, getting those students on campus in July and August is a good thing. These are not the students who visit with mom and dad, take pictures and buy t-shirts and things at the bookstore.

My only visit to Rutgers before orientation was an afternoon when we met with a faculty member to create our schedule. My "advisor" was new faculty member who taught economics and knew less about my English Education program of study than I did. Plus, I was profoundly disappointed that my first semester courses seemed to have nothing to do with my goal to be an English teacher. Economics 101? 

Some of summer melt certainly comes from those doubts and concerns I felt and I think all students feel about what college will be, how successful they can be and even if they’ve made the right choice. The forms and information colleges ask for and the placement exams that most schools require and all the deadlines are important. Missing or messing up one of them can really screw up your college path. 

In talking to some friends who are not involved in education about summer melt, they were shocked. They say "You mean a kid has taken the SATs, been accepted, received financial aid, and she still doesn't show up? That makes no sense." And they're right. It doesn't make sense that colleges aren't doing more to prevent these students from melting away.

 


Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College by Benjamin L. Castleman and Lindsay C. Page

The Reverse Turing Test for AI

Turing Test
Google Duplex has been described as the world's most lifelike chatbot. At the Google IO event in May 2018, Google revealed this extension of the Google Assistant that allows it to carry out natural conversations by mimicking human voice. Duplex is still in development and will receive further testing during summer 2018.

The assistant can autonomously complete tasks such as calling to book an appointment, making a restaurant reservation, or calling the library to verify their hours. Duplex can complete most tasks autonomously, it can also recognize situations that it is unable to complete and then signal a human operator to finish the task.

Duplex speaks in a more natural voice and language by incorporating "speech disfluencies" such as filler words like "hmm" and "uh" and using common phrases such as "mhm" and "gotcha." It also is programed to use a more human-like intonation and response latency.

Does this sound like a wonderful advancement in AI and language processing? Perhaps, but it has also been met with some criticism.

Are you familiar with the Turing Test? Developed by Alan Turing in 1950, it is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. For example, when communicating with a machine via speech or text, can the human tell that the other participant is a machine? If the human can't tell that the interaction is with a machine, the machine passes the Turing Test.

Should a machine have to tell you if it's a machine? After the Duplex announcement, people started posting concerns about the ethical and societal questions of this use of artificial intelligence.

Privacy - a real hot button issue right now - is another concern. Your conversations with Duplex are recorded in order for the virtual assistant to analyze and respond. Google later issued a statement saying, "We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we’ll make sure the system is appropriately identified."

Another example of this came to me on an episode of Marketplace Tech with Molly Wood that discusses  Microsoft's purchase of a company called Semantic Machines which works on something called "conversational AI." That is their term for computers that sound and respond like humans.

This is meant to be used with digital assistants like Microsoft's Cortana, Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa or Bixby on Samsung. In a demo played on the podcast, the humans on the other end of the calls made by the AI assistant did not know they were talking to a computer.

Do we need a "Turing Test in Reverse?" Something that tells us that we are talking to a machine? In that case, a failed Turing test result is what we would want to tell us that we are dealing with a machine and not a human.

To really grasp the power of this kind of AI assistant, take a look/listen to this excerpt from the Google IO keynote where you hear Duplex make two appointments.  It is impressively scary.

Things like Google Duplex is not meant to replace humans but to carry out very specific tasks that Google calls "closed domains." It won't be your online therapist, but it will book a table at that restaurant or maybe not mind being on the phone for 22 minutes of "hold" to deal with motor vehicles.

The demo voice does not sound like a computer or Siri or most of the computer voices we have become accustomed to hearing. 

But is there an "uncanny valley" for machine voices as there is for humanoid robots and animation? That valley is where things get too close to human and we are in the "creepy treehouse in the uncanny valley." 

I imagine some businesses would be very excited about using these AI assistants to answer basic service, support and reservation calls. Would you be okay in knowing that when you call to make that dentist appointment that you will be talking to a computer? 

The research continues. Google Duplex uses a recurrent neural network (RNN) which is beyond my tech knowledge base, but this seems to be the way ahead for machine learning, language modeling and speech recognition.

Not having to spend a bunch of hours each week on the phone doing fairly simple tasks seems like a good thing. But if AI assistant HAL refuses to open the pod bay doors, I'm going to panic.

Will this technology be misused? Absolutely. That always happens, no matter how much testing we do. Should we move foraward with the research? Well, no one is asking for my approval, but I say yes.

Is Your Website GDPR Ready?


                                    What is the GDPR? from Evidon on Vimeo 

What is GDPR? GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation. It is a European privacy law approved by the European Commission in 2016 which is designed to unify and regulate EU residents’ control of their personal data. It is set to replace Directive 95/46/EC and will be enforced by May 25, 2018.

What does it mean for you if you are website owner? Well, if you collect personal data via webforms especially from people who live in the European Union, you'll need to make your website compliant to this regulation by May 25, 2018. It is also important that you update your site's Privacy Policy to cover all personal information that are being collected through your site.

What if you don't operate in the EU? Well, you may think you are outside the EU, but do you get visitors from the EU?  Aren't all websites "global" by default?

MORE INFORMATION

https://www.eugdpr.org/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Data_Protection_Regulation

https://www.codeinwp.com/blog/complete-wordpress-gdpr-guide/