Tracking Your Health Data

fitness trackerThe Verge reported that in another move to gain more of our personal data, Google is teaming up with the nation’s second-largest health system, Ascension, in an effort it’s calling Project Nightingale.

Ascension will share the personal health data of tens of millions of patients with Google’s Cloud division in order to develop a search engine for medical records and other new artificial intelligence services for medical providers. That sounds helpful. But the announcement came right after Google announced it was buying the fitness tracker company Fitbit.

We could assume that Google is interested in selling this kind of hardware, but access to Fitbit user's personal data could be an even bigger and more profitable asset. (Fitbit data has already been used in some serious but not health manners - such as police investigations. )

Google is certainly not alone in wanting to gain this type of personal wellness data and do health care-tech collaborations. Apple would like to see its watch (similar to but more powerful than most fitness trackers) function as a medical-monitoring device. Its health data-sharing capabilities through Apple HealthKit are being enhanced.

All these companies will point out that the data they obtain is anonymized, but there are many examples of anonymized data being reversed so that it is far less anonymous. Are laws and policies ready for all this?

Hack Clubs

anonymous hacker

I saw an interesting article about teen hackers who have to convince their parents that what they're doing is good rather than evil.

Wikipedia defines a hacker as a skilled computer expert that uses their technical knowledge to overcome a problem. But while "hacker" can refer to any skilled computer programmer, the term has become associated in popular culture with a "security hacker", someone who, with their technical knowledge, uses bugs or exploits to break into computer systems.

These high-school students are forming hack clubs to solve problems through coding in their schools. In this context, we can define hacking as coding, creating sites and apps, as in hackathons.  The hack clubs are generally student-led after school activities.

The term "white hat" refers to an ethical computer hacker. This computer security expert specializes in penetration testing and in other testing methodologies to ensure the security of an organization's information systems. They hack for good. The term "ethical hacking" is a broader term that means more than just penetration testing.

Following the cowboy movie iconography, the "black hat" is a malicious hacker. I have also seen the blended gray hat hacker described as one who hacks with good intentions but without permission.

I suppose the question that parents of a hacker - and educators and the authorities - might have is whether a young person starting as a white hat might become gray and be drawn to the dark side of black hat hacking.

 

 

Do You Want To Be Forgotten?

painting
The Past (forgotten-swallowed) by Alfred Kubin, 1901, via wikiart.org, Public Domain

I don’t think the vast majority of us want to be forgotten. We do a lot of things to try to be remembered: take photos; post things on the Internet; have a headstone with our name.

But there is this idea that what we do online never goes away, and some people would like that part of their life to be forgotten.

Many people have posted things online they regret, so they delete it, but somehow it still exists. Celebrities and politicians have learned that by the time you delete that stupid tweet the damage is done and other people have already copied and taken screenshots of it. 

For younger people who have grown up with the internet and social media, the possibility of stupid/embarrassing/incriminating content is much higher since the filters in their brains had not matured. A friend who deleted her Facebook profile recently discovered that friends were getting friend requests from her and that in a search her Facebook profile link still shows up.

Plus, there is “public information” about you online: phone numbers, addresses where you have lived and currently live, that DUI you got, and that political candidate donation you made.

Do we have a right to be forgotten online? The “right to be forgotten” is something that is taken more seriously outside the U.S. It has been put into practice in the European Union.

Google has won a legal case in the European Union over the so-called “right to be forgotten,” a concept that allows people in Europe to request the removal of old news from the internet which might be harmful to their reputations or is just very embarrassing. The EU’s highest court has ruled that while Google must delist links in Europe, it doesn’t have to do the same globally.

It’s not an easy issue to decide. Your first thought might be that, of course, we should have the right to delete our own posts online. And what about content about us posted by others? There are immediate collisions between the right to freedom of expression and how it crosses with the right to privacy. Do you want politicians to be able to scrub their online history of things they said and regret,  or views they once had and have altered? Would a right to be forgotten diminish the quality of the Internet through censorship and revisionist history?

The ruling is a win for Google, as it puts new restrictions on a 2014 European Union court decision that forced Google to use location information to "geoblock" users from seeing links that were requested to be removed. But France's privacy agency, the CNIL, hit Google with a 100,000-euro fine in 2016, hoping to compel the company to "de-reference" disputed URLs on all its search engine domains worldwide, not only those in Europe.

But the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of 2018 said that the public can make a request to any organization "verbally or in writing" and the recipient has one month to respond. Google had argued that the obligation could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses were it to be applied outside of Europe. Google was supported by Microsoft, the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the UK freedom of expression campaign group Article 19, among others.

Do Americans have a right to be forgotten (AKA the "right to erasure")? Not yet.


SOURCES

npr.org/2019/09/24/763857307/right-to-be-forgotten-only-applies-inside-eu-european-court-says

bbc.com/news/technology-49808208

gizmodo.com/google-wins-eu-case-over-right-to-be-forgotten-laws

Silos

siloesThe new semester is starting at most American colleges and I'm thinking about the silos on campuses. I don't mean anything having to do with agricultural programs which probably have a silo or two. I mean the figurative silos that are still quite real that appear in departments and schools on campus.

I had bookmarked a headline saying that "Facebook was granted a patent to silo group posts." That's about moderators of Facebook Groups getting more leeway in controlling who sees the comments made on their forums. Some have described it as a patent for shadowbanning - secretly restricting who sees a user's content.

My inspiration to write this post came from that social media story, but it set me thinking about education, especially higher education silos.

Silos are also increasing when it come to online and streaming media. Netflix, Disney, HBO, and other providers are "taking back" their content and siloing it in their own platforms. People have been unbundling and cord-cutting to lower costs and customize what comes into their home, but now they mean to rebuild and might need a half dozen services to get what they want. Ironically, this is how cable companies first emerged - by creating packages of channels for you.

A few years ago, a Forbes article stated that "College Silos Must Die For Students To Thrive" and asked "If academics — the heart of the university — do not silo students, then why are student-focused university departments siloed from each other? Wouldn’t student needs be better served if cross-functional sharing of institutional knowledge were common practice within colleges and universities?"

The authors say that the five functional areas of the university that are most important to students are Admissions (including financial aid), Academics, Student Affairs, Career Services, and Alumni Relations/Advancement. Typically, these five have minimal interaction with one another. They exist in silos.

Silos in higher education aren’t limited to departments. They include academic units, athletics, student support services, foundations, alumni, research and business operations. 

Why create a silo? Usually, it is to keep focus in one space and hold onto perceived "turf." The problem with silos is that they discourage interdisciplinary opportunities, which is probably something you will find written into many universities' mission and priorities.

I have worked at colleges where these silos existed. The bigger the institution, the more likely silos seem to occur. For example, you would find IT services housed within a college or school that did not share staff, software, equipment or practices with other schools within the university. In large state universities and university systems, as one example, it is not unusual to find multiple learning management systems being used. That means that training and support can't be "pooled" across campus. Faculty who teach in multiple departments or programs may have to learn and design for several systems.

There are pressures to break down silos. Technology is one pressure. Purchasing power and avoiding duplication of services are other pressures. Calls for transparency and accountability favor structures without silos. Take a look at your campus structure this fall and see if silos exist. Are they increasing or decreasing?