Does Google Chrome Think Your Site Is Secure?

The hosting/domain service GoDaddy sent me an email about their Website Scanner. It is a free tool that scans your website for two things: 1) Forms that handle login or payment information. 2) The installation of an SSL certificate.

Both are good things, though not necessarily things that people doing blogs or personal websites know much about or deal with regularly. The thing is that this determines whether your site will display warnings to visitors who are using the latest Google Chrome browser version. Those warnings will scare many users into thinking your site is insecure or a phishing scam.

Should I scan my website? you ask. I suppose you should to find out if it uses unsecure forms. If it does, Chrome 56, released in January 2017, will display a “not secure” message (like the one shown below) to visitors.

Of course, it's not a bad idea to check for unsecure forms by scanning your website to identify form fields that collect personal information without an HTTPS-encrypted connection. I ran the scanner on this site and others that I own. On Serendipity35, it returned a error for an unsecure form. The form turns out t be part of our administration settings and it wasn't really relevant to users.

On my other sites, I got back a "Chrome approves" message "Your site won’t be impacted by the Chrome 56 release" BUT also it said I should "consider getting an SSL certificate to boost your site’s Google ranking."

An SSL certificate (SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer) is a global standard security technology that enables encrypted communication between a web browser and a web server. Millions of online businesses and individuals use them to decrease the risk of sensitive information (credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, emails, etc.) from being stolen or tampered with by hackers and identity thieves.

You have probably noticed the HTTPS on website addresses and a "lock"that gives visitors more of a sense of security that their information is encrypted and safe.

Of course, there are no absolute guarantees of security, but not using HTTPS and other security tools already affects your site’s search engine ranking, and in the future could result in your site actually being labeled not secure by Google and other search engines.

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Is a Blockchain Coming to Campus?

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updatedBlockchain is the backbone of Bitcoin. It's a technology that adds levels of trust, authentication and recordkeeping. I suspect many of you reading this have not heard about it. Those of you that have learned about it probably don't see an immediate connection to education. 

I see it defined as a public ledger of transactions. It is comprised of a peer-to-peer network, and a decentralized, distributed database. It requires a more complicated definition than I want to get into here but  that distributed database provides an unalterable, (semi-)public record of digital transactions. That is the part that makes Bitcoin work and it would obviously be very attractive to financial users. 

The "block" aggregates a time-stamped batch of transactions to be included in the chain/ledger. Each block has a cryptographic signature. These blocks are also all back-linked. They reference the signature of all the previous blocks in the chain. The claim is that the blockchain contains an uneditable record of all the transactions made.

Another author writing about the financial sector says that "Blockchains are new technology layers that rewire the Internet and threaten to side-step older legacy constructs and centrally served businesses. At its core, a blockchain injects trust into the network, cutting off some intermediaries from serving that function and creatively disrupting how they operate. Metaphorically, blockchains are the ultimate non-stop computers. Once launched, they never go down, and offer an incredible amount of resiliency, making them dependable and attractive for running a new generation of decentralized services and software applications."

Some education writers, like Audrey Watters, have connected it to education. The most obvious connections are in recordkeeping for courses, credits, tuition and personal information. Authenticating the individual and the learning is important, but imagine using it globally across many school and non-academic providers. This is digital badging but at a much more secure and sophisticated level. MIT Media Lab announced last year that it was developing software to issue digital certificates on the Bitcoin Blockchain. One developer of this technology for secure sharing of academic records is Sony Global Education.

This is not pedagogy. It won't change how you teach a course. It will change what happens to the students in your classes and so may change the kind of student you have in your classes.  

"Learning Is Earning" was presented by Jane McGonigal at SXSW 2016. She introduced "Edublocks” which would be units of hours of learning written to a blockchain and like Bitcoins can be used to pay for the next learning opportunity. Not all of us are enamored of the credit hour, but I like the authentication aspect. Mentor someone, get paid and use that to pay down your student loan. Acquire new skills and that goes on your learning chain.

Probably, we are going to see blockchain used in places like the financial and healthcare sector and even sharing economy businesses, like Airbnb, before it is in your school's administration offices.

For further reading, check out the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. Don also has a series of videos on blockchain online too.

updatedEDUCAUSE has published "The Blockchain Revolution and Higher Education" by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott (3/13/17)



"Why not be leaders for a new paradigm? The blockchain provides a rich, secure, and transparent platform on which to create a global network for higher learning. We believe that higher education works best when it works for all types of teaching and learning, and we believe that this new platform is an engine of inclusion. Let’s use the emerging Internet of value and the blockchain revolution to recapture our identities and endow them with our detailed and real-time records of learning. Perhaps then we can finally reinvent the past model of pedagogy and transform the architecture of higher education for the future generation of lifelong learners."


Getting Put in Twitter Jail

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As part of Twitter's efforts to limit the visibility of abusive posts, the company is using more automated methods. They (and other social media and news sites) have gotten a lot of bad press the past year for allowing the spread of harmful content. This is certainly a worthy goal, but a difficult one to implement. At one time, many sites relied on human monitors and community managers to respond to abuses, but the volume of posts makes that impossible.

Twitter has expanded its mute and filter features. Now, they will also notify users when they take action on harassment they reported, even if it's not directed at them.

Perhaps most pwerfully - and therefore most frighteningly - Twitter is implementing tools that can automatically identify patterns in the way harmful tweets are made and distributed. CNN reports that "If it identifies a harmful account, it will truncate the user's visibility. For instance, if a user routinely replies to accounts that don't follow it, or repeatedly violates Twitter's rules, Twitter might make it so that the tweets are invisible to everyone except the user's followers for a set amount of time."

That means if you routinely reply to a favorite celebrity (even with kind words) and the celebrity doesn't follow you (and most will not) that invisibility function kicks in. The algorithm thinks you are stalking/harassing the person. This is what someTwitter users have called "Twitter jail."

What behaviors might trigger the algorithm and put you in jail or ban you from Twitter? The company won't say because they don't want people to find workarounds.

Big Brother isn't watching you - an algorithm is...


Following the Expansion of the Google Classroom

Google Classroom is now used by more than 20 million educators and students. It is used by teachers in schools as a limited but free learning management system (LMS), and I am sure Google is using it for their own developers who are building educational technology.

This academic year, Classroom updates show some of the direction this project may take. There were changes to allow more individualized work for differentiated learning. Google saw that teachers were creating "workarounds" to differentiate their instruction. Now, when creating an assignment, post or question, teachers can choose whether to share it with the entire class or just with a subset of students. Designers using full-featured LMS (Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard et al) have been doing that for at least ten years.

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There are also updates that are more for the teacher, such as notifications to manage student work. Teachers now receive two new types of Classroom notifications—one when students submit work after the due date, and one for when students re-submit work. Again, these are features that have been offered in other LMS for quite awhile.

It seems that Google is moving towards creating a fully-featured LMS. Will that expanded product remain free, or are they moving towards a competing commercial product?

Updates that are more for developers, such as new capabilities to the Classroom API to make integrations with Classroom more seamless, also seem to indicate future expansion, Integrated applications can now programmatically add materials to coursework or student submissions and can modify existing coursework they’ve created. For K-12 schools the demands to integrate arelessthan those in higher education, but grading and student information systems (SIS) become criticl when any LMS is used in an "enterprise" manner. Other educational applications have been integrated with Classroom since the launch of the API, including tools like Flat.IO, Classcraft and Little SIS. I'm sure Google is monitoring these uses with an eye to future development of their Classroom platform.