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Google and Microsoft Defend Practices at Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2009 – Officials from Google and Microsoft denied that they were creating privacy-invading user profiles of internet users, speaking at the 2009 Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference at George Washington University here.

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WASHINGTON, June 3, 2009 – Officials from Google and Microsoft denied that they were creating privacy-invading user profiles of internet users, speaking at the 2009 Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference at George Washington University here.

Online advertising and internet “cookies” designed to collect user data were center to this discussion at the conference. Google’s Jane Horvath said that the search engine giant is not “logging… or creating profiles at all,” when asked about data collection.

Mike Hintze of Microsoft said that Microsoft collects “similar data” to Google. When a consumer engages in internet search queries and “interacts with services we offer, … certain information is collected and certain demographic information is collected.”

But Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy decried the “global system [that] has emerged [and which] is designed to collect this data …whose goal it is to shape our attitude and behavior.” Chester said that Google and others are promoting and practicing techniques that may “bypass the conscious mind and work on the emotions” as it engages in online advertising.

It “goes back many, many, years before this was a hot issue,” Hintze said of targeted advertising. “It’s happened since catalogues and direct mail. Online is not all that different either.” He said that e-commerce was responsible for between four and 10 times as much revenue because of targeted advertisements.

Horvath says that Google and other search engines are not the only people who advertise. She challenged the audience to “clear all your cookies, go to The New York Times” and look at the cookies that the media giant placed on the user’s computer.

Several panelists objected to this sort of cookie-tracking activity.

“Most people don’t realize what’s being taken, how it’s being used, who has access to it, or how long is it being kept,” said Amira Fazlullah of USPIRG. “There is a value to privacy that’s priceless,” says Fazlullah.

Said Jessica Rich of the Federal Trade Commission: “consumers don’t really know what’s happening with their data.”

Chester said that the ignorance to the power of advertising of this sort represents a “truly…frightening vision.”

Growing developments to ensure consumer privacy involve “opt-in” and “opt-out” privacy practices. The more well-known and well-practiced “opt-out” features are currently in place by Google, said Horvath.

Microsoft deployed “layered privacy notices,” or a privacy mode on its web browser Internet Explorer, said Hintze. Hintze says that “as we develop into third party [advertising] networks,” Microsoft attempts to keep privacy issues in mind.

Some on the panel decried the “opt-out” approach, particularly as it relates to the use of software cookies. A universal “opt-in” was discussed, but it might mean that consumers would have to take the initiative if they wanted to receive advertisements to them.

Google criticized this because the company “would have to authenticate users to have an opt-in service” – and that might involve further invasions of privacy, says Horvath.

Chester said drastic changes were necessary in the online media marketplace. It is “not just about advertisements. Social media marketing… is really about social media surveillance.”

The FTC’s Rich said that she personally takes the approach of a “privacy pragmatist,” and said: “I am not particularly bothered myself, [although] I know many people that are…. I do engage in avoidance.”

Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group the Self-Insurance Institute of America. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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Education

FTC Approves Policy Statement on Guiding Review of Children’s Online Protection

The policy statement provides the guiding principles for which the FTC will review the collection and use of children’s data online.

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FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission last week unanimously approved a policy statement guiding how it will enforce the collection and use of children’s online data gathered by education technology companies.

The policy statement outlines four provisions in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, including ones related to limiting the amount of data collected for children’s access to educational tools; restricting types of data collected and requiring reasons for why they are being collected; prohibiting ed tech companies from holding on to data for speculative purposes; and prohibiting the use of the data for targeted advertising purposes.

“Today’s statement underscores how the protections of the COPPA rule ensure children can do their schoolwork without having to surrender to commercial surveillance practices,” said FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan at an open meeting on Thursday.

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter added Thursday that although COPPA provides the strongest data minimization rule in US law, it’s enforcement may not be as strong, saying that “this policy statement is timely and necessary.”

Slaughter, who was the acting FTC chairwoman before Khan was approved to lead the agency, said last year that the commission was taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling privacy and data collection practices of ed tech companies, which has seen a boom in interest since the start of the pandemic.

Thursday’s statement comes after lawmakers have clamored for big technology companies to do more to prevent the unnecessary collection of children’s data online. It also comes after President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address earlier this year that companies must be held accountable for the “national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Lawmakers have already pushed legislation that would reform COPPA – originally published in 1998 to limit the amount of information that operators could collect from children without parental consent – to raise the age for online protections for children.

Thursday’s FTC statement also seeks to scrutinize unwarranted surveillance practices in education technology, such as geographic locating or data profiling. Khan added that though endless tracking and expansive use of data have become increasingly common practices, companies cannot extend these practices into schools.

Review is nothing new

“Today’s policy statement is nothing particularly new,” said Commissioner Noah Phillips, saying that the review started in July 2019.

Commissioner Christine Wilson, while supporting the statement, was also more withdrawn about its impact. “I am concerned that issuing policy statements gives the illusion of taking action, especially when these policy statements break no new ground.”

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Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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