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Pro-Technology Advocates Change More Minds than their Anti-Tech Counterparts During Silicon Flatirons Debate

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Screenshot of the four Silicon Flatirons debaters, anti-tech on the left and pro-tech on the right

Pro-tech advocates changed more minds than their anti-tech counterparts at a Silicon Flatirons debate on Sunday.

Pro-tech and anti-tech advocates engaged in an Oxford-style debate at the Silicon Flatirons conference, “Technology Optimism and Pessimism” at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Both sides tackled the question, “Is technology undermining democracy?” The debate began with an online poll of the audience (sample size of 100) posing this question, with 60 percent responding yes and 40 percent responding no.

The four combatants, two for and two against, launched into their opening arguments.

Georgetown University law professor Paul Ohm scolded “platforms that act like nation-states” and avoid taxes, and he laid the “pretty profound epistemological crisis” of deepfakes and disinformation squarely at the feet of information technology.

His ally Ahmed Ghappour, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, described the arrival of a “new dark age” and faulted the danger of technology by recounting several reports of individuals driving their car off of a cliff because they were so focused on listening to their errant GPS.

The opposing side shot back. Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, declared that “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” She implored the audience to not blame problems on the 1s and 0s of binary code. Instead, she asserted that the problem lay at the human level.

Cohn referenced two studies: One from Harvard that suggested that the Russian influencing campaign of the 2016 election was simply ineffective at changing the minds of voters, and another study that more or less demonstrated the same finding about the Cambridge Analytica misinformation campaign.

Her partner in the debate was Andrew Bridges, partner at Fenwick & West. Bridges recounted his time in Syria and how the dictator Bashir al-Assad froze social media apps to prevent protesters from coordinating logistics. He used this story to assert that the most important First Amendment freedom is actually the freedom of assembly.

The meat of the debate turned philosophical, as debaters argued over the existence of free will in today’s technological society.

Ohm pushed back against what he regarded as Cohn’s straw man argument that the anti-tech side thinks people are zombies. “We’re not zombies, but we are puppets”, responded Ohm.

Ghappour also made the poignant point that the protestors in Tahrir square, some of which he mentioned are his friends, are all either dead or in prison now due to the Syrian government’s use of surveillance technology.

Cohn countered that “a certain great organization in San Francisco” – referring to her own EFF – has been making information technology to help those same protestors.

After closing arguments, the moderator opened the results of a new audience poll: 50 percent now thought technology undermined democracy, while 50 percent did not.

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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