High school students care about free speech

A study by the Knight Foundation found that high school students are more supportive of free speech rights than adults and that there is a correlation between social media use and support for the first amendment.

Details here

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Internet Governance Forum topics include human rights, network neutrality and child protection

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 12.47.30 PM

As we have for the past several years, my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I are attending this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to talk about child protections, child rights and digital citizenship, including children’s’ access to social media and other Internet resources. The ninth annual IGF takes place in Istanbul, Turkey, September 2nd through the 5th.

The IGF is what the UN calls a “multi-stakeholder” gathering, which means it’s not just governments that attend IGF, but also representatives from industry (mostly tech companies), non-profit organizations and academia. Numerous U.S. officials are here, including Catherine Novelli, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, NTIA Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

Network neutrality

There will be several sessions on Network Neutrality, which has become a major topic in the United States, but also around the world, including in Europe where the European Parliament has voted to limit Internet service providers’ ability to charge for special services or faster access to content providers.

In the U.S., the FCC is pondering new network neutrality rules after the District of Columbia Circuit Court overturned nondiscrimination rules that the FCC had enacted in 2010. The proposed FCC rules would ban blatant blocking of competitive content, but would allow ISPs to enter special agreements with content providers, causing some to fear that this could lead to a less open Internet where rich companies have an unfair advantage over those without the ability to pay ISPs for enhanced access.


Open access has long been a theme at IGF, with most participants agreeing that the Internet should be open to all ideas and not censored by government or ISPs  As always, there will be  sessions on freedom of speech, including one entitled Online Freedoms and Access to Information Online.

But any discussion of free speech has to include a critique of countries that have restricted access to some parts of the Internet including the host country, Turkey, which for a time early this year banned access to Twitter and YouTube. Those particular sites are once again accessible but, according to Turkish Internet rights activists Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak, “Between May 2007 and July 2014 Turkey blocked access to approximately 48,000 websites,” based on a recently updated law. Akdeniz and Altiparmak added that “Although the law is ostensibly aimed to protect children from harmful content, from the very beginning it has been used to prevent adults’ access to information.”

Ungovernance forum

Akdeniz and Altiparmak will be boycotting the IGF but will be participating in the Internet Ungoverance Forum that will take place in Istanbul on September 4th and 5th “for people who demand that fundamental freedoms, openness, unity and net neutrality remain the building blocks of the Internet.”

Child protection and youth rights

There are several workshops on child protection including the ones that Anne Collier and I are speaking at.  Anne is moderating a workshop entitled Empowering Global Youth Through Digital Citizenship with the goal of moving beyond protection towards a better understanding of youth perspectives, including ”how they use digital tools and spaces to promote and support causes, make change and participate in civil society or even political life.”

The panel I’m moderating, Protecting Child Safety AND Child Rights, focuses on how adults can help young people remain safe online without jeopardizing their rights of access, free expression and participation.

Also see, Protecting children online needs to allow for their right to free speech.

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Protecting children online needs to allow for their right to free speech

I’m writing this column on a flight to Istanbul and then on to Geneva for two United Nations conferences.

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News  -- the newspaper of Silicon Valley

Istanbul is the site of this year’s U.N. Internet Governance Forum (IGF), while the Geneva meetings will focus on digital media and children’s rights per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world, except the U.S. and Somalia.

The IGF is an annual event where “stakeholders” from governments, industry, nonprofits and academia discuss a wide range of Internet policy issues. Anne Collier and I are representing ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization where we serve as co-directors. (Disclosure: ConnectSafely receives financial support from some tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Yahoo.)

The workshops I’m participating in (www.connectsafely.org/igf2014/) focus on child online protection, protecting child safety and child rights, and empowering youth through digital citizenship.

I organized the child safety and child rights workshop because I want to explore how to protect children against potential online harms in ways that don’t take away their free speech rights or their right to explore all the amazing resources available online. In a way, it’s a perfect segue to the Geneva conference about digital media and the rights of the child. Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”

Clearly, “any other media” includes the Internet, which means that by international treaty, children have codified rights when it comes to what they can read and what they can say. And even though the U.S. hasn’t ratified this convention, Americans do have First Amendment rights which, as far as I can tell, apply to everyone, including minors.

Yet, in the interest of protecting children, we sometimes deny them the right to access material and express themselves.

Many schools in the U.S. and other countries employ filters that restrict access to some websites or apps. These types of filters have been around for a long time and were first mostly used to block pornography and, over time, have evolved to also block sites that advocate or depict violence, the use of alcohol or illegal drugs or promote self-harm such as cutting or anorexia. A purest interpretation of the First Amendment or the Convention on the Rights of the Child could be used to argue against the use of these filters for any purpose, but I think most people would agree that parents have the right to protect young children from potentially harmful or disturbing content, and that schools, even public schools that are run by governments, have a right and responsibility to keep kids from accessing certain content within their facilities. But such filters are not just used to block porn, violence and self-harm.

Depending on how they are configured, filters can also block access to social media sites, which is common in many schools in the U.S. and other countries. They can also be used to ban sites that officials in some countries simply don’t want students to access. Ironically, Turkey — which is hosting this year’s governance forum, filtered the Internet for all of its citizens, blocking Twitter and YouTube, for a while earlier this year for what appear to be purely political reasons.

I’m particularly concerned about schools blocking social media. While it’s certainly fair to argue that students should be focusing on their studies while in class, it strikes me that a wholesale ban on social media sites raises some troubling free speech issues.

Social media is where people exchange information and ideas and it’s frequently used for political, cultural and religious expression, not unlike what’s printed in newspapers or discussed in hallways. And, while some schools block social media, teachers at other schools encourage its use and incorporate it into their curriculum as a way to encourage kids to express themselves, broaden their horizons and share learning resources with peers and others from around the world.

I’m also troubled by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a well-meaning federal law that has the unintended consequences of preventing kids under 13 from expressing themselves on most social media platforms unless they lie about their age. Millions of kids have lied to use these services, often with their parents help.

Of course there are risks in social media, but there are also enormous benefits. Sports can be risky, but that doesn’t stop most schools from encouraging kids to participate. If schools treated sports the way they treat social media, they would ban baseball, football and soccer on school grounds and deny their students access to safety equipment, rule enforcement, coaching and camaraderie associated with school athletics, knowing full well that kids would still play those sports when they are away from school.

Whether you’re a decision maker at home, for a school or an entire country, protecting children from harm will always be a major priority. But avoiding harm also means protecting children’s rights, including the right to access media. It’s a delicate balance that requires thought and, most of all, respect for children and their rights and it’s not too much to ask.

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News


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Jawbone measured sleep disruption from Napa earthquake

Chart shows sleep impact by distance

Chart shows sleep impact by distance

Jawbone, which makes the Jawbone Up fitness tracker that measures sleep patterns, release aggregate data on its users in and near the San Francisco Bay area when the Napa earthquake hit at 3:20 AM Sunday morning.  The results were reported in a company blog post.

Napa, Sonoma, Vallejo, and Fairfield — town that are less than 15 miles from the epicenter showed the biggest impact with 93% of the product’s wearers waking up suddenly at 3:20AM when the quake struck. As you move away from the center, the impact lessens. Just over half (55%) of San Francisco wearers, which is about 40 miles from American Canyon where the quake was centered woke up. Almost no wearers in Modesto and Santa Cruz woke up according to the company

And the quake’s impact on sleep lasted all night. According the Jawbone, 45% of wearers less than 15 miles from the epicenter never got back to sleep.

The company said that the study was based on thousands of UP wearers in the Bay Area who track their sleep using UP by Jawbone. All results are statistically significant. All data is anonymized and presented in aggregate.


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Tech resources for before and after an earthquake

Quake was centered about a mile from the Napa airport

Quake was centered about a mile from the Napa airport

Parts of the San Francisco Bay Area were rocked by a 6.1 earthquake centered near Napa. For ongoing coverage tune into San Francico’s all-news KCBS radio on air (740 AM or 106.9 FM or online.

Information resources

For general earthquake information, visit the USGS website. The City of Napa‘s website is being updated regularly with information affecting that community.

Earthquake.gov provides good general information on what to do before, during and after an earthquake.

rcThe American Red Cross has an Earthquake App for iOS and Android with alerts and notifications when an earthquake occurs with tips to prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out. Unlike your desktop PC, you may be able to use your smartphone immediately after an earthquake, so it’s a good app to have.


FEMA urges area residents to use phones only for emergencies. Send text messages if possible.

If you have a landline, make sure you have at least one corded (not cordless) phone, which will work as long as the phone service works even if the power is out.

Of course, there is always the possibility that any communications systems will also fail during a quake or other disaster and that includes landlines, cable lines and even cell phones (which depend on land-based stations) so always keep a portable radio handy with fresh batteries.

Important things to have

Obviously batteries and flashlights are important to have on hand. It’s a good idea to have at least one flashlight that can be powered by a crank or pull-string so it will work even if the batteries are dead.  The $20 Solar Wind n Go has a crank and a solar recharging system. There are also solar and hand-crank radio and LED light combinations.

A portable cell phone charger is great to have in an emergency

A portable cell phone charger is great to have in an emergency

Also, it’s a good idea to keep your cell phones charged and have one or more portable rechargeable phone chargers on hand. These are basically backup-batteries that can keep a phone or tablet going long after the internal batteries have died. If you want one with maximum staying power, consider the Jackery Giant. It’s bulky but it has dual output ports and 12,000mAh for lengthening mobile device battery life up to 500% for smart phones.There is also an LED flashlight that’s rated to last upto 700 hours.

An “uninterruptible power supply” (UPS)  can keep computers and other devices running for at least a few minutes after a power outage.  f you have a laptop, keep it  fully charged but also use a UPS to power up an Internet cable modem or DSL device, router and phone adapter so you can access the net and make Internet phone calls.

If your power goes out because of a quake or for any other reason, try to unplug TVs and electronics so they won’t be damaged when the power comes back on if there is a power surge. The risk is small (so don’t stress over it if you’re not home) but if convenient, it’s worth doing.




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It’s time for schools to upgrade both technology and pedagogy

by Larry Magid

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News


Teaching methods, in some schools, haven’t changed much since this picture was taken (Creative Commons License)

As students return to school, it’s time to think about absolute necessities like pens, paper, school clothes, a laptop or tablet and, of course, a learning network that enables them to interact with fellow students and teachers.

OK, that network may not yet be mandatory. But an increasing number of teachers are flocking toward “connected learning,” which involves changing not only educational methods, but also some fundamental assumptions about the nature of education.

Connected learning

An infographic at ConnectedLearning.tv offers up a definition that refers to connected learning as a model that holds out the possibility of “reimagining the experience of education in the information age.” It goes on to suggest that the power of technology be used to “fuse young people’s interests, friendships and academic achievements” through hands-on production, shared purpose and open networks.

That’s a refreshingly forward thinking definition of the term. For many educators, “connected learning,” simply means using the power of the Internet to make it more efficient to bring resources into the classroom. It reminds me of a presentation I saw a few years ago at an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, in which a smart board vendor demonstrated her product by modeling a teacher-dominated geography lesson, using the smart board in almost the same way teachers have long used chalk boards to display information in a top-down fashion. It struck me at the time that much of today’s so-called “technology in education” is nothing more than using 21st century technology to enhance 19th century pedagogy.

And that brings me back to “reimagining” education by finding ways to disrupt the processes and power relationships that have so long defined students as both the consumers and products of the educational system rather than co-creators and collaborators.

Student networking

Not all companies are thinking of ways to reinforce old learning models. 1StudentBody (www.1sb.com), a Palo Alto startup run by serial entrepreneur Mandeep Dhillon, is leveraging the power of networking to help students help themselves and their peers.

Mandeep Dhillon

Mandeep Dhillon

Dhillon views “peer-to-peer connections” as a powerful way to connect students within and among schools to collaborate in the learning process. His just released app, NoteSnap (initially available only for iPhone and iPad, with an Android version coming), enables students to use their smartphone to take notes in class and, by default, share them with other students. The app lets students use the phone’s camera, for example, to take a picture of the classroom’s whiteboard to share the content with others in the class. The app automatically cleans up the image to improve readability and immediately shares it with others. It also allows students to ask questions, and there is the option of asking anonymously if you “don’t want people to think you’re clueless.”


Notesnap for iOS and soon Android

I asked Dhillon why students would want to use the app. After all, schools are often competitive, and sharing with other students helps them, but not you. His answer was aspirational. The product is not simply designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of getting a better grade, but reflects his philosophy that learning and work will be increasingly collaborative.

It makes sense to me. In the real world, you’re rewarded not for what you know, but how you’re able to leverage your knowledge, skills and talents for the benefit of others. Not only are companies increasingly encouraging workers to share their knowledge among colleagues, but there is also a growing open-source movement that encourages competitors to share some aspects of their intellectual property for the benefit of the entire industry and the world at large. In the real world, success is not a zero-sum game where your success depends on other people’s lack of success.

I grew up at the tail end of the industrial age and got to live through the information age which, said, Dhillon, is about over now that information has become a commodity. “We’re now in the networked age,” he said, where what you know is far less important than your ability to use networks to obtain whatever it is you need and share it with others.

Other apps and services

There are, of course, other apps aimed at students and educators, including Edmodo, a network of 37 million teachers, students and parents designed to help teachers manage coursework and encourage all users to collaborate. Another app, ShowMe interactive whiteboard lets you use an iPad to create “whiteboard-style tutorials.”

Evernote isn’t specifically for students, but it does allow users to take notes, snap pictures, save and share Web links and organize and share bits of information.

And, for the more animated students and teachers out there, there is GoAnimate for Schools that lets users create amazing animated videos by dragging and dropping and adding audio dialogue, complete with lip-syncing. One of my favorite features is an animated whiteboard that lets you type in text for your character to write on the board.


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Why Google (And Facebook) Should Admit Kids Under 13

Read the full post at Forbes.com

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As Ferguson Struggles, Georgia Teens Create App To Rate Police

Read the full post at Forbes.com

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Tech can make driving dangerous, but also safer

By Larry Magid

(Updated with news of proposed government rule on vehicle to vehicle communication systems)

A lot has been written about how technology can make driving more dangerous, and it’s certainly risky to text, fiddle with your phone, configure your GPS, mess with your radio or even speak on the phone while driving.

But tech can also make us safer. For example, my car is equipped with a rear-view camera, which will be a requirement starting in 2018. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries per year on average are caused by “backover” crashes, and about a third of the victims are children under 5. It’s rare that I spot a person in my rear-view camera, but it does help prevent me from bumping into parked cars while trying to shoehorn my way into a tight space.

On occasion, I’ve even used that camera while driving on the freeway to make up for my car’s blind spot, which makes it hard to tell if someone is passing me from behind as I change lanes.

Lots of carmakers have a feature that will automatically park the car for you and an increasing number are offering collision avoidance systems. Audi, for example, has what it calls Pre Sense that, depending on the model, uses radar and cameras to anticipate a possible collision. It not only can automatically tighten safety belts and close windows and the sunroof, but also can warn the driver that an accident is likely and, if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough, can apply the brakes.

Other automakers, including Ford and GM, have similar features in some cars. Last year Ford showed off a test car that can automatically steer and brake to avoid collisions.

Other safety-related technologies to consider, according to USAA insurance company, include adaptive cruise control that slows you down when you approach traffic, adaptive headlights that help drivers see better as they round a curve, backup sensors that beep if you’re about to hit something or someone and side-view assist that can detect a car in your blind spot.

Toyota’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian-avoidance Steer Assist uses radar, a stereo camera, and a near-infrared ray projector that can detect vehicles, stationary objects and pedestrians and, like Audi’s system, can warn the driver, apply the brakes and tighten the seat belts,

After-market solution for your car

Most of these systems require that you get a new car, and typically an expensive one at that. But there are also aftermarket products that you can add to existing vehicles.

Jerusalem-based Mobileye, for example, has a product that can add what it calls “artificial vision” to any vehicle. The device, which costs $849, plus installation fees, employs a vision sensor mounted on the windshield and a display and audio signals that warn you about a likely forward collision, not just with another car, but with a pedestrian, bicycle or object. There is also a lane-departure warning that alerts you if you start to veer without having used your turn signal to tell the system (and other drivers) that it’s a deliberate lane change. It can also read speed limit signs and let you know if you’re going too fast.

Mobileye develops some of the technologies used in carmaker-installed safety systems and is also working on technology for self-driving vehicles, according to its website. The company went public this month and, as of last week, has a market cap of over $1 billion.

The U.S. government is encouraging not just the development of new technologies, but consumer adoption of what’s already available. The NHTSA operates the website safecar.gov that recommends that people purchase cars with lane-departure warning systems and rearview backup cameras, and says that automatic crash notification (that alerts first responders to a crash) and frontal pedestrian impact mitigation braking “may improve overall vehicle safety.” The website also has some low-tech safety advice, including how to use child seats and how not be one of the nearly 11,000 tire related annual U.S. crash victims.

Motorcycle tech

You don’t need four-wheels to get the latest safety technology. Skully has raised nearly $1 million on Indiegogo to develop “the world’s smartest motorcycle helmet,” which provides a heads-up display on the face shield with a 180 degree rear-view camera that helps eliminate blind spots. It also gives you visual and audio GPS navigation and the ability to answer your phone. The company is taking pre-orders for the Skully AR-1 at $1,399, which it expects to ship by the middle of next year.

Update — Government proposes “Vehicle to Vehicle Communications technology

On Monday August 18th, the NHTSA proposed  a new rule “supporting comprehensive research report on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology” that would warn drivers if another driver was about to run a red light or turn into their lanes. The system would require that both vehicles be equipped with the technology and could be further enhanced if communities incorporated it into their highway systems. By warning drivers of imminent danger, V2V technology has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “V2V technology is ready to move toward implementation and this report highlights the work NHTSA and DOT are doing to bring this technology and its great safety benefits into the nation’s light vehicle fleet.”

The agency said that left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMA) – could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives per year.  So-called V2V communications use on-board dedicated short-range radio communication devices to transmit messages about a vehicle’s speed, heading, brake status, and other information to other vehicles, according to NHTSA.

In a readiness report, NHTSA estimates that V2V equipment and supporting communications functions ( would cost approximately $341 to $350 per vehicle in 2020.

Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. The agency’s goal is to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by 2016, and that’s just when they plan to propose the rule, not when they expect automakers to comply.

All of these technologies make you safer, but not completely safe. There is always the possibility of something going wrong, usually as a result of human error or carelessness. Even Google’s self-driving cars — which take the human out of the driving equation — can get into crashes because they share the road with other cars that are driven by people.

Safety technology is advancing at a very rapid pace, so it’s only a matter of time before our vehicles become safer. Humans, however, evolve very slowly, so if your car did have a sensor that detected human error, it might put up the following warning message: “PEBSWAS” — problem exists between steering wheel and seat.

This article is adapted from a colum that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News


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GoAnimate can turn almost anyone into an animator

GoAnimate lets people create their own animations

GoAnimate lets people create their own animations

I don’t have a fraction of the animating skills of the late William Hanna or Joseph Barbera and I certainly have no intention of ever producing cartoons for TV. But there are times when I want to whip up a short animation — perhaps to enhance a presentation I’m making or create a lesson about online safety or privacy, as part of my work at ConnectSafely.org.

Until now I had to hire a professional if I need an animation, but — with a couple of hours of practice — almost anyone can become a pretty decent animator using a service called GoAnimate.

micListen to Larry’s 1 minute CBS News Tech Talk segment on GoAnimate, featuring COO Gary Lipkowitz


The service enables you to pick a scene, grab some characters and have them come to life. You can even speak in or import voice and the characters will mouth your words with really good lip syncing.

One of my favorite features is an animated whiteboard that lets you type in text for your character to write on the board. It looks a bit like what Saul Khan does in his great training videos at Khan Academy.

Although you can try it for free, GoAnimate is a fee-based service with plans starting at $39 a month. If you’re an infrequent user, you can join, create an animation, suspend your account and start up again when you need to create a new animation (it’s OK with them,   I checked) which is still a lot cheaper than hiring a professional animator.





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