FTC Will Crack Down on Education Companies That Surveil Children Online



The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will crack down on education technology companies if they illegally surveil children when they go online to learn. In a policy statement, the Commission made it clear that it is against the law for companies to force parents and schools to surrender their children’s privacy rights in order to do schoolwork online or attend class remotely.

According to the FTC, under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, companies cannot deny children access to educational technologies when their parents or school refuse to sign up for commercial surveillance.

“Students must be able to do their schoolwork without surveillance by companies looking to harvest their data to pad their bottom line,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Parents should not have to choose between their children’s privacy and their participation in the digital classroom. The FTC will be closely monitoring this market to ensure that parents are not being forced to surrender to surveillance for their kids’ technology to turn on.”

The press release notes that technology in the classroom has grown substantially in recent years, a trend that accelerated during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many schools had to switch to virtual learning. The FTC states that parents and schools are forced to navigate an industry that is dominated by the commercial surveillance business model. These services have the capacity to collect a trove of personal information and there are serious concerns that this data may be used to build profiles of kids.

As a former teacher, who stopped teaching long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I never had to worry about educational software gathering data from my students. It feels incredibly concerning to think that some education companies chose to surveil children who engage in online learning. Those companies need to find some other way to make money, without building a database on children. I cannot imagine that any teacher would want that sort of thing to happen to their students.

The FTC notes that Ed Tech providers must comply fully with all provisions of the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). The FTC is going to vigilantly enforce the law to ensure that companies covered by COPPA are complying with all of the rule’s provisions including:

Prohibitions Against Mandatory Collection: Companies cannot require children to provide more information than is reasonably needed for participation in an activity.

Use Prohibitions: Ed tech providers that collect personal information from a child with the school’s authorization are prohibited from using the information for any other commercial purpose including marketing and advertising.

Retention Limitations: Ed tech providers are prohibited from retaining children’s personal information for longer than is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected and therefore cannot keep such data just because they might want to use it in the future.

Security Requirements: Ed tech provides must have procedures to maintain the confidentiality, security, and integrity of children’s personal information.

According to Govtech.com, the FTC’s announcement come as student data privacy becomes a growing concern in K-12 schools across the country, where officials have adopted an array of digital learning tools during shifts to and from remote learning in recent years. As of 2019, 40 states had enacted one or more K-12 data privacy laws to protect students from companies monitoring students for advertising purposes, and others are in the process of doing so.


Legislation Could Force Breakup of Google’s Ad Business



A bipartisan group of senators led by Utah Republican Mike Lee introduced legislation that would take aim at conflicts of interest in the advertising industry and force Google to break up its dominant online-ad business, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Senators Amy Klobachar (D-MN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are cosponsors of this legislation.

The bill is titled “The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act”. The purpose of this bill is “to prevent conflicts of interest and promote competition in the sale and purchase of digital advertising.” According to The Wall Street Journal, it would prohibit companies processing more than $20 billion in digital ad transactions annually from participating in more than one part of the digital advertising ecosystem.

Senator Lee commented about the legislation: “Digital advertising is the lifeblood of the internet economy, It supports most of the free content and services Americans have come to rely upon, including local journalism, and it allows businesses of every size to reach their customers quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, online advertising is also suffering under the thumb of trillion-dollar ad companies.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to export their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising, amassing power on every side of the market and using it to block completion and take advantage of their customers. The conflicts of interest are so glaring that one Google employee described Google’s ad business as being like ‘if Goldman or Citibank owned the NYSE.”…

The Wall Street Journal also reported that similar legislation is to be introduced in the House of Representatives by Republican Ken Buck of Colorado and Democrat Pramilla Jayapal of Washington. If the legislation becomes a law, companies would have a year from the enactment of the legislation to comply with new rules.

The Verge reported that Google spokesperson Julie Tarallo McAlister said the proposed law would ultimately hurt users.

“Advertising tools from Google and many competitors help American websites and apps fund their content, help businesses grow, and help protect users from privacy risks and misleading ads,” said Julie Tarallo McAlister. “Breaking those tools would hurt publishers and advertisers, lower ad quality, and create new privacy risks. And, at a time of heightened inflation, it would handicap small businesses looking for easy and effective ways to grow online.”

According to The Verge, the bill could require Google to divest majorities of its digital advertising business. Google’s advertising marketplace rakes in billions each quarter for the company, pulling in $54 billion across Search, YouTube, and its ad networks in the first quarter of this year alone. Meta (Facebook’s parent company) could also be similarly affected by this legislation.

Personally, I don’t think it is a terrible idea to have reasonable legislation that regulates the amount of money big companies can take in from selling ads. It would also be nice to have more transparency about the pricing of ads. That information could be really significant for a business to fully understand if the price Google gives them for an ad is too high.

Overall, though, I don’t think it was ever a good idea for Google (or Meta) to choose to rely so heavily on the money that it takes in from selling ads. It is not reasonable to presume that their ad systems would be able to sustain them forever.


OnePlus Refreshes the Nord Line



In today’s keynote “Speed Games” presentation. OnePlus announced two new handsets plus a set of earbuds for the Nord range. The Nord range has been a big hit with roughly half the OnePlus phones sold in Europe coming from the Nord product line: I’m sure OnePlus will be keen to continue the success.

The first phone is the Nord 2T 5G, a refresh of the high-performing mid-ranger giving it “flagship killer speed”. I thought the Nord 2 was a great phone so I’m very interested to see what they’ve done here. The second handset is the Nord CE 2 Lite, a wallet-friendly version of the CE 2 and finally, we have the somewhat angular Nord earbuds. Frankly, I think they’d pair well with a Tesla Truck.

The OnePlus Nord 2T 5G, to give its full name, is powered by a MediaTek Dimensity 1300 chipset. That’s a step-up from the Demensitty 1200 of the Nord 2. No real surprises for the screen, coming as a 6.43″ 90 Hz full HD+ (2400 x 1080 pixels) screen with HDR10+.  Round the back, the handset comes in two colours, Gray Shadow and Jade Fog.

The selfie cam is a 32 MP Sony IMX615 with EIS and the main rear camera is 50 MP IMX766 unit with OIS. Both cameras have AI support to help get great pictures every time as the AI will recognise the scene and enhance it appropriately to help the pictures stand out. Low-light photography has been improved by 90% and there’s 960 fps slow-motion video capture for action shots.

There’s super-fast charging with 80 W SuperVOOC (same as OnePlus 10 Pro)  that will give a day’s power in only 15 minutes (67%) and will fully charge the 4500 mAh battery from 0-100% in 27 minutes. The phone will come with OxygenOS 12.1 which is based on Android 12. As with all of the OnePlus’ recent devices, the phone comes with two years of system updates and three years of security updates. Price is UK£369 (399€) which is actually £30 less than the Nord 2 was.

The original Nord CE was a big hit for OnePlus with over 80% of purchasers being first-time OnePlus buyers. Here we have the updated and affordable OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G. It’s a Snapdragon 695 with a slightly bigger 6.59″ 120 MHz FHD+ display. There’s also a bigger 5000 mAh battery but it’s “only” 33W charging which will give 1-50% in 30 mins.  If you need extra storage, the Lite will take a micro SD card up to 1 TB. There’s still the headphone jack for those who prefer wired headphones. Same 2 years of Android updates and 3 years of security ones. Still a little more than you’d expect.

The CE 2 Lite is priced at UK£279 (299€), so it’s £90 cheaper than the full Nord 2T.

Completely new to the OnePlus Nord lineup is the Nord Buds. These kind of look like boxier versions of the Buds Z2s and will definitely set you apart (in a good way) from the Apple sheeple. You get 7 hours listening per charge and as it’s a charging case, there’s 30 hours total listening pleasure. If you do run out, 10 mins of charging gives 5 hours of listening. Feature-wise the Buds support Dolby Atmos and several levels of noise cancellation. These are priced at an astonishing UK£49 (49€). Fifty pounds for noise-cancelling wireless earbuds!

Pre-orders for all the devices are open at oneplus.com.

You can watch the full launch event here. It’s a bit bonkers.


Department of Justice Won’t Prosecute White Hat Security Researchers



The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a new policy for charging cases under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The purpose appears to be to allow White Hat security researchers to continue doing what they do, without getting arrested for it.

From the DOJ press release:

The policy for the first time directs that good-faith security research should not be charged. Good faith security research means accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability, where such activity is carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said, “Computer security research is a key driver of improved cybersecurity. The department has never been interested in prosecuting good-faith computer security research as a crime, and today’s announcement promotes cybersecurity by providing clarity for good-faith security researchers who root out vulnerabilities for the common good.”

The DOJ policy clarifies that hypothetical CFAA violations that have concerned some courts and commentators are not to be charged. This includes: embellishing on an online dating profile contrary to the terms of service of the dating website; creating fictional accounts on hiring, housing, or rental websites; using a pseudonym on a social networking site that prohibits them; checking sports scores at work; paying bills at work; or violating an access restriction contained in a terms of service are not sufficient to warrant federal criminal charges.

In addition, the DOJ made it clear that “the new policy acknowledges that claiming to be conducting security research is not a free pass for those acting in bad faith. For example, discovering vulnerabilities in devices to extort their owners, even if claimed as ‘research’, is not in good faith.”

Vice reported that the new policy addresses decades of uncertainty around the law and security research. According to Vice, the policy comes into effect immediately and all federal prosecutors who wish to charge cases under the CFAA are required to follow the policy.

TechCrunch reported: The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, was enacted in 1986 and predates the modern internet. The federal law dictates what constitutes computer hacking – specifically “unauthorized” access to a computer system – at the federal level.

According to TechCrunch, CFAA has long been criticized for its outdated and vague language that does little to differentiate between good-faith researchers and malicious actors who set out to extort companies or individuals or otherwise cause harm.

I think the policy change made by the DOJ will help clarify what is considered to be beneficial (such as good-faith research) as compared to those who discover vulnerabilities in devices for the purpose of using to to extort the device’s owner. I’m hoping that the list of things that make courts and commentators confused should now be easier for them to understand.


Twitter Introduces A Crisis Misinformation Policy



Twitter announced that it is introducing a crisis misinformation policy. It appears to be Twitter’s way of elevating credible information while slowing the spread of misinformation. Twitter announced this policy on May 19, 2022. From the blog post:

Today, we’re introducing our crisis management policy – a global policy that will guide our efforts to elevate, credible, authoritative information, and will help to ensure viral misinformation isn’t amplified or recommended by us during crisis. In times of crisis, misleading information can undermine public trust and cause further harm to already vulnerable communities.

Twitter continued: Alongside our existing work to make reliable information more accessible during crisis events, this new approach will help to slow the spread by us of the most visible, misleading content, particularly that which could lead to severe harms.

Twitter was extremely specific about what it will misinformation during a crisis. The company stated that to determine whether claims are misleading, they require verification from multiple credible, public available sources. Those sources include evidence from conflict monitoring groups, humanitarian organizations, open-source investigators, journalists, and more.

As soon as Twitter has evidence that a claim may be misleading, the company will not amplify or recommend content that is covered by this policy across Twitter. This includes in the Home timeline, Search, and Explore. Twitter will also prioritize adding warning notices to highly visible Tweets and Tweets from high profile accounts, such as state-affiliated media accounts, verified, official government accounts.

Here are examples of Tweets Twitter may add a warning notice to:

  • False coverage or event reporting, or information that mischaracterizes conditions on the ground as a conflict evolves;
  • False allegations regarding use of force, incursions on territorial sovereignty, or around the use of weapons;
  • Demonstrably false or misleading allegations of war crimes or mass atrocities against specific populations;
  • False information regarding international community response, sanctions, defensive actions, or humanitarian operations.

Strong commentary, efforts to debunk or fact check, and personal anecdotes or first person accounts do not fall within the scope of the policy.

If Twitter finds a Tweet that it concludes is misinformation, the company will put a warning notice on top of that Tweet. The notice will say: This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules on sharing false or misleading info that might bring harm to crisis-affected populations. However, to preserve the content for accountability purposes, Twitter has determined this Tweet should remain available. A person who wants to read the Tweet will be required to click through the warning notice to view the Tweet.

I think it is a good idea for Twitter to put a warning on top of Tweets that violate its crisis misinformation policy. Personally, I don’t want to see graphic violence from a war zone when I’m scrolling through Twitter. As such, if I happen to find a Tweet with the warning on top, I will very likely scroll past it without interacting.

The Verge reported that Twitter’s stronger standards are meant to be limited to specific events. Twitter will initially apply the policy to content concerning the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the company expects to apply the rules to all emerging crisis going forward. 

 


TikTok Announces Top Performing Videos Can Become Ads



TikTok announced that it’s launching a new ad product called “Branded Mission” that will allow creators to connect with brands and possibly receive rewards for videos, TechCrunch reported. According to TechCrunch, with this new ad product, advertisers can crowdsource content from creators and turn top-performing videos into ads.

TikTok posted in its newsroom more information about “Branded Mission”. From the post:

…To make it easier for brands to tap into the creative power of TikTok communities and co-create authentic branded content that resonates with users, we’re launching Branded Mission. Branded Mission is an industry-first ad solution that enables advertisers to crowdsource authentic content from creators on TikTok, turn top-performing videos into ads, and improve brand affinity with media impressions.

According to TikTok, this new form of two-way engagement between brands and creators enables the TikTok community to have a creative hand in the ads that are part of a brand campaign and helps brands discover emerging creators across TikTok.

By using Branded Mission, advertisers can:

Engage the community to participate in branded campaigns: Brands can develop a brief and release it to the creator community to participate in the Branded Mission.

Let creators tell the most relatable brand story in an authentic way: TikTok creators can decide what Branded Missions they are inspired by and choose to participate in the Mission. Brands will select their favorite original creative videos and amplify them through promoted ad traffic.

Discover a diverse ecosystem of creators who are the main drivers of culture on TikTok: Brands now have more opportunities to discover and engage with a broad ecosystem of creative and talented creators. Creators who are at least 18 years old with more than 1,000 followers will be eligible to participate in a Branded Mission.

According to TikTok, eligible creators whose videos are selected by the brand as ads will benefit from a cash payment and boosted traffic. On each Branded Mission page, creators will see the potential earning opportunity before choosing to participate.

It is worth noting that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes it clear that creators have the responsibility to disclose that their content is an advertisement – not the brands responsibility.

“If you endorse a product through social media, your endorsement message should make it obvious when you have a relationship (“material connection”) with the brand. A “material connection” to the brand includes a personal, family, or employment relationship or a financial relationship – such as the brand paying you or giving you free or discounted products or services.”

I think it is a good idea for TikTok to enable a connection between brands and creators. I like that the brands have to be upfront about how much they are willing to pay a creator for allowing the brand to use their creative content. TikTok creators who are looking for a way to increase their income might be ready to create ads for brands.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the Branded Mission ads might fail. If the creators do the right thing, and disclose that this is an ad, it could make people decided not to watch it. Some people are going to reject that content specifically because it is yet another ad. In general, people tend to avoid ads as much as possible.


Netflix Lays Off Estimated 150 Staffers



Netflix is laying off approximately 150 employees across the company, according to an internal memo sent Tuesday and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. This round of layoffs follows at least 10 full-time staff and contractors working under the editorial division on April 28, 2022. Those workers were part of Tudum Studio, which Netflix launched in December of 2021.

NPR reported that layoffs of employees and contractors for the Netflix site Tudum made waves online. People criticized the company for letting go of staff who had been recently recruited and for the lack of internal marketing of their work.

According to NPR, these layoffs are reflective of a change that Netflix is undergoing. In the wake of controversial programming on its platform, the tech giant recently altered its corporate culture memo to say employees may have to work on projects they find harmful.

Los Angeles Times reported that a spokesperson for Netflix provided the following statement:

“As we explained on earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly U.S.-based. These changes are primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance, which makes them especially tough as none of us want to say goodbye to such great colleagues. We’re working hard to support them through this very difficult transition.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, a contractor who was part of a team that ran social media content promoting LGBTQ storytelling said, “This felt more of a matter of when, than if.” The contractor, who was not allowed to speak publicly, first became aware of the layoffs through the news, and hours later attended an all-hands on meeting where a group of people were informed they were losing their jobs.

Animation Magazine reported that Netflix was also eliminating two percent of roles from its animation workforce, largely in the U.S. According to Animation Magazine, at the beginning of the month, a trio of animated Netflix Kids & Family projects were nixed from the slate: Jeff King’s Dino Daycare (part of kids’ animation whiz Chris Nee’s initial slate with the streamer), Meghan Markle’s Pearl and Jaydeep Hasrajani’s Boons and Curses.

All of this comes after Netflix cracked down on account sharing (with someone outside of your household).

The Hollywood Reporter stated that in April, during its first-quarter earnings announcement, Netflix revealed it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the quarter and expected to lose an additional 2 million during the second quarter.