39 posts categorized "Security"

May 06, 2008

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of filtering - it's not got a future

Mobile_net AB has taken the previous arguments on a stage, by pointing out what those of us with 3G wireless internet have known for a while. Whitelists and blacklists mean very little to someone who's simply bypassing your whole system.

So, maybe the arguments about how a whitelist is formed or what sites should go on it are all futile - Local Authorities, companies and other organisations maybe need to speed up the urgency in the answer to the question of December 25, 2008 (and almost certainly 2009):

when a minority of your students can provide unfiltered access to the web to their mates in our increasingly collaborative classrooms, and their teachers may start doing the same with their own technology, what will be the response?

Mobile phone blocking, à la Russian opera, or an educative approach to making net use worthwhile? What's happening with cell phone and mobile internet usage in Asia will come to these shores soon (and, some would argue, already is) so the urgency can't be underestimated.

May 04, 2008

We don't know what we don't know we don't know

Annoyed I've managed to annoy a few folk with a post on filtering, mostly due to the tone of the argument, I hope, than its content. Mea culpa - too much caffeine, not enough thought before pressing publish? I was off the mark with tone, but I hope the message of the post is not lost on those reading it.

Update: Doug seems to think that there is a certain expediency in even having whitelisting, in a convincing argument.

Update II: AB sees the real argument being about mobile internet and (the lack of potential in) filtering.

While my choice of language was wrong, I can't let the notion of whitelisting sites escape me. I feel the basic argument stands: whitelisting means little to nothing for those who can't access the thing that's blocked in the first place.

In an abundant world, we don't have time to unfilter
Jim points out what I half-guessed would be the case: that schools in Highland, as in many other Local Authorities throughout the UK, can ask for sites to be unfiltered, or whitelisted, by Websense. This sounds great: a devolved system designed to give the teachers what they want. The problem lies here: you don't know what you don't know you don't know. Namely: if a teacher is to ask for a site to be whitelisted they have to have been able to see it in the first place. Even the slightest barrier to entry - coming up against a filter - is enough for that website to be forgotten in the click of a 'Back' arrow, and onto the next site.

The expectation that we must learn out of school
So, Local Authorities around the world rely on teachers (and presumably students) to do research of material in their own time, at home, on a personally paid-for internet connection, instead of being able to spontaneously access material in school. Most do this without thinking twice, though whether they should have to do this in a worthwhile way exclusively at home is another question. These teachers then have a lead time before someone in the IT department whitelists, or unblocks that page; no matter how quick an institutional IT department is they will always be slower than a Google result appearing. (Note that I don't even think of students calling IT to have something unblocked).

How can you know you don't want something you've never tasted?
I reckon that whitelisting should ideally be a shared responsibility. There are sites which teachers will know they want whitelisted, and can ask for well in advance. I've seen whole schools set out at the beginning of the year the main sites that they will require to get through their work, based on the blocked frustrations of the previous year. Highland and others cater admirably for this group. There are many sites, or individual web pages, though, that they and students will not be able to ask about since they cannot view them in the first place, after both random search or recommendation. That, or the page is needed now, for the essay due next week, or the 30 kids sitting in my room now.

So, as well as whitelisting by school, which is quite common, there might also be a need for foresight from the superb ICT Teams around the country who will know where to look, and how to unlock, the sites within those categories which, frankly, are still far too broad to provide meaning as and in themselves. East Lothian did this very successfully two years ago, as David explains in his comment on Alan's blog.

But here's the crunch: Local Authorities do share the task of whitelisting, but, for whatever reasons, the same genres of sites, the same distinctive blogs, Flickr accounts and social platforms are blocked. The only reason I can come up with (since Local Authorities are clearly not Machiavellian) is time. Or the lack of it.

What's the answer(s)?
I don't believe this kind of joint whitelisting is a huge task, particularly if LAs could unite on the task and share the labour. I dare say there would be enough bloggers willing to offer their ideas based on what's currently blocked, but the desire to harness this would have to be seen to come from Local Authorities, or otherwise seem a fruitless task to the teachers involved.

Whatever Local Authorities choose to do, there is a clear need to 'do something'.

  • In East Lothian, the answer was to own the platform, which led to eduBuzz, and to make the filtering software see the difference between blogs, Flickr and Blip.TV on the one hand, and Bebo and Facebook on the other. Several other Authorities have followed suite successfully.
  • In others, the answer may be more frequent whitelisting, seeing this tiresome task become more of a drain on resources.
  • Elsewhere, such as in the schools I saw in New Zealand, the politik might be to filter after the fact, and use the Acceptable Use Policy for what it was designed: to pull up those who abuse the freedom the net (should) offer.

If you are a Local Authority IT manager, or if you have some ideas about where whitelisting and blacklisting should sit, then please do join the discussion.


May 03, 2008

If real life were like Facebook...

...it may not be worth living. Idiots of Ants have an amusing sketch that shows how anyone who says online social interactions "are just like face-to-face friendships" aren't living on the same planet as the rest of us.

May 02, 2008

Florence of the North?

Firenze I'm currently taking some time out in a beautifully spring-filled Florence, Italy. Along with my 7am shot of espresso, I'm getting that early 15 minutes of solitude in the morning getting my injection of RSS watchlists and email. I found something today that draws a rapport between some Scottish Local Authorities and this amazing city I'm in.

This post has an update, which would be more apt to read, and certainly needs read after the following text.

Update: AB sees the real argument being about mobile internet and (the lack of potential in) filtering.

Now, Florence's success was arguably built on the slightly overbearing and corrupt shoulders of  Niccolò Machiavelli whose leadership style was more about "political expediency" than any democracy or providing a voice to the various poets, architects and artists that inhabited the city. It worked, of course: commerce always makes more money than art, doesn't it (as many school systems still attempt to exemplify in 2008)? Eventually, though, the Renaissance won out, the artists had their day, and Florence became better known in the long-run for its incredibly invigorating creative scene than for its cotton traders, most of whom were wiped out by the Black Death.

Unfortunately, it seems that a little expediency goes a long way in cleaning up the web in Highland Local Authority, and others too many to mention, who continue to use the blanket coverage of Websense to outlaw any form of 'unauthorised' self-expression on the web. Not only are their teachers now not capable of blogging their own views, professional practice or students' work, but they're also unable to find out what's going on in the minds of those who are trying to help teachers get to grips with the new curriculum, new national intranet and new technologies. Nearly the entire learning and technology team at Learning and Teaching Scotland now have their own blogs, where we think out ideas we're having and guage the reaction before setting out on a project.

I know that AB and I are both deemed unacceptable (I'd love to know Websense's reasoning: dating, entertainment, pornography...?), but my guess is that many more in the Scottish innovation scene are blocked from use by Highland educators.

As AB says, this isn't a snipe at Highland in particular, more at Websense. However, councils employing filtering systems that work on blacklisting genres still need to work harder at whitelisting specific sites within that genre that people should have access to. It's a huge task, but one could start using the lists on ScotEduBlogs to find interesting material teachers and students need access to. Or one could whitelist all blogs, teach people how to use the net responsibly and sanction those who don't in the way one's acceptable use policy states.

Choices, choices everywhere, yet, it would seem, not one that can yet be used effectively. If we want prosperity in our schools we need to have teachers that can think and share views with one another, within Scotland through Glow, for sure, but arguably more importantly throughout the world. Reflective teachers are generally better teachers, and allowing effective flow of ideas and practice is the key to achieving this.

February 07, 2008

Blogs, lies and videotape

A UK survey in 2006 revealed that 45% of mobile phone users lied about their whereabouts via text message.

Cornell researchers found that 100% of US online daters lie about their height or weight.

James Katz: We are entering an "arms race of digital deception".

_mg_1025 Genevieve Bell takes us on a 20 minute tour of lies and lying, and asks what digital secrecy means for our online lives.

We tell somewhere between six and 200 lies a day, 40% are to conceal misbehaviour, 14% to keep their own social world ticking over, 9% to increase popularity. Men tell 20% more lies than women. The former lie about cars, jobs, spare time and marital status. Women like about weight, age, marriage and shopping.

Sharing secrets and maintaining that secrecy is a great way to make friends when we're younger - and keep them.

Yet telling lies is always bad: legal systems constructed a version of the truth, most religions have clear rules on lying. Yet in many religions we also hear that it's OK to withhold information when reducing conflict between households or to make someone happy - white lies, it seems, are good.

Digital secrecy is rooted in deep social norms that date back years. There have long been traditions of the secret and the sacred in Aboriginal cultures, where the expectation is that all things are not open to all people, where the 'back story' behind a painting or story is what makes it enrichening - withholding information keeps that information 'safe' from those the community don't want to understand everything.

When technology arrived in the land of the secret we find ourselves able to lie about things we couldn't really lie about before: location, context, intent, identity (physical, aspirational, status and standing). When we set up online profiles we can lie both to get access to a site (how many Bebo users are actually under 13 years old, but saying they're 100?) or to protect our real information (lying about our age because we believe that a website doesn't 'need' to know it). We create avatars that look nothing like we do in real life (pink hair and wings belong to a close relation who, the last time I looked, only had the pink hair).

So what does the next generation of the web (Web 3.0 - yuck!) look like if it is constructed upon this foundation of confabulation?

December 07, 2007

Protect your Facebook privacy

If you're a Facebooker then I'd strongly advise you to go and opt out of Beacon, a new advertising feed that shows what you get up to on other websites which have partnered with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg explains more on the Facebook blog. I have no need or desire to share with my contacts what I have just bought, and would be surprised if you do, too.

Continue reading "Protect your Facebook privacy" »

August 13, 2007

Harry, Hermione and Ron give a clue on digital literacy

  They've got it! 
  Originally uploaded by Edublogger

After witnessing the madness of the last Harry Potter book going on sale in Harvard Square, Boston, last month, I wasn't too sure why so many young people (actually, increasingly aging fans) were so keen on the books. But Mrs Edublogger didn't have to drag me out too hard to see the latest Potter film yesterday, and I think I might have touched on one reason why: it translates a lot of the frustrations and excitement of being a teen today.

This morning I see in the paper that an Australian academic reckons there are more lessons on how to teach in Potter books than there are in most post grads. But I already knew that.

For me there was a key moment in yesterday's film which reflects all too well what much classroom teaching involving the web is about these days:

Dolores Umbridge: Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?
Hermione Granger: There's nothing in here about using defensive spells.
Dolores Umbridge: Using spells? Ha ha! Well I can't imagine why you would need to use spells in my classroom.
Ron Weasley: We're not gonna use magic?
Dolores Umbridge: You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way.
Harry Potter: Well, what use is that? If we're gonna be attacked it won't be risk-free.
Dolores Umbridge: Students will raise their hands when they speak in my class.
Dolores Umbridge: It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.
Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what's out there?
Dolores Umbridge: There is nothing out there, dear! Who do you imagine would want to attack children like yourself?
Harry Potter: I don't know, maybe, Lord Voldemort!

Does this not just sum up the problems I alluded to in the last post, regarding internet safety and its long lost cousin digital literacy?

I'm not spoiling the film to point out that Lord Voldemort, while being the baddie, is not the only baddie in this story. The teacher, Dolores Umbridge, is 'old school', uses techniques which are outdated and discipline which is archaic, "never liked children anyway" and works for the Ministry. Sound familiar?

UK and Irish schools need to educate, not ban, now

The need for schools in the UK and Ireland to educate children on what self-publishing means rather simply than ban the tools, has never been higher, as Bebo are on the verge of opening up their platform to developers.

By following Facebook's lead in allowing developers to create their own applications to work within the teen social network, Bebo is set to see a similar explosion in the number of users and the amount of use - more, perhaps, than the current 41 minutes of time spent each night by the average UK teen. The ultimate aim, to keep Bebo alive.

But there's a huge difference between Bebo and Facebook that makes this move smell a little fishy: the average age of Bebo's users must be about half that of Facebook.

The move to open up means that the information placed online by teens, both before now and from now on, will become far more spreadable, far quicker. Applications ask for permission before being used but what they do with your information after that point is unpredictable: one case in point, from Facebook, the number of people who appear to be suddenly happily married or, worse, divorced from their better halves [How Facebook ended my marriage].

Facebook_perils Potentially, a new application installed on your page could start to replicate your data out of context elsewhere on Bebo, for public consumption, in much the same way as some Facebook apps have done. Adult users of Facebook, 'expert users' like Crampton, even, have already had to learn to navigate this open-ended app-filled social networking world the hard way. How much we are willing to let kids explore this on their own, in the wild, and make their own mistakes the hard way is another matter, when the consequences are arguably greater. How Bebo pitch this to their younger users will be an important factor, too, for educators wanting to plan digital literacy into their work.

So, if you are a teacher in a UK or Irish school, the latter a country where Bebo has 95% penetration in the teen market, don't hang about for Bebo. You need to start thinking about how you are going to educate your students in the art of self-publishing without signing away their content, their private information and their online life. What Bebo want to do is not 'bad' per se, but it's open to misunderstandings and mistakes will be made by young people who don't know how to play the game because they haven't been told how.

Are you going to ban or are you going to educate, Teacher?

Update: Some further points on this from Harry Potter...

May 21, 2007

Net censorship - it's missing out the UK and USA

Firefoxscreensnapz001 Doug Dickinson points to the Open Net Initiative's report on internet censorship around the world and its debilitating effect on democracy, especially the ability of people to express themselves or dissent.

The survey found evidence of filtering in the following countries:
Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma/Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen. (from the BBC)

My big question: where are the UK and the USA?

I know that we are not on the same scale as Iran and our censorship hardly has the same consequences, however we do have censorship in our public institutions, including schools, which prohibits public servants and children from publishing their point of view or having it read within public service institutions.

I wrote for Connected Magazine on this low level censorship last month and have seen some changes in attitude in some areas of Scotland. However, there are still too many places which think that it's acceptable to block sites such as Flickr on the basis of child protection, while allowing similar Google sites. Is it because the image is linked to directly in Flickr? I doubt it. For me, the reasoning lies more in the fact that their charges, the kids, can write to the photos, under them and on them. They can publish their own in the same place. They don't want that, or rather the responsibility the institution might bear of kids doing that.

I'd like to see a continued evolution of thinking regarding blocking and filtering in schools, not with safety but rather with democracy and civil liberties in mind. The safety angle is, for me, on a technocratic tactical level. Where the digital literacy programmes of an organisation are weak the amount of command and control exercised is inversely related. And you know what they say about control; it has an inverse relationship to trust.

Pic: Atencion

Public-Private: Watch your data on Facebook

Facebook Antony's worrying me this morning with his personal experience of being covered up on Facebook. If a network starts to spook its community, what does the community do...?

I don't think there's any data about me on my Facebook profile that I wouldn't mind people seeing, but I am making conscious checklists in my mind when I create my online profiles. What about the average "Bebo-boomer" who just fires stuff up without reading the small print? And remember, Facebook have been in hot water before, and didn't really do anything worthwhile to sort it out.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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