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Mobile apps and youth privacy

Posted by reyjunco on December 13, 2012 in Commentary |

Mobile apps and youth privacyOn Monday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published Mobile Apps for Kids in which they reported the results of their recent survey of how well mobile apps for kids conform to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requirements.

The results were alarming: 59% of apps transmitted the mobile device ID (which includes among other things the app name, the app version number, the developer, a time stamp, the operating system, and the device model), 3% of apps shared geolocation, and 1% shared a phone number. 56% of these apps transmitted this information to ad networks, analytics companies, or other third parties. However, only 20% of the apps disclosed information about their data collection practices. Put another way, 80% of the apps are in violation of both the letter and spirit of COPPA (which requires that websites and/or online services that collect information from children must : 1. Provide notice of what types of information is being collected, how it is being used, and disclosure practices and 2. Obtain verifiable parental consent in order to collect, use, or disclose children’s data).

Why is this a big deal?

The information collected from these apps could be used to find or contact children because they collect geolocation and phone numbers. Remember the uproar when the iPhone was secretly tracking and storing your every move? This, I would posit, is even worse. These apps are tracking children’s activities across different apps without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The information collected was often transmitted to advertising networks with no disclosures as to why the advertising networks needed it or how they would use it. Such tracking builds profiles of children (their likes, dislikes, browsing habits, etc.) for insidious forms of marketing. This is analogous to the tracking and advertising that happens on the web – of which most adults are unaware. Through such tracking, advertisers can build very accurate profiles of children to “push” advertising—it’s a generally subconscious and powerful form of tracking and marketing and one that we should be protecting children from until they have the cognitive capabilities to resist such influences.

I don’t know about you but I don’t trust tracking and ad agencies and undisclosed third parties.

What can we do about it?

If you are a parent, you can’t do much about it. Remember that 80% of the apps provided no disclosure about the fact they were collecting data so it’s not like you can discriminate between apps that send this information and those that don’t (unless of course, an app explicitly states that they don’t send this information).

We need to put pressure on app developers to provide appropriate disclosures. Reuters reported that the “Association for Competitive Technology, which represents more than 5,000 small and medium-sized app developers, said developers were often unsophisticated about legal obligations but that the group held workshops and boot camps to train them in best practices.” Ok sure, they may be unsophisticated about legal obligations; however, this statement suggests that developers seem to have little concern about the ethics of collecting and sharing data from minors.

A coalition that includes the Application Developers Alliance, the ACLU, and the World Privacy Forum has been working on standardizing a short-form notice for app privacy disclosures. Of course, the advertisers aren’t too keen on this and are trying to come up with their own self-enforcement policies.

Lastly, we need to support the FTC in expanding their enforcement of COPPA to include geolocation and personal identifiers such as device IDs. Many have argued that COPPA is outdated and this is yet another instance that emphasizes this point.

Image credit: ohmeaghan http://www.flickr.com/photos/ohmeaghan/6014480823

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6

Don’t Facebook & text during class, email instead

Posted by reyjunco on November 27, 2012 in Research |

Facebook and texting related to poorer gradesMy most recent paper on multitasking, In-class multitasking and academic performance, has uncovered some interesting results. I conducted a survey of 1,839 college students and asked them how often they multitask during class by using Facebook, texting, emailing, searching for content not related to the class, IMing, and talking on the phone. I also collected students’ actual overall GPAs for the semester in which the study was conducted. In this post, I’ll only focus on the high frequency and moderate frequency activities:

Texting was a high frequency activity: 69% of students reported texting during class.

Using Facebook, searching for content not related to the class, and emailing were moderate frequency activities: 28% of students said they used Facebook during class, 28% of students said they used email during class, and 21% of students said they searched for content during class.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Using Facebook and texting during class were significantly negatively related to overall semester GPA after controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, and Internet skill. However, emailing and searching during class were not related to GPA.

While incongruent with the literature on multitasking in the field of cognitive science, the results are congruent with recent research finding comparable results. In a similar study, Shelia Cotten and I found that using Facebook and texting while doing schoolwork were negatively associated with overall college GPA while emailing, searching, talking on the phone, and instant messaging were not. Furthermore, an experimental study by Wood et al. (2012) found that students who used Facebook while attending to a lecture scored significantly lower on tests of lecture material than those who were only allowed to take notes using paper and pencil; however, the scores of students who texted, emailed or sent IMs did not differ significantly from students in control groups.

What is going on?

While further research is warranted, I’ve got a few hypotheses: First, there may be something about the technologies themselves that leads to poorer outcomes. Second, it is possible that the discrepancies in outcomes may lie in the nature of how the technologies are used and the frequency with which they are employed. For instance, Rosen et al. (2011) found that students who sent and received the most number of text messages while watching a lecture video scored lower on a test of the lecture material than those who sent the least number of messages; however, there was no difference in scores between the group of students who sent the middle amount of messages and the other groups. My final hypothesis to explain the discrepancy between Facebook and texting and the other technologies is related to the activities students engage in while using each. For instance, my research has shown that how Facebook is used is a better predictor of academic outcomes than how much time is spent on the site.

Limitations

The standard correlation vs. causation limitations apply: this is a cross-sectional and correlational design and more research is certainly warranted. While the sample on which this research was based was representative of the overall university population, it may not be representative of all institutions in the United States. The fact that participants were recruited via email and that the survey was administered online could have biased the sample towards students who regularly use email (and perhaps who multitask more). A final limitation was that the frequency with which students multitask during class was assessed via self report.

Image credit: anna-b http://www.flickr.com/photos/anna-b/3218868484/

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How college students find and use information [Infographic]

Posted by reyjunco on November 26, 2012 in Infographic |

My friends over at Project Information Literacy have just released this infographic to summarize their recent research on how college students find and use information. Data in this infographic come from PIL’s publications Balancing Act: How College Students Manage Technology While in the Library during Crunch Time and Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital AgeIf you are interested in college students and information literacy, check out PIL’s other reports here.

Project Information Literacy Research Infographic

This infographic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license so feel free to share on your own website by linking back to Project Information Literacy.

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Don’t shame youth who post racist tweets, educate them

Posted by reyjunco on November 19, 2012 in Commentary |

Shaming teens who post racist tweetsRecently, Jezebel engaged in the public shaming of teens who posted racist tweets after the election. The doxxing began on the comment thread to the original “racist teens” post and then the Jezebel writer ran with the mob mentality.

Now, I’m not trying to give those teens who posted the racist tweets a “pass;” however, the way Jezebel handled this was completely inappropriate. It’s especially disconcerting because they are focused on shaming minors. There are a number of reasons why shaming these teens is ill-considered:

  1. Shaming does not work as a teaching method especially for teens. In fact, shaming teens for racist tweets might actually solidify their racist attitudes.
  2. The Jezebel writer and the commenters have no knowledge of youth development and they are making assumptions about these children from their own frame of reference. They are treating them as if they were at the same level of moral and ethnic identity development as they are. In other words, they are assuming that because they would never say such a thing in public, that teens shouldn’t either.
  3. Evaluating teen behavior through the value system of an adult doesn’t take into account the vast number of reasons why these children posted such things in the first place. We hold adults responsible for their racist actions and words because we have a pretty good sense those are being driven by internal motivation; however, the cause of teen racist behaviors is much more multifaceted (for instance, environment, parental attitudes, and developmental issues).

In addition to shaming, Jezebel is using their considerable power and influence to ruin a teenager’s future college and job prospects. I’m not being alarmist when I say this: It’s already the case that top hits from a Google search of the names of some of the teens shows the article labeling them as racist. Unfortunately, potential employers and colleges will view this not as a mistake of youth but from their own framework (well-developed moral and ethnic identity development) and pass judgment on these students in a way that may no longer be appropriate since these kids still have a lot of growing and development to do. As I have argued before, denying an applicant admissions to college because of some of their mistakes an admissions officer found online is unethical and completely against the mission of colleges and universities.

In this story at Forbes, the editor of Jezebel was quoted as saying “And I think there’s something larger at play here, and we’re going to see this kind of story over and over again until it’s innately understood that the line between ‘online’ and ‘in real life’ is basically nonexistent.” Not only does this speak to a lack of journalistic ethics, but highlights the worldview that Jezebel has chosen to espouse: That young people have no right to make any mistakes; nor do they have the right for their online mistakes to be forgotten. This has the potential to cross the line into institutionalized bullying. Something that, in this case, actually happened.

Chris Menning over at Modern Primate found that at least one of the teenagers identified in the header image posted by Jezebel had not actually posted a racist tweet. Instead, a troll used the picture of a teenage girl who had been harassed online for a long time. So in this instance, you have a major blog “feeding the troll” supporting their behavior and also shaming a teen who never posted a racist tweet and who has been the subject of long-term harassment. A real “win” for the troll – encouraging more of such behavior.

What can be done? 

We should be teaching kids to have ethical boundaries on Twitter and other online social spaces. Part of the problem is that educators have really shied away from interacting with social media in educational settings. Primary and secondary educators believe the hype propagated by traditional media sources that “social media are bad” and that using, teaching with, and talking about them can only lead to negative consequences for their students (i.e., inappropriate relationships with them). If high school educators ever do talk about social media, it’s from a very paternalistic and abstinent framework (i.e., don’t post things online that you wouldn’t want others to see or stay off of these sites). Sure, that’s fine to talk about; however, teachers need to go further and teach civil discourse in online spaces, discuss the benefits and pitfalls of living our lives online, and explore how mistakes can be interpreted by others.

I am left to wonder how big of a story this would have been if the schools of the teens involved would have done a better job of integrating teaching about social media into their curriculum.

Image credit: royalconstantine http://www.flickr.com/photos/royalconstantine/4319316557/

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The ethics of Facebook-stalking university applicants

Posted by reyjunco on November 8, 2012 in Commentary, Research |

Recently, Kaplan Test Prep released data from a survey showing how college admissions officers check applicant profiles in order to make admissions decisions. This isn’t a new phenomenon: since 2008, I’ve been answering questions about whether residence life, judicial affairs, and other university departments should monitor their students’ Facebook accounts. Here are some reasons why I think such evaluations of applicant Facebook profiles is unethical:

Discrimination in admissions decisions: There is absolutely no way that admissions officers can evaluate student Facebook profiles fairly. First, there is a lack of resources: admissions offices barely have enough staff to keep the machinery of recruitment and the traditional evaluation process going, let alone devote a staff of 10, 100, or 1,000 people to review the Facebook profiles of all entering students.

Even if admissions offices had the necessary resources to evaluate every applicant’s Facebook profile, it would still be incredibly unfair. Not all students are sophisticated enough to hide their profiles from admissions officers (or to create ideal-self profiles). Those who aren’t sophisticated enough are at the mercy of admissions officers looking for an easy way to make their applicant pool smaller. Furthermore, research shows that Internet skills (in this case, sophistication in knowing how to or why you should hide your profile) are related to race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Facebook-stalking applicants then is also a discriminatory admissions practice in the way that we have outlawed other types of discriminatory practices.

Let’s posit, if you will, that there was a way to evaluate all students fairly: why would admissions officers want to evaluate Facebook profiles anyway? If an admissions officer is going to spend time to evaluate a student’s profile, shouldn’t he or she instead spend that time reviewing the student’s criminal record? Or perhaps reviewing how they can place the applicant in a series of courses to help them academically? Or even ensuring that the student will easily integrate into a social support network? Oh yeah, those things would be too hard to do.

Frame of reference: When admissions officers evaluate student profiles they are doing so from their own frame of reference. Oftentimes, admissions officers are typically much older than applicants. Therefore, they evaluate Facebook profiles based on what they would or wouldn’t post with total disregard for what is developmentally appropriate for youth. In my experiences, I have never met an admissions officer with profound knowledge of youth psychological and identity development, let alone how new media affect such processes.

In the Kaplan study, 35% of admissions officers said that they have “discovered something online about an applicant that negatively impacted their application.” Again, this evaluation is more than likely applied unfairly. What might rise to the level of concern for one admissions officer, might not for another. Further, an admissions officer might see something considered Facebook fashionable for youth as inappropriate.  Let’s say for example that what the admissions officer sees is indeed “inappropriate” (i.e., distasteful), wouldn’t that be exactly the kind of student you’d want to admit to your university? Colleges and universities have as their primary purpose the mission to educate and help youth develop and therefore, such a student would benefit greatly from further opportunities for growth.

The right to be forgotten: Some of what the 35% of admissions officers have seen on applicant Facebook profiles are, to put it bluntly, mistakes. They may not be seen as mistakes to the applicant at that time. Again, a normal part of the learning and psychological developmental processes of youth is making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Consider some of the mistakes that you’ve made when you were younger and pick the most embarrassing one. Now imagine that there is a permanent public record of that mistake available for all to see and to evaluate from their own frame. Seen years later or by people who are older or have already navigated the same developmental stages, such behavior is interpreted much more negatively than it should be. With real-name policies on sites like Facebook and a dearth of laws to allow online mistakes to be forgotten, youth are at a great risk of being misunderstood and discriminated against in the application process.

In summary, the practice of Facebook-stalking university applicants must come to an end. If a university admissions office is serious about evaluating a student’s social media presence, then they must first prove why reviewing Facebook profiles is a more effective use of their time than reviewing other data. Furthermore, the admissions office should be prepared to show how they would fairly evaluate Facebook profiles in a manner equal to how they review materials in the traditional evaluation process. I suspect that if the former can ever be rationalized, the latter would be impossible.


Thanks to Annie Shreffler (@annieshreff) for her feedback on a draft of this post.

Image credit: escapedtowisconsin http://www.flickr.com/photos/69805768@N00/3292899689/

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How today’s higher education faculty use social media infographic

Posted by reyjunco on October 23, 2012 in Commentary, Infographic, Research |

Last week, Pearson and the Babson Survey Research Group released the results of their latest survey of how higher education faculty use social media. The results are quite interesting. For instance, they found that almost 34% of the sample used some form of social media (defined as blogs/wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, podcasts, or Twitter) for teaching purposes.

It’s worth noting that the survey had a response rate of 6% and it’s impossible to tell how generalizable these results are to the greater population of “all university faculty.” In other words, it’s wholly possible that the survey sample contained a greater proportion of faculty who were more likely to use social media (and who were more likely to use social media in their courses).

The sample was also stratified based on Carnegie classification and the results weighted to adjust for differences in response rates by these classifications. I would have liked to have seen stratification by gender, race/ethnicity (of which no data about the sample are provided), and discipline. Perhaps a weighting by age may have been in order given that almost 42% of the sample was aged 55 or over.

Even still, these are interesting findings especially when compared to previous Pearson surveys. The trend suggests that faculty are becoming more comfortable incorporating social media into the classroom. Of particular interest to me is how Facebook is used more for teaching purposes than Twitter although the second most reported barrier to using social media in the classroom was “concerns about privacy” (presumably primarily related to Facebook as Twitter tends to be a more pubic medium).

You can download the full report and the infographic here.

Pearson How Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media Infographic

Infographic credit: Pearson Learning Solutions (2012). Available online here.

Disclosure: I provided feedback on drafts of the survey instrument.

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New appointment at the Berkman Center

Posted by reyjunco on August 31, 2012 in Commentary |

I am thrilled to announce that I will be a Faculty Associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society for the academic year. I will continue my work with the Youth and Media Team and look forward to working with other faculty, fellows, and associates. I am especially thankful to Urs Gasser and Sandra Cortesi for their support of my work and my association with the Center. For me, the Berkman Center has been my research home for the last few years. It’s a place where new ideas and innovations in research are highly valued and encouraged. The Berkman community is a passionate group of individuals all interested in one common goal– furthering the understanding of cyberspace.

I always feel like I’m on a high bristling with new ideas after every visit to the Center. Indeed, Doc Searles, a Berkman fellow suggested software I’d never heard of to try to help me answer a research question – and in fact, I ended up using that application for my latest round of data collection. Following the same thread, the Youth and Media Team provided invaluable input on the preliminary results of the study using the application Doc suggested. These are two examples of what makes the place great: passionate people with diverse backgrounds collaborating on the common goal of understanding why and how we do what we do online.

I am really looking forward to the new discoveries that this next year will bring. Stay tuned!

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Social Media Research & Practice in Higher Ed #sxswEDU podcast

Posted by reyjunco on June 22, 2012 in Presentations |

Social Media Research and Practice in Higher Education #sxswEDU logo

Back in March I served on a panel along with Liz Gross, Ed Cabellon, and Greg Heiberger at the #sxswEDU conference. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Greg and I talk about our latest research on using Twitter to support students throughout their first year of college.
  2. I summarize my recent research on using Facebook in education.
  3. Greg explores the future of higher education and how new technologies can be used to effectively improve student success.
  4. Liz discusses how to use Facebook to market your institution and programs.
  5. Ed explains how to frame productive social media use to administrators.
  6. I get snarky about EdTech startups and how they don’t communicate with educators.

Listen to the podcast here:

Or you can download the file by right-clicking here and selecting “Save As.” Here are the slides for the presentation portion:

 

I’d love to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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Why I don’t trust that Facebook will keep your child’s information private

Posted by reyjunco on June 14, 2012 in Commentary |

Child Surfing Facebook - Facebook, Children, and PrivacyLast week, I wrote an opinion piece for NBCLatino entitled Don’t trust Facebook with your children in response to Facebook’s announcement that they are considering allowing children younger than 13 to join the site. In that post, I discussed four reasons why you would want to be wary of allowing your children under 13 to join Facebook. Due to space limitations, I didn’t include a fifth that I wanted to elaborate on here:

Privacy: Time and time again, Facebook has been notorious for tricking users into sharing more of their personal information. And yes, I mean tricking and no, I’m not being overly dramatic here as I’ll point out below. Since the Internet has a short memory, let’s briefly review some of these issues:

  • Beacon: In 2007, Facebook launched a system named Beacon that allowed non-Facebook websites to include a script that would send user information back to Facebook. A user didn’t have to be logged in to Facebook for their information to be collected from a third-party site, nor were the users even informed it was happening. Imagine making a purchase on Zappo’s and then having it automatically posted to your Facebook wall. Facebook shut down the service in 2009 just before they settled a class action lawsuit over Beacon.
  • News feed: In 2007, Facebook introduced the News feed and Mini feed that published all of a user’s Facebook activity without allowing users to opt-out. Because of user outcry, Facebook implemented privacy controls for the feeds. Then in 2009, they removed those privacy controls. Again after user outcry, they added more privacy controls and “simplified” their privacy settings. Even though they have been “simplified,” I don’t believe that Facebook privacy controls are “simple” and easy to understand.
  • Inability to delete accounts: This one didn’t affect many users, only those trying to delete their accounts so most people don’t remember it. Even when users deactivated their accounts, Facebook kept copies of their information indefinitely. To this day, you have to submit a request to completely delete your account. If you merely deactivate your account, Facebook still keeps all of your information indefinitely.
I could go on and on, but you get my point– Facebook has done a lousy job at protecting user privacy and they have received great criticism about their deceptive practices. All of this should come as no surprise to anyone who keeps up with Facebook-related news because Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe in privacy and he insists that our notion of privacy is changing (not for the better). Interestingly enough, while Zuckerberg pushes to make what you share on Facebook public, he does not share much of his own personal life. This contradiction that has led to further outcries including this bounty by Gizmodo for public pictures of Mark that they will then share on their own site.

Because of all this, one can infer that Facebook has had a deliberate disregard for privacy of its users. Now imagine similar privacy bait-and-switches with children – who are less equipped to understand what is happening and to protect themselves from having their information shared with more people than they intended. And while in my original piece I wrote about how I’m not as concerned about a stranger taking advantage of a child on Facebook as I am about other things, such privacy breeches certainly increase the chances that a person with ill intentions will use the information for their own benefit at the expense of the child.

For these reasons, I don’t trust that Facebook has my best interest in mind and I certainly don’t trust that they’ll have the best interest of children under 13 in mind… and neither should you.

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Web Connected Minds talk outline

Posted by reyjunco on May 6, 2012 in Presentations |

Today I’m giving a talk at the Web Connected Minds Conference about my research on social media, student engagement, and learning. I’ll be talking about my published research on how Facebook use is related to student engagement and student academic performance. I’ll also be talking about some of my published research on improving educational outcomes by using Twitter as part of college courses. The best part (in my opinion) will be the unpublished data I’ll discuss showing how Twitter can be used to help improve student persistence into the second year of college. Lastly, I’m discussing interviews with students from these studies and *gasp* making inferences based on qualitative data analyses.

You can download a PDF copy of my talk outline by clicking here or just check out the embedded PDF below. Also, if you have any questions about the talk or the outline please ask them in the comments section of this post and I’ll make sure to answer each one.

Rey Junco Improving Student Engagement and Learning Using Social Media

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