Teaching Kids About Cybersecurity? Ask Garfield.

Posted November 11th, 2016 at 11:10 am (UTC-4)
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A graphic from 'Garfield's Cyber Safety Adventures,' a comic book that aims to teach kids about privacy and online safety. (Center for Cyber Safety and Education)

A graphic from ‘Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures,’ a comic book that aims to teach kids about privacy and online safety. (Center for Cyber Safety and Education)

Children are spending more time online, chatting up strangers and sometimes giving them personal information that could put them in harm’s way. But a new collaboration that enlists a particularly troublesome cartoon feline is looking to teach kids a few things about cybersecurity.

Mobile devices have become the babysitters of the technology age, engaging and distracting kids in equal measure.

“Children are growing up with these things,” said Patrick Craven, Director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. “They practically have them in the crib with them and so they don’t see the danger that could be.”

Online strangers that come across as friendly and chatty might seem harmless to a child. But giving them too much information – a home address or the name of the child’s school – or even meeting with them, might invite cyberbullying or worse.

“It’s a very scary situation,” said Craven. “And that’s part of what we’re trying to make sure that they don’t do.”

Enter Garfield. Cartoonist Jim Davis‘ orange cat, going strong since 1997, is better known for pestering Odie the dog and eating and sleeping all day. But with the new collaboration between the Center for Cyber Safety and Education and Davis, Garfield has a new role, featuring in a series of comic books and educational kits to teach kids the basics of internet safety.

“The children know who he is,” added Craven. “They watch his cartoons, they see his movies. And so it was we thought a fun way to try to communicate to the children instead of doing a PowerPoint presentation.”

But since Garfield is hardly “one that you go to learn things from,” the series introduces a new character – Dr. Cybernia, a Siamese cat and a certified cybersafety expert designed to serve as a role model. And her being a woman “was not by accident.”

“We thought it would be a great way to encourage young girls to look into cybersecurity or the STEM fields as a potential career path for them,” he said. “And hopefully she becomes a role model for them.”

The first part of the series, the only one published so far, focuses on basic privacy precautions, such as what you are tagging and what not to post online – your name, where you live, where you go to school, or your password. It includes a comic book, a poster and other educational material.

“The very first cartoon deals a little bit with stranger danger,” explained Craven. “And there’s a character on there that they don’t know. And they think it’s a cat. And it turns out it is not a cat. So it tries to teach that.”

A graphic from the poster for 'Garfield's Cyber Safety Adventures,' a comic book that aims to teach kids about privacy and online safety. (Center for Cyber Safety and Education)

A graphic from the poster for ‘Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures,’ a comic book that aims to teach kids about privacy and online safety. (Center for Cyber Safety and Education)

The poster teaches kids that online friends are not the same as friends they meet at school and that they should be approached differently.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t have online friends,” said Craven. “And it actually doesn’t mean you can’t meet with them, but you don’t go meet with them by yourself. Your parents go with you.”

Dealing with online strangers is the first installment of a dozen different topics. “We have a new one coming out every three or four months,” he said. “… All of them will be different – different stories, different messages, different lessons in them.”

The project also reaches out to parents and encourages them to learn more about cybersecurity and to reinforce what their kids have learned. All the material will be translated into different languages and used around the world.

“Right now, the first lesson is available just in English, but it’s already being picked up and ordered for usage around the world,” said Craven. “And eventually, we’re going to be able to put it into different languages so that children are able to hear it in their native language.”

The first translations will focus on French, Spanish and German. But the center also shipped educational kits to Kuwait, which expressed interest, for a pilot program.

“If they like it, then there’s a good opportunity they may help us in funding to put it into Arabic,” he added. “We are having conversations with the Brazilian government, so we could go into Portuguese quickly.”

Singapore is also on the list of potential recipients of translations done entirely in the native tongue. “First-graders, second-graders, they can’t read subtitles,” said Craven, “so it wouldn’t be of any use. So it’s got to be in their language. So there will be production costs and hiring the voices and things like that to translate.

The project is nonprofit, and the money generated from selling the kits, designed for up to 30 students in grades 1-6, covers printing and production costs for the various languages.

“Part of it will be dictated by who steps up and wants it and can helps us fund the translation for getting everything done because there’s a whole lot of material that comes with it,” he said. “It’s not just the comic book. There’s a cartoon, stickers, there’s posters, there’s letters – all these different things would all have to be translated. And the cartoon was actually kind of the cornerstone.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Giants Brace for Trump Presidency; Russia to Block LinkedIn

Posted November 10th, 2016 at 1:02 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during a news conference in New York, April 30, 2015. (AP)

FILE – Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during a news conference in New York, April 30, 2015. (AP)

Tim Cook: ‘The Only Way to Move Forward Is to Move Forward Together’

Apple CEO Tim Cook stressed his commitment to diversity and social progress in a message to employees following the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.  Without mentioning Trump, who had threatened to ban Apple during his campaign, Cook said Apple is open to all. “We celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world — regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love,” he added.

Should Google Be Scrubbing Servers to Prepare for President Trump?

Other tech CEOs, including Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, sought to reassure their employees, calling for unity or focusing instead on long-term goals. Silicon Valley is very jittery about what tech policies will look like under President Trump. Fearing more government surveillance of user data, Pinboard CEO Maciej Ceglowski, a critic of data collection, urged Google and other tech giants to take a serious look at their trove of behavioral data on the internet and consider removing them. Here’s a list of the tech policies the president-elect promised to implement once in office.

Russia to Block LinkedIn After Court Ruling on User Data

A Moscow court has rejected LinkedIn’s appeal against a ruling that stated it had broken a data-storage law requiring all personal information on citizens to be stored on local servers in Russia. According to Interfax news agency, LinkedIn’s website will be blocked once the full text of the court’s ruling is delivered next week. The case was brought against LinkedIn by Russia’s state telecommunications and media regulator.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

WhatsApp to Add Video Calls; Adult Dating Site Hacked

Posted November 9th, 2016 at 3:37 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A security message is seen on a Whatsapp screen in this illustration photo April 6, 2016. (Reuters)

A security message is seen on a Whatsapp screen in this illustration photo April 6, 2016. (Reuters)

WhatsApp Says Video Calls ‘Coming’

The popular messaging service says it will roll out a version of the app that allows users to make video calls using an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone.Users have been wanting this feature for a long time.

Adult Sating Site Hacked, Exposing Private Information

The parent company of adult dating site AdultFriendFinder, Friend Finder Networks, has been hit with a massive attack that exposed personal information on over 400 million users.

Facebook Employees Team Up to Examine Fake News’ Influence

Amid allegations that fake news circulated on Facebook make have influenced the U.S. election, a group of employees is forming an unofficial task force to try to measure the effect, if any.

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Facebook’s False Metrics; iPhone Price Hike Under Trump?

Posted November 9th, 2016 at 3:37 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Facebook

Facebook Admits to More False Metrics

Facebook once again has admitted its metrics have been inaccurate. Specifically, the company said it miscalculated page views through its ad metrics systems. This, the company said, inflated page views. In September, the company said it had overestimated how long users were watching videos by between 60 and 80 percent.

What an iPhone Could Cost in Trump’s America

The president elect has said he would impose a tariff of up to 45 percent on Chinese goods in an effort to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. This could alter the price of the very popular iPhone, which is largely assembled in China. There have been reports that China actually profits little from iPhone.

Twitter Suspends Accounts Affiliated With Alt-Right

The struggling micro-blogging service has suspended several accounts it says are associated with the so-called “alt-right” movement. The reason given was that the company is cracking down on hate speech. The company gave a rare lifetime ban to Breitbart tech editor and polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos, often associated with the alt-right, for allegedly promoting online harassment of “Ghost Busters” actress Leslie Jones.
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Russia Blocks LinkedIn; Facebook’s Fake News Dilemma

Posted November 9th, 2016 at 3:37 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner speaks during a product announcement at his company's headquarters in San Francisco.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner speaks during a product announcement at his company’s headquarters in San Francisco.

Russia Moves to Block Professional Networking Site LinkedIn

A court in Russia said Thursday that the popular professional networking site would be blocked there within 24 hours for violating a law about data storage.

Apple’s iPhone 8 May Incorporate Some Next-level Augmented Reality Features

After revealing it was working on smart glasses, the tech giant said it also was integrating augmented reality technology into the next iPhone camera application

From Hate Speech to Fake News: the Content Crisis Facing Mark Zuckerberg

Some current and former Facebook employees told NPR that the company is facing “a lot of internal turmoil” about how it monitors the distribution of fake news on its site. The company also finds itself facing criticism about how it has censors certain posts, particularly images.

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What President Trump Means for Tech; Election Big Winner Was Twitter

Posted November 9th, 2016 at 1:32 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Debris and signs are left on the floor after the victory party for Republican president-elect Donald Trump, New York, New York, US Nov. 9, 2016. (Reuters)

Debris and signs are left on the floor after the victory party for Republican president-elect Donald Trump, New York, New York, US Nov. 9, 2016. (Reuters)

What the Trump Win Means for Tech and Science

As writer Karissa Bell put it in Mashable, Silicon Valley was freaking out last night. In large part, the tech sector had hoped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, whose clear tech policies were positively received, would win the White House. But with Republican President-elect Donald Trump, tech leaders know little about his tech policies .What they do know they gleaned from his earlier remarks, such as dismissing a balanced approach to encryption, a contentious issue. But Trump’s presidency could bring changes to regulation of Internet service providers, net neutrality, cybersecurity, and science as well. And Apple could find itself in his crosshairs.

Forget Trump: Election’s Big Winner Was Twitter

Twitter aficionados turned out in droves for the U.S. presidential election Tuesday night and through the wee hours of the morning. When President-elect Donald Trump declared victory, Twitter saw a new record of more than 75 million election-related tweet. The previous record was set on Election Day in 2012, when more than 31 million tweets were sent. Here are some of the happiest and saddest tweets sent after the winner was declared and some mixed tech reactions to election results.

Facebook Messenger Now Lets Brands Disguise Targeted Ads as Messages

If you are using Facebook Messenger, you should read this. Facebook has just disclosed it intends to help advertisers to your Messenger mailbox. Businesses you’ve come across in the past can now target you and send you sponsored messages on Messenger. The whole process will be automated, but Facebook wants users to have some level of control to block unwanted messages or accounts.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

US Vote Underway Amid Cybersecurity Alert; Year of the Election Bots

Posted November 8th, 2016 at 12:11 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

Temporary elections employees record votes from a ballot that a machine was not able to process at the King County Department of Elections in Renton, Washington Nov. 7, 2016. (Reuters)

Temporary elections employees record votes from a ballot that a machine was not able to process at the King County Department of Elections in Renton, Washington Nov. 7, 2016. (Reuters)

US Cybersecurity Officials on High Alert as Voting Gets Underway

Cybersecurity officials were on the lookout for potential threats from hackers looking to disrupt the U.S. presidential election as voters went to the polls Tuesday. The high alert came amid concerns that some hackers might try to disrupt voting in key states. Researchers at the University of Michigan said hackers might try to discredit the electoral process in critical states, potentially putting the wrong candidate on top.

Bots May Be Responsible for a Lot of the Election Coverage You’re Reading

You probably don’t stop to ponder when you read a news item about the U.S. presidential election whether it was written by humans or robots. Maybe you should. Bots, or algorithms, or robo-journalists – whatever you want to call them – have been creating data-driven news stories for the past few months for prominent sites that include the Washington Post, the New York Times and many others. Note that in some cases, bots have been driving fake news as well on social media.

President Barack Obama Criticizes Facebook for Spreading Fake Stories

Speaking of bots, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized social media sites like Facebook for pushing fake news stories. Facebook automated its Trending section earlier this year, introducing algorithms that have, in several cases, driven fake news stories. Obama said people tend to believe stories they see on social media sites, even when they are spreading lies. A follow-up probe by Buzzfeed found teenagers in Macedonia creating fake stories that go viral on Facebook or telling people to vote by text, which is not the case.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

US Social Media Campaigns Are Playbook for Future Elections

Posted November 4th, 2016 at 11:10 am (UTC-4)
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VOA/B. Williamson

VOA/B. Williamson

The level of social media engagement in this year’s U.S. presidential election has been unprecedented. And experts say it will serve as a template for influencing voters in future election campaigns in the U.S. and beyond.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican who dropped out of the race, were the first candidates to announce their 2016 presidential bids on Snapchat. And Bernie Sanders’ supporters reached out to younger demographics on social dating service Tinder before the Independent Senator withdrew from the race.

“This is the first time where pretty much everybody is on social media,” said Frank Speiser, co-founder of SocialFlow, a social media optimization platform. “It’s a global conversation at this point where eight years ago it really wasn’t. Now everybody uses it and in some cases as a primary method of communication.”

“It’s a huge part of this election cycle, maybe even more so than the previous cycles,” said professor Christo Wilson of Northeastern University, Boston. “It would be folly to ignore something as big as Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat.”

Social media has the ability to “morph” based on the required content, said Speiser, allowing campaigners to get people to act on their behalf or to appeal directly to new voters.

“Hillary Clinton can reach younger voters that are liberally-inclined through social media,” he added. “And Donald Trump’s strategy seems to be reaching people who have not voted or don’t show up in polling from previous election cycles and convincing them to come out to the poll. And there, regardless of age, they seem to be active on social media. So all of the upside in this election is basically only reachable through the social channels.”

Screenshots from the Twitter pages of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (top) and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (bottom). (Twitter)

Screenshots from the Twitter pages of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (top) and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (bottom). (Twitter)

Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have run incredibly savvy social media campaigns, using every available outlet to push news, divert attention and activate voters, if not sway them.

“This basically is a template now for every major election moving forward where people realize that you win or lose based on social,” said Speiser. “You start news cycles on social now. You don’t wait … and… you can divert an existing news cycle by switching the focus on social … If you can figure that out and measure that in the swing states, I think you will be able to zero in on who has the edge.”

But since neither candidate has been able to garner additional support through social media in the past month, according to SocialFlow, the focus now is “to convey a message which would discourage the opponent’s voters to show up,” said Speiser.

In that way, social media has become the “primary activator of whether or not people will vote,” with services like Facebook busily pushing users to vote and reporting some success toward increasing turnout.

A screenshot from Philippines' President Duterte's Twitter page. (Twitter)

A screenshot from Philippines’ President Duterte’s Twitter page. (Twitter)

Politicians in other countries are also leveraging the power of social media to the hilt. The Philippines live-streamed debates ahead of its May national elections, and the immediacy and participation that are particular to social media forced some political campaigns to alter their strategies.

Britain used social media – and its bots – to influence voters in the Brexit referendum to determine the future of the country’s EU membership. And as politicians turned to Facebook, Twitter and LinkIn to sway voters during last year’s Nigerian elections, activists looked to social media for news about the elections. When voting began, they monitored the polls for early results and posted them online, accurately reflecting voter trends and perhaps setting a precedent for social media as a political watchdog.

The Facebook page of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. (Facebook)

The Facebook page of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. (Facebook)

But despite the increasing prominence of social media in election campaigns, Wilson believes there still aren’t enough cord-cutters right now to move entire political campaigns away from TV ads to social platforms. And the demographics are different.

“Older people tend to favor TV over social media, which just means you have to tailor your messages more carefully,” he added. “The advertising you see on TV … is … extremely expensive and not particularly precise, whereas social media or online advertising in general can be creepily specific” to the demographic it seeks to influence.

Eventually, social media could displace TV ads, typically viewed by those who have already made up their minds and “aren’t going to sway,” said Speiser. They also have established voting records.

“It’s pretty clear that the effect in terms of outreach and voter activation is primarily a social media case,” he said. “I don’t think TV ads are that important to election cycles. … And you don’t know how they did until maybe it is too late.”

It takes time to focus-group a TV ad and test it to see how well it plays. But it takes minutes to deliver the same message in real time on social media. “And the messages that play well that garner support and build cohesive coalitions, you run with them,” he said.

Ironically, Speiser noted that social media, created to connect people and perhaps help them understand each other better, has been used to the contrary throughout the U.S. election campaign. The Philippines had a similar problem.

“People aren’t using the medium to understand the other arguments and sort of dissect and debate,” he observed. “… The Clinton supporters are not becoming more like the Trump supporters and the Trump supporters are not becoming more like the Clinton supporters … They’re just getting more and more entrenched.”

“There’s nothing that says we can’t have civil discourse – a meaningful kind of guided discussion of a policy and prescriptive statements,” added Wilson. “It’s just that our current candidates and leadership don’t seem to be leveraging the [social media] platforms in this way. We kind of have a race to the bottom, unfortunately.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Samsung’s Environmental Impact; the Problem With IoT Devices

Posted November 3rd, 2016 at 12:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

An exchanged Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Note 7 is seen at company's headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 13, 2016. (Reuters)

An exchanged Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Note 7 is seen at company’s headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 13, 2016. (Reuters)

So Where Will All Those Recalled Note 7s End Up?

Remember all those exploding Galaxy Note 7s Samsung recently recalled? All of the flawed devices have to go somewhere – a device graveyard of sorts. But Samsung says it is trying to limit the environmental impact of the massive recall of more than three million devices. The concern comes following a statement from environmental group Greenpeace, demanding Samsung find a way to recycle metals and components in its discontinued smartphones.

Microsoft’s HoloLens Could Power Tanks on a Battlefield

Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality technology probably was not intended for war. But Ukrainian firm LimpidArmor is now experimenting with military helmets that could be fitted with Hololens headgear. The idea is to enable tank commanders to use the Hololens in combination with existing cameras to collect data, track, and identify the positions of friendly and enemy positions. Simply put, augmented reality adds a virtual layer on top of the real world.

Even a Lightbulb Can Be a Target for Hackers With Internet of Things

A research paper released Thursday is refocusing attention on the danger of unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices. The paper addresses a vulnerability that enables hackers to compromise IoT devices and hijack them. They can even do that by flying a drone to control a nearby lightbulb and then use it for nefarious purposes.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Building the Bionic Man; Facebook Urged to Stop Racial Exclusion Ads

Posted November 2nd, 2016 at 12:34 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - Swiss social psychologist Bertolt Mayer views 'Rex', a two-meter-tall artificial human, at the Science Museum in central London Feb. 5, 2013. (Reuters)

FILE – Swiss social psychologist Bertolt Mayer views ‘Rex’ – a two-meter-tall artificial human, at the Science Museum in central London, Feb. 5, 2013. (Reuters)

Building the Bionic Man

It’s no longer science fiction. Replaceable body parts are already here. Now Swiss psychologist Bertolt Meyer, who has a prosthetic arm, is working to create a robot modeled after himself. The robot, Rex, is made of various prosthetic parts, has a circulatory system and a clunky body. Rex works, explores and already has some fans. Writer Chandra Steele says Rex will not be replacing humans just yet, however, and only serves only as a model for what is to come.

Black Lawmakers Call on Facebook to Stop Letting Ads Exclude Racial Groups

The U.S. Congressional Black Caucus has urged Facebook to stop allowing advertisers to exclude racial and ethnic groups from their housing ads. The lawmakers say the practice violates federal anti-discrimination housing laws. Facebook responded with an email saying it is trying to better understand the concerns of both sides, but that “multicultural marketing is a common practice in the ad industry and helps brands reach audiences with more relevant advertising.”

It’s Time to Address The Cybersecurity Gender Gap Before It’s Too Late

Women are underrepresented in technology and the sciences in general all over the world. Focusing on cybersecurity, writer Todd Thibodeaux points out that only 10 percent of IT security workers are women. He argues that the gender deficit will continue to undermine cybersecurity unless more women are recruited to help offset shortages in the IT sector.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.