Sep 16, 2020

Axios Login

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Today's Login is 1,570 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Online learning's toll on kids' privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The shift to online schooling is running roughshod over children's privacy rules and rights and creating new inequalities, experts tell Ashley Gold.

The big picture: Minors are the only group that enjoys federal online privacy protections in the U.S., but that's not enough to protect their privacy rights as school districts and teachers scramble to move all classwork to the internet amid the pandemic.

Why it matters: These rules aren't just technicalities. If companies don't maintain rigorous data security and privacy practices, children’s personal information, photos and video could end up in the wrong hands.

What's happening: "We're trying to take brick-and-mortar school and shove it onto the internet, and the two things just aren't compatible," Karen Richardson, executive director for the Virginia Society for Technology in Education, told Axios.

  • "Even the most dedicated parent or educator is going to have a really hard time figuring out what's actually happening with their students' data," Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told Axios.

One key problem is that the pandemic is porting educational inequalities online.

  • Richer school districts can employ people to deal with privacy and cybersecurity compliance, choosing the apps and other digital products that best protect students and their data. Poorer school districts can't.

The divide is particularly acute because much ed tech, a niche product category, already stacks up poorly to consumer tech from major firms when it comes to data privacy and security.

  • "Most products are created to be easy to use," Amelia Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, told Axios. "They're not created to have a gate to keep dangerous people out, or to keep students from causing mischief."

At the same time, teachers are busy and not always trained in technology and student privacy. That means they may be making snap judgments that compromise their students' privacy without even realizing it.

  • A 2018 survey from Common Sense Media found only 25% of teachers who participated in professional development on ed tech got trained in student data privacy requirements.

Background: Despite the concerns, the federal law protecting kids' privacy only goes so far.

  • The 1998 Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act only covers children up to 13 years old. In early April, the FTC put out coronavirus-specific COPPA guidance.
  • COPPA doesn't tell schools what to do. Rather, it limits how websites and online services can use kids' data, giving parents control over whether their children's information is collected. Schools can consent for data collection on parents' behalf, but only for noncommercial purposes.

Yes, but: FTC enforcement of COPPA has been "woefully insufficient," with the agency failing to act against widespread violations, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's Golin said.

  • The FTC has taken some action against major companies, but there are many educational tech companies, and the agency has limited time and resources.
2. Exclusive survey: Teens dislike online learning

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Most American teens think online school is worse than going in person, but less than a fifth of them think that it makes sense to be in person full-time while COVID is still circulating, according to results of a new survey shared first with Axios.

The big picture: Parents badly want their kids back in school, and students want to be there, too. But most feel it's still not safe, according to the survey, which was conducted by Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey.

By the numbers:

  1. 59% of teens felt that online school is worse than traditional learning, with 19% describing it as "much worse."
  2. It's not just about missing their friends. Nearly half of students said they learn better in person, with just 30% citing missed social interaction as the key downside of e-learning.
  3. Students don't trust schools can be made safe. Roughly 70% of teens said they trust "only a little" or "not at all" that their school can or will take enough precautions to keep them safe during the pandemic. The distrust is even higher among Black and Hispanic teens, who also report being more concerned about getting sick from in-person schooling.
  4. Given all this, teens want to stay home. Only 19% said school should be fully in person right now, with 42% saying they would prefer fully remote learning and 37% in favor of a hybrid option.

Yes, but: Teens are still worried about the impact of distance learning. More than 6 in 10 said they fear falling behind academically.

My thought bubble: Distance learning might be the least bad alternative, but it's still pretty bad. Even with dedicated parents, teachers and students, it can still be a disappointing and frustrating experience all around.

3. The big news from Apple was its services, not its hardware

As expected Tuesday, Apple debuted new iPads and Apple Watch models featuring new colors and modest hardware advances. But the really significant long-term move for Apple was the further expansion of its services business.

Why it matters: With the slowing down of the smartphone market, Apple has turned to services to become its key growth engine.

Apple made two big announcements on the services front:

  1. Apple Fitness+. It costs $9.95 a month (or $79.95 a year), with three months included with the purchase of a new Apple Watch.
  2. Apple One is actually a set of new bundles. The basic service, at $14.95 per month, includes Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ and extra iCloud storage. A $19.95 family bundle provides household access to the same services, while a $29.95 per month service includes Apple Fitness+ and Apple News+.

The big picture: Both moves extend Apple's services push and, with Apple Fitness+, the company is expanding into a new area. That's important because consumers' tech budgets won't necessarily scale up to match Apple's ambitions.

  • At a certain point, it's simply easier for Apple to supplant others than to try to create whole new markets.
  • With fitness, for example, Apple can take money that has been going to digital fitness companies like Peloton and ClassPass, as well as traditional gym memberships.

Yes, but: With each move, Apple risks not only frustrating its new competitors but also raising the ire of regulators. One company none too happy with the Apple One announcement was Spotify, which has already lodged complaints that Apple isn't playing fair when it comes to digital music.

Our thought bubble: Apple One puts Spotify in an even tougher position than it was already in on Apple devices.

  • Music subscriptions are fairly low margin businesses, meaning Spotify doesn't have a lot of room to lower its price.
  • Apple, though, can bundle other services with more margin room, as it has done with Apple One.
4. Exclusive: False fire rumors still spread on Facebook despite ban

A burned car is seen by the Oak Park Motel east of Salem, Oregon on Sept. 13, 2020. Photo: Rob Schumacher/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Conspiracy theories about the origin of fires in Oregon are still spreading through private Facebook groups days after the social media giant announced it would remove the false claims, according to research from the German Marshall Fund of the United States shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: As Ashley reports, Facebook's efforts to control misinformation on its vast platform continue to lag behind the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories about life-and-death crises.

Context: Rumors on Facebook and Twitter blaming the Oregon wildfires on "Antifa" and Black Lives Matter groups started circulating on Sept. 8 and proliferated for days, diverting law enforcement personnel and resources even as firefighters struggled to put out the blazes.

  • Portland news channel KGW8 reported that 911 dispatchers were inundated with calls about antifascists starting the fires.
  • The FBI sought to correct the rumors on Friday, Sept. 11. Facebook announced it would take posts down on Saturday, Sept. 12, but had already started applying warning labels and reducing distribution of the posts on Sept. 10.

By the numbers: Researchers from the German Marshall Fund have been tracking 33 "Re-Open" groups on Facebook, some with up to 171,000 members, originally started to protest stay-at-home orders for the coronavirus crisis. The groups have become "vectors" for conspiracy theories, the German Marshall Fund's Karen Kornbluh told Axios.

  • Posts with rumors that antifascist groups started the fires were present in 11 of 33 of the groups before Facebook announced it would remove the content, Kornbluh said. The content remains available and is still spreading, according to the German Marshall Fund's research and screenshots seen by Axios.
  • The researchers estimate that the rate at which the content is being viewed and interacted has not slowed down since Facebook's Sept. 12 announcement.
  • Facebook needs a "circuit breaker" for these types of viral moments, Kornbluh said. "There needs to be an approach focused on risk of widespread harm, as opposed to imminent harm," she said.

What they're saying: "We use technology to remove content even in private groups by training our systems to identify and take down posts that include violating key words, images and videos. This doesn’t catch everything, but our teams are working to improve the technology," Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois tweeted.

Meanwhile, a Twitter spokesperson said the service was "taking action to reduce the visibility" of tweets containing fire-related misinformation.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Facebook holds its Facebook Connect VR and AR event online. Promotional videos of the company's new Oculus Quest 2 have already leaked online, but Facebook is also expected to discuss its progress in augmented reality. (Hardware chief Andrew Bosworth said last year that Facebook was working on AR glasses, though the technology hurdles remain significant.)
  • TechCrunch Disrupt continues online.

Trading Places

  • President Trump nominated current NTIA staffer Nathan Simington to be an FCC commissioner. The White House previously pulled the re-nomination of current Republican FCC commissioner Mike O’Rielly after he made comments signaling doubt over Trump’s social media executive order.
  • Real estate marketplace Zumper has hired former Uber and CloudKitchens design executive Shalin Amin, as chief experience officer.


6. After you Login

Need to relax? Maybe take a cue from this bear, who made himself at home in a Pennsylvania koi pond.