Apple’s new ‘app tracking transparency’ has angered Facebook. How does it work, what’s all the fuss about, and should you use it?


Amr Alfiky/AP

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, Edith Cowan UniversityApple users across the globe are adopting the latest operating system update, called iOS 14.5, featuring the now-obligatory new batch of emojis.

But there’s another change that’s arguably less fun but much more significant for many users: the introduction of “app tracking transparency”.

This feature promises to usher in a new era of user-oriented privacy, and not everyone is happy — most notably Facebook, which relies on tracking web users’ browsing habits to sell targeted advertising. Some commentators have described it as the beginnings of a new privacy feud between the two tech behemoths.

So, what is app tracking transparency?

App tracking transparency is a continuation of Apple’s push to be recognised as the platform of privacy. The new feature allows apps to display a pop-up notification that explains what data the app wants to collect, and what it proposes to do with it.

Privacy | App Tracking Transparency | Apple.

There is nothing users need to do to gain access to the new feature, other than install the latest iOS update, which happens automatically on most devices. Once upgraded, apps that use tracking functions will display a request to opt in or out of this functionality.

iPhone screenshot showing new App Tracking Transparency functionality
A new App Tracking Transparency feature across iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.
Apple newsroom

How does it work?

As Apple has explained, the app tracking transparency feature is a new “application programming interface”, or API — a suite of programming commands used by developers to interact with the operating system.

The API gives software developers a few pre-canned functions that allow them to do things like “request tracking authorisation” or use the tracking manager to “check the authorisation status” of individual apps.

In more straightforward terms, this gives app developers a uniform way of requesting these tracking permissions from the device user. It also means the operating system has a centralised location for storing and checking what permissions have been granted to which apps.

What is missing from the fine print is that there is no physical mechanism to prevent the tracking of a user. The app tracking transparency framework is merely a pop-up box.

It is also interesting to note the specific wording of the pop-up: “ask app not to track”. If the application is using legitimate “device advertising identifiers”, answering no will result in this identifier being set to zero. This will reduce the tracking capabilities of apps that honour Apple’s tracking policies.

However, if an app is really determined to track you, there are many techniques that could allow them to make surreptitious user-specific identifiers, which may be difficult for Apple to detect or prevent.

For example, while an app might not use Apple’s “device advertising identifier”, it would be easy for the app to generate a little bit of “random data”. This data could then be passed between sites under the guise of normal operations such as retrieving an image with the data embedded in the filename. While this would contravene Apple’s developer rules, detecting this type of secret data could be very difficult.




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Apple seems prepared to crack down hard on developers who don’t play by the rules. The most recent additions to Apple’s App Store guidelines explicitly tells developers:

You must receive explicit permission from users via the App Tracking Transparency APIs to track their activity.

It’s unlikely major app developers will want to fall foul of this policy — a ban from the App Store would be costly. But it’s hard to imagine Apple sanctioning a really big player like Facebook or TikTok without some serious behind-the-scenes negotiation.

Why is Facebook objecting?

Facebook is fuelled by web users’ data. Inevitably, anything that gets in the way of its gargantuan revenue-generating network is seen as a threat. In 2020, Facebook’s revenue from advertising exceeded US$84 billion – a 21% rise on 2019.

The issues are deep-rooted and reflect the two tech giants’ very different business models. Apple’s business model is the sale of laptops, computers, phones and watches – with a significant proportion of its income derived from the vast ecosystem of apps and in-app purchases used on these devices. Apple’s app revenue was reported at US$64 billion in 2020.

With a vested interest in ensuring its customers are loyal and happy with its devices, Apple is well positioned to deliver privacy without harming profits.

Should I use it?

Ultimately, it is a choice for the consumer. Many apps and services are offered ostensibly for free to users. App developers often cover their costs through subscription models, in-app purchases or in-app advertising. If enough users decide to embrace privacy controls, developers will either change their funding model (perhaps moving to paid apps) or attempt to find other ways to track users to maintain advertising-derived revenue.

If you don’t want your data to be collected (and potentially sold to unnamed third parties), this feature offers one way to restrict the amount of your data that is trafficked in this way.

But it’s also important to note that tracking of users and devices is a valuable tool for advertising optimisation by building a comprehensive picture of each individual. This increases the relevance of each advert while also reducing advertising costs (by only targeting users who are likely to be interested). Users also arguably benefit, as they see more (relevant) adverts that are contextualised for their interests.

It may slow down the rate at which we receive personalised ads in apps and websites, but this change won’t be an end to intrusive digital advertising. In essence, this is the price we pay for “free” access to these services.




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The Conversation


Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, School of Science, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Phone wet and won’t turn on? Here’s how to deal with water damage (hint: soaking it in rice won’t work)


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Ritesh Chugh, CQUniversity AustraliaIf you’ve ever gotten your phone wet in the rain, dropped it in water or spilt liquid over it, you’re not alone. One study suggests 25% of smartphone users have damaged their smartphone with water or some other kind of liquid.

Liquid penetrating a smartphone can affect the device in several ways. It could lead to:

  • blurry photos, if moisture gets trapped in the camera lens
  • muffled audio, or no audio
  • liquid droplets under the screen
  • an inability to charge
  • the rusting of internal parts, or
  • a total end to all functionality.

While new phones are advertised as “water resistant”, this doesn’t mean they are waterproof, or totally immune to water. Water resistance just implies the device can handle some exposure to water before substantial damage occurs.

Samsung Australia has long-defended itself against claims it misrepresents the water resistance of its smartphones.

In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Samsung to Federal Court, alleging false and misleading advertisements had led customers to believe their Galaxy phones would be suitable for:

use in, or exposure to, all types of water (including, for example, oceans and swimming pools).

Samsung Australia subsequently denied warranty claims from customers for damage caused to phones by use in, or exposure to, liquid.

Similarly, last year Apple was fined €10 million (about A$15.5 million) by Italy’s antitrust authority for misleading claims about the water resistance of its phones, and for not covering liquid damage under warranty, despite these claims.

How resistant is your phone?

The water resistance of phones is rated by an “Ingress Protection” code, commonly called an IP rating. Simply, an electrical device’s IP rating refers to its effectiveness against intrusions from solids and liquids.

The rating includes two numbers. The first demonstrates protection against solids such as dust, while the second indicates resistance to liquids, specifically water.

Here are the various Ingress Protection ratings. The numbering changes based on the level of protection.
Element Materials Technology

A phone that has a rating of IP68 has a solid object protection of 6 (full protection from dust, dirt and sand) and a liquid protection of 8 (protected from immersion in water to a depth of more than one metre).

Although, for the latter, manufacturers are responsible for defining the exact depth and time.

The popular iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S21 phones both have a rating of IP68. However, regarding exposure to water, the iPhone 12 has a permissible immersion depth of a maximum of 6m for 30 minutes, whereas the Galaxy 21’s immersion limit is up to 1.5m, also for 30 minutes.

While IP ratings indicate the water-repellent nature of phones, taking most phones for a swim will land you in deep trouble. The salt content in oceans and swimming pools can corrode your device and cost you a hefty replacement.

Moreover, phone manufacturers carry out their IP testing in fresh water and Apple recommends devices not be submerged in liquids of any kind.

Luckily, water resistant phones are generally able to survive smaller liquid volumes, such as from a glass tipping over.




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Checking for liquid damage

Exposure to water is something manufacturers have in mind when designing phones. Most Apple and Samsung phones come with a liquid contact/damage indicator strip located inside the SIM card tray.

This is used to check for liquid damage that may be causing a device to malfunction. An indicator strip that comes in contact with liquid loses its usual colour and becomes discoloured and smudgy.

Samsung and Apple phones have Liquid Contact/Damage Indicators.
Samsung/Apple

A discoloured strip usually renders your phone ineligible for a standard manufacturer warranty.

If you have any of the more recent smartphones from Apple or Samsung, then your device will be able to detect liquid or moisture in its charging port and will warn you with an alert. This notification only goes away once the port is dry.

New generation Samsung and Apple phones have a moisture/liquid alert notification.
Samsung/Apple

But what should you do if this dreadful pop-up presents itself?

Fixing a water-logged phone

Firstly, do not put your phone in a container of rice. It’s a myth that rice helps in drying out your phone. Instead, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the device immediately and don’t press any buttons.
  2. If your phone is water resistant and you’ve spilt or submerged it in a liquid other than water, both Apple and Samsung recommend rinsing it off by submerging it in still tap water (but not under a running tap, which could cause damage).
  3. Wipe the phone dry with paper towels or a soft cloth.
  4. Gently shake the device to remove water from the charging ports,
    but avoid vigorous shaking as this could further spread the liquid inside.
  5. Remove the SIM card.
  6. Use a compressed aerosol air duster to blow the water out if you have one. Avoid using a hot blow dryer as the heat can wreck the rubber seals and damage the screen.
  7. Dry out the phone (and especially the ports) in front of a fan.
  8. Leave your phone in an airtight container full of silica gel packets (those small packets you get inside new shoes and bags), or another drying agent. These help absorb the moisture.
  9. Do not charge the phone until you are certain it’s dry. Charging a device with liquid still inside it, or in the ports, can cause further damage. Apple suggests waiting at least five hours once a phone appears dry before charging it (or until the alert disappears).

If the above steps don’t help and you’re still stuck with a seemingly dead device, don’t try opening the phone yourself. You’re better off taking it to a professional.




Read more:
Upgrade rage: why you may have to buy a new device whether you want to or not


The Conversation


Ritesh Chugh, Senior Lecturer – Information Systems and Analysis, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Upgrade rage: why you may have to buy a new device whether you want to or not



The Conversation, CC BY

Michael Cowling, CQUniversity Australia

We’ve probably all been there. We buy some new smart gadget and when we plug it in for the first time it requires an update to work.

So we end up spending hours downloading and updating before we can even play with our new toy.

But what happens when we can’t update our gadgets any further?

Vintage technology

Every year vendors such as Apple and Google add to their list of vintage devices that no longer get operating system or security updates.

For example, owners of the Pixel 2 smartphone (released by Google in 2017) were told in late 2020 they would no longer receive regular scheduled system updates and security updates.

Upgrading to Google’s newest smartphones won’t insulate them from this problem for long. Owners of the latest Pixel 5 are told to expect this device (released in October 2020) to be made vintage in 2023.




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While Apple has a reputation for supporting devices for longer than Google and Samsung with Android, even Apple owners are occasionally in for a shock, such as those users who bought the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 3 late last year only to discover it only works with an iPhone 6s or above.

A frustrated comment from a user on a support group about incompatible Apple technology.
When technology doesn’t communicate.
Screenshot/Apple.com

Even if an operating system vendor still supports a device, this presumes the apps and network connections will still work for older devices, which is not always the case.

The unrelenting march of technology

Technology is not what it used to be. Twenty years ago, we could buy a laptop and everything would work pretty much the same for over a decade.

For example, switch on an old Windows XP machine (no longer supported by Microsoft) and any installed Word and Excel software will be there just as we left them, still available for your document and spreadsheeting needs. (We need to be careful about updating any software as then it might not work on the XP machine.)

If we want to play some old computer games, there’s an argument that an old machine or operating system will be a better choice to play on as a newer machine will run the game too fast, or be incompatible and not run it at all.

Gaming on a 25 year old laptop.

But the world of technology has changed in the last ten years or so. More and more apps need a network connection to operate, or take advantage of new features in the software or hardware that didn’t previously exist such as augmented reality (AR), so they need a new device to work.

Cables, chips and wireless networks

Even on the hardware front, there are concerns. Try and attach our old fitness band to our new smartphone and we might find the Bluetooth protocol it uses to communicate is no longer supported, or the servers they used to run were attacked and taken down by hackers.

Backers of the original smartwatch, The Pebble, found themselves on the wrong end of this situation when the company was bought by Fitbit, who decided to shut down the Pebble servers. This effectively turned all Pebble watches into paperweights, although an unofficial fix was developed.

The smartwatch in a box.
The original Pebble smartwatch.
Wikimedia/Romazur, CC BY-SA

Assuming the hardware works, we might find the network connection deserts us.

The WiFi Alliance last year announced a new WiFi standard, increasing speeds for countries that support it.

But it’s already the case that older WiFi devices running on older standards can have trouble connecting to new networks, and even if they can they are likely to slow down the whole network.

In the world of cellular networking, some parts of the old 3G network (famous for powering the iPhone 3G released a little more than ten years ago) has been shut down in some countries (including Australia), with the whole service destined for the dustbin in several years. Even if we could power up that old iPhone, it wouldn’t get any phone service.

A call for sustainable technology

So what’s the solution to this problem of disposable and expiring technology? One suggestion is that manufacturers move to making devices more modular, comprised of several detachable components.

Components could then be replaced as they expire, just like we are able to do with desktop computers by replacing the video card, sound card or other components.

Some manufacturers, such as Essential, Motorola and Google have all tried this approach with a modular phone but with limited success.

The modularisation process results in a larger, more cumbersome device in a world where thin and svelte is everything.




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Perhaps the best we can hope for is for manufacturers to work harder to recycle and upgrade devices for consumers. Companies such as Apple already do this, with machines that can disassemble iPhones and remove the precious metals and components for recycling, but more work needs to be done.

Daisy, Apple’s new iPhone disassembly robot.

In particular, the commercial aspect of these initiatives likely still needs to be worked out. Some service providers offer trade-in in deals for old phones but you still have to pay for a new phone. Many people aim to use older devices to avoid paying for a new device after all.

Until manufacturers are willing to perhaps just do a straight swap of that old gadget for a new model with no money down, it’s likely we will still live in our expiring device culture for a while yet.The Conversation

Michael Cowling, Associate Professor – Information & Communication Technology (ICT), CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Has COVID cost friendships? Technology may have helped people stay connected during the pandemic



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Shane Rogers, Edith Cowan University

If you leave your car sitting the garage for too long, the battery can go flat. Similarly, if we don’t maintain our friendships, they can go a bit flat too.

So just as it’s good practice to drive your car every so often and have it serviced regularly, friendships are easier to maintain with some semblance of regular contact.

What has this meant for our friendships during 2020, a year of social distancing and lockdowns? My research suggests physical separation wasn’t necessarily associated with psychological separation or the breakdown of friendships.

And that appears to be thanks mostly to communication technologies.

Mental health, friendships and COVID

Consistent with research from other parts of the world, lockdown experiences in Australia have been associated with diminished emotional well-being for many people.

My colleague Travis Cruickshank and I surveyed 1,599 Australians from various age groups during the national lockdown in April. Our study is still at the preprint stage, which means it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A substantial proportion of participants reported a deterioration in their mental health due to COVID-19 (10% deteriorated a lot, 44% deteriorated somewhat, 40% reported no change, and 6% improved somewhat).

We also asked how their friendships had been affected, and surprisingly, most respondents reported no change (66%). This was despite 72% noting they were interacting face-to-face with friends a lot less (and a further 14% somewhat less) during the pandemic.




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Communication technologies to the rescue

At first glance our results seem strange, as even the best communication technologies are arguably not an adequate substitute for face-to-face interaction. It’s difficult to make eye contact — an important social cue — through a screen. And if you’ve ever tried to catch up with a group of friends over Zoom or a similar platform, you’ll know it can become a little chaotic.

However, 56% of participants in our study reported spending more time interacting with friends using technology during the pandemic (for example, phone, email, or online chat). So it seems most people used communication technologies to stay connected with their friends during lockdown — even if it wasn’t quite the same as catching up in person.

A group of young people socialising in someone's home.
Technology can’t entirely replicate the benefits of socialising face-to-face.
Shutterstock

Social media sometimes gets a bad rap. For example, excessive social media use has been associated with negative outcomes such as lower self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies. It can also be a vehicle for spreading misinformation.

However, having a raft of options for communicating digitally, of which social media platforms are a big part, has arguably been a good thing overall.

People have been able to share jokes with a wide audience to keep spirits up. For example, a Facebook group encouraging people to dress up in costumes to take their bins out, and then post pictures, went viral around the world.




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More importantly, people could stay connected with friends and family during a stressful time. We know social support is important for managing anxiety, especially during fraught times.

Our results are consistent with other Australian research and US research which found people didn’t perceive their social support to be negatively affected during the pandemic.

But not everybody made use of technology

In our study, while most people reported no impact on their friendships, 27% of people reported a deterioration in their relationships with friends. These people were more likely to also report not increasing their level of communication via technological means.


Author provided

These people were also more likely to report their mental health had deteriorated.

It’s important to note we collected our data fairly early in the pandemic. So it’s possible more people, particularly those in Victoria who endured a prolonged second lockdown, may have experienced deterioration in their friendships since we collected our data.

But our results highlight the important role communication technologies can play during a pandemic, and the value of using such technologies to maintain relationships and social support, for the benefit of our mental health.

A woman hunched over on the couch at home, appearing lonely or depressed.
Some participants in our study reported their social relationships had deteriorated.
Shutterstock

Interestingly, 7% of people reported an improvement in friendship quality. Perhaps connecting over difficult times brought some people closer. Alternatively, with various communication technologies and apps gaining traction, some people may have started interacting with friends during lockdown who they wouldn’t normally see or speak to.

New communication technologies on the horizon

Video chat platforms (such as Zoom) saw a dramatic increase in use during the pandemic. While serviceable, video chat is still lacking compared with face-to-face interaction.

The pandemic has heightened interest in the development of new digital communication technologies. One prospect is communication in virtual reality (VR).

During the pandemic, a host of start-up companies have appeared selling VR meeting platforms. There was also an increase in usage of social VR programs, although these remain on the fringe.

A current issue with social interaction in VR is that the avatars generally have minimal expression and therefore only represent a shell of a character that transmits your voice. As summed up in this article on The Conversation, “VR technologies perhaps only offer a pale imitation of the multi-sensory experiences of life”.

However, new developments in motion tracking technology and touch-stimulating devices are set to significantly improve the social interaction experience in VR within the next few years.

New VR headsets are in development that include inbuilt facial motion tracking, such as those by Facebook, and also the DecaGear 1. In the coming years, we may be interacting in VR at work and at the weekend with our friends.




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The Conversation


Shane Rogers, Lecturer in Psychology, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Australia can reap the benefits and dodge the dangers of the Internet of Things



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Kayleen Manwaring, UNSW and Peter Leonard, UNSW

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already all around us. Online devices have become essential in industries from manufacturing and healthcare to agriculture and environmental management, not to mention our own homes. Digital consulting firm Ovum estimates that by 2022 Australian homes will host more than 47 million IoT devices, and the value of the global market will exceed US$1 trillion.

The IoT presents great opportunities, but it brings many risks too. Problems include excessive surveillance, loss of privacy, transparency and control, and reliance on unsafe or unsuitable services or devices.




Read more:
Explainer: the Internet of Things


In some places, such as the European Union, Germany, South Korea and the United Kingdom, governments have been quick to develop policies and some limited regulation to take advantage of the technology and mitigate its harmful impacts.

Australia has been late to react. Even recent moves by the federal government to make IoT devices more secure have been far behind international developments.

A report launched today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) may help get Australia up to speed. It supplies a wide-ranging, peer-reviewed base of evidence about opportunities, benefits and challenges the IoT presents Australia over the next decade.

Benefits of the Internet of Things

The report examines how we can improve our lives with IoT-related technologies. It explores a range of applications across Australian cities and rural, regional and remote areas.

Some IoT services are already available, such as the Smart Cities and Suburbs program run by local and federal governments. This program funds projects in areas such as traffic congestion, waste management and urban safety.

Health applications are also on the rise. The University of New England has piloted the remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms using IoT-enabled pulse oximeters.

Augmented and virtual reality applications too are becoming more common. IoT devices can track carbon emissions in supply chains and energy use in homes. IoT services can also help governments make public transport infrastructure more efficient.

The benefits of the IoT won’t only be felt in cities. There may be even more to be gained in rural, regional and remote areas. IoT can aid agriculture in many ways, as well as working to prevent and manage bushfires and other environmental disasters. Sophisticated remote learning and health care will also benefit people outside urban areas.

While some benefits of the IoT will be felt everywhere, some will have more impact in cities and others in rural, remote and regional areas.
ACOLA, CC BY-NC

Opportunities for the Australian economy

The IoT presents critical opportunities for economic growth. In 2016-17, IoT activity was already worth A$74.3 billion to the Australian economy.

The IoT can facilitate more data-informed processes and automation (also known as Industry 4.0). This has immediate potential for substantial benefits.

One opportunity for Australia is niche manufacturing. Making bespoke products would be more efficient with IoT capability, which would let Australian businesses reach a consumer market with wide product ranges but low domestic volumes due to our small population.

Agricultural innovation enabled by the IoT, using Australia’s existing capabilities and expertise, is another promising area for investment.




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Risks of the Internet of Things

IoT devices can collect huge amounts of sensitive data, and controlling that data and keeping it secure presents significant risks. However, the Australian community is not well informed about these issues and some IoT providers are slow to explain appropriate and safe use of IoT devices and services.

These issues make it difficult for consumers to tell good practice from bad, and do not inspire trust in IoT. Lack of consistent international IoT standards can also make it difficult for different devices to work together, and creates a risk that users will be “locked in” to products from a single supplier.

In IoT systems it can also be very complex to determine who is responsible for any particular fault or issue, because of the many possible combinations of product, hardware, software and services. There will also be many contracts and user agreements, creating contractual complexity that adds to already difficult legal questions.




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The increased surveillance made possible by the IoT can lead to breaches of human rights. Partially or fully automated decision-making can also to discrimination and other socially unacceptable outcomes.

And while the IoT can assist environmental sustainability, it can also increase environmental costs and impacts. The ACOLA report estimates that by 2050 the IoT could consume between 1 and 5% of the world’s electricity.

Other risks of harmful social consequences include an increased potential for domestic violence, the targeting of children by malicious actors and corporate interests, increased social withdrawal and the exacerbation of existing inequalities for vulnerable populations. The recent death of a woman in rural New South Wales being treated via telehealth provides just one example of these risks.

Maximising the benefits of the IoT

The ACOLA report makes several recommendations for Australia to take advantage of the IoT while minimising its downsides.

ACOLA advocates a national approach, focusing on areas of strength. It recommends continuing investment in smart cities and regions, and more collaboration between industry, government and education.

ACOLA also recommends increased community engagement, better ethical and regulatory frameworks for data and baseline security standards.

The ACOLA report is only a beginning. More specific work needs to be done to make the IoT work for Australia and its citizens.

The report does outline key areas for future research. These include the actual experiences of people in smart cities and homes, the value of data, environmental impacts and the use of connected and autonomous vehicles.The Conversation

Kayleen Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, School of Taxation & Business Law, UNSW and Peter Leonard, Professor of Practice (IT Systems and Management and Business and Taxation Law), UNSW Business School, Sydney, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How creative use of technology may have helped save schooling during the pandemic



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Neil Selwyn, Monash University

It is estimated around half the world’s students’ schools remain shut down. All told, this has been a potentially damaging disruption to the education of a generation.

But one of the few positive outcomes from this experience is an opportunity to rethink how digital technologies can be used to support teaching and learning in schools.

Our collective experiences of remote schooling offer a fleeting opportunity for schools to think more imaginatively about what “digital education” might look like in the future.

This is not to echo the hype (currently being pushed by many education reformers and IT industry actors) that COVID will prove a tipping-point after which schools will be pushed fully into digital education.

On the contrary, the past six months of hastily implemented emergency remote schooling tell us little about how school systems might go fully virtual, or operate on a “blended” (part online, part face-to-face) basis. Any expectations of profiting from the complete digital reform of education is well wide of the mark.

Instead, the most compelling technology-related lessons to take from the pandemic involve the informal, improvised, scrappy digital practices that have helped teachers, students and parents get through school at home.

Technology during the pandemic

All over the world, school shutdowns have seen teachers, students and families get together to achieve great things with relatively simple technologies. This includes the surprising rise of TikTok as a source of informal learning content. Previously the domain of young content creators, remote schooling saw teachers of all ages turn to the video platform to share bite-size (up to one minute) chunks of teaching, give inspirational feedback, set learning challenges or simply show students and parents how they were coping.

TikTok also been used as a place for educational organisations, public figures and celebrity scientists to produce bespoke learning content, as well as allowing teachers to put together materials for a wider audience.

Even principals have used it to keep in contact with their school — making 60-second video addresses, motivational speeches and other alternatives to the traditional school assembly speech.

Classes in some countries have been run through WhatsApp, primarily because this was one platform most students and families had access to, and were used to using in their everyday lives.

Elsewhere, teachers have set up virtual BitMoji classrooms featuring colourful backdrops and cartoon avatars of themselves. These spaces act as a friendly online version of their familiar classroom space for students to check in and find out what they should be learning, access resources and temporarily feel they were back at school.




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Some teachers have worked out creative ways of Zoom-based teaching. These stretch beyond the streamed lecture format and include live demonstrations, experiments, and live music and pottery workshops.

Social media, apps and games have proven convenient places for teachers to share insights into their classroom practice, while students can quickly show teachers and classmates what they have been working on.

These informal uses of digital media have played an important role in boosting students, teachers and parents with a bit of human contact, and additional motivation to connect and learn.

So, what now?

All this will come as little surprise to long-term advocates of popular forms of digital media in education. There is a sound evidence base for the educational benefits of such technology.

For example, a decade’s worth of studies has developed a robust framework (and many examples) of how students and educators can make the most of personal digital media inside and outside the classroom. These include allowing students to participate in online fan-fiction writing communities, digital journalism, music production and podcasting.

The past ten years has also seen a rise in e-sports — where teams of young people compete in video games.

This stresses the interplay between digital media, learning driven by students’ interests and passions, and online communities of peers. Informal digital media can be a boon for otherwise marginalised and disadvantaged youth and allowing students to find supportive communities of like-minded peers regardless of their local circumstances.

Australia continues to be one of the few countries in the world where classroom use of smartphones is banned by some governments. Some of the most popular social media platforms, content creation apps, and open sites such as YouTube remain filtered and blocked in many schools too.




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At the same time, official forms of school technology are increasingly criticised for being boring, overly-standardised, and largely serving institutional imperatives, rather than pitched toward the interests of students and teachers.

Concerns are growing over the limited educational benefits of personalised learning systems, as well as the data and privacy implications of school platforms and systems such as Google Classroom.

The past six months have seen many schools forced to make the best of whatever technologies were immediately to hand. Previously reticent teachers now have first-hand experience of making use of unfamiliar technologies. Many parents are now on board with the educational potential of social media and games. Most importantly, students have been given a taste of what they can achieve with “their” own technology.

With US schools now exploring the benefits of establishing official TikTok creation clubs to enhance their video-making skills, it might be time for Australian educators to follow suit. Let’s take the opportunity to re-establish schools as places where teachers, students and families can work together to creatively learn with the devices and apps most familiar to their everyday lives.The Conversation

Neil Selwyn, Distinguished Research Professor, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Healthcare, minerals, energy, food: how adopting new tech could drive Australia’s economic recovery



CSIRO, Author provided

Katherine Wynn, CSIRO; James Deverell, CSIRO; Max Temminghoff, CSIRO, and Mingji Liu, CSIRO

Over the next few years, science and technology will have a vital role in supporting Australia’s economy as it strives to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

At Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, we’ve identified opportunities that can help businesses drive economic recovery.

We examined how the pandemic has created or intensified opportunities for economic growth across six sectors benefiting from science and technology. These are food and agribusiness, energy, health, mineral resources, digital and manufacturing.

Advanced healthcare

While some aspects of Australian healthcare are currently digitised, system-wide digital health integration could improve the quality of care and save money.

Doctors caring for patients with chronic diseases or complex conditions could digitally coordinate care routines. This could streamline patient care by avoiding consultation double-ups and providing a more holistic view of patient health.

We also see potential for more efficient healthcare delivery through medical diagnostic tests that are more portable and non-invasive. Such tests, supported by artificial intelligence and smart data storage approaches, would allow faster disease detection and monitoring.

There’s also opportunity for developing specialised components such as 3D-printed prosthetics, dental and bone implants.

Green energy

Despite a short-term plateau in energy consumption caused by COVID-19 globally, the demand for energy will continue to grow.

Through clean energy exports and energy initiatives aligned with decarbonisation goals, Australia can help meet global energy demands. Energy-efficient technologies offer immediate reduced energy costs, reduced carbon emissions and less demand on the energy grid. They also create local jobs.




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Innovating with food and agribusiness

The food and agribusiness sector is a prominent contributor to Australia’s economy and supports regional and rural prosperity.

Global population growth is driving an increased demand for protein. At the same time, consumers want more products that are sustainable and ethically sourced.

Australia could earn revenue from the local production and export of more sustainable proteins. This might include plant-based proteins such as pea and lupins, or aquaculture products such as farmed prawns and seaweed.

We could also offer more high-value health and well-being foods. Examples include fortified foods and products free from gluten, lactose and other allergens.

Automating minerals processes

Even before COVID-19 struck, the mineral resources sector was facing rising costs and declining ore grades. It’s also dealing with climate change impacts such as droughts, bushfires, floods, and social pressures to reduce environmental harm.

Several innovative solutions could help make the sector more productive and sustainable. For instance, increasing automation and remote mining (which Australia already excels in) could achieve improved safety for workers, more productivity and business continuity.




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Also, investing in advanced technologies that can generate higher quality data on mineral character and composition could improve yields and minimise environmental harm.

High-tech manufacturing

COVID-19 has escalated concerns around Australia’s supply chain fragility – take the toilet paper shortages earlier in the pandemic. Expanding local manufacturing efforts could create jobs and increase Australia’s earning potential.

This is especially true for mineral processing and manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, space technology and defence. Our local manufacturing will need to adapt quickly to changes in supply needs, ideally through the use of advanced designs and technology.

Digital solutions

In April and May this year, Australian businesses made huge strides in adopting consumer and business digital technologies. One study estimated five years’ worth of progress occurred in those eight weeks. Hundreds of thousands of businesses moved their work online.

Over the next two years, Australian businesses could become more efficient and adaptable by further monetising the data they already collect. For example, applying mobile sensors, robotics and machine learning techniques could help us make better resource decisions in agriculture.

Similarly, businesses could share more data throughout the supply chain, including with customers and competitors. For instance, increased data sharing among renewable energy providers and customers could improve the monitoring, forecasting and reliability of energy supply.

Making the right plans and investments now will determine Australia’s recovery and resilience in the future.The Conversation

Katherine Wynn, Lead Economist, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO; James Deverell, Director, CSIRO Futures, CSIRO; Max Temminghoff, Senior Consultant, CSIRO, and Mingji Liu, Senior Economic Consultant, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can I still be hacked with 2FA enabled?



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David Tuffley, Griffith University

Cybersecurity is like a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as the good guys put a stop to one type of attack, another pops up.

Usernames and passwords were once good enough to keep an account secure. But before long, cybercriminals figured out how to get around this.

Often they’ll use “brute force attacks”, bombarding a user’s account with various password and login combinations in a bid to guess the correct one.

To deal with such attacks, a second layer of security was added in an approach known as two-factor authentication, or 2FA. It’s widespread now, but does 2FA also leave room for loopholes cybercriminals can exploit?

2FA via text message

There are various types of 2FA. The most common method is to be sent a single-use code as an SMS message to your phone, which you then enter following a prompt from the website or service you’re trying to access.

Most of us are familiar with this method as it’s favoured by major social media platforms. However, while it may seem safe enough, it isn’t necessarily.

Hackers have been known to trick mobile phone carriers (such as Telstra or Optus) into transferring a victim’s phone number to their own phone.




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Pretending to be the intended victim, the hacker contacts the carrier with a story about losing their phone, requesting a new SIM with the victim’s number to be sent to them. Any authentication code sent to that number then goes directly to the hacker, granting them access to the victim’s accounts.
This method is called SIM swapping. It’s probably the easiest of several types of scams that can circumvent 2FA.

And while carriers’ verification processes for SIM requests are improving, a competent trickster can talk their way around them.

Authenticator apps

The authenticator method is more secure than 2FA via text message. It works on a principle known as TOTP, or “time-based one-time password”.

TOTP is more secure than SMS because a code is generated on your device rather than being sent across the network, where it might be intercepted.

The authenticator method uses apps such as Google Authenticator, LastPass, 1Password, Microsoft Authenticator, Authy and Yubico.

However, while it’s safer than 2FA via SMS, there have been reports of hackers stealing authentication codes from Android smartphones. They do this by tricking the user into installing malware (software designed to cause harm) that copies and sends the codes to the hacker.

The Android operating system is easier to hack than the iPhone iOS. Apple’s iOS is proprietary, while Android is open-source, making it easier to install malware on.

2FA using details unique to you

Biometric methods are another form of 2FA. These include fingerprint login, face recognition, retinal or iris scans, and voice recognition. Biometric identification is becoming popular for its ease of use.

Most smartphones today can be unlocked by placing a finger on the scanner or letting the camera scan your face – much quicker than entering a password or passcode.

However, biometric data can be hacked, too, either from the servers where they are stored or from the software that processes the data.

One case in point is last year’s Biostar 2 data breach in which nearly 28 million biometric records were hacked. BioStar 2 is a security system that uses facial recognition and fingerprinting technology to help organisations secure access to buildings.

There can also be false negatives and false positives in biometric recognition. Dirt on the fingerprint reader or on the person’s finger can lead to false negatives. Also, faces can sometimes be similar enough to fool facial recognition systems.

Another type of 2FA comes in the form of personal security questions such as “what city did your parents meet in?” or “what was your first pet’s name?”




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Only the most determined and resourceful hacker will be able to find answers to these questions. It’s unlikely, but still possible, especially as more of us adopt public online profiles.

Person looks at a social media post from a woman, on their mobile.
Often when we share our lives on the internet, we fail to consider what kinds of people may be watching.
Shutterstock

2FA remains best practice

Despite all of the above, the biggest vulnerability to being hacked is still the human factor. Successful hackers have a bewildering array of psychological tricks in their arsenal.

A cyber attack could come as a polite request, a scary warning, a message ostensibly from a friend or colleague, or an intriguing “clickbait” link in an email.

The best way to protect yourself from hackers is to develop a healthy amount of scepticism. If you carefully check websites and links before clicking through and also use 2FA, the chances of being hacked become vanishingly small.

The bottom line is that 2FA is effective at keeping your accounts safe. However, try to avoid the less secure SMS method when given the option.

Just as burglars in the real world focus on houses with poor security, hackers on the internet look for weaknesses.

And while any security measure can be overcome with enough effort, a hacker won’t make that investment unless they stand to gain something of greater value.The Conversation

David Tuffley, Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics & CyberSecurity, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep calm, but don’t just carry on: how to deal with China’s mass surveillance of thousands of Australians



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Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

National security is like sausage-making. We might enjoy the tasty product, but want to look away from the manufacturing.

Recent news that Chinese company Zhenhua Data is profiling more than 35,000 Australians isn’t a surprise to people with an interest in privacy, security and social networks. We need to think critically about this, knowing we can do something to prevent it from happening again.

Reports indicate Zhenhua provides services to the Chinese government. It may also provide services to businesses in China and overseas.

The company operates under Chinese law and doesn’t appear to have a presence in Australia. That means we can’t shut it down or penalise it for a breach of our law. Also, Beijing is unlikely to respond to expressions of outrage from Australia or condemnation by our government – especially amid recent sabre-rattling.




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Zhenhua is reported to have data on more than 35,000 Australians – a list saturated by political leaders and prominent figures. Names, birthdays, addresses, marital status, photographs, political associations, relatives and social media account details are among the information extracted.

It seems Zhenhua has data on a wide range of Australians, including public figures such as Victorian supreme court judge Anthony Cavanough, Australia’s former ambassador to China Geoff Raby, former NSW premier and federal foreign affairs minister Bob Carr, tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and singer Natalie Imbruglia.

It’s not clear how individuals are being targeted. The profiling might be systematic. It might instead be conducted on the basis of a specific industry, academic discipline, public prominence or perceived political influence.

It’s unlikely Zhenhua profiles random members of the public. That means there’s no reason for average citizens without a China connection to be worried.

Still, details around the intelligence gathering elude us, so best practise for the public is to maintain as much online privacy as possible, whenever possible.

Overall, we don’t know much about Zhenhua’s goals. And what we do know came from a leak to a US academic who sensibly fled China in 2018, fearing for his safety.

Pervasive surveillance is the norm

Pervasive surveillance is now a standard feature of all major governments, which often rely on surveillance-for-profit companies. Governments in the West buy services from big data analytic companies such as Palantir.

Australia’s government gathers information outside our borders, too. Take the bugging of the Timor-Leste government, a supposed friend rather than enemy.

How sophisticated is the plot?

Revelations about Zhenhua have referred to the use of artificial intelligence and the “mosaic” method of intelligence gathering. But this is probably less exciting than it sounds.

Reports indicate much of the data was extracted from online open sources. Access to much of this would have simply involved using algorithms to aggregate targets’ names, dates, qualifications and work history data found on publicly available sites.

The algorithms then help put the individual pieces of the “mosaic” together and fill in the holes on the basis of each individual’s relationship with others, such as their as peers, colleagues or partners.

Some of the data for the mosaic may come from hacking or be gathered directly by the profiler. According to the ABC, some data that landed in Zhenhua’s lap was taken from the dark web.

One seller might have spent years copying data from university networks. For example, last year the Australian National University acknowledged major personal data breaches had taken place, potentially extending back 19 years.

This year there was also the unauthorised (and avoidable) access by cybercriminals to NSW government data on 200,000 people.

While it may be confronting to know a foreign state is compiling information on Australian citizens, it should be comforting to learn sharing this information can be avoided – if you’re careful.

What’s going on in the black box?

One big question is what Zhenhua’s customers in China’s political and business spheres might do with the data they’ve compiled on Australian citizens. Frankly, we don’t know. National security is often a black box and we are unlikely ever to get verifiable details.

Apart from distaste at being profiled, we might say being watched is no big deal, especially given many of those on the list are already public figures. Simply having an AI-assisted “Who’s Who” of prominent Australians isn’t necessarily frightening.

However, it is of concern if the information collected is being used for disinformation, such as through any means intended to erode trust in political processes, or subvert elections.

For instance, a report published in June by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute detailed how Chinese-speaking people in Australia were being targeted by a “persistent, large-scale influence campaign linked to Chinese state actors”.

Illustration of surveillance camera with Chinese flag draped over.
In June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced China was supposedly behind a major state-based attack against several of Australia’s sectors, including all levels of government.
Shutterstock

Deep fake videos are another form of subversion of increasing concern to governments and academics, particularly in the US.




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Can we fix this?

We can’t make Zhenhua and its competitors disappear. Governments think they are too useful.

Making everything visible to state surveillance is now the ambition of many law enforcement bodies and all intelligence agencies. It’s akin to Google and its competitors wanting to know (and sell) everything about us, without regard for privacy as a human right.

We can, however, build resilience.

One way is to require government agencies and businesses to safeguard their databases. That hasn’t been the case with the NSW government, Commonwealth governments, Facebook, dating services and major hospitals.

In Australia, we need to adopt recommendations by law reform inquiries and establish a national right to privacy. The associated privacy tort would incentivise data custodians and also encourage the public to avoid oversharing online.

In doing so, we might be better placed to condemn both China and other nations participating in unethical intelligence gathering, while properly acknowledging our own wrongdoings in Timor-Leste.The Conversation

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Thousand Talents Plan is part of China’s long quest to become the global scientific leader


James Jin Kang, Edith Cowan University

The Thousand Talents Plan is a Chinese government program to attract scientists and engineers from overseas. Since the plan began in 2008, it has recruited thousands of researchers from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Japan, France and Australia.

While many countries try to lure top international research talent, the US, Canada and others have raised concerns that the Thousand Talents Plan may facilitate espionage and theft of intellectual property.

Why are we hearing about it now?

China has long been suspected of engaging in hacking and intellectual property theft. In the early 2000s, Chinese hackers were involved in the downfall of the Canadian telecommunications corporation Nortel, which some have linked to the rise of Huawei.

These efforts have attracted greater scrutiny as Western powers grow concerned about China’s increasing global influence and foreign policy projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Last year, a US Senate committee declared the plan a threat to American interests. Earlier this year, Harvard nanotechnology expert Charles Lieber was arrested for lying about his links to the program.

In Australia, foreign policy think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recently published a detailed report on Australian involvement in the plan. After media coverage of the plan, the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security is set to launch an inquiry into foreign interference in universities.




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What is the Thousand Talents Plan?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) developed the Thousand Talents Plan to lure top scientific talent, with the goal of making China the world’s leader in science and technology by 2050. The CCP uses the plan to obtain technologies and expertise, and arguably, Intellectual Properties from overseas by illegal or non-transparent means to build their power by leveraging those technologies with minimal costs.

According to a US Senate committee report, the Thousand Talents Plan is one of more than 200 CCP talent recruitment programs. These programs drew in almost 60,000 professionals between 2008 and 2016.

China’s technology development and intellectual property portfolio has skyrocketed since the launch of the plan in 2008. Last year China overtook the US for the first time in filing the most international patents.

What are the issues?

The plan offers scientists funding and support to commercialise their research, and in return the Chinese government gains access to their technologies.

In 2019, a US Senate committee declared the plan a threat to American interests. It claimed one participating researcher stole information about US military jet engines, and more broadly that China uses American research and expertise for its own economic and military gain.




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Dozens of Australian and US employees of universities and government are believed to have participated in the plan without having declared their involvement. In May, ASIO issued all Australian universities a warning about Chinese government recruitment activities.

On top of intellectual property issues, there are serious human rights concerns. Technologies transferred to China under the program have been used in the oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and in society-wide facial recognition and other forms of surveillance.

A global network

The Chinese government has established more than 600 recruitment stations globally. This includes 146 in the US, 57 each in Germany and Australia, and more than 40 each in the UK, Canada, Japan and France.

Recruitment agencies contracted by the CCP are paid A$30,000 annually plus incentives for each successful recruitment.

They deal with individual researchers rather than institutions as it is easier to monitor them. Participants do not have to leave their current jobs to be involved in the plan.




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This can raise conflicts of interest. In the US alone, 54 scientists have lost their jobs for failing to disclose this external funding, and more than 20 have been charged on espionage and fraud allegations.

In Australia, our education sector relies significantly on the export of education to Chinese students. Chinese nationals may be employed in various sectors including research institutions.

These nationals are targets for Thousand Talents Plan recruitment agents. Our government may not know what’s going on unless participants disclose information about their external employment or grants funded by the plan.

The case of Koala AI

Heng Tao Shen was recruited by the Thousand Talents Plan in 2014 while a professor at the University of Queensland. He became head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and founded a company called Koala AI.

Members of Koala AI’s research team reportedly now include Thousand Talents Plan scholars at the University of NSW, University of Melbourne and the National University of Singapore. The plan allows participants to stay at their overseas base as long as they work in China for a few months of the year.

The company’s surveillance technology was used by authorities in Xinjiang, raising human rights issues. Shen, who relocated to China in 2017 but was as an honorary professor at the University of Queensland until September 2019, reportedly failed to disclose this information to his Australian university, going against university policy.

What should be done?

Most participants in the plan are not illegally engaged and have not breached the rules of their governments or institutions. With greater transparency and stricter adherence to the rules of foreign states and institutions, the plan could benefit both China and other nations.

Governments, universities and research institutions, and security agencies all have a role to play here.

The government can build partnership with other parties to monitor the CCP’s talent recruitment activities and increase transparency on funding in universities. Investigations of illegal behaviour related to the talent recruitment activity can be conducted by security agencies. Research institutes can tighten the integrity of grant recipients by disclosing any participation in the talent recruitment plans.




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More resources should be invested towards compliance and enforcement in foreign funding processes, so that researchers understand involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan may carry national security risks.

Following US government scrutiny in 2018, Chinese government websites deleted online references to the plan and some Chinese universities stopped promoting it. The plan’s website also removed the names of participating scientists.

This shows a joint effort can influence the CCP and their recruitment stations to be more cautious in approaching candidates, and reduce the impact of this plan on local and domestic affairs.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Heng Tao Shen ceased to be an honorary professor at University of Queensland in September 2019.The Conversation

James Jin Kang, Lecturer, Computing and Security, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.