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School posts on Facebook could threaten student privacy

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Nashville, Jul 18 (The Conversation) Like many of us, schools in the United States are active on social media. They use their accounts to share timely information, build community and highlight staff and students. However, our research has shown that schools’ social media activity may harm students’ privacy.

As a researcher who specialises in data science in education, I and my colleagues came to the topic of student privacy unintentionally. We were exploring how schools used social media during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically March and April of 2020.

In the course of this research, we noticed something surprising about how Facebook worked: We could view the posts of schools – including images of teachers and students – even when not logged in to our personal Facebook accounts.

The ability to access pages and pictures even when we were not logged in revealed that not only could schools’ posts be accessed by anyone, but they could also be systematically accessed using data mining methods, or new research methods that involve using computers and statistical techniques to discover patterns in large – often publicly accessible – datasets.

Since practically all US schools report their websites to the National Center for Education Statistics, and many schools link to their Facebook pages from their websites, these posts could be accessed in a comprehensive manner. In other words, not only researchers but also advertisers and hackers could use data mining methods to access all of the posts by any school with a Facebook account. This comprehensive access allowed us to study phenomena like violations of students’ privacy at a massive scale.

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Risks are present The easy access to student photos that we encountered comes despite broader concerns about individuals’ privacy on social media. Parents, for instance, have expressed concerns about teachers posting about their children on social media.

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Fortunately, our search of news coverage and academic publications did not reveal any harms that have come to students because their schools posted about them. However, there are a number of possible risks that identifiable posts of students could pose. For instance, would-be stalkers and bullies could use the postings to identify individual students.

Also, there are newer threats that students may face. For instance, the facial recognition company Clearview collects internet data – and social media data – from across the World Wide Web. Clearview then sells access to this data to law enforcement agencies, who can upload photos of a potential suspect or person of interest to view a list of potential names of the individual depicted in the uploaded photo. Clearview already accesses identifiable photos of minors in the U.S. from public posts on Facebook. It is possible that photos of students from schools’ Facebook pages could be accessed and used by companies such as Clearview.

Even though we are not aware of these things actually happening, that is not reason to not be concerned about it. At a time when our privacy is often threatened in surprising ways, as technology journalist Kara Swisher writes, “only the paranoid survive.” My fellow researchers and I think this cautious view – even a paranoid view – is particularly justified when it comes to students as minors who may not provide their explicit permission to be included within posts.

Millions of student photos available In our study, we used federal data and an analytical tool provided by Facebook to access posts from schools and school districts. We use the term “schools” to refer to both schools and school districts in our study. From this collection of 17.9 million posts by around 16,000 schools from 2005 to 2020, we randomly selected – sampled – 100 and then coded these publicly accessible posts. We determined whether students were named in the post with their first and last name and whether their faces were clearly depicted in a photo. If both of these elements were present, we considered a student to be identified by name and school.

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For example, a student in a Facebook post whose photo includes a name in the caption, such as Jane Doe, would be deemed identified.

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We determined that 9.3 million of the 17.9 million posts we analyzed contained images. Within those 9.3 million posts, we estimated that around 467,000 students were identified. In other words, we found nearly half a million students on schools’ publicly accessible Facebook pages who are pictured and identified by first and last name and the location of their school.

Assessing the risks While many of us already post photos of ourselves, friends and family – and sometimes our children – on social media, the posts of schools are different in one important sense. As individuals, we can control who can see our posts. If we want to limit it to just friends and family, we can change our own privacy settings. But people do not necessarily control how schools share their posts and images, and all of the posts we analyzed were strictly publicly accessible. Anyone in the world can access them.

Even if one considers the potential harm of this situation to be minimal, there are small steps that schools can take that could make a notable difference in whether that potential is present at all: 1. Refrain from posting students’ full names Not posting students’ full names would make it much more difficult for individual students to be targeted and for students’ data to be sold and linked with other data sources by companies.

2. Make school pages private Making school pages private means that data mining approaches similar to our own would be much more difficult – if not impossible – to carry out. This single step would drastically minimise risks to students’ privacy.

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3. Use opt-in media release policies Opt-in media release policies require parents to explicitly agree to have photos of their child shared via communications and media platforms. These may be more informative to parents – especially if they mention that the communications and media platforms include social media – and more protective of students’ privacy than opt-out policies, which require parents to contact their child’s school if they do not want their child’s photo or information to be shared.

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In sum, schools’ Facebook pages are different from our personal social media accounts, and posts on these pages may threaten the privacy of students. But using social media doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition for schools. That is to say, it doesn’t necessarily come down to a choice between using social media without considering privacy threats or not using social media at all. Rather, our research suggests that educators can and should take small steps to protect students’ privacy when posting from school accounts. (The Conversation) PMS PMS

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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