Let’s stop persecuting ‘Auschwitz selfie girl’ for smiling at a camera

This selfie of a girl in front of Auschwitz has prompted unfair social media outrage

This selfie of a girl in front of Auschwitz has prompted unfair social media outrage

I grew up Jewish so I’m naturally very sensitive to the horrors that took place at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. I’m also very critical of Holocaust deniers and those who would minimize what the Nazis did to Jews, gays and other “undesirables.”

But I think we need to give that young girl who took a selfie at the concentration camp a break. Alabama teenager Breanna Mitchell has been vilified in social media for gross insensitivity for doing what many others have done before her.

I’ve been to concentration camps and other infamous places including ground zero in New York, Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and battlefields in the U.S. and other countries where countless people were slaughtered and I’ve seen people taking pictures of themselves in front of these scenes with a big smile on their face. It’s natural. It’s what we’re taught to do when we stand in front of a camera.

And just because someone smiles in front of such a site, doesn’t mean they’re insensitive to what happened there. Breanna tweeted and told a TV interviewer (scroll down to watch) that she does “understand what happened there” and had planned to visit there with her dad, who died before they could make the trip.

Had this been a seasoned politician or journalist, I might criticize them (perhaps gently) for misjudgment. But this is a teenage girl who visited the site because she has a strong interest in the history of World War II and the Holocaust. If anything, she should be congratulated for caring about what happened there.

died

If I saw her partying at the site or trying to diminish the horror and historical importance of what happened there, I would think she was being insensitive, but smiling? Come on, we’re all taught to smile in pictures. I’d like to think I would have the judgement not to smile at such a locale, but I honestly can’t swear that I’ve never posed with a smile for a picture at such an important but horrible place.

It’s hard not to agree with her followup tweet, asking people to “quit tweeting to, quoting, retweeting and favoriting my picture…”

Look, social media is great. It’s our international “water cooler,” where we share our thoughts about just about anything. But sometimes it’s just too easy for people to use social media to express judgements that condemn others before really thinking about how you are affecting that person and his or her reputation.

So, this is a teachable moment for all of us. On one hand it’s a wakeup call to put more thought into those “selfies” and other spontaneous pictures that can so easily go viral. But on the other hand, it’s a lesson for the rest of us as well. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

omg

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iPads have their place, but I can see why sales are down

After the iPad was announced in January 2010, I wrote a blog post titled “iPad is a bit underwhelming,” in which I pointed out that Apple was “trying to create a third category of devices somewhere in between a smartphone and a laptop, but the problem with the iPad is that it doesn’t do anything that you can’t already do with a smartphone and a laptop.

I wasn’t entirely correct. Tablets like the iPad do make it easier to do certain tasks that are hard to do on a small screen with a tiny on-screen keyboard and drawing surface, and awkward to do on a larger laptop that you can’t easily use while standing

The market certainly didn’t validate my comments. For the first few years of its life, iPad sales were spectacular. As of last month, Apple had sold a total of 200 million iPads during a period when PC sales were in a sharp decline.

As per competition, Apple is still the largest single tablet maker, but Android tablets — some of which are much less expensive than iPads — are collectively outselling Apple. According to Gartner, Apple had a 36 percent market share in 2013, down from 53 percent in 2012. Android tablets, meanwhile, claimed a 62 percent market share in 2013, up from 46 percent the year before. Microsoft had only 2.1 percent share last year.

But iPad sales are on the decline. During last week’s earning report, Apple CEO Tim Cook reported that unit sales fell 9 percent from the same period last year — the fourth sales decline in the past five quarters. But Apple’s personal computer sales are going in the other direction. It sold 4.4 million Macs during the quarter, up 18 percent from the same period last year.

iPhones are also flying off the shelves, despite widespread reports that there will be a much-improved version coming out this fall. Apple sold 35.2 million of the little phones last quarter, a 13 percent increase over the same period last year.

As someone who called the iPad “underwhelming,” it would be easy (though not really forgivable) for me to gloat over the decline in iPad sales along with the increase in Mac and iPhone sales, but even a few quarters does not necessarily indicate a permanent trend.

Just as some thought the PC was dying –Apple is one of the few companies not to experience a steady sales decline in its PC, the Mac, over the past few years — I’m not about to declare the death of the tablet. To the contrary, I think tablets are here to stay and will play an increasing role in the technology landscape. One reason for this belief is the recent announcement that IBM and Apple are teaming up to promote iPad sales in large enterprises.

Young people are accustomed to touch-screen interfaces, and as they enter the workforce, more and more of them will want the simplicity of a tablet over a PC for many tasks. Tablets make sense for anyone who needs to consume data while mobile. It’s a lot easier to take a tablet out of your bag or purse than to pull out a laptop if you want to look something up. And depending on the size and the brand, they can be cheaper than PCs, though that’s not necessarily the case with some iPads.

Tablets also have some interesting uses where laptops can’t go. Just about every pilot I know — including all who work for American Airlines — uses a tablet in-flight. In announcing its iPad program last year, American Airlines Vice President David Campbell said that “removing the kit bag (of paper-based reference material) from all of our planes saves a minimum of 400,000 gallons and $1.2 million of fuel annually based on current fuel prices. Additionally, each of the more than 8,000 iPads we have deployed to date replaces more than 3,000 pages of paper previously carried by every active pilot and instructor. Altogether, 24 million pages of paper documents have been eliminated.”

Personally, I own an iPad mini and two Android tablets, but hardly ever use them, except for reading. I typically look at my smartphone several times an hour and use my PC and Macs throughout most days.

A lot of people have said that a PC is better for creating content while a tablet is great for consuming it. But I’m more likely to use my MacBook Air to watch video because I can easily place it on a table, airline tray or a pillow in bed without having to find a way to prop up the screen, And even though a phone isn’t the best device for reading books or watching video, it’s the one device I have with me all the time, so I often find myself reading or viewing on my phone simply because it’s handy.

I don’t know what future PC and tablet sales will be, but I do see a role for both. And apparently so does Apple which, last quarter, took in almost as much revenue for its Macs than it did for its iPads.

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Privacy and security tips for newly-minted college students

Univerity of Califirona Berkeley (Flickr Creative Commons -- photographer unknown)

University of California Berkeley (Flickr Creative Commons)

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

by Larry Magid

Congratulations. After a long and sometimes stressful childhood you (or your teen) are ready for college. It’s a big step that involves a great deal of freedom and independence and an exciting time.

When I started college, the big “risks” were gaining weight (the “freshman 15″) and of course drugs and alcohol and of course accidents. Those are still with us, but so are hackers, online privacy risks and the possibility of getting into trouble because of something posted about you on social media.

Don’t drink and post

Depending on where it's taken, a picture like this could get a student into trouble (Flicr Creative Commons Gregg O'Connel)

Depending on where it’s taken, a picture like this could get a student into trouble (Flickr Creative Commons Gregg O’Connell)

There are verified cases of students being disciplined and even expelled because of what’s posted about them online. For example, it’s hardly shocking to hear about students under 21 enjoying a forbidden adult beverage in their dorm room, but when those pictures wind up on social media, school officials sometimes feel as if they have no choice but to take disciplinary action. Even if (as many do) you think it’s OK for an 18-year-old to drink in a dorm room, don’t force officials to react by doing so in public. The same, of course, goes for drugs or anything else that violates the law or school policy.

Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and one-time head of MySpace security who now runs SSP Blue, a safety, security and privacy consulting firm for online businesses, suggests that students “treat your social media presence like its your resume for future employers while you still have all the fun college is meant to deliver.”

Privacy

Many college students have roommates or at least suite mates and while you don’t want to hide things from your roomies, you do want to make sure that they aren’t riffling through your files. Of course, common courtesy should be sufficient to avoid that, but putting a password on your computer, tablet and phone can help keep a curious roommate or visitor from acting on an impulse. As always, don’t share those passwords with anyone, including roommates. Also, be aware of what you’re posting and what’s on your laptop’s screen when in the library or other public spaces,

Security

Cybersecurity is important for us all, but especially when you’re on a public or semi-public network like campus networks. Again, use strong passwords but also make sure that you’re using appropriate firewall and security software. Check with your school IT department as to what it recommends and whether it offers free software and/or security assistance. This may have been fixed since then, but when my son was living in a dorm at UCLA, he was able to see some of the files of his fellow residents because they were sharing a network and not properly securing their computers.

Physical security

Be very careful to protect your equipment from theft and loss. Kensington makes a security cable that enables you to lock (most) laptops to a desk or table. Make sure that any tablets and phones have the “find my phone” feature turned on. Both Apple and Android equip their phones and tablets with software that enables you to locate the device remotely and cause it to ring or wipe the data, but for the service to work, the device has to be turned on and connected to the Internet via WiFi or a cellular network. SSP Blue’s Nigam suggests that students “scratch your name, email and phone on all your devices in places where the ‘thief’ may not look.” He said that it’s very common for devices to get stolen and then recovered and this helps campus and regular police know it really belongs to you, especially if a student decides to remote wipe a stolen device.

Campus data breaches

There is also the risk that the school’s network and servers will suffer a data breach that can affect your personal information. There is little you can do to protect yourself from an attack on a cloud-system you don’t control, but if it happens, be sure to carefully monitor your bank and credit card accounts, your social media accounts and your campus accounts. You should change all of your passwords and avoid using the same password for multiple sites. Here’s advice on how to create and manage strong, unique passwords that are easy for you to remember and hard for others to guess.

For additional advice, check out ConnectSafely’s Parents Guides (that apply to students, too) on cybersecurity, mobile phones, Instagram, Snapchat and cyberbullying.

Also see ConnectSafely’s

Tips for Strong, Secure Passwords

 

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EFF launches free Privacy Badger for Firefox and Chrome to block hidden trackers

Read the full post at Forbes.com

 

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Google to stop labeling apps with in-app purchases as ‘free’

Read the full post at Forbes.com

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Tech companies race for advantage in ‘smart’ home market

This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

Samsung, according to TechCrunch, is in talks to buy home automation company SmartThings for $200 million. As of my deadline, the deal hadn’t been confirmed, but if it goes through, it would put the giant Korean electronics company in direct competition with Apple and Google.

But even if this deal doesn’t pan out, you can be sure that Samsung — along with just about every other consumer electronics company — will be entering this market.

Although technically the term “home automation” could apply to any labor-saving device, including dishwashers and washing machines, in today’s world it means remote control and monitoring of home appliances, lights, doors, security and entertainment systems.

For example, SmartThings sells a $99 hub that connects devices to the Internet so that they can be controlled from your smartphone via a cloud-based service. They also sell a $49 Multi Sensor that can detect the temperature and when “things” (such as doors, drawers or even objects) are opened, closed, moved or change angles. You could place the sensor near your front door to know if it’s been opened, which not only helps detect an intruder, but also can let a working parent know that their kid is home from school. The software can even be used to send you an alert if the child hasn’t come home by a certain time. You could also use it to monitor if windows have been opened or if someone left the garage door open.

Because these devices are wireless, they’re relatively easy to install and, unlike home monitoring services, there are no monthly fees to pay.

The company’s website has an amusing video showing how a customer uses his voice to turn on the coffee pot. You can also program the doors to lock as soon as you leave the house or turn on the air conditioner from work so the house is cool when you get home.

There is almost no end to what you can automate using technologies not just from SmartThings, but also from Belkin, Wink (sold at Home Depot) and other companies. Nest, which was purchased by Google this year for $3.2 billion, currently, makes a “smart” thermostat and smoke and carbon dioxide detector that you can control with your voice or your smartphone. The company hasn’t announced other products but, based on Nest CEO Tony Fadell’s presentation at the Re/code conference last month, it’s pretty clear that they have ambitious plans.

Privacy advocates have expressed concern about Google having access to information collected by Nest devices in people’s homes. But in a blog posted at the time of the acquisition, Nest implied that it would never share data with the rest of Google. “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services,” the blog said. “We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”

Still, whether the technology is from Google or any other company, connecting our homes to the so-called “Internet of things” does raise some interesting privacy and security issues.

Apple, too, is jumping into home automation. Its iPhone, iPad and even its iPod touch media player have long been used as controllers for other companies’ home automation products. Just about every company in this space has an iOS app along with an Android app to control its products. But at its Worldwide Developers Conference conference last month, Apple announced Home Kit, which is a set of tools to help developers create home automation apps for Apple devices. The technology allows for developers to create apps that share customer data with apps from other developers, assuming it’s OK with the customer.

That means any Home Kit app can interact with any other compatible Home Kit device in your home. So your coffee pot and your dishwasher could carry on a conversation, even if they are controlled by devices from different companies. That begs the question of what they would talk about (Maybe the coffee maker would tell the dishwasher that it’s time to wash your coffee cup).

While smartphone integration is relatively new to the home automation landscape, there is nothing new about devices that can be remotely controlled from within or even from outside the house. Twenty years ago, I was using X10 devices to control lamps, fans and other devices throughout my home. It wasn’t a wireless technology exactly, but sent data through the house’s electrical wires to any plugged-in device, so there was no need to string additional wires

I am excited about the developments in home automation and look forward to installing some relatively simple but useful things, like a garage door monitor and electronic house locks that let you lock and unlock the door from a phone or program a code to let workers into the house during a specific period of time.

But there are still some tasks that will require old-fashioned manual labor for the foreseeable future. We have machines to wash and dry our dishes and clothes but, until robots get a lot better, it still takes a human to clear the table, put away the dishes and fold clean laundry.

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Apple’s iPhone 6 Already Has Tough Competition from LG’s G3

Read the full post at Forbes.com

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‘Net neutrality’ comment deadline extended till Friday June 18th

In May, the Federal Communications Commission issued a proposed new rule on network neutrality that critics say would open the door to fast and slow lanes on the Internet. The reason I’m writing about it now is because Friday is the extended deadline for posting comments on the proposal. You can comment on other people’s comments until mid-September.

Network neutrality, or what some call “an open Internet,” would guarantee that Internet service providers not discriminate between content providers based on business factors. Almost all agree it wouldn’t allow an Internet service provider like AT&T to block an Internet phone service like Vonage just because it competes with AT&T’s phone services. Nor would it allow Comcast to block a video streaming service like Netflix to protect its TV business.

But there are disagreements as to how one defines an “open” Internet. The FCC’s proposal would, for example, allow for an Internet service provider to enter into an agreement to provide faster content delivery to companies willing to pay for it. Companies like Netflix or Google could pay Internet service providers to assure a faster connection at home, which might benefit Netflix and its customers, but discriminate against competing video services that can’t afford or don’t want to enter into such an arrangement.

Just to be clear, network neutrality has nothing to do with the speed of your Internet service. Tiered pricing for different levels of service has long been the norm. For example, Comcast currently offers up to 25 megabit per second Internet access for $29.99 a month or 50 Mbps service for $44.99 a month. AT&T has a 6 Mbps plan for $14.95 a month and an 18 Mbps plan for $19.95 a month. But in a world of network neutrality, once you pay for that level of service, you are entitled to enjoy any legal content you want without the service provider lowering or boosting the speed.

The same is true at the other end. The types of servers, routers and hosting services that content companies use influences the speed of delivery. A website operator like me who pays a few dollars a month for a shared hosting service, for example, isn’t as likely to get the same speed or reliability as a company like Yahoo that spends an enormous amount of money for its hosting sites that serve millions of people a day.

But in a truly neutral world, a content provider wouldn’t be able to pay a service provider for faster or better access into the home of a mutual customer. So, Netflix might have the world’s fastest servers and you might have the fattest pipe and fastest Internet service you can buy, but your ISP couldn’t charge Netflix to deliver that content into your house any faster than it delivers content from other providers.

There are lots of arguments in favor of network neutrality, including the basic notion that ISPs make their money by selling you bandwidth and that they shouldn’t be allowed to double-dip by charging the content providers for performance that customers are already paying for. Mainly, network neutrality proponents argue that we need regulations to assure that the Internet remains a level playing field with equal access for everyone, from a one-person company to a multinational corporation.

On the other side, Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, argues that “there is a very real threat of the slippery slope of regulation, leading to greater controls on the Internet. If the FCC is able to control one part of the Internet, why not control other parts?” He also thinks there are “better alternatives, including community policing,” such as the Net Neutrality Squad that monitors accusations of discrimination on the Internet and shines light on them. And Thierer worries about the FCC “freezing networks in stone” as it did with regulated telephone companies, which he says resulted in higher costs and lower quality services.

Whatever side you’re on, this is a heated and important debate because it will affect the future of what has become the world’s most important communications and information network. Big companies and big government are already weighing in and now it’s time for the public to have its say.

If you have concerns about network neutrality, today’s the day to share your thoughts with the FCC at www.fcc.gov/comments or you can make your comment via email at openinternet@fcc.gov.

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Tips for reducing risk when using mobile devices

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Click here for A Parents Guide to Mobile Phones

This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

I recently helped write a free online booklet called “A Parents’ Guide to Mobile Phones,” available at connectsafely.org/mobile, but much of the advice applies to all cellphone users. Were it not for some parenting tips such as the section on buying a child’s first phone, it could just as easily have been titled “A mobile users’ guide to reducing risk.”

Notice I said “reducing risk,” not eliminating it. When it comes to safety, security and privacy, the best we can do is to take reasonable precautions to reduce the chances of something bad happening. Just as with cooking, driving or getting out of bed, there is no way to completely eliminate risk. And, when talking about risk, it’s important to distinguish between risk and harm. I know this seems obvious, but when it comes to technology dangers, some people forget that just because something can happen, doesn’t mean it likely will.

There was a time when the cellphone carriers had complete control over what people did with their phones. I’d hate to go back to that time, but along with the freedom that allows developers to create apps comes the increased risk of problems associated with those apps. Cellular carriers are still a big part of the mobile phone ecosystem, but so are handset or operating system companies like Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft, along with hundreds of thousands of app developers. But, as we point out in our mobile guide “There are two other very important players in this ecosystem where families are concerned: you and your children. More than ever, it’s up to the user to determine what to do with a smartphone.”

Some of the risks associated with mobile phones are similar to the Web or any other connected technology. We need to be careful about what information we share, how we treat people via text messaging, email and social networks, and to guard against allowing phone use to interfere with other activities, including school, work, sleep or in-person time with friends and family. And, as with all communication devices, try to avoid any online scams.

But mobile phones have other risks, such as location awareness and the fact that they are more easily lost, stolen or broken than devices that are tethered to a wall plug.

All mobile phones know your location, which was originally mandated for use by 911 operators to locate a caller in an emergency. But today, location services are used by all sorts of apps ranging from navigation programs like Google Maps to friend-finder services to games. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with a flashlight app maker that allegedly “failed to disclose that the app transmitted users’ precise location and unique device identifier to third parties, including advertising networks.”

When downloading any app, look for the section on permissions to find out what information it has access to. Facebook Messenger, for example, “needs access” to identify contacts, calendar, location, Wi-Fi information and a lot more. These permissions actually make sense, but it’s hard to understand why a flashlight app would need to know your location. It would be unrealistic to expect people to spend a lot of time vetting every app they download, but it’s a good idea to at least read the description, the list of permissions it needs and maybe a few of the reviews in the app store before you download an app that you’re not sure about.

Be aware that apps can cost you money — sometimes for the app itself and sometimes for “in-app purchases.” Parents need to establish rules

It’s also important to lock your phone. All smartphones have some type of locking system, such as a PIN number, a password, a gesture or a fingerprint reader. Locking a phone protects your privacy and keeps others from making calls, sending texts or using apps in your name. I have heard cases of people getting in trouble or being embarrassed because of things other people did with their phone.

A good case can help prevent breakage but a phone-finder app can help you locate it if it’s lost or stolen. iPhone users should be sure to enable the Find My iPhone feature and Android users should be aware of the Android Device Manager. Both of these built-in apps allow you to locate the phone, cause it to ring at the loudest volume even if the ringer is turned off and remotely lock or erase a phone’s content from any Web-enabled device. It’s been awhile since I’ve lost a phone, but I misplace mine frequently and often use these services to locate my phone when it’s between the couch cushions or under a stack of paper in my office. The feature only works if the phone is turned on with a working battery and in range of a signal. If the phone is off, the ringer will sound or the phone can be locked or erased as soon as it’s powered up, which won’t help if it’s missing, but will if someone else finds it and turns it on.

These features can also be used to locate a person if you know their password. The iPhone has aFind My Friends app that you can use to let someone track you and there are other available tracking apps including Glympse for iPhone and Android and Find My Friends for Android.

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LG’s new tracking watch for young children

LG+KizON+0220140709095559726There are lots of apps that can allow a parent to track their child’s phone. Assuming the phone and kid are together and the phone is turned on and in range, you can also use those apps to track your kid.

But now there’s a wearable device from LG just for that purpose. The KizON wristband, which was just released in South Korea and will be available in the U.S. and Europe later this year, comes in blue, pink and green and enables parents to track their kids from a smartphone or tablet. It’s also a phone without a dial, that the parents can use to call the kid or the kid can use to call a parent by pressing a button.

“Children as well as the elderly are ideal customers for wearable technologies,” said Dr. Jong-seok Park, president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company. He added that “Wearables allow us to stay connected without the worry of losing a device or the inconvenience of having to carry a large item in a pocket.”

The device’s battery is rated for 36 hours and parents will get an alert on their phone if the battery falls below 25%.

 

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