Online harassment is a problem we must all confront

Last week was Digital Citizenship Week, which was mostly about the online rights and responsibilities of teens and children. But after reviewing the results of a recent Pew Research survey on adult harassment, I’m starting to think that we need a digital citizenship campaign for adults too.

The Pew survey found that 40 percent of adult Internet users said they had been harassed online, and nearly three-quarters — 73 percent — said they had seen someone being harassed. Young adults have it worse: Nearly two-thirds — 65 percent — of Internet users age 18 to 29 have been the target of at least one type of harassment.

And it’s not just online. The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 survey found that 27 percent of employees have experienced abusive behavior at work while 7 percent are currently being bullied.

I bring up the comparison between adult and teens to illustrate that we as adults need to think about our own behavior before chastising teens for theirs. While adults should help young people learn good “netiquette,” it’s also our responsibility to be role models in that regard whether we’re parents, adult siblings of teens or just folks that teens encounter online.

The study’s open-ended comments reflected some of the course comments that I’ve observed online, such as one person who said, “Through social media, and especially when commenting on controversial issues, often my difference of opinion from others would result in those who do not agree insulting and berating instead of arguing their point respectfully.”

And lest you think that either side of the political divide has a monopoly on online rudeness, consider these two comments: “Every time I say something in favor of the President I get called all kinds of names” while another reported name-calling “because I don’t support Obama policies and occasionally get accused of being racist.”

The study also found that “those who live out more of their lives online–whether for work, pleasure, or both–are more likely to experience harassment,” which didn’t surprise me considering how much I’ve experienced as a writer and broadcaster whose work shows up online.

I write about tech, not politics, but that doesn’t stop the insults from flowing. I’ve been accused of being both a shill for Microsoft and Macintosh “fanboy.” Some think I’m biased toward Android devices while others have accused me of being on Apple’s payroll. As any tech journalist will tell you, emotions run high when it comes to our favorite technology products, but what should be a fun and spirited debate over the latest and greatest gadgets often turns into a barrage of name-calling.

My experience is nothing compared to what happened to Zelda Williams and others cited by Pew as examples of how cruel some people can be online. Williams, the daughter of the late Robin Williams, stopped using Twitter and other social media after experiencing vicious comments in the wake of her father’s suicide.

She later returned to social media, starting with the tweet, “I just want to say thank you for all the stories and letters I’ve been receiving, especially from those who’ve also lost loved ones,” demonstrating the other side of online emotions. Yes, the same technology that can facilitate cruelty can also be used to express support and empathy.

The study found that young women “experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels,” including stalking and sexual harassment while not escaping the “heightened rates of physical threats and sustained harassment common to their male peers and young people in general.”

Soraya Chemaly, a social activist who (in her words) frequently writes about “gender absurdities in media, politics, religion and pop culture,” wrote a Time opinion piece arguing that “cyber-misogyny has steadily increased during the past year.”

She pointed to several examples, including the case of Amanda Hess, a journalist who had to suspend her Twitter account after countless cases of harassment along with death threats from someone with the username “headlessfemalepig.”

Chemaly’s observation about a steady increase may be correct, but these types of attacks are certainly not new. Monica Lewinsky, who became famous as a result of a sexual relationship with then President Bill Clinton, experienced it way back in 1998, years before Facebook, Twitter or even MySpace or for that matter Google.

“Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one. I was Patient Zero. The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet,” she told an audience at a Forbes conference last week.”

In the sixteen years since Lewinsky first experienced online harassment, technology has come a very long way. Now it’s time for the rest of us to evolve, starting with online adults.

The numbers

  • 27% Internet users who say they have been called offensive names22% Internet users who have had someone try to purposefully embarrass them
  • 8% Internet users who have been physically threatened
  • 8% Internet users who have been stalked.
  • 25% Women aged 18 to 24 who have been sexually harassed online.
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Forty percent of adults have experienced online harassment

Survey report

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Apple VP tells CNET that a touch-screen Mac is unlikely


Apple Senior VP Craig Federighi

When I first started playing around with Windows 8 laptops I wondered if Apple would ever follow suit with touch-screen Macs. But it turns out that the company has studied that question and has decided – at least for now — to stick with trackpads and keyboard for input.

Craig Federighi, Apple senior vice president of software engineering told CNET News that “We don’t think it’s the right interface, honestly,” and that”Mac is sort of a sit-down experience.

You can read the full CNET story here.



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Digital Trust Foundation seeking proposals regarding online privacy, safety and security

igital Trust Foundation seeking proposals on online privacy, safety and security

igital Trust Foundation seeking proposals on online privacy, safety and security

A new foundation, born out of a lawsuit regarding Facebook’s Beacon project, is giving away more than $6 million “to fund projects and initiatives that promote the cause of online privacy, safety, and security.”

It seems like an eternity ago, but in 2007, Facebook launched the Beacon advertising program that transferred data from external websites over to Facebook so that users could share their purchases and other activities via the social network. Beacon didn’t go well and the immediate reaction from some privacy advocates and Facebook users was negative enough to prompt CEO Mark Zuckerberg to apologize a month later for “mistakes building this feature.” It also prompted a class action suit against Facebook, which resulted in a $9.5 million settlement. The Foundation received approximately $6.7 million after attorney’s fees, plaintiff payments, and other expenses.

I am one of the three court-appointed members of the Digital Trust Foundation’s(DTF) board of directors, along with Berkeley Law School faculty member and privacy expert Chris Hoofnagle and Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan. The Foundation operates independently of Facebook. (Disclosure: I am co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook, but does not and will not receive any support from the Foundation. Foundation board members are not paid for service.)

The Foundation has identified five program areas and is now seeking proposals for the two of those areas: privacy education for youth and general funding for promotion of online privacy, safety and security. In early 2015, we will invite proposals in the areas of understanding socioeconomic status and privacy, assessing digital abuse, and innovation in privacy enhancing technologies.

Details and requests for proposals are available at the Foundation website.

General Funding for Promotion of Online Privacy, Safety and Security

The Foundation is investing $2.2 million in programs that “support effective existing programs related to online privacy, safety, and/or security,” and to “build capacity of and provide stability for online privacy, safety, and/or security.” Letters of interest for this area are due on October 31, 2014, with final proposals due on December 5, 2014.

Per the guidelines in the settlement, this could include any projects “designed to educate users, regulators, and enterprises regarding critical issues relating to protection of identity and personal information online through user control, and to protect users from online threats.” That’s pretty broad language so, in addition to privacy threats, we’re also entertaining proposals regarding security and safety.

Privacy Education for Youth

The Foundation is investing $1 million in privacy education for youth. Proposals are due on November 21, 2014. As we state in the RFP for this program area, the goals of this program are to “increase the privacy resilience of children and teens in the face of complex data sharing environments and to help children and teens develop skills and resources to protect them in the digital environment throughout life.”

The Foundation will fund three strategies:

• Implementation & Assessment of Online Privacy Education Programs
• Online Privacy Campaigns for Youth
• Online Privacy Messaging Best Practices White Paper

We are particularly interested in education programs and campaigns that enhance digital literacy among youth so that they have the “skills needed to successfully and safely navigate technology and the Internet” along with the ability to interpret information they see and “to make decisions about how and when to share information online.”

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Windows 10 a good move for Microsoft

Hats off to Microsoft for its “Back to the Future” decision to release a new version of Windows that’s likely to be familiar to most users.

Windows 10 is basically damage control for Microsoft. A couple of years ago, after years of research and development, the company released a radically different version of the world’s most popular computer operating system.

Windows 8, which followed on the heels of the very successful Windows 7, was billed as a “reimagined operating system, from the chipset to the user experience,” that “introduces a totally new interface that works smoothly for both touch and mouse and keyboard.” It almost seems as if they tested Windows 8 on complete computer novices while ignoring the hundreds of million people who already know how to use a computer. And, while Microsoft was certainly correct about the “totally new interface,” it didn’t work all that “smoothly” for mouse and keyboard users.

I use Windows 8.1 on a couple of machines and, while I like it on tablets, I’m not thrilled with the desktop experience though by installing a third-party Start menu and using some other tricks, I’ve been able to make my Windows 8 desktop PC behave more like Windows 7. However, users shouldn’t have to rely on third parties or sophisticated hacks to have an experience that is familiar to them. And even with these hacks, Microsoft’s radically new (and I would argue inefficient) so-called “modern” interface still pops up unexpectedly at times, which can be a major annoyance.

Microsoft heard, but at first misunderstood the outcry over Windows 8 and tried to sooth users by issuing Windows 8.1, which brought back the “Start” menu. But instead of giving people a menu that looks familiar, all it did was bring up that new modern interface, which makes matters even worse.

As far as I can tell, Windows 10 appears to address at least some of the user-interface problems though I’ll withhold judgment until I can actually test the final version of the operating system — likely sometime next year.

Windows 8 is hardly the only popular product to suffer from an unwelcome interface change. Last year Google made changes to Gmail and Maps that continue to annoy me. They took away the “search nearby” box in Maps that I used to use to find businesses near addresses such as a hotel near a convention center. You can still do that in Maps, but it’s harder now.

Google also changed the user interface on Gmail, making the common task of adding a CC or a BCC (blind copy) to a message a lot less obvious. And there was the famous Apple iOS 7 release that angered a lot of iPhone and iPad users and caused Mashable to write “Navigating iOS 7 has been far less intuitive than previous iterations.”

 I’m still struggling with the major user interface change that Microsoft made in 2007 when it introduced a new version of Microsoft Office which, according to a Microsoft blog post, “replaced the traditional menus and toolbars with this new Ribbon so that you can find and use the features you need — and use — a lot easier.” They claimed to have “made it so that it’s intuitive for you and, perhaps most importantly, easy to get accustomed to,” but I’m still not accustomed to having to hunt around to find an icon on a ribbon versus accessing a feature from a clearly marked and well-organized set of menus. To deal with it, I wound up purchasing a third party add-in called “ClassicMenu” that gives me the option to using the old menus.

Ironically, this is only an issue on the Windows version of Word. Apple insists that Mac apps have traditional menus so even though Microsoft offers the Ribbon on Mac Office; it didn’t take away the menus.

And therein lies the solution to interface changes. It’s fine to add features and new interface options, but companies should give users a choice as to whether to use a new way of interacting with a product or stick with what’s tried and true.

While Apple has made its share of user interface blunders, it got it right in 2011 when it introduced Launchpad as part of its Mac OS Lion release. The new interface replaces the Mac desktop with an iOS-like full screen array of icons that let you launch apps with a single click. But Launchpad is optional and it doesn’t launch by default. Mac users who want it are welcome to use it while the rest of us continue business as usual, knowing that it’s there if we want it.

So, software developers, please respect your user base when revising your products. I understand your need to come out with new products (and hence new revenue) and convince your user base to upgrade to something newer and better, but the way to do that is to make real improvements that enhance the user experience without having to force people to change the way they with your products.


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Why cybersecurity is patriotic and humanistic

uncle sam

I’d like to add National Cyber Security Awareness Month to the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day as yet another patriotic holiday. And while we’re at it, let’s make it a global celebration. That’s because protecting your own devices and accounts is more than patriotic, it’s downright humanistic, because you’re benefiting your fellow “netizens” around the globe.

National Cyber Security Awareness Month (#NCSAM) is being celebrated throughout October as part of the Stay Safe Online project that’s supported by hundreds of companies, organizations and government agencies.

Putting others at risk

The fact is that we live in an interconnected cyber eco-system where each connected device and account has an impact on others. I’m not saying that you’ll singlehandedly bring down the world’s financial systems if your social media account is compromised, but you might put other users at risk — especially your friends who could be pestered by spam posts from criminals claiming to be you. And it could be worse than just annoying if anyone clicks on a malicious link appearing to come from you or winds up sending “you” money, which will instead go to a criminal. The same is true if your computer or email system gets infected and winds up causing friends to get spam email.

And if you don’t lock your cell phone, there’s a risk that someone could use it to harass your contacts or even strangers as if the messages are coming from you. Yet another reason you should protect others by protecting yourself.

Don’t become a zombie

Another altruistic reason to protect your devices is to make sure your computer doesn’t become a zombie on some criminal’s botnet. Bad guys have figured out ways to infect other people’s machines and turn them into unwitting accomplices in their efforts to infect even more machines, send out spam or break into networks and PCs. It’s actually a pretty simple concept. They put malicious software on your PC which turns your machine into an attacker that goes after other systems while also putting you at risk, perhaps by capturing your usernames and passwords and other data. I’m not being paranoid. This really happens, as this Microsoft web page explains.

Teach your children well

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 10.29.09 PM

It’s also patriotic to pass on good values to our kids, so please make sure you help them understand their responsibilities when it comes to cybersecurity. Last year non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-direct0r) published A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity that outlines what parents can do to help their kids protect themselves.

In addition to providing tips and advice, the guide answers parents’ top five questions about cybersecurity:

  1. What are the biggest security threats to kids?
  2. How do I talk with my child about security?
  3. How do we protect our family’s computers?
  4. How do we protect our mobile devices?
  5. Why do we always hear “Never share your passwords”?

And speaking of passwords…

Check out ConnectSafely’s tips and slideshow on how to create, use and manage  a secure and unique passwords.

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