Facebook vows to fix a flaw in data privacy

When you sign up for Facebook, you enter into a bargain. You share personal information with the site, and Facebook agrees to obey your wishes when it comes to who can see what you post. At the same time, you agree that Facebook can use that data to decide what ads to show you, The New York Times reports. It is a complicated deal that many people enter into without perhaps fully understanding what will happen to their information. It also involves some trust — which is why any hint that Facebook may not be holding up its end of the bargain is sure to kick up plenty of controversy. The latest challenge to that trust came on Monday, when Facebook acknowledged that some applications on its site, including the popular game FarmVille, had improperly shared identifying information about users, and in some cases their friends, with advertisers and Web tracking companies. The company said it was talking to application developers about how they handled personal information, and was looking at ways to prevent this from happening again.

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Samsung Galaxy Tablet pricing revealed

Pricing and launch details for at least one of the carrier partners for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tablet have been revealed, Mashable reports. The device will sell for $599.99 on Verizon Wireless beginning November 11. According to the company, data plans for the device start at $20 per month, which comes with 1 GB of data. The Android-powered tablet is expected to launch on all four major U.S. carriers in time for the holidays, though pricing and plans have yet to be revealed on AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint. The Galaxy Tablet arrives about two weeks after the iPad debuts on Verizon. The Apple device starts at $630 and also features a $20 per month, 1GB data plan, though that is being sold as Wi-Fi + MiFi hotspot bundle. If you’re looking at getting a tablet this holiday season, which option now looks most attractive? Let us know in the comments.

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Online learning official: Video lectures help students ‘review, review, review’

Moloney said more UMass Lowell classrooms will have lecture capture systems soon.

Moloney said more UMass Lowell classrooms will have lecture capture systems soon.

Jacqueline Moloney wants college students to do less transcribing and more listening.

Moloney, executive vice chancellor and head of online learning at the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus, has overseen an effort to make lecture capture technology a standard feature in the university’s classrooms, along with a host of other technologies that can be tailored to fit instructors’ preferences.

Along with a suite of other technologies—digital document cameras and interactive LCD touch screens among them—about one-third of UMass Lowell’s classrooms have been equipped with lecture capture programs that, Moloney said, let students “review, review, review” by rewinding the video lectures and hashing over complex concepts.

Furiously jotting down every key point that instructors make, she said, isn’t for everyone.

“I personally love to take notes,” said Moloney, who has headed UMass Lowell’s online learning program since it launched in 1996. “But with lecture capture, we find that students are able to focus and listen to what faculty members are explaining, versus having to scribble down every single word.”

She added: “You lose a lot of what the faculty is trying to teach you when you focus more on transcribing. With , students don’t feel nearly the pressure to take down every word.”

(Next page: How UMass Lowell is using video lectures—and what students say about this)

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Facebook says apps transmitted user information

The latest Facebook privacy fiasco shows that the world’s largest online social hub is having a hard time putting this thorny issue behind it even as it continues to attract users and become indispensible to many of them, the Associated Press reports. The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 18 that several popular Facebook applications have been transmitting users’ personal identifying information to dozens of advertising and internet tracking companies. Facebook said it is working to fix the problem, and was quick to point out that the leaks were not intentional, but a consequence of basic web mechanisms. “In most cases, developers did not intend to pass this information, but did so because of the technical details of how browsers work,” said Mike Vernal, a Facebook engineer, in a blog post on Oct. 18. In a statement, Facebook said there is “no evidence that any personal information was misused or even collected as a result of this issue.” Even so, some privacy advocates said it’s problematic that the information was leaked at all, regardless of what happened to it. Facebook needs its users to trust it with their data because if they don’t, they won’t use the site to share as much as they do now…

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Vt. judge weighs cell phone tracking suit by ACLU

A Vermont judge heard arguments but didn’t rule Oct. 18 on a lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to reveal whether and how its criminal investigators use cell phone tracking technology to keep tabs on people and their whereabouts, reports the Associated Press. The ACLU of Vermont sued the state in March after filing public records requests that sought information on the state Attorney General’s use of data from cell phone service providers to pinpoint the location of people. The state contends that the information is exempt from public records statutes because it involves criminal investigations, which were specifically exempted from disclosure when the Legislature adopted the Access to Public Records Act. After the state denied the ACLU’s records requests, the ACLU filed a civil suit asking a judge to compel the release of information about instances in the previous two years in which the Attorney General’s office had sought mobile telephone location information from any provider…

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University dean accidentally hits the ‘reply all’ button

Justice apologized for sending a private eMail to the entire graduate student body.

Justice apologized for sending a private eMail to the entire graduate student body.

Higher-education faculty and administrators got another lesson in the pitfalls of electronic communication and viral eMail messages last week when a University of Missouri dean mistakenly sent a message that referred to a student as suffering from “mental distress” to the campus’s 6,000 graduate students.

Graduate School Dean George Justice responded to an eMail message Oct. 13 about a Missouri student who had decided to withdraw from a graduate program, and instead of sending the message only to Chancellor Brady Deaton, Justice used the “reply all” function and sent it to every Missouri graduate student.

The student, who had withdrawn from the university, originally addressed her message to the graduate student body. No students received her message, however, because she wasn’t authorized to send a message to the entire list, Justice said in a follow-up explanation for the accidental “reply all.”

The eMail included the former student’s name and eMail address.

“The dean made an inadvertent mistake when sending an eMail that included personal information about a student; it was intended to be a private communication expressing concern for a student,” the university said in a statement last week. “Unfortunately, this error in electronic communication should serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to exercise extreme care in the use of electronic communication and that the message can become public.”

The university’s statement said Justice’s mistaken message would prompt a “review of our training for handling sensitive information” to make sure a similar slipup doesn’t happen again.

Doug Green, a longtime educator who has taught courses at Binghamton University and the State University of New York at Cortland, said there’s a simple strategy for avoiding embarrassment in eMail messages: “Don’t put anything in an eMail that you wouldn’t be willing to post on the wall.”

Stepping away from the keyboard until you’ve cooled off during a heated exchange, Green said, is also a safeguard against writing eMail messages that often require follow-up apologies.

Justice’s eMail mix-up is at least the third reported incident of electronic communication gone awry among college faculty and decision makers.

Scott Galloway, clinical professor of marketing at NYU’s business school, responded to an eMail message sent Feb. 9 by a student complaining that Galloway had dismissed him when he came to class an hour late.

Galloway, founder of personalized gift web site RedEnvelope.com, responded with a 424-word message reminding the student that “there is a baseline level of decorum … that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders” and urging the student to “get your [expletive] together.”

“For the record,” Galloway continued in his eMail, “we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks, or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin.”

Few, if any, colleges and universities have spelled out eMail and text-messaging policies for faculty and staff, because there is an unspoken etiquette to which professors are expected to adhere, educators say.

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Online-instruction leader to make key changes

Critics charge that for-profit schools are accepting unqualified students.

Critics charge that for-profit schools are accepting unqualified students.

In a move that might trickle down to the rest of the for-profit education market, the University of Phoenix—the nation’s largest provider of online college classes—says it will offer new students a free, three-week trial program to see if they are ready for its curricula and for online instruction in an effort to weed out those at risk of leaving school before earning a degree.

The announcement comes as the federal government ramps up its regulation of for-profit colleges and universities, an industry that critics say preys on many students and leaves them with hefty debt loads and meager job prospects.

But Apollo Group Inc., the company that runs the University of Phoenix, says this change—and others the company will make as it seeks to comply with new federal guidelines—likely will result in fewer opportunities for lower-income students.

The university also says it will take a big hit to enrollment—and its bottom line—as it tightens its admission practices.

The number of lower-income students enrolled at for-profit colleges has surged in the past few years. Big advertising budgets drew those trying to bolster their resumes as a hedge against high unemployment. But critics claim the schools are not helping students find better jobs, and they say enrollment counselors sign up many who are unprepared for higher education and for online instruction. When these students drop out, they are still stuck paying back their student loans.

Defaults on student loans have been rising, sticking taxpayers with the bills. So the government has proposed regulations that could limit for-profit schools’ access to federal financial aid if their graduates’ debt levels are too high or if too few students repay loans.

Besides offering new students a free trial program to see if they are ready for its University of Phoenix curricula, Apollo Group says it no longer will pay its counselors bonuses based on how many students they enroll.

“Now, they have to slow down enrollment and be less active in targeting these students. They have to go back to the more traditional students who are working adults,” said Matt Snowling, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

The Phoenix-based company also is monitoring 30,000 conversations every day between its employees and prospective students after a government report showed some for-profit colleges engaged in allegedly deceptive recruiting practices.

It is trying to attract more employer-sponsored students in its classrooms and to its online college classes—and it likely will end up with a wealthier student body.

“There’s going to be fewer associate students. Generally, associate students tend to be a lower-income demographic,” said BMO Capital Markets analyst Jeff Silber.

But the tighter admissions standards come at a cost. Apollo said it expects the number of new students enrolling in its programs to drop 40 percent in the next quarter, and the company withdrew its profit outlook for next year.

The news sent chills throughout the industry as investors worried that other for-profit schools would issue similar forecasts.

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Facebook works to remove anti-gay hate speech

Facebook is working with a gay-advocacy group to reduce the amount of hate speech and bullying on the online social hub, reports the Associated Press. Anti-gay bullying has been in the spotlight recently after the suicides of several gay teenagers, including Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, garnered national attention. According to police, the 19-year-old jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student and distributed video online. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said it reached out to Facebook last week after Internet bullies flooded a page set up to honor teens who recently killed themselves in response to anti-gay hate. The page, set up by a Facebook user, asks supporters to wear purple next Wednesday in memory of the teenagers. Purple represents “spirit” in the rainbow flag that’s the symbol of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. On Friday afternoon, most of the comments on the page were from supporters…

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US studying Australian internet security program

The government is reviewing an Australian program that will allow internet service providers to alert customers if their computers are taken over by hackers and could limit online access if people don’t fix the problem, reports the Associated Press. Obama administration officials have met with industry leaders and experts to find ways to increase online safety while trying to balance securing the Internet and guarding people’s privacy and civil liberties. Experts and U.S. officials are interested in portions of the plan, set to go into effect in Australia in December. But any move toward Internet regulation or monitoring by the U.S. government or industry could trigger fierce opposition from the public. The discussions come as private, corporate and government computers across the U.S. are increasingly being taken over and exploited by hackers and other computer criminals…

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Britain looks to graduates to pick up the tuition tab

What is a university education worth? Who derives the benefits? And who should pay for it? These were just some of the questions that pushed their way onto the front pages here last week after the publication of “Securing a Sustainable Future For Higher Education,” the results of a yearlong inquiry into higher education and student finance in Britain, reports the New York Times.  Better known as the Browne Review after the inquiry’s chairman, John Browne, the former head of BP, the report called for the cap on tuition fees at British universities, now set at £3,290, or $5,275, a year, to be scrapped in favor of a free-market approach paid for by the students themselves–but only after they graduate and are earning more than £21,000 a year.

“Students do not pay charges, only graduates do; and then only if they are successful,” the report said. “The system of payments is highly progressive. No one earning under £21,000 will pay anything.”

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