While congresscritters expressed outrage at Facebook’s intrusive data grabs during Capitol Hill hearings with Mark Zuckerberg this week, not a peep was heard about the Silicon Valley-Beltway theft ring purloining the personal information and browsing habits of millions of American schoolchildren.
It doesn’t take undercover investigative journalists to unmask the massive privacy invasion enabled by educational technology and federal mandates. The kiddie data heist is happening out in the open — with Washington politicians and bureaucrats as brazen co-conspirators.
Facebook is just one of the tech giants partnering with the U.S. Department of Education and schools nationwide in pursuit of student data for meddling and profit. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Pearson, Knewton, and many more are cashing in on the Big Data boondoggle. State and federal educational databases provide countless opportunities for private companies exploiting public schoolchildren subjected to annual assessments, which exploded after adoption of the tech industry-supported Common Core “standards,” tests, and aligned texts and curricula.
The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act further enshrined government collection of personally identifiable information — including data collected on attitudes, values, beliefs and dispositions — and allows release of the data to third-party contractors thanks to Obama-era loopholes carved into the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
And the so-called school-to-work pipeline creates endless avenues into taxpayer coffers for firms pitching data-gathering initiatives to “align” student learning with “skill sets” and “competencies” desired by corporations.
Facebook, for example, joined with the Department of Education’s federally sponsored Digital Promise initiative last fall to develop a system of “micro-credentialing” badges for adult students in digital marketing. You can be sure it’s not merely out of benevolence and public interest that Zuckerberg’s empire is training thousands of these students to learn “Social Media Marketing Basics,” “Marketing with Facebook Pages,” “Marketing with Facebook Ads” and “Marketing with Instagram.”
As parent and educational privacy advocate Cheri Kiesecker reported, the Facebook/Digital Promise partnership is “a wonderful data collection and marketing tool for Facebook and the US Department of Ed, but it is incredibly alarming for students’ privacy and security.”
Facebook is on the march from luring adult students into its orbit to encroaching on secondary and elementary school-age users through its Messenger Kids app and “whole-child personalized learning” programs funded through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. CZI, a “philanthropic investment company” funded with up to $1 billion in Facebook shares over the next three years, is headed by Jim Shelton. He’s a former program officer at the Gates Foundation and a key Common Core champion in the Obama administration.
“Personalized learning” is an edutech buzz phrase for hijacking the classroom and hooking students and teachers on branded software and hardware — iPads, smartboards, computerized portfolios, homework apps, you name it — without any evidence that such shiny objects improve academic performance.
Under the guise of customizable assessments, public and private preschools in Colorado experimented with toddlers whose student activities and social/emotional behaviors were tracked using the TS Gold (Teaching Strategies Gold) system — funded with $30 million in Race to the Top subsidies under the Obama administration. As I reported in 2014, parent Lauren Coker discovered that TS Gold assessors in her son’s Aurora, Colorado, public preschool had recorded information about his trips to the bathroom, his hand-washing habits and his ability to pull up his pants.
Sunny Flynn, a mom with kids in Jefferson County, Colorado, asked all the right questions: “What security measures are being used to protect this data? Who exactly has access to this data? How long will the data be stored? What is the proven benefit of a kindergarten teacher putting all of this data into a database?”
With little public oversight, Google has infiltrated schools through its “free” Google Apps for Education suite. As I’ve reported previously, Google is building brand loyalty through its questionable certification program that essentially turns teachers into tax-subsidized lobbyists for the company. GAFE enrollees are “trained” on Google products, earn certification, and then open up consultancy businesses and bill their school districts (i.e., the public) to hawk Google’s suite of products to other colleagues.
And this week, 23 parent and watchdog groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission alleging that Google is violating child protection laws by collecting personal data of and advertising to those aged under 13.
Over the past four years, Google has admitted “scanning and indexing” student email messages sent using GAFE and data mining student users for commercial gain when they use their accounts for noneducational purposes. Google can collect student/family data to target ads through related services outside the GAFE suite, such as YouTube for Schools, Blogger and Google Plus. These are not covered under the already watered-down federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Under the Obama years, Grand Canyon-sized loopholes in federal student and family privacy protections opened data mining to third-party private entities. Those have yet to be closed by the Trump administration. Why not? It’s time to drain the student data-mining swamp and their facilitators in Washington. For the children.
The hype surrounding cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is fuelling speculation and a potential bubble that might burst around these decentralized digital currencies. But one of the biggest issues might not be a future crash, but the very real and immediate problem of how much electricity it takes to produce new units of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The process of generating new Bitcoins is called “mining,” and according to some experts, Bitcoin mining’s global energy consumption exceeds that of 159 countries combined (more than Ireland or Nigeria) or equal to Denmark alone.
Obviously, this is a big problem. Some Bitcoin “miners” are coping by setting up “mining farms” in countries where electricity is cheap and plentiful. Others, like Manitoba, Canada-based entrepreneur Bruce Hardy, are using the massive amounts of heat generated by the computers that mine Bitcoin to provide warmth for food plants growing under the same roof. Watch this short CBC video on this multipurpose project:
Hardy is president of Myera Group, a company whose mission is to develop sustainable food systems using technology. Hardy also has a software company, and has been mining Bitcoins for the last couple of years, using about 30 computers in a readapted 20,000-square-foot building just west of Winnepeg.
This building also houses the company’s aquaculture system, which consists of basil and lettuce plants on the second floor, and 800 Arctic char swimming in vats on the first floor. Nutrient-rich water from these fish vats (think fish poop) are then pumped upstairs to nourish these plants, which are being warmed by the heat generated by the Bitcoin mining hardware.
CBC/Video screen capture
CBC/Video screen capture
Previously, Hardy had been paying for air-conditioning to cool down the specialized hardware (application-specific integrated circuit or ASICs) that’s required to mine Bitcoin, but he soon realized that he could save money by using that heat for other purposes. As Hardy explains on the CBC:
When bitcoin came, they were an excellent proxy for what a server could do in terms of emulating heat, and whether we could use that heat for agricultural purposes.
CBC/Video screen capture
Hardy believes that instead of exporting Manitoba’s hydroelectricity down to the United States, it could be potentially used in operations such as his to help grow the local economy, or to attract international investment from Bitcoin mining companies that might want to set up shop here:
The revenue from those bitcoins has helped me to keep staff on, it’s helped me create these displays so we can show people what we’re doing in agriculture innovation. If we can take our energy and use it here in Manitoba, we value-add that energy, and we can do all sorts of great things.
CBC/Video screen capture
For now, it’s too early to predict where an intriguing project such as this may go, considering that Bitcoin’s unsustainable rate of energy consumption is likely to increase in the coming months. But as in nature, where there is no such thing as “waste,” by repurposing that heat from Bitcoin mining to help grow food crops, there’s at least the possibility of closing that loop to produce something useful. More over at CBC.
When computers “mine” bitcoin, a lot of heat is produced. This is because the machines are constantly solving cryptographic puzzles and, as a result, are consuming an abundance of energy. If nothing is done with the byproduct (heat), the process can be incredibly wasteful.
Because cryptocurrencies are the future, some people — such as Bruce Hardy — have developed ways to repurpose the heat which is generated from bitcoin mining. As a result, he can reduce the environmental impact of mining the cryptocurrency. Hardy has accomplished this by using the heat exuded by 30 computers to warm nearby plants in a make-shift greenhouse.
Lettuce, basil, and barely are just a few crops grown in the 20,000-square-foot building, located in the Rural Municipality of St. Francois Xavier, in Winnipeg, Canada. CBC News reports: “A pump waters the plants with waste water from tanks located on the first floor in which around 800 Arctic Char swim and breed. The waste water from the tanks is rich in nitrates, a great fertilizer for the plants upstairs.”
Hardy, who is the president of Myera Group, loves the intricacy and interconnectedness of the operation. “It’s all connected, much like Earth,” he said.
One of the Myera Group’s main objectives is to use technology to create sustainable food systems. The idea was spurred less than two years ago when Hardy began mining bitcoin. Initially, the entrepreneur paid for air conditioning to cool off the computers. However, he later realized there is a better use for the heat. “When bitcoin came, they were an excellent proxy for what a server could do in terms of emulating heat, and whether we could use that heat for agricultural purposes,” said Hardy.
Just one year ago, Hardy opened his operation in a former museum and convent, west of Winnipeg. The company is still experimenting with using the heat from bitcoin mining to cultivate crops. According to CBC News, about one-fourth of the second floor is filled with computers and plants. Eventually, the entire building will be filled.
The rise of Bitcoin helped fund the operation. Said Hardy, “The revenue from those bitcoins has helped me to keep staff on, it’s helped me create these displays so we can show people what we’re doing in agriculture innovation.” In the future, the building will exist as a place where people can research and develop sustainable food systems. They will work side-by-side with programmers who are devoted to enhancing bitcoin technology.
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Source: CBS News
Images Credit: (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)
A trove of more than 13 million documents from the world’s leading offshore law firms, including Appleby, was released through the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday. The documents lay bare the secretive multi-jurisdictional dealings of Glencore, a scandal-plagued, Anglo-Swiss multinational with mining interests across the globe.
As a friend of the Congolese President Joseph Kabila, Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler’s role has been questioned by anti-corruption campaigners since Glencore floated in London in 2011. His notoriety in the resource-rich but conflict-riven and corrupt DRC spans nearly two decades.
Gertler was cited by a 2001 UN investigation, which said that he had given Kabila $20 million to buy weapons to equip his army against rebel groups in exchange for a monopoly on the country’s diamonds. A 2013 Africa Progress Panel report said a string of mining deals struck by companies linked to him had deprived the country of more than $1.3 billion in potential revenue. Last year, he was implicated in a scheme to bribe Congolese officials on behalf of US hedge fund manager Och-Ziff Capital Management, according to Bloomberg.
According to the Guardian, the Paradise Papers confirm that several times during 2008 and 2009, Gertler was called in to negotiate with DRC authorities over the struggling Katanga copper mine in the southeast of the country, which was hampered by stalled talks to secure a joint-venture agreement with DRC’s state-run miner Gecamines.
In 2009, Glencore, through a loan offer, took effective control of Katanga, but also kept Gertler’s interest in the firm by secretly loaning his company Lora Enterprises $45 million in pledged shares for him to take part in the loan. The loan was granted with the caveat that it would be repayable in the event that an agreement was not made with DRC authorities to secure a contract for a company linked to the firm.
While the details of the loan have been previously reported, the new documents show that Gertler was required to secure certain approvals from the government in return, according to the Guardian.
Daniel Balint-Kurti of the Global Witness campaign group told The Times: “Glencore must explain to the world why it used a secret offshore company to pump millions of dollars to a controversial friend of the Congolese president linked to bribery scandals.”
In a written statement, lawyers for Gertler told the Guardian that neither he nor any company or person related to him received any loan funds directly, and any allegation that the $45 million loan was improper “demonstrates misapprehension of international finance transactions.”
“Mr Dan Gertler is a respectable businessman who contributes the vast majority of his wealth and time to the needy and to different communities, amounting to huge sums of money. He transacts business fairly and honestly, and strictly according to the law,” the statement said.
Gertler’s lawyers said there was no basis for the allegation that Katanga received “preferential terms” in its agreement with the DRC as a result of his involvement.
Glencore has dismissed any allegations of impropriety concerning the loan. The loan was made on commercial terms and “negotiated at arm’s length,” it told Bloomberg.
Space has become a veritable goldmine of natural resources for many companies, yet can anyone lay claim to them? That’s the question legal experts claim will become relevant in the future as firm turn to the stars for precious metals and minerals, and it’s one that also needs to be answered as soon as possible to avoid hostility between competing firms and countries.
Barry Kellman, law professor of space governance at DePaul University in Chicago, explained: “There is a huge debate on whether companies can simply travel to space and extract its resources. There is no way to answer the question until someone does it.”
According to one international treaty, this need not even be an issue. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, has served as the main standard for sharing space. As per the 1967 treaty, no single country can claim “national appropriation” of celestial bodies “by occupation or by other means”. (Related: MINING just one large asteroid could COLLAPSE the world economy due to surge of new supply for valuable metals.)
Despite this, some countries have already begun passing laws that allow property rights in space, most notably the United States of America and Luxembourg. The laws passed by these countries have ensured that private operators have rights over the resources they obtained from space, such as the oxygen and hydrogen extracted by the firm Planetary Resources.
“If you obtain a resource and bring it with you, it becomes your property. You can sell, keep or deliver (space resources) peacefully,” Planetary Resources Chief Executive Chris Lewicki told the DailyMail.co.uk. Lewicki stated that the firm has no intention of bringing those resources back to Earth, and instead plans on creating a “gas station” to provide fuel to space ships.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has deigned not to take a side on the issue. “If companies request assistance or want partnerships related to mining on Mars, we help to the best of our ability,” said a spokesman for the agency.
Lewicki added: “For the moment, the company exists on earth, where all of the laws and regulations apply.”
In addition to the 1967 treaty, legal experts have cited the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Convention as an earthly regulation that could help build the legal framework for space resources. Under this, countries have exclusive rights to the natural resources 200 mi or 322 km of their coastline, yet plans and ships from other nations can pass through the waters as they please. The Law of Sea Convention could be used as a template to give companies exclusive economic rights to certain area but not ownership over an entire planet or asteroid.
As attorney Andrew Brehm elaborated: “It’s advantageous to work out a system where people can acquire property rights enforceable through a legal process. That being said, outer space is viewed in society as something similar to the ocean, where there is a collective interest. A first come, first serve system does not necessarily work well when only certain countries or private entities can (currently) reach outer space.”
Visit Space.news to remain up to date on the situation.