Blockchain Disciples Have a New Goal: Running Our Next Election
Amid vote-hacking fears, election officials are jumping on the crypto bandwagon — but cybersecurity experts are sounding an alarm
At democracy’s heart lies a set of paradoxes: a delicate interplay of identity and anonymity, secrecy and transparency. To be sure you are eligible to vote and that you do so only once, the authorities need to know who you are. But when it comes time for you to mark a ballot, the government must guarantee your privacy and anonymity. After the fact, it also needs to provide some means for a third party to audit the election, while also preventing you from obtaining definitive proof of your choice, which could lead to vote selling or coercion.
Building a system that accomplishes all this at once — and does so securely — is challenging enough in the physical world. It’s even harder online, as the recent revelation that Russian intelligence operatives compromised voting systems
in multiple states makes clear.
In the decade since the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto published an infamous white paper
outlining the idea behind bitcoin, a “peer-to-peer electronic cash system” based on a mathematical “consensus mechanism,” more than 1,500 new cryptocurrencies
have come into being.
definition: Nathan Heller in the New Yorker, in which he compares the blockchain to a scarf knit with a single ball of yarn. “It’s impossible to remove part of the fabric, or to substitute a swatch, without leaving some trace,” Heller wrote. Typically, blockchains are created by a set of stakeholders working to achieve consensus at every step, so it might be even more apt to picture a knitting collective creating that single scarf together, moving forward only when a majority agrees that a given knot is acceptable.
Unlike bitcoin, a public blockchain powered by thousands of miners around the world, most voting systems, including Votem’s, employ what’s known as a “permissioned ledger,” in which a handful of approved groups (political parties, election observers, government entities) would be allowed to validate the transactions.
there’s the issue of targeted denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, in which a hacker directs so much traffic at a server that it’s overwhelmed and ceases to function.
Although a distributed ledger itself would likely withstand such an attack, the rest of the system — from voters’ personal devices to the many servers a vote would pass through on its way to the blockchain — would remain vulnerable.
there’s the so-called penetration attack, like the University of Michigan incursion, in which an adversary gains control of a server and deliberately alters the outcome of an election.
While it’s true that information recorded on a blockchain cannot be changed, a determined hacker might well find another way to disrupt the process. Bitcoin itself has never been hacked, for instance, but numerous bitcoin “wallets” have been, resulting in billions of dollars in losses
. In early June 2018, a South Korean cryptocurrency exchange was penetrated
, causing the value of bitcoin to tumble and resulting in a loss of $42 billion in market value. So although recording the vote tally on a blockchain introduces a new obstacle to penetration attacks, it still leaves holes elsewhere in the system — like putting a new lock on your front door but leaving your basement windows open.
A blockchain is only as valuable as the data stored on it. And whereas traditional paper ballots preserve an indelible record of the actual intent of each voter, digital votes “don’t produce an original hard-copy record of any kind,”
In the end, democracy always depends on a certain leap of faith, and faith can never be reduced to a mathematical formula. The Economist Intelligence Unit regularly ranks
the world’s most democratic counties. In 2017, the United States came in 21st place, after Uruguay and Malta. Meanwhile, it’s now widely believed that John F. Kennedy owed his 1960 win to election tampering in Chicago. The Supreme Court decision granting the presidency to George W. Bush rather than calling a do-over — despite Al Gore’s popular-vote win — still seems iffy. Significant doubts remain about the 2016 presidential race.
While little doubt remains that Russia favored Trump in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s primary target appears to have been our trust in the system itself. So if the blockchain’s trendy allure can bolster trust in American democracy, maybe that’s a net positive for our national security. If someone manages to hack the system, hopefully they’ll do so quietly. Apologies to George Orwell, but sometimes ignorance really is strength.
more on blockchain in this IMS blog
Election Strife, Protest And Noise: In 2017, Russia Cranked Up The Volume
The Russian Facebook scandal damages liberals as much as the right
The Republicans might have been tarnished by the St Petersburg troll factory, but Democratic fantasies about social media were rubbished in the process
The ads in question were memes, manufactured and posted to a number of bluntly named, pseudo-American Facebook
accounts in 2016 by workers at a troll farm in St Petersburg, Russia. There were thousands of these ads, it seems, plus parallel efforts on Instagram and Twitter. Between them, they reached over 100 million people.
The memes were big news
for a while because they showed what Russian interference in the 2016 election actually looked like, in vivid color. Eventually the story faded, though, in part because it was superseded by other stories, but also, I think, because the Russian ad story was deeply distasteful to both sides of our atrophied political debate.
The ads were clumsily written. They were rife with spelling errors and poor grammar. Their grasp of American history was awful. And over them all
hovered a paranoid fear that the powerful were scheming to flip the world upside-down in the most outlandish ways: to turn our country over to the undocumented … to punish the hardworking … to crack down on patriots and Christians … to enact Sharia law right here at home.
The social media platforms aren’t neutral arbiters, selflessly serving the needs of society. As is all too obvious now, they are monopolies that manipulate us in a hundred different ways, selecting our news, steering us towards what we need to buy. The corporate entities behind them wield enormous power in Washington, too, filling
Democratic campaign coffers and keeping the revolving door turning
for trusted servants. Those who don’t comply get disciplined.
Internet watchdog demands explanation after Ramzan Kadyrov claimed Facebook also suspended him without explanation
Kadyrov has accused the US government of pressuring the social networks to disable his accounts, which he said were blocked on Saturday without explanation. The US imposed travel and financial sanctions on Kadyrov last week over numerous allegations of human rights abuses.
The former rebel fighter, who is now loyal to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is a fan of social media, particularly Instagram, which he has used in recent years to make barely veiled death threats against Kremlin critics.
Leonid Levin, the head of the Russian parliament’s information technologies and communications committee, suggested the move by Facebook and Instagram was an attack on freedom of speech.
Dzhambulat Umarov, the Chechen press and information minister, described the blocking of Kadyrov’s accounts as a “vile” cyber-attack by the US.
Neither Instagram nor Facebook had commented at the time of publication.
In 2015, Kadyrov urged Chechen men not to let their wives use the WhatsApp messaging service after an online outcry over the forced marriage of a 17-year-old Chechen to a 47-year-old police chief. “Do not write such things. Men, take your women out of WhatsApp,” he said.
more on fake news in this IMS blog
Nice outline of the presidential candidates views on K12
The major party hopefuls still in the race as of last week boasted widely varied records and stances on K-12. (Download as a PDF.)
Related: How Meaty Are the Presidential Candidates’ Online K-12 Positions?
Excellent interactive chart available from Global Network Discovery
Here is a wonderful interactive chart from Global Network Discovery that you can use to compare the affordances of different laptops. The chart compares a wide variety of laptops on criteria that include things such as : memory, storage capacity, screen size, and weight. You can also use the search functionality accompanied with the chart to refine your search by CPU, brand or model. Hovering your cursor over any laptop icon will display a small box with details pertaining to that product. These details include, besides the specs and features of that laptop, an updated version of its price.
Keep this interactive chart handy to use next time you want to buy a laptop. If you are looking for the best laptops for teachers, you can check this list instead. You can also use the “more” option in the chart to search for other comparison charts on smartphones, flash drives and SSD drives.
A Cautionary Tale To Be Had From Swedish School Reforms
One of the issues dividing the two main parliamentary blocs is whether there should be a cap on profit margins for publicly funded private schools.
The Swedish school system has received considerable international attention in recent years due to alarming test scores in the OECD’s international PISA study
Segregation is one of the most serious social problems facing Sweden and many other wealthy nations.
A recent report (the English title would be “A Nation Divided – School Choice and Segregation in Sweden”) that I have co-authored for the Stockholm based think tank Arena Idé shows that well-educated and Swedish-born families increasingly opt out of schools where the children have parents with lower educational attainments and an immigrant background. We also show that this “white flight” in Swedish municipalities throughout the country is increased by school choice and other reforms introduced in the early 1990s, whereby publicly financed private schools are allowed to compete with municipal schools for school vouchers allotted to each individual student.
The results in our study should be viewed in light of two recent reports: one from the OECDand another from UNICEF, both highlighting the inequality in the Swedish school system.
The results make it painfully clear that the Swedish school system effectively works against the very idea that schools should level the playing field for students from all backgrounds and give every child equal opportunity. Even after the rise of right-wing populism in Sweden, our established political parties have proven themselves unable, or unwilling, to rein in the highly unregulated Swedish school market.
more on educational systems
Research evidence on bullying prevention at odds with what schools are doing
Punishing the bullies doesn’t really help, researchers say. But what does work?
Column by JILL BARSHAY https://hechingerreport.org/research-evidence-on-bullying-prevention-at-odds-with-what-schools-are-doing/
“Trump effect” on bullying in schools, citing a study that found higher bullying rates in GOP districts after the 2016 presidential election.
The scientific evidence on what works is complicated.
For example, this 2007 review of anti-bullying programs found “little discernible effect on youth participants.”
twenty-some years of empirical research that shows punishing kids is unhelpful
Instead, he argues that schools should combine consequences for bullies with mediation, counseling or a learning experience.
School shootings and violence have prompted schools to take an even more punitive stance against student misbehavior, experts I talked to said.
the higher a school’s climate rating — that is, the more that students, parents and teachers think their school is a safe place where people are respected — the lower the bullying rates. Similarly, the higher the social-emotional skills, such as the ability to wait and not react impulsively, the lower the bullying rates. But what hasn’t been clearly proven is that improvements in school climate or social-emotional skills will necessarily lead to a reduction in bullying.
more on bullying in this IMS blog
What Happens to Student Data Privacy When Chinese Firms Acquire U.S. Edtech Companies?
Between the creation of a social rating system and street cameras with facial recognition capabilities, technology reports coming out of China have raised serious concerns for privacy advocates. These concerns are only heightened as Chinese investors turn their attention to the United States education technology space acquiring companies with millions of public school users.
A particularly notable deal this year centers on Edmodo, a cross between a social networking platform and a learning management system for schools that boasts having upwards of 90 million users. Net Dragon, a Chinese gaming company that is building a significant education division, bought Edmodo for a combination of cash and equity valued at $137.5 million earlier this month.
Edmodo began shifting to an advertising model last year, after years of struggling to generate revenue. This has left critics wondering why the Chinese firm chose to acquire Edmodo at such a price, some have gone as far as to call the move a data grab.
as data becomes a tool that governments such as Russia and China could use to influence voting systems or induce citizens into espionage, more legislators are turning their attention to the acquisitions of early-stage technology startups.
NetDragon officials, however, say they have no interest in these types of activities. Their main goal in acquiring United States edtech companies lies in building profitability, says Pep So, NetDragon’s Director of Corporate Development.
In 2015, the firm acquired the education technology platform, Promethean, a company that creates interactive displays for schools. NetDragon executives say that the Edmodo acquisition rounds out their education product portfolio—meaning the company will have tools for supporting multiple aspects of learning including; preparation, instructional delivery, homework, assignment grading, communication with parents students and teachers and a content marketplace.
NetDragon’s monetization plan for Edmodo focuses on building out content that gets sold via its platform. Similar to tools like TeachersPayTeachers, So hopes to see users putting up content on the platform’s marketplace, some free and others for a fee (including some virtual reality content), so that the community can buy, sell and review available educational tools.
As far as data privacy is concerned, So notes that NetDragon is still learning what it can and cannot do. He noted that the company will comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal regulation created in order to protect the privacy of children online, but says that the rules and regulations surrounding the law are confusing for all actors involved.
Historically, Chinese companies have faced trust and branding issues when moving into the United States market, and the reverse is also true for U.S. companies seeking to expand overseas. Companies have also struggled to learn the rules, regulations and operational procedures in place in other countries.
more on data privacy in this IMS blog:
How to Craft Useful, Student-Centered Social Media Policies
By Tanner Higgin 08/09/18
Whether your school or district has officially adopted social media or not, conversations are happening in and around your school on everything from Facebook to Snapchat. Schools must reckon with this reality and commit to supporting thoughtful and critical social media use among students, teachers and administrators. If not, schools and classrooms risk everything from digital distraction to privacy violations.
Key Elements to Include in a Social Media Policy
- Create parent opt-out forms that specifically address social media use.Avoid blanket opt-outs that generalize all technology or obfuscate how specific social media platforms will be used. (See this example by the World Privacy Forum as a starting point.)
- Use these opt-out forms as a way to have more substantive conversations with parents about what you’re doing and why.
- Describe what platforms are being used, where, when and how.
- Avoid making the consequences of opt-out selections punitive (e.g., student participation in sports, theater, yearbook, etc.).
- Establish baseline guidelines for protecting and respecting student privacy.
- Prohibit the sharing of student faces.
- Restrict location sharing: Train teachers and students on how to turn off geolocation features/location services on devices as well as in specific apps.
- Minimize information shared in teacher’s social media profiles: Advise teachers to list only grade level and subject in their public profiles and not to include specific school or district information.
- Make social media use transparent to students: Have teachers explain their social media plan, and find out how students feel about it.
- Most important: As with any technology, attach social media use to clearly articulated goals for student learning. Emphasize in your guidelines that teachers should audit any potential use of social media in terms of student-centered pedagogy: (1) Does it forward student learning in a way impossible through other means? and (2) Is using social media in my best interests or in my students’?
Moving from Policy to Practice.
Social media policies, like policies in general, are meant to mitigate the risk and liability of institutions rather than guide and support sound pedagogy and student learning. They serve a valuable purpose, but not one that impacts classrooms. So how do we make these policies more relevant to classrooms?
First, it forces policy to get distilled into what impacts classroom instruction and administration. Second, social media changes monthly, and it’s much easier to update a faculty handbook than a policy document. Third, it allows you to align social media issues with other aspects of teaching (assessment, parent communication, etc.) versus separating it out in its own section.
more on social media in education in this IMS blog
more on social media policies in this IMS blog