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Eagle Update: Minimizing risk in our digital devices

As a society, digital devices are part of our lives, and their ubiquity and ease of use hides the complexity of the software and services that power them. This has allowed them to become integrated into our daily routines, and to become trusted partners for shopping, surveillance, health monitoring, communication, and, of course, education.

Sometimes, though, we trust them too much. We may not use a passcode or the biometric security features on our phones. We may not use a password manager to store unique, complex passwords for the web sites we access. We may not view the odd email request for our account credentials the same way we would if someone on the street asked us for them. We become so comfortable using our devices and giving information to unseen recipients that we forget how much is at risk until the next “data breech” report appears on the news.

Like anything else in use as widely as our digital tools, it is impossible to be completely without risk. However, we can learn behaviors to minimize that risk. At New Ulm Public Schools, concepts like digital citizenship have grown to include not only staying safe online, but also staying secure. It is important for students to understand what “phishing” means, why it is critical to not reuse passwords, how the true cost of many sites that offer free services is in the sharing of their personal data for marketing, and much more. (Sometimes shared data has been “scrubbed” of uniquely identifiable information, but as Facebook has revealed time and time again that’s not always the case.)

As a district, we also review the privacy policy of vendors we work with to better understand how they protect the data we entrust to them. Privacy policies have existed for many years, but how they address digital data (and student data specifically) is still in its infancy. Those policies and our processes will no doubt evolve over time.

This can be scary stuff, but it doesn’t mean we should be afraid. Technology opens the door to endless possibilities and provides learning opportunities limited only by our imagination. We can all learn to not lick the frozen pole of technology risk.

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