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Smart Toys allow spying on parents, children

SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES — Any internet-connected toys that have cameras, microphones, or location tracking may put children’s or parents’ privacy and safety at risk. That could be a talking teddy-bear, a smart car, or a tablet designed especially for kids. With companies pushing the new toys into the market, security safeguards may go overlooked.

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By South Florida Times

Any internet-connected toys that have cameras, microphones, or location tracking may put children’s or parents’ privacy and safety at risk. That could be a talking teddy-bear, a smart car, or a tablet designed especially for kids. With companies pushing the new toys into the market, security safeguards may go overlooked.

“Parents should be aware of what they are bringing home to their children. Once you connect anything to the internet, it may potentially be exposed to cybercriminals. Once they are in, hackers can use the toy’s microphone or camera to hear and see whatever the toy ‘sees’ and ‘hears.’ In some cases, some shady guys from the internet can even talk to children,” explains Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “The problem of the vulnerability of connected toys isn’t new, but it’s snowballing, as more and more smart toys reach the market every year.”

Lately, expert warnings about the vulnerabilities and threats of smart toys are becoming more common. Just last month, a security flaw was found in the TicTocTrack smartwatch for kids in Australia. This flaw allowed to track children, eavesdrop on them, and even call them. Interestingly, the company behind the GPS smartwatch was backed by one of the Australian regional governments.

And this case is not an exception. Security failures were discovered in such well known and advertised toys as Furby Connect, CloudPets, i-Que Intelligent Robot, and Toy-Fi Teddy.

Official state institutions in various countries have even banned some smart toys. For example, in 2017, Germany’s Federal Network Agency banned ‘My Friend Cayla’ dolls and allowed retailers to sell them only if they disengaged its ability to connect to the internet. The Norwegian Consumer Council gave similar evaluation regarding this toy.

However, the largest known breach that targeted sensitive information about children happened in 2015.

A cyber attack on the digital toymaker VTech Holdings exposed the data of over 6.4 million people, mostly children. The hacked data included names, genders, and dates of birth.

Parents can never be too careful when it comes to protecting their child. There are a few basic rules from NordVPN’s digital privacy expert to follow when choosing a smart toy for a kid:

Do your research. Before buying a toy, search online for reviews and expert comments and check for any complaints or security issues. Reputable companies will likely explain what information they collect and how they use it. Don’t forget to read the manufacturer’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service on their website.

Don’t give away your information. Some toys and games require registration for full playing experience or to provide updates. When registering, be careful about the information you hand over. The developers need your email to let you know about updates, but other information is mostly unnecessary. If, for example, it requires your kid’s birthday, you can always lie a bit.

Use only secure Wi-Fi. Before connecting the smart toy to a Wi-Fi network, make sure it is secure and has a strong password. Connecting such gadgets to a public Wi-Fi network is not advised, as those are easily hackable. By the way, set a password on the toy as well, if it allows that.

Check the chats. Some smart toys allow kids to chat with other children playing with the same toy or game. Be sure to explain to your kid what personal information is and why they can’t share it. From time to time, check the messages to make sure your children are not talking to strangers pretending to be kids. Reputable manufacturers will offer ways for parents to review the stored information.

Power it off when not used. It is advised to power off the smart toy when not used so that it stops collecting data. If the item has a microphone, throw it in a drawer or chest, where it’s harder to record conversations. And toys with a camera can be covered or placed facing a wall.

Report the breaches. If you noticed something unusual or a toy was compromised by a hacker, be a good citizen and always file a complaint to the state authorities.

It might not help you, but it will make the internet a safer place for everyone and will press the manufacturer to stop overlooking security safeguards.

This article originally appeared in the South Florida Times.

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African American News & Issues

Reparations: How ‘Intentional’ Government Policy Denied Blacks Access to Wealth

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

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Stock photo of a vault with access denied written across it

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’ total wealth, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans was told during its fourth meeting.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California Irvine, School of Law, shared the statistics during the “Racism in Banking, Tax, and Labor” portion of the two-day meeting on October 13.

From her perspective, the power of wealth and personal income is still unequally distributed. And that inequality, in her view, has always been allowed, preserved and compounded by laws and government policy.

“More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged,” Baradaran told the Task Force, tracing the wealth gap from the period after the Civil War when President Lincoln granted formerly enslaved Blacks their freedom to the present day.

“The gap between average white wealth and Black wealth has actually increased over the last decades. Today, across every social-economic level, Black families have a fraction of the wealth that white families have,” she said.

Baradaran has written a range of entries and books about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” both published by the Harvard University Press.

Baradaran has also published several articles on race and economics, including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, and “How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking” in the Emory Law Journal.

Baradaran, a 43-year-old immigrant born in Iran, testified that her work on the wealth gap in America was conducted from a “research angle” and she respectfully “submitted” her testimony “in that light,” she said.

In her research, Baradaran explained that she discovered an intentional system of financial oppression.

“This wealth chasm doesn’t abate with income or with education. In other words, this is a wealth gap that is pretty much tied to a history of exclusion and exploitation and not to be remedied by higher education and higher income,” Baradaran said.

According to a January 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California said African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile in the state, despite comprising 43% of all families in California.

In addition, PPIC reported that such disparities mirror the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force.

Many issues support these activities that range from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market, according to PPIC.

“While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states,” the report stated.

“Without target policies, it will continue to grow,” Baradaran said of the wealth gap. “And I want to be clear of how this wealth gap will continue to grow. It was created, maintained, and perpetuated through public policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

“Black men and women have been shut out of most avenues of middle-class creations. Black homes, farms, and savings were not given the full protection of the law. Especially as these properties were subjected to racial terrorism. The American middle-class was not created that way (to support Black communities),” Baradaran said.

A June 2018 working paper from the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute written by economists familiar with moderate-to-weak Black wealth backs up Baradaran’s assessment.

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors of the report wrote that strategies to deny Blacks access to wealth started at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, picked up around the civil rights movement, and resurfaced around the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Authored by Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins, the “Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016” explains a close analysis of racial inequality, pre-and post-civil rights eras.

The economists wrote that the median Black household has less than 11% of the wealth of the median white household, which is about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices.

“The overall summary is bleak,” the report states. “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

Baradaran recently participated in the virtual symposium, “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Wealth Divide” hosted by 12 District Banks of the Federal Reserve System, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

There are some positives that are not typically included in discussions about the challenges Blacks have experienced historically in efforts to obtain wealth, Baradaran said. Many African Americans, specifically in California, were able to subvert the systems that discriminated against them.

“Black institutions have been creative and innovative serving their communities in a hostile climate,” Baradaran said. “I’ve written a book about the long history of entrepreneurship, self-help, and mutual uplift. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have provided stellar education and Black banks have supported Black businesses, churches, and families.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate inequity in education, labor, wealth, housing, tax, and environmental justice.

All of these areas were covered with expert testimony during the two-day meeting held on October 12 and October 13. The task force is charged with exploring California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the historic denial of Black citizens’ constitutional rights.

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

“Banks and corporations have engaged in lending and hiring practices that helped to solidify patterns of racial inequality,” Jacqueline Jones, a history professor from the University of Texas told the Task Force.

The Racism in Banking, Tax and Labor segment also featured testimonies by Williams Spriggs (former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. Spriggs now serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO), Thomas Craemer (public policy professor at the University of Connecticut), and Lawrence Lucas (U.S. Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees).

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans will conduct its fifth and final meeting of 2021 on December 6 and December 7.

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Events

Bust of BPP Co-Founder Huey P. Newton to be Unveiled at West Oakland Block Party on Oct. 24

The Dr. Huey P.  Newton Foundation is hosting a block party celebration for the unveiling on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. that will feature local artists, politicians and businesses and the community is invited. The event will be MC’d by Ms. Gina Belafonte.

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Rendering of the Huey P. Newton memorial bust that will be unveiled in Oakland, CA on Oct 24, 2021./ Artist rendering provided by Karin Unger

Installed on a granite base with a seating area for people to reflect on the legacy of Black Panther Party Co-Founder Huey Newton, the memorial bust of his image is the first permanent art installation honoring the BPP in the City of Oakland.

The Dr. Huey P.  Newton Foundation is hosting a block party celebration for the unveiling on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. that will feature local artists, politicians and businesses and the community is invited. The event will be MC’d by Ms. Gina Belafonte.

The Foundation collaborated with world-renowned and local artist Dana King on the creation, which will be placed on Dr. Huey P. Newton Way (formerly 9th Street) and Mandela Parkway, the same street where Huey took his last breath more than 32 years ago.

The Black Panther Party was co-founded by Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. As the foundation and others commemorate the 55th anniversary of the BPP’s beginnings, the Party is remembered as both a small grassroots organization in Oakland and the international organization it grew into.

From legal self-defense from abusive police officers to survival programs that provided essential services, like free food, medical clinics, and education to the communities they served, the BPP was an exemplary organization of the Black Power era and continues to have rippling effects to this day.

Despite the FBI’s counterintelligence program, known as COINTELPRO, the Black Panther Party was the most influential revolutionary movement of the 20th century.

Newton’s widow, Fredrika Newton, founded The Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation to preserve and promulgate the important history, legacy and contributions of the BPP. The Foundation is proud to gift the Huey Newton Memorial Bust to the City of Oakland as a permanent fixture in their landscape.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Scholarships For San Francisco Youth Who Get COVID-19 Vaccine

City residents ages 12 to 17 are eligible to have their tuition covered at San Francisco State if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19

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San Francisco State University (SF State), the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) announced on Monday a new scholarship program for San Francisco residents ages 12 to 17 who received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Through a drawing, SF State is offering 10 scholarships to fully fund four years of undergraduate tuition to the university for eligible youth who register at participating vaccination locations in the City, which include:

  • Monday, October 25, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. — Visitation Valley Neighborhood Vaccination Site, 1099 Sunnydale Ave., San Francisco, CA 94134
  • Tuesday, October 26, 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. — Malcolm X Academy School, 350 Harbor Rd., San Francisco, CA 94124
  • Wednesday, October 27, 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. — Balboa High School, 1000 Cayuga Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112
  • Friday, October 29, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. — Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, 1050 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94115
  • Tuesday, November 2, noon to 4:00 p.m. — Mission District Neighborhood Vaccination Site, 24th and Capp St., San Francisco, CA 94110
  • Saturday, November 13, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — McCoppin Elementary School, 651 6th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94118

“These college scholarships are an incredible reward for San Francisco teens doing the right thing for themselves and their community – and that is being a part of ending this pandemic by getting the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “Our teens have endured over a year of distance learning and missed interactions with their friends. These scholarships will carry their education forward and help shape their future in innumerable ways.”

“SF State is committed to supporting college attendance among young people in San Francisco and helping to promote the City’s vaccination goals,” SF State President Lynn Mahoney said. “These scholarships can further public health objectives while lifting up a new generation of leaders for our workforce.”

“We encourage all eligible SFUSD students to get vaccinated and to gain the skills necessary to attend college if they so choose,” SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said. “As an SF State alumnus and Gator myself, I truly appreciate the University’s efforts to support health and college access among our City’s youth.”

Since becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in May, more than 90% of San Francisco’s youth ages 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated, making this one of the highest vaccination rates among age groups in the City.

“The SF State scholarship program complements our City’s strategy to provide low-barrier access to COVID-19 vaccinations in San Francisco communities, which has resulted in one of the highest vaccination rates in the world,” said Deputy Director of Health Dr. Naveena Bobba. “We’re proud that our 12- to 17-year-old youth have reached such high vaccination rates, and incentive programs like these can help give an extra push to unvaccinated individuals to take immediate action to get vaccinated, protecting themselves, their loved ones and our community.”

Scholarships will be awarded in the amount of the difference between qualifying expenses for in-state tuition and fees and other federal and/or state financial aid awarded to the winner. In the event a winner’s federal and/or state financial aid awards fully cover the cost of in-state tuition and fees, the student will be awarded $2,000 per academic year. All scholarships will be credited to the individual’s student account for each semester of enrollment.

Residents are eligible to enter the drawing if they meet all the following requirements:

  • Permanently resides in San Francisco (including people living in San Francisco who meet AB 540 eligibility)
  • Received at least the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine two-shot series prior to entry. Must be age 12 to 17 when this occurs
  • Currently not enrolled at a college or university nor have been previously been enrolled in college or university
  • Not an employee or immediate family of an employee of SF State living as a member of the employee’s household. Consistent with California Government Code section 82029, “immediate family” means spouse and dependent children

Residents can receive the vaccine from the participating sites to become eligible, but it is not required. Residents who receive the vaccine elsewhere or are already vaccinated are eligible to register for the drawing.

How to enter

Eligible residents will have the opportunity at the participating sites to complete a form that enters them in the drawing. SF State staff will be there to verify that registrants qualify and to help residents enter the drawing. The last day to enter the drawing is November 13.

Selecting the winners

The winners will be randomly selected from among all eligible entries received. A minimum of one and a maximum of two winners will be selected from each participating vaccination locations.

The official announcement of the winners will publish the week of November 22. Winners will be notified prior to announcement.

For more information regarding the official rules, FAQs and health privacy, visit together.sfsu.edu/vaccinescholarship or email enrollment@sfsu.edu.

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