- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Register Guard, on children’s game apps collecting and sharing user data:

As if parents don’t have enough challenges today limiting children’s screen time, now comes warnings that even some of the most “kid-friendly” apps might collect and share personal data on young users. It’s more than just creepy that online ad platforms might track kids’ exact locations; it’s possibly dangerous and likely illegal.

As a recent story on registerguard.com reported, the mother of a five-year-old playing a cartoon racecar game with animal drivers was stunned to learn that the app was spying on her child. It shared users’ data, sometimes including the precise location of devices, with more than a half-dozen advertising and online tracking companies.

New Mexico’s attorney general recently filed a lawsuit against the developer who made the game, Tiny Labs. The suit alleges that the company violated a federal children’s privacy law with dozens of Android apps that shared children’s data and subjected them to unwanted, targeted advertising. Those apps appeared in supposedly kid-friendly sections of online app stores and have millions of downloads.

Collecting and storing data about kids also creates broader risks. If the data ever leaks in a hacking incident or through mismanagement, it could wind up in much more dangerous hands.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation isn’t mincing words. It urges parents, especially of tweens and teens, to follow their kids’ app use closely, to download the same apps and to monitor conversations kids have online. FBI agents recently arrested 24 men accused of luring children on popular online apps for sex. The report says the men started conversations with the minors through apps like Kik, Tumblr and Wishbone.

Apps aren’t the only problem, either. The screens themselves can become a time sink and distraction from physical activity and group play. Yet even two-year-olds will throw tantrums at darkened screens, and they are adept at getting those screens to light up. Who can blame them? The cuteness factor is built into games to appeal to kids.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is supposed to protect children younger than 13 from being improperly tracked, including for advertising purposes. Without verifiable permission from parents, children’s sites and apps are prohibited from collecting personal details if they’re used for targeted ads.

Yet academic researchers at universities and reporters at The New York Times have found violations in many popular children’s apps. Enforcement clearly could be better.

The dangers of lost privacy and worse lurk around many corners online, and most kids are ill-equipped to avoid trouble. Making sure children remain safe requires parental vigilance and a social mandate on developers and regulators. The best minds in government, universities and major online players - Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. - owe as much to families.

Already, some of the recent publicity prompted Google to push Tiny Labs out of its app store. That’s only a start, though. Rather than reacting to bad actors, technology and laws must improve to empower parents and prevent developers from putting children at risk.


The Oregonian, on the Portland Public Schools’ lawsuit against two women seeking public records

Here’s what $200,000 pays for at Portland Public Schools: Salaries, not including benefits, for four entry-level teachers; one-third of the cost for the district’s summer nutrition program; and more than half the library books that the district will buy in the 2018-2019 year.

And here’s what the district, or its insurer, will have to use $200,000 for, thanks to a failed lawsuit filed in spring 2017: Legal fees for itself and two women sued by the district because they sought public records that the Multnomah County District Attorney had already ruled should be released.

As The Portland Tribune’s Shasta Kearns Moore reported, a judge last week ordered Portland Public Schools to cover attorneys’ fees and related costs for journalist Beth Slovic and parent activist Kim Sordyl stemming from the public records lawsuit. The two, independently of one another, had sought a list of district employees who were on paid leave - information the district had released in the past and that has since revealed how slowly PPS has handled some disciplinary complaints.

The district refused. Slovic and Sordyl both then appealed to the Multnomah County District Attorney who declared the records public. And still, the district refused, with then interim superintendent Bob McKean saying that he was concerned people might gossip about employees who are on paid leave. On the advice of then PPS attorney Stephanie Harper and with McKean’s blessing, the district sued the two women in order to seek “clarity” about the legal requirements, McKean said at the time.

The suit didn’t even get to trial, however, before the judge brushed aside the district’s arguments and ruled in Slovic and Sordyl’s favor. State law allows for the two to recover fees for the district’s denial, resulting in last week’s judgment.

It would be unfair to pin the blame for this foolish lawsuit on the current administration. Both Harper and McKean are gone, as is the former school board chairman, Tom Koehler, who failed to head off this ill-conceived lawsuit. And in the past year, the board and district have adopted a new public records policy designed to promote transparency.

But it takes more than a year and a policy to change a culture, especially one as secretive and anti-accountability as PPS has been for years. Hopefully that $200,000 bill, as painful as it is, will provide the “clarity” the district needs to stay on course.


The Bulletin, on a new fee proposed by the Oregon Marine Board

Put your canoe in a lake up in the Cascades, and the staff of Oregon Marine Board wants to charge you a new fee.

It’s just one of many proposals for new fees and rules the Oregon Marine Board is scheduled to discuss at an open house at Eagle Crest on Oct. 16. The fee is so inadequately explained and justified in the documents provided for the public, it should be rejected.

What is clear is Marine Board staff want more money. The proposal is to charge a fee on all nonmotorized boats 10-feet long and over except motorboats and sailboats with valid registration. The proposed fee is $5 for a week, $17 annually or $30 biennially.

With that money, Marine Board staff want to create a “waterway access account.” Some of the money raised by the new fee would go to create and improve access to waterways, to safety education courses and to buy boats for underserved communities. Some of the money raised will also continue an existing program to fight invasive species. Those are all good causes.

But the public needs details. In the public documents for the meeting, there are no details about the need. Zero. There are no financial projections. Zip. There are no estimates of any increased costs that the Marine Board faces. Zilch. There is no explanation of how much of money in the “waterway access account” will go to each purpose and how much will go to fight invasive species. The Marine Board also doesn’t make it clear what money for motorized boat or sailboat registrations will go into this account.

The proposed fee for nonmotorized boats also replaces the current requirement for nonmotorized boats to carry an Aquatic Invasive Species Permit for $7. There is no explanation, though, of why the new fee must be higher.

The Marine Board staff can’t pretend it is adequately informing the public about the issues at this open house. It needs clearly justify in the documents for the meeting why it wants to take more money from the public and how it plans to spend it. It’s like the Marine Board staff is just going through the motions of a public process without caring to let the public in on what’s going on.

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