Digital safety training is a social awareness issue. We are typically taught at a young age how to interact in society, but rarely are we taught how interact in the digital space. With more than three billion people around the world coming online, it is crucial today that we all understand how to interact online. In our recent virtual chat series, Mark Surman of Mozilla stressed that as more people come online exclusively through their smartphones through initiatives like, many remain unaware of the internet itself, so internet safety may not even cross their minds or becomes an ‘extra’ feature that they might not be able to afford.

Google recently conducted a study comparing digital security practices between experts and non-experts. The study included over 500 surveys of security experts and non-experts and the results are a useful examination of how expertise or knowledge reflects in practice of navigating in the digital world.

Here are my takeaways from the Google report:

Passwords, Passwords, Passwords

Both groups (experts and non-experts) highlight the need for strong passwords as one of the top 3 things to stay safe online — something malware creator Hacking Team needed a lesson on.
The experts mentioned the need for updates, unique passwords, and two-factor authentication. They highlighted the use of password managers as a way to have both strong and unique passwords.
The non-experts, on the other hand, highlighted using antivirus, changing passwords, and visiting known sites as some of their top advice other than strong passwords.

Importance of a secure connection

One of the results that I found most interesting is the fact that experts and non-experts overall recognized the value of verifying the site they are visiting by looking at the URL.
But, experts were far more likely to check if the site was connected through a secure connection, using HTTPS.
Non-experts, however, didn’t check for a secure connection. Modern browsers make recognition easy through lock icons and color coding. One explanation is that non-experts didn’t know how to check or what it means. As Google noted in the full research paper, this is interesting because verification of the site URL and secure connection (HTTPS) are right next to each other! Why wouldn’t you check both as once?

Google Report FindingsPhoto credit: Google Online Security Blog

Two-factor authentication

Google’s survey results suggest a knowledge gap for non-experts: two-factor authentication. As noted above, two-factor authentication was one of the top recommendations by experts and a growing trend in digital safety because it offers an additional, second way of verifying identity after a password. Unfortunately, setting up two-factor authentication is up to the web service provider, and not us, the end users.

While not one of Google’s conclusions, the report highlights a need for greater digital literacy training to improve digital safety. And here at TechChange we agree.

So, what does this mean for TechChange’s Digital Safety Course?
For our upcoming Digital Safety course, we are providing comprehensive training to empower the you to make informed decisions. This means that we will cover digital literacy topics, such as how the Internet and mobile networks work, as well as providing in-depth tool studies.

Most importantly, we will provide an analytical framework to assess risk and determine what tools or approaches make the most sense for a particular location and situation. What works to keep someone safe in the US wouldn’t work in countries where encryption is regulated. Lhadon Tethong, a leader in the Free Tibet movement, notes that providing basic user education to understand the risks of technology to make informed decisions is key. Whether for your personal accounts, and for your organization, especially if you are working with sensitive data, it is crucial that all your information is safe online.

We begin our Basics of Digital Safety online course on August 17! More than 30 participants from around the world have already signed up. Read more details here and join us!

Internet connectivity is increasingly being seen as a human right in our digital world. Today, most of us can’t imagine a world without the Internet, yet only 30% of the world has access to it. Meanwhile, over 85% of the world has cellular coverage and as mobile phones and smartphones become increasingly cheaper, more people are able to access the Internet.

Here are some global initiatives to make the Internet more affordable and accessible to the most remote areas of the world:

1. Facebook’s

At the end of August 2013, Mark Zuckerberg introduced, a collaborative effort of Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world that are still offline.

Recently, Facebook launched the app to Airtel customers in Zambia. The app provides access to 13 basic services without data charges; some of the free services include MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), AccuWeather, and WRAPP (Women’s Rights App). Serving as a channel to women’s right resources, has received praise from Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as she said that, “This technology will empower countless women to make a positive impact on their societies and the world.” While the full benefit of is yet to unfold, it is definitely a step forward in allowing women access to much needed services.

2. Google’s Project Loon

Google’s Project Loon pilot project in New Zealand

Starting with a pilot project in New Zealand in June 2013, Project Loon is Google’s initiative to provide “balloon-powered internet for everyone.” Loon balloons float on the stratosphere and rise and descend with wind patterns to their desired direction of travel, while special antennas in people’s homes allow them to connect with the Loon network for online access. In 2014, Project Loon aims to continue their effort to make internet access possible for hard to reach areas by establishing a ring of connectivity of multiple loons around the 40th parallel.



From the makers of Ushahidi, Crowdmap, and the iHub in Kenya, comes BRCK, a $199 connectivity device designed for use in areas with minimal electricity and internet connections. Built to perform in off-the-grid areas, BRCK works with any 3G enabled SIM card in over 140 countries, has a virtual mobile network operator (vMNO) for connectivity without a SIM card, and also has an external GSM antenna port to support connectivity. Designed by the developing world, for the developing world, BRCK claims that “if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”

4. Oluvus


With a mission to “get the world online for free,” Kosta Grammatis is following the footsteps of Facebook and Google in the race to provide free internet connectivity.  Set to launch later this year, Oluvus plans to provide basic internet services for free in the U.S. and use the profit from additional services purchased by their customers to fund connectivity projects in the developing world. Oluvus’s first project is set to take place in the world largest refugee camp, Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya.


What’s next for internet expansion?

As tech giants Facebook and Google tackle the global lack of internet access, they are sure to be ahead of the game. While Facebook’s’s success is too early to tell, Google commemorated a successful 120-day afloat of one of their Loon balloons on 7th August proving they can withstand harsh weather conditions. Google and Facebook are also expanding their internet initiatives considering drones and satellites to deliver the Internet to more people.

Critics have questioned the end goal of the various internet initiatives that are emerging, labeling them as “gateway drugs” to their product among the unreached population. Despite the critique, the pursuit to provide internet access to the world combined with the power of internet connectivity to change people’s lives cannot be denied.

Challenges lie ahead for these internet initiatives as they deal with regulatory issues such as spectrum/net neutrality as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been criticized for trying to regulate. Google’s Loon project may face challenges controlling air traffic for its string of loon balloons and BRCK’s may not withstand all crises while claiming to be crisis-friendly. Those unable to afford computers, laptops, or tablets, are able to leapfrog technology to use mobile phones to access the Internet, making it increasingly empowering in the developing world. The future for internet initiatives looks bright as more businesses and organizations look to reach new customers online by providing internet access worldwide.

Where do you think these internet initiatives are heading? Tweet @techchange or comment below to share your thoughts.

This year, Starbucks announced that it would make its internet speed in coffee shops 10 times faster by switching from AT&T to Google. Though it has not revealed which 7,000 locations around the U.S. would receive the new Google internet first, I was lucky enough to experience it my hometown of Wichita, Kansas over the holidays. As I hopped on the Starbucks Wifi, I was greeted by a welcome page covered in Google logos. In a confused, still uncaffeinated stupor, I dared to try a speed test.

And it is awesome.

I mean, not just good enough for email, but good enough to watch Netflix (even ultra HD!), stream music, or, um, actually do work for a change and run one of our global live video events on Google Hangouts on Air.

Those familiar with Google Fiber may not be surprised that Kansas has some of the early adopters of the new WiFi. After all, our state capitol did change its name to Google for a month.

But what is surpising is how much this signals a shift. Back in 2008, Starbucks ditched T-Mobile for AT&T Wi-Fi, which showed a movement away from T-Mobile “hotspots” to the incentivization of AT&T data plans for smartphones. Then, Starbucks turned to free internet to remain current with competitors.

Now, we’re seeing a new shift as Google has made huge dents in both the smartphone and laptop market. Android has captured 81% of smartphone market share, while Google Chromebooks account for 21% of laptop sales in 2013. Not to mention the intimidating foray of Fiber into internet connectivity.

According to Wikipedia, Starbucks has 20,891 stores in 62 countries, and that’s growing daily. The comparison here might not be to AT&T and T-Mobile for mobile Wi-Fi access, but rather to when AT&T and Apple partnered to launch the iPhone. Bandwidth like this in a public place may not just threaten other carriers and internet providers, but even coworking spaces and office environments.

Sorry, playwrights and up-and-coming writers. Collaborating nerds are going to take over the local Starbucks. With speeds like this, Starbucks may even disrupt coworking spaces like 1776, which essentially rent seats to small teams with great bandwidth and good support.

Of course, this experience was in Kansas. As I returned to DC to find that our office Comcast had gone out again, I made my way over to Starbucks. Where I barely get 0.6 Mb/sec download speeds.

I had to remember: We’re not in Kansas anymore.

But perhaps soon in Starbucks, we might as well be.

Google’s relatively new service, Hangouts On Air, provides a powerful tool for live streaming videos to a mass audience. In an effort to streamline how we run live events, we have experimented with Hangouts On Air for our last few efforts with promising results.

In the past, we have relied on a service provided by OpenTok with success. We were able to stream events live over the internet with low bandwidth usage and a powerful API that allowed for simple embedding and integration into our online learning platform. We remain advocates of OpenTok and will continue to use their services for certain events. However, we have found Google Hangout offers many of the same services while simultaneously making the process a little more straightforward and instantly archived. The potential for Google Hangout On Air to further synchronous, online education via live events is tremendous. Here’s the breakdown:

So, what does Google Hangout On Air let us do that’s so great?

  1. We can embed it like a YouTube video into our site. In the Hangout On Air interface, once you have initiated the Hangout On Air, we can click a button and pull up an embed code. We can throw it onto any page we want and it will automatically start playing for anybody on the page.
  2. Google archives for us. You could say we are hoarders here at TechChange. For every course, we like to keep track of every resource we offer, what works and what doesn’t, and how people engage with us. Not only that, but we want to make sure we can provide resources equally to all students. Our greatest fear is losing a recording of a live event. Any Hangout On Air we host is instantly converted to a YouTube video that we can add to the course as an archive. Our current system requires us to screen capture part of the webpage, which we then have to process and upload to YouTube. Needless to say, Hangouts On Air saves us a substantial amount of manpower.
  3. Screen share is integrated. Though we love working with the Screenleap API, we’ve been hard pressed to find a reliable solution for capturing both our screen shares and our live video streams at the same time. With Google Hangouts on Air, archiving is automatic and includes video, audio, and screen share in the same archive. We still plan on using Screenleap extensively for tool demos, support, and others (see Hangouts on Air drawbacks 1 and 2 below), but being able to easily capture these presentations is a huge benefit.

Then why not use it for everything?

  1. The Hangout On Air API does not allow for deep integration. Although Hangout On Air is pretty powerful out of the box, we have minimal flexibility in modifying how it works and are always at the mercy of Google. There is nowhere to request direct support and asking for a new feature is about as useful as asking Fox to renew Firefly. Using Screenleap and OpenTok, we are able to allow participants and experts to publish to a live session with one click of a button. This type of deep integration is incredibly powerful, which is why we will still use both of these services extensively, especially in cases when recording an archive is less important (such as office hours, live simulations, etc).
  2. Hangouts require a Google+ account and plugin installation. Not all of our presenters have Google+ accounts. Some people want to stay off the social media grid, others come from countries where Google is inaccessible. For those who simply want to avoid Google+ we provide them access to extra accounts. Additionally, an extra plugin is required to run Hangouts. Our presenters hail from all over the globe, so when working with presenters who may have minimal internet connection or have to work from an internet café where installation of software isn’t allowed, this can be a deal breaker.
  3. Google Hangouts have a delay. Though we think we are safe from any possible wardrobe malfunctions, we cannot prevent an approximately 30 second to one minute delay when live streaming with Google Hangouts On Air. This means that our synchronous event is a little asynchronous. When our students ask questions, they are usually asking them a minute after we have already moved to a new topic. The facilitator must deftly (or not so deftly) return the conversation to the previous topic. In general this works fine, but there are times when it can be jarring.

Through experimenting, testing, and iterating, we have become pretty comfortable running Hangouts On Air as our main live streaming service when capturing an archive is vital. We hope that, as we keep using it, we will find even better ways of integrating and using it to further our online education model. Beyond that, though, we’re hoping to get a clearer answer to the question, How well does this work with mobile?

We have been able, with shaky results, to both watch the Hangouts On Air from a smartphone and broadcast a presenter too. It’s not quite stable enough for us to use, but if Google can make the process smoother, this would substantially improve our live events offering on mobile phones.

While the world’s eyes are on Egypt, it is imperative not to forget the struggle in Belarus, which has entered a new phase following the December 2010 election.  The aftermath of the recent elections in Belarus sent shockwaves around Europe; it also provides a crucial test for the Obama Administration’s attitudes towards human rights.  In Belarus, the 19 December 2010 election, marked by widespread fraud, was followed with wide demonstrations by the opposition.  In the month afterwards, the Belarusian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka has engaged in a broad crackdown, arresting over 600 activists and 7 of the presidential candidates.  In addition to those of the opposition, social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and even Google Talk and Gmail were blocked in Minsk. Human rights groups, independent media and other NGOs have been pressured to close or suffered online attacks against their websites in addition to threats and tirades from Minsk. (more…)

Google Africa has a new Manager of Policy – Ory Okolloh.

Okolloh, co-founder of the very successful crowdsourcing platform, known as Ushahidi, recently announced that she will be stepping down as Executive Director, and stepping into the new position with Google.