Please Stop Using TikTok

**UPDATE: Please note this post has nothing to do with the Trump administration’s policies or views of Tiktok. I wrote this post in March (2020) after watching our network activity while TikTok was running in the background of student devices. If you’re still interested, please read on. My hopes are that wherever TikTok lands on this issue, it will be more secure and less invasive on users’ devices. 

A couple of days ago, I retweeted a TechCrunch article about the CEO of Reddit and TikTok.

tweet by @michellek107

Tweet by @michellek107

(I know there are a lot of issues with Reddit, but that’s not the focus of this post. )

I am and have been for the last 15 or more years an early adopter of many social media platforms, as well as technology in general. In other words, I’m one of the last people you’d call a technophobe. I do NOT balk at the latest popular fad with kids… in fact, I generally try to learn as much as I can about them.

All of that to say… this is not a #getoffmylawn post trying to spoil fun, light-hearted videos that are all the rage. I loved Vine when it first came out and could easily find myself down a Vine rabbit hole where time disappeared. There were some seriously funny people making some really great content!

When Vine disappeared, there was a pretty big hole for content creators who wanted byte-sized entertainment. Another platform that started to fill that void was – I had a lot of students who were super excited about lip-synching their way into their friends’ views.

I had some reservations about, mostly because the terms of service (privacy for kids) were somewhat concerning. Alex Zhu and Louis Yang, founders, saw the potential and the popularity of this app and dreamed that it could be the next big social network.

A year after my students were buzzing about, I read that it had been sold to Bytedance Technology and re-branded as TikTok. It became exactly the platform Zhu and Yang envisioned.

Again, I had privacy concerns for kids, as did a lot of other people. As a result of that pushback, ByteDance/TikTok added some privacy settings, and that seemed to calm a lot of nerves.

But then I started working on our school’s firewall/proxy server and noticed all the activity generated by TikTok. Even when the kids weren’t actively using the app, there were a lot of connections to sites that have been identified as “malicious” or associated with data collection dumps. At the very least, it is essentially spyware, even when running in the background, but not active. At worst, it could be installing malware without you (or kids) knowing.

Sometimes, even when the app isn’t even open at all, the device is still pinging those malicious websites. I tested this while holding a kid’s iPad. I closed all the apps myself. When I downloaded the app on my own device to test what was happening from the point of installation, the app created an account for me, even though I didn’t allow any of those permissions. I deleted both the account and the app right away from my device.

I know that kids aren’t going to understand the severity of this situation, but I’m hoping that adults will do better. Here’s why:

Every time I talk with people about security risks, I often hear excuses along the lines of “Well, I don’t really care. I don’t have anything to hide.

That’s not only ignorant, but dangerous. You DO have things to hide. I fear that our lack of concern about data privacy enables the mentality of “there’s no such thing as privacy anymore.” Do you ever use an internet-connected device to access financial information? What about your health information (including connections with a physical activity tracker)? Most of us have. And even if, somehow, you have managed to avoid any online financial or health transactions… you’re allowing an unknown entity to harvest your personal data for purposes unknown.

Yeah, yeah… I know Facebook mines your data*. I know Instagram**, owned by Facebook, does this.  I know Google and Apple*** do it, too. But they’re fundamentally different.  The kind of sites TikTok communicates with is the differentiating factor. While Facebook/Google/Apple are still collecting your personal data, they aren’t communicating with malicious websites or installing spyware/malware. And yes, even Mac and iOS devices are vulnerable to malware attacks.

I’m definitely not giving any free passes to Facebook, Apple, or Google. But there have already been major concerns calling out ByteDance’s practices, including lawsuits: (if you only read one of these links, read this one.)


Think I’m being too alarmist? I know this is a long post with a lot of linked material, but I’m begging you to read at least some of those links. We are putting an entire generation of kids in a position where their data is being used without their INFORMED consent as a standard practice in our schools. Encouraging the use of TikTok takes that risk to the next level.

If you don’t care about your own data privacy, I know I probably won’t convince you. However, if you’re an educator with any type of influence, please do anything you can to help parents and children understand the HUGE implications of using an app like TikTok.


Like to deep-dive into (somewhat) dry reading about data privacy? Read here:

* I deleted my FB account two years ago, btw.

**Did you know, if you disable the microphone setting that you can’t do InstaStories, but you’ll also notice fewer targeted ads? I got tired of seeing ads for things that I had only spoken about minutes earlier.

***I don’t use voice-activated devices in my classroom (and neither should you), nor in my home. I only enable Siri in the car while I’m driving, for safety purposes.

The Pinterest Mentality

I’m not knocking Pinterest. (Please, no hate mail.) The tool is not really the problem. The mentality of how people thoughtlessly and mechanically use this tool IS the problem.


[CC licensed photo “3D Broken Copyright” by]


Many of us work really diligently to teach our students to be digitally literate: navigate digital environments, think critically, access and analyze digital information, and produce creative and relative digital content.

Part of digital literacy also includes digital citizenship and understanding intellectual and creative property of digital content. You see a photo online? Someone took that photo, and THAT person owns the rights to that photo. You do not have the right to use that digital photo. Same thing with music, art work, writing… we know this. It’s not okay to use someone else’s work without explicit permission. Even WITH permission, there are still  restrictions on how and when you can use that work.

Creative Commons provides licensed work (photos, music, video, etc.)  with options to use freely. **If you don’t already know about Creative Commons – take time to do so.  I license a lot of my photos and even this blog with a Creative Commons license. Feel free to share, but be sure to post proper attribution. (The photo in this post is a Creative Commons photo with attribution specific to how the creator wanted to be credited.)

So, back to Pinterest. Pinterest is that tool that allows you to easily (too easily, in my opinion) curate sites you want to save: recipes, fashion, quotes… you name it. When you save a pin, it scans the website for all photos to use as the “face” of that pin. In the case of a photo, the photo itself is saved as the pin, but the OWNER’s information is not saved with the pin.

And then the photo is repinned. And repinned again. And repinned again. The 500th person to repin that pin may or may not have access to the original site where that photo was posted. There is absolutely NO trace back to the owner.

Two years ago, I found on Pinterest an education poster that I wanted to revise and use in my classroom. I spent DAYS trying to track down the original creator of the poster to no avail. You can read my post about the need for ATTRIBUTION and the rest of that story here.

To this date, I still do not know who created that poster. 

And guess what? My version of that poster- the one that I drew based on that original poster? Now MY POSTER is being shared, reshared, and pinned without attribution. We are two levels deep in sharing without properly crediting the work that was created.

This is the Pinterest Mentality. We don’t even think. We pin. We retweet. We don’t stop to make sure that someone’s intellectual and creative property is respected enough to ask permission to use OR even to include the creator’s name with the work. And I hate to even type this, but educators are some of the worst offenders. Fair Use does not exempt us from all copyright restrictions. “It’s for education” is not an excuse.

Pinterest (and tools like it) makes it really easy to ignore the owner of the “work” being pinned… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

If you teach your students not to plagiarize, they should also be learning that they can’t use creative works without permission. The adults need to learn this, too.

Model appropriate use and respect of the work of others. If you want to share something (or repin), be sure to add attribution somewhere in the description of what you’re sharing.

Digitally literate and respectful educators shouldn’t be the exception… we should be the norm.

Blog Action Day 08- Poverty and Access

Today is Blog Action Day 08, and I started thinking about experiences I had while I was in the classroom.

I taught in a very small school, and there were very few families of “average” socioeconomic status. There were many well above average, and many well below. It was an environment somewhat foreign to me, as I attended schools where most students were all about the same.

During the time I was there, I remember thinking about the achievement levels of all the kids– how those levels mostly fell into the patterns we were taught (from college methods classes) to expect. There were, however, a few kids who completely defied the stereotypes.

There were 4 in particular who amazed me with their accomplishments. According to all definitions, they lived in poverty. Additionally, their parents were either non-existent at home, abusive, drug/alcohol dependent, or all of the above. Yet these children were THRIVING at school. They made the superior honor roll. They were involved in multiple activities- because it was such a small school, kids who were involved in anything were usually involved in everything. They were leaders in their classes, had excellent senses of humor, and were well-liked all around. No one seemed to care that they often wore rags or didn’t have the latest, greatest technology.

I often asked my colleagues, “What is it about these kids that enable them to excel when, all factors considered, they should be struggling?” We often shrugged our shoulders and felt grateful for those kids.

Now, I think back on those kids… I still don’t know what it was that helped them initially, but I do know that all the positive forces in their lives helped them to CONTINUE to thrive. I’m happy just to have been in their somewhere, whether my contribution had much of an impact or not. I know that, somehow, they experienced something or someone who gave them advantages that other children living in poverty didn’t receive. They were lucky.

But then I think about the other kids who were growing up in the same types of households… the ones who didn’t thrive. I remember the school nurse quietly offering t-shirts to kids who came to school in dirty clothes everyday. Or the principal allowing some kids to arrive really early in the morning, so they could take a quick shower in the locker room and then head to the cafeteria to eat a hot breakfast. As much as we tried to help, and as much as we wanted them to be successful, some of them were not. They struggled to read. They struggled with basic math skills, even in high school. They struggled with relationships with other students. I often wonder, what could I have done better to help them? Would they always be “behind” in life?  (Are they still behind now? )

Now, while I’m in a different position in a different place, I think about the kids in our schools who have similar situations. The “haves” walk in the door with their designer clothing and backpacks, cell phones, iPods, laptops- and although they’re asked to put those ‘distractions’ away at school- these kids have ACCESS. They are always connected. What about the students who aren’t as connected? Are they already behind in school on what educators view as traditional curriculum? If so, how much further behind will these kids be in 21st century skills? Do these kids have the same opportunity to learn the media, information, and technological literacies as their more affluent peers?

With what you know about your own schools, think about the following:

  • students who struggle with basic ‘traditional’ literacy skills spend more time on skill/drill and re-teaching activities– and less on critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative activities.
  • which kids in your schools struggle the most? Are they given time to think critically, or are they doing skill and drills?
  • which kids in your schools spend the most time connected to the internet during school? Those who have access at home already, or those who do not?
  • when you or your teachers use technology as a tool to facilitate learning, are you (they) replicating pen and paper activities with technology, or using the tools to ask good questions, solve problems, create new products and gain deeper understanding?

Now think about these statements:

Education is supposed to be the great equalizer.

Some have said that technology is the new great equalizer.

I think that, if we don’t make changes in our schools NOW, we are going to experience one of the greatest divides ever between those who can afford to be connected, and those who cannot. What are you going to do about that?

July 2008 Think About-Digital Literacy and Administrators

Discussing Digital Literacy with educators usually brings about a list of excuses why they can’t implement teaching digital skills in the classroom:

1. I have too much curriculum content to cover, and I don’t have time to teach anything else.

2. I don’t know enough about Web 2.0 (or even what that really means) to help kids… besides, the kids already know more than I do, right?

3. Is anything about digital literacy on the ‘tests?’ No? Then I can’t teach it.

4. My administrator doesn’t support anything that isn’t research-based or a tried/true approach.

… and the list goes on. And for most of them, these are valid reasons for being hesitant, especially #4. But I’ve never really heard a good list from administrators. And without administrative support, classroom teachers can’t really move ahead either.

Jeanette Johnson is a principal who is also a blogger. About a year ago, she posted a top ten list of “not so good reasons… why educational leaders don’t embrace digital technologies.” It’s worth reading, whether you’re an administrator or not.

I’ve been saying for quite a while now that our kids don’t have time for the adults to catch up, but at the same time, I need to be empathetic to the needs of administrators and teachers. Do administrators need to step up? How could they even begin? My suggestion to many has been — start doing something that you haven’t done before:

1. Do you blog? If not, start by reading other educators’ blogs. If you’re reading mine, check out my blogroll on the right side of the page. I’ll be adding more later today.

2. Have you ever ventured into social profiles? They’re not all bad, even though there’s a lot of garbage out there. Jump into one, or better yet, have a kid show you what they do. That’s the best way to introduce yourself.

3. Find an educational podcast– or any podcast that you find interesting– and subscribe to it.

4. Talk to kids about what they do when they’re not in school. How much time do they spend on the web? Do they satisfy a direct need from what they do on the web? Or is it simply communication to them? How many of them post videos to sites like YouTube? Are they involved in any groups in MySpace or Facebook? Why? Do they podcast? Do they listen to podcasts? Why?

5. Think about the websites that are blocked by your school’s internet filter in the name of “safety.” How many of those sites are really unsafe for kids, and how many of them are considered a nuisance by you and/or your faculty? Brush up on the CIPA requirements and then compare your blocked list. And then… ask kids what they think.

Will kids think you’re weird or old school for not knowing about these things? Probably. But they already think you’re old school, right? So what’s the harm in asking?

21st Century Learners need educators who understand them and know what they need to learn to be prepared for their world. Educational leaders have to help their staff members to be prepared to teach 21st Century learners. If our leaders/administrators are behind, who will help them?

The Digital Divide- Not Just the Haves and Have-Nots

For quite some time, the Digital Divide has been a term describing the existing gap between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots” — pertaining to access to technology. Essentially, the Digital Divide classifies people all over the world into two classes: those who have access to and know how to use digital technologies, and those who don’t (to read more, go to the Digital Divide Network).

The more I work with kids, however, I feel there are really three classes that need our attention:

Class I: this is the class of students who have digital access, at school and maybe at home– who are creators, producers, problem-solvers, etc., who have been given the opportunity to work with educators in digital environments. They have had guidance concerning how to use these tools responsibly (from educators and parents); and at some level, this class of students understands the implications of what they create and publish for the world to see. These students work in digital environments in and outside of the classroom and view their digital experiences as learning, socializing, and global responsibility opportunities. In some cases, these students also will have had an opportunity to learn about a healthy balance of “plugged in” time vs. “unplugged.”

Class II: these students also have access to digital environments, but have had less guidance from adults as to best digital practices. In their schools, their personal digital devices (e.g., cell phones, mp3 players) are usually banned, and computer use and web access is most often viewed as a reward rather than the norm. Academically speaking, this class of students will use web resources for research, but are usually digitally unaware of validity and reliability of said resources. There is little to no guidance for this class of students, either at school or at home, about what is acceptable, appropriate, and responsible behavior on the web. Their view of digital environments is generally limited to socializing opportunities… envision a social networking page with multiple inappropriate comments, photos, and videos. These students tend to stay “plugged in” more than their Class I counterparts. Although this class of students has digital access, these students probably will not have the advantages and preparation for post-secondary education and adult life that the Class I students will have.

Class III: these students do not have digital access at home. If their schools do not provide the proper balance, these students are often cheated of digital experiences entirely. In schools where technology is viewed as an extra or as a privilege, many of these students fall behind at extraordinary rates. They do not create, publish, produce, or problem-solve in digital environments, and they are usually relegated to the state of consumer in the classroom. Higher-level thinking skills are only nurtured within this group by outstanding classroom teachers; however, without the digital experiences, this group is so far behind the Class I students, they may face an unsurmountable disadvantage as adults in the 21st Century.

This post is not promoting an initiative for all schools to add a 1:1 laptop ratio into every classroom, assuming that a laptop is the panacea for the Digital Divide. Nor is it an assumption that students can’t learn higher level thinking skills without technology. Think, however, about the following examples:

Jack: has access in school and at home, has a web-enabled cell phone he is allowed to use to find answers and to communicate with the world around him, has parents who set reasonable limits for the time he spends “plugged in” and have guided him about responsible behavior. Jack creates his own podcasts about how to use digital video editing software, writes his own blog about the upcoming US elections, and creates public service announcement videos for teens that may be seen on YouTube and sometimes even local television stations.

Brittany: covertly text messages her friends during classes at school- where cell phones are banned, populates her MySpace page with provocative photos of herself and her friends, chats with strangers online and pretends she is much older than she truly is, publishes her cell phone number and home address on all her social networking sites, and writes a research-based paper for her science class on global warming using only the first five returns on Google. Brittany has no limitations on how much time she spends “plugged in.”

Delanie: Delanie does not have a cell phone or a computer at home with internet access. The only time she has any digital experiences is when her classroom teacher takes the entire class to the computer lab. There are some computers in her classroom, but she has a more difficult time in school than her peers and it takes her longer to finish classwork. The computer in this classroom is a privilege and may be used only after worksheets are completed and turned in to the teacher… with no mistakes. Delanie has no idea about the world of blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc., except for what she hears other kids talk about.

Do you know students like Jake, Brittany, and Delanie? Would it surprise you to know that, even though I changed their names, these examples are students I actually know?

How would you classify your own students? What can you do to help bridge their Digital Divide?

Defining Web 2.0

When attempting to define “Web 2.0” for educators and administrators, I sometimes find myself coming up short. How does one define something so abstract? So huge? Is it important to define? YES. We can’t understand its importance to our students if we don’t know what it is.

Sharon Peters has a great definition: “How to describe Web 2.0 to Administrators“– it’s well worth reading!

May’s Think-About

So long, 2006-2007!

The 2006-2007 school year has come to an end. Over the summer, while students are taking their well-needed break, what do you think they’ll be learning? My guess is that those with access to the internet are going to be spending a lot of time on their social networking sites, blogs, instant messaging, podcasting, online gaming… and probably a few things I don’t even know about yet.

The point I continue to make in nearly every post is that we, as educators, need to know what are students are doing and understand what draws them in to those activities. The students we’ll have returning to our classrooms again in the fall are digital natives. We need to teach them in their language (“digital”), and we can’t do that effectively if we live outside that world.

Spend some time this summer learning something new… maybe you’ll read an education blog, or subscribe to a podcast, or start your own MySpace(tm) page! Whatever it is, be sure to keep an open mind about your experience, and try to see the world through your students’ eyes. The digital experience isn’t going away any time soon, and our students will be expected to think, produce, evaluate, and be creative in a digital world. Will you be able to help them?

Have a great summer!

NETA 07- Day Two

Alan November was the keynote this morning, and he talked a lot about Web 2.0. I’m thrilled to see that he is sharing much of the work we do in our Net Detective/Net Savvy and Digital Literacy in-service sessions! I learned a few new tips from Alan to add to our sessions as well.

My favorite part about both sessions I attended with Alan November is that he almost begs educators to be more open-minded about Web 2.0. Of course Wikipedia shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all for resources, but we shouldn’t discount the information it stores just because some “expert” hasn’t blessed it. He notes the “power of the collective” is something our students understand, but our teachers have yet to grasp. Most importantly, November notes that we need to teach our students to be responsible users of technology… we can’t just block them from everything. I wholeheartedly agree, but I think he may have been preaching to the choir at NETA. The majority of attendees feel the same way, but aren’t able to make much progress back at their schools.

If you want to know more about Alan November, check out his site… he’s over in the Blogroll, too.


Another noteworthy session today was led by my good friend, Dan Schmit. Dan’s session was titled, “You Can Do That?!” Dan introduced a lot of fun, new technologies that are available via the web.  Rather than recap it all here, I’ll just point you to his pbwiki page, You Can Do That?!— where he’s listed and briefly described everything he discussed in his session.

I’m off to more sessions… probably won’t post anymore about NETA 2007. I will say, though, that this has been one of the more enjoyable NETA conferences!

March Think-About

It’s been almost a month since I last posted. I know there are only about two of you reading this blog right now, so I should apologize to just you.

What’s concerning me today is what I see… or rather DON’T see… happening in classrooms. There are great educators out there doing great things in their classrooms. We’re having truly meaningful discussions about the tools we use to facilitate communication and gather information. BUT– of course there is a “but”– I don’t think we’re incorporating our discussion topics into the classroom practices. In simpler terms, we’re not changing the way we teach to accommodate what students need to learn.

One example: I still see many teachers use computers as a reward and not an everyday necessity with kids. I hear, “If you finish your classroom assignment, you can then work on the computer.” The students in these types of classrooms don’t see the computer as a tool; they see it as an object where games are played.

Funny, but I’m guessing they don’t view computers at home the same as they do at school…

… which brings me to yet ANOTHER point. In many of my in-services we discuss the Digital Divide, or at least the topics that people associate with the term. Let me set this up–

  • Some teachers have explained to me that they can’t use “technology” in their assignments, because not all students have access to computers at home.
  • Many of these same teachers use computers or other technologies as rewards in the classroom for those students who either finish classwork early or who have done well on particular assignments. In essence, the computer has become an enrichment tool– or on the worst level, a distractor– so that the teacher has time to work with the students who need more help finishing classwork, mastering a topic, etc.
  • When we study which students have computer/internet access at home, we also find that these tend to be the students who finish their classwork on time and are understanding the concepts. It’s not a direct correlation, but the odds are better than average that those who “have” continue to get more time with technology than those who “don’t have.”

By continuing to use classroom technologies as games or rewards, we’re not helping the kids who need help most. If a child has limited or no computer/internet access at home, he or she should be able to learn those digital skills at school. Isn’t that the most natural conclusion? Or are we assuming that these same students need more important skills before focusing on digital literacy? Couldn’t we do both at the same time?

Digital Divide links you might read:

The Digital Divide Network

Digital Divide on Edutopia

Bridge the Digital Divide

Many of the articles and information you’ll find in the above links will focus mainly around the “access” issue. However, it’s not just about limited access. I can donate computers to schools, homes, etc.; but if I don’t provide the “how” and the “why,” those tools aren’t going to help bridge any gap.  Digital literacy skills don’t simply appear on their own. They must be taught.  More on this in my next post…

It’s Not All Garbage to Me

I recently heard a teacher say that the majority of the information on the web is “all garbage;” and therefore, it should not be used as a source for research.
Students don’t buy that. They ask, “Why can’t I use the internet as a source? If the information is out there in multiple sources, including electronic sources, why are you insisting that I use only textbooks and other print materials?”

Those questions are all too commonly asked by many students who are accustomed to having information at their fingertips. One of my kids came home one day to tell me that she could not use any internet sources for her research. Her teacher wanted her to use “more reliable sources,” like textbooks and periodicals.

I’m not knocking the information one can find in a periodical, but what lesson are we teaching students here? Is NOTHING on the internet valid and reliable? And therefore, we shouldn’t use any of it for research/information?

I understand that a lot of teachers are uneasy about the wealth of misinformation that can be found on the web. However, wouldn’t it be a better skill to teach students HOW to find valid and reliable information?

I sometimes hold a class for teachers that explains how to be a good “Internet Sleuth.” We learn about testing sites for accuracy, validity, reliablility, etc. Why can’t we do that with our students?

Interestingly enough, I found another blog post about this very same issue today. Will Richardson over at posted “YouNiversity” yesterday afternoon. He writes about the same frustration:

“The problem, obviously, is not only are we denying students the ability to connect with and use some great resources ‘wherever they can find it,’ we’re also not teaching them the processes that go along with editing those resources for themselves, for making decisions about the content they find.”

And that is the true disservice to our students. Discernment is a very necessary 21st century digital literacy skill. If we continue to point our students to sources that we know are “trustworthy,” how will they ever learn to find their own trustworthy sources?

And please, let’s not continue to assume, or worse yet, tell our students that everything on the web is “garbage.”