Thursday, December 9, 2010

Last Post for Info3pt0

So I started this blog specifically for a class this semester where we would be learning about technology and its role in sharing and seeking information. I must say, I would never have considered making a blog on my own, the idea of blogging just never appealed to me. Not to say that I didn't recognize the value of other people's blogs. But, this experience with blogging has been a useful one. I think I really have a better understanding of what blogging can be. It's not just someone rambling about their day or keeping an online journal. Blogging can be a useful source of information supported by other research. Looking at my classmates blogs, I can see how someone searching for information on a topic could end up on one of their blogs and using those blogs as a starting point for research. All this being said about the benefits of blogging, I'm still not convinced its for me. I don't see myself completely abandoning this blog from this point on but I think I might make the topic of my blog more general. My professor explained that we are creating a sort of online portfolio and Im happy that this blog will be out there in the vast land of the internet to represent me because I am proud of what I have done here.

Aside from the blogging aspect of this class, there is a lot I learned that I had no idea I was so ignorant about. For example, we talked a lot in class about privacy and technology. Going in to this class, I really didn't think much about my privacy online. I figured I have passwords to log in to sensitive sites and that meant I was secure. But, in our class we really went in to depth on the different aspects of privacy. We learned about the ways people can illegally access your moblile phone, the dangers of bluetooth, and the sheer amount of information that you can gather about a stranger on the internet. One exercise from the class that sticks out for me is one where we had to seek as much information about someone on the internet as we could but we had to pretend we only knew their name. It was a little scary how much information I could gather on my person. Not only did I find information about them but I could link them to other family members. This exercise is just one example of the way this class really opened my eyes. I remember commenting in class that it seems like a lot of the precautions would limit one's freedom to live their life and that it wasn't worth it but I think I have a different attitude now. There really are a lot of simple things I can do to make myself more secure in this rapidly changing technological world.

This class also gave me a better perspective of what technology has to offer for education. The tools that my professor used to engage us in the material were really impressive. We learned a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of a virtual classroom. One day we all met in the virtual classroom instead of physically going to our classroom. I think it was an exciting experience for everyone and I would go as far as to say that everyone was more engaged that day. There were also some drawbacks though because the professor couldn't actually see our faces and gauge our interest level. He had to rely on us to take the initiative to respond to material. Just the other day, we watched a video on a middle school whose principal initiated a program to give everyone student a laptop. The students there use google tools to do their work and have a lot of creative assignments based on their computer. There were some drawbacks with kids going to other sites during the school day but overall it seemed like the students were really getting a lot more out of school. I think this is evidence of where education and technology are going. Through my experiences in the class and the material we covered, I can see the future of education resembling something more close to this middle school and my class's  experiences than the type of education we see in schools today.

I just want to close this post with a recommendation to anyone reading. If you are in school or an educator, seek out opportunities to incorporate technology into learning because it can really be your friend. If you aren't in school, still seek out these opportunities! The world is going to keep moving toward a more technological one and you don't want
to be left behind.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where do STD Prevention and Technology go from here?

In order to successfully prevent a disease you have to be able to communicate the methods of prevention to a large audience and convince that audience that prevention of this disease is important. As our world changes, the means of communicating to different populations changes too and this is where technology comes in to play.

In the past, when a person wanted information on an STD, they basically had two options: ask a friend/family member or ask a health professional. But, a lot of people aren't comfortable going face to face with another person and discussing something so closely related to their sexual activity and unfortunately for society, this wariness of talking about STDs is causing a lot of problems with preventing it.   Thankfully, today, most people have access to a new tool and that is the internet. The internet has provided an anonymous way for people to gain information about an STD. A person can find an overview of STDs including symptoms and ways to get tested. They can also find statistics on a disease in their area which could make them more inclined to utilize prevention methods.
Not only does the internet provide prevention information, it also gives resources for people who have already contracted an STD. There are online support groups and resources for finding doctors. The internet does a good job of making sure no one feels alone with their condition and as stigmatized as society might make them feel, an online community of people dealing with the same thing will help that person feel included again.

The internet also does a great job of connecting organizations who are attempting to prevent STDs in their communities. It is very important that these organizations can collaborate because each organization has access to a specific population but to prevent STDs all populations need to be reached. For example, one organization might function within a church community while another might cater to transgender individuals. While these communities might have different needs the organizations serving them need to be working together since both groups will interact in society. It is also important that different organizations can connect so that they can share different methods of outreach, education, and prevention techniques with each other. If one organization finds that having people sign up for a mobile alert service that informs about free testing sites is an effective form of prevention, they can share that with another organization who might be able to utilize the same service with their population.

To get a field perspective on my topic I interviewed Denise Bellows from the Prevention Research Center in the School of Public Health.
 The mission of the PRC is to reduce health disparities in Maryland along the DC border. They attempt to do so by connecting the organizations in our area and "linking needs with resources." The PRC works with the Sexually Transmitted Infection Community Coalition of Metropolitan Washington, DC(STICC). They are working on ways to better communicate with the different organizations. I asked Denise how technology is helping the PRC reach its goals and she explained that technology comes in to play when trying to communicate with all the groups in the area. They also use technology to promote the work that they do including blogging through the School of Public Health's Healthy Turtle blog and posting pictures and videos of them doing their work. She also said that STICC uses a lot of technology to communicate including a facebook page and a website called is a website designed to allow groups to network and share information. It has features that allow for posting documents, creating events, and sharing calendars.

 Denise also mentioned email which she kind of jokingly questioned whether or not it was still considered technology. I feel that says something about where STD prevention is going in the future as far as technology. Organizations are no longer relying on a basic messaging platform but instead on interactive sites that focus on sharing an array of media and information. I think that if more people learn to utilize the tools available to them, we can be more effective at preventing all kinds of disease.

I also asked Denise if she saw any disadvantages of technology in her field. She explained that there were definitely some disadvantages and that the PRC actually conducted some focus groups on better ways to connect different STD prevention organizations. One of the ways proposed was creating a site like but the problem that organizations claimed to have was that they were often in the field and didn't always have access to the internet. In the future this problem may be alleviated by the increase of mobile internet use like smart phones but right now, not everyone has access to this kind of technology.

In the future, I see STD prevention moving even more into the digital world and I believe it will mostly be for the better. I think organizations dedicated to preventing STDs will be able to work together more effectively using technology and the populations they are trying to reach will have more technology available to them in order to access the information being provided by the organizations.

Interview with Denise:

Monday, November 1, 2010

My attempt at capturing my topic through photography:

When trying to capture the topic of STD prevention, I ran into a bit of an obstacle, that obstacle being the sensitivity of sexual health. STDs and sexual health in general have always been something of a hush hush topic. Most people don't feel comfortable talking about this topic openly. To protect the privacy of people seeking STD prevention or treatment services, I decided that taking pictures of people was out of the question. So I focused on one of the most public places on campus that has evidence of STD Prevention. I was able to find the University's attempt at free condom distribution and a small section of brochures on STD prevention to take pictures of. I have included two versions of both these scenes below and a description of what message I intend them to convey. All four pictures are unedited and captured using my cell phone camera.

This picture of the basket of free condoms in the Student Health Center shows what someone seeking this service would encounter. The condoms are sitting on a welcome desk in plain view to anyone that comes in. You can see from this picture how someone might feel a little self conscious taking condoms and how that might prevent them from practicing safe sex. This picture utilizes the rule of thirds with the focus being on the basket of condoms. The accompanying fliers on the desk around the basket are slightly out of focus.

This picture of the same subject is a little closer up and features the condoms in the basket a little more. The angle of the picture is taken more from above which can be more interesting than a straight on shot. Here again, the rule of thirds is evident with the focus again on the basket in the top right corner. The colors of the condom wrappers are a little more vibrant and shows a little bit of repetition with the one white condom contrasting with the rest.

This photo displays some of the literature available on the topic of sexual health and STD prevention. Its somewhat of a limited selection but I tried to highlight the Safer Sex brochure because it seemed to pop out the most. Instead of centering it, I kept it in the bottom corner.

The only real difference between this version and the one of above is the slight angle change. It is a slightly higher angle than the first. The property of repetition can be seen here because there are multiple brochures in the shot. These two photos are taken relatively close up to make sure the brochures were the only thing in the picture.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A pictures worth a thousand words?

Here's a selection of pictures I found that illustrate the topic of STD prevention:

 This first picture, although it technically uses two words, does a good job of conveying the message that using a condom can be a way to show someone you love them. It shows that you care about them enough to protect them from and STDs. Someone who saw just this picture would be able to extract a meaningful message from it.
 This image again uses a couple of words, but the combination of the picture and the phrase makes for an effective way to spread the message that sex connects sexual partners to each other.
 And finally, this picture and statement do a good job of conveying the notion that unprotected sex is a gamble and its important to minimize your risks of contracting an STD. This picture combines a little bit of humor with an important message so it does a good job of catching peoples attention.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Research on Cell Phone Safety

Here's a report compiled by my group partner (Amin Malik) and I on cell phone safety:

 In an increasingly digitized world, our private information is becoming more and more public and identity theft has become a very real danger in today's high tech modern society. An important way in which we access and exchange information is through the use of mobile phones, thus making mobile communication, a very susceptible target for identity theft. In this day and age, proper knowledge about cell phone information safety is a vital component of any education regarding information technology. 

Cell phone fraud is defined by the Federal Communications Commissions as the unauthorized use, tampering or manipulation of a cell phone or service. As you can imagine, this definition covers a wide range of illegal cell phone activity, including cell phone hacking, cloning, tapping, and subscriber fraud (to name a few). The diversity of the different avenues through which cell phone fraud can be committed makes the likelihood of cell phone fraud being committed much greater. Therefore, a comprehensive education on secure cell phone usage and privacy requires knowledge of many different types of cell phone fraud.

 With each type of cell phone fraud we hope to include a brief overview including how the fraud is committed, some statistics related to the topic, and hopefully a summary of a few preventative measures that can be taken against this fraud.
The first form of cell phone fraud that we will be examining is cell phone tapping. Cell phone tapping is unauthorized electronic eavesdropping on a telephone transmission. It is generally the form of cell phone fraud that most often comes to mind when one thinks of cell phone fraud. This is due to cell phone tapping's portrayal in film and television where it is often used as a plot device. Cell phone tapping however is very much a reality as there currently exists for -purchase spyware that allows you to listen in on cell phone conversations. These services are generally purchased over the Internet from websites specializing in spy technology and the customers are usually people eavesdropping on cheating spouses, employees wasting company time, and worried parents trying to keep tabs on the babysitter at home watching over their kids. Users of cell phone tapping technology can also be high profile targets, such as those involved in politics and legal cases . The websites are usually based in Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom and the prices vary from $60.00 to $3,000. The purchase of this type of spyware is legal but the unauthorized use of them is not. Joe Farren, spokesperson for the Wireless Association, says, “It's very clear, without their express permission, you can't listen in on someone's phone calls, you cannot read their text messages, you can't track their movements. You can't do any of those things and there are numerous laws being broken.” If your phone line is being tapped, the phone company has the ability to stop it. Before stopping it however, they are required to verify whether or not the wiretapping is legal or not. If it is illegal, then the phone company will inform you and law enforcement to remove the device. However, if it is indeed legal, then you will not even be informed that your phone is actually being wiretapped. The federal government can be given authorization to wiretap a phone line by an official court order and by having just cause. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 USC 2516 also stipulates that any of these “legalized intrusions to privacy” must involve felonies and are limited to monitoring only unlawful activity. Any irrelevant information that is gathered during the wiretap cannot be utilized.  The average time limit to these types of legal wiretaps is about a month. Cell phone tapping has only recently been being used for the express purpose of identity theft. Cell phone owners sometimes transmit sensitive personal information over the phone and identity theft fraud relies primarily on these lapses in security. There are physical signs that can help you tell whether or not your phone is being tapped, namely a warm battery, hearing unexpected beeps or clicks during conversations and the cell phone turning on unexpectedly even when it is not in use. It is almost virtually impossible to detect a wiretap without the help of your phone company so consumers should be wary of products that say that they can. Traditional wiretap detectors attempted to measure voltage drop and changes in the characteristics of the phone signal but more recent tapping devices do not alter the characteristics of the phone signal at all, making these detectors obsolete and useless. There are ways people can protect themselves against having their identities stolen via wiretap. One way is keeping tabs on where your phone is at all times and making sure no one has a chance to download spyware onto it. Installing a security password and taking the battery out of your phone whenever it is not in use are also very good preventative measures against wiretapping, although this method may be a little inconvenient. Using new prepaid cell phones also helps protect against identity theft because these phones are less susceptible to having personal information accumulate on them because they are limited-use and inexpensive. Consumers should keep in mind that more expensive top-of-the-line cell phones are the most vulnerable to identity theft due to their wireless capabilities and Internet access.
Cell phone fraud can also be committed when a phone is lost or stolen. Most people store sensitive information on their cell phones, information which could be abused if it falls into the wrong hands. Many people often record private information such as their debit card PIN numbers, social security numbers and credit card PIN numbers on their phone. More commonly however, people store pictures of themselves and their family and friends, information that could be used to easily identify the owner of the phone and to determine a lot of other information about them. Sensitive private information could also be gathered from text messages. One method of collecting private information through text messages is texting questions inquiring after private information to the contacts present on a stolen phone. An example of this is sending a text to the owner of the stolen phone's spouse asking, “Hey honey, I forgot our PIN number for the bank again. Can you text it to me? Thanks!” More and more personal information is accumulated onto your phone with every use so losing your phone or having it stolen is a very dangerous thing to happen. To protect yourself from this form of cell fraud, you can avoid storing sensitive information on your phone. Also, it might be wise to avoid using names like Mom and Dad and instead use their proper names in your phone book. In addition, any pictures that may give a cell phone hacker valuable information should be removed. Finally, if you lose your phone, be sure to cancel the service immediately.
A third type of fraud is cell phone cloning, which involves someone making an illegal clone of a legal phone and using the same serial number so that the legitimate cell phone service subscriber is billed. Essentially, the “thief” can make all the calls they want without any cost. This method of cell phone fraud has been found to be prevalent in areas with a high immigrant population because immigrants want to avoid the high cost of calling home. A method of cell phone fraud that provides for the same outcome as cell phone cloning is subscriber fraud. This is accomplished by someone using another person’s name and serial number to subscribe to a cell phone plan and then having the plan billed to the person’s name on the account. Paying close attention to your cell phone bills can catch both of these types of cell phone fraud. For cell phone cloning, make sure you do not have any unknown charges on your account and for subscriber fraud be sure to not pay for any services you did not actually subscribe to.
We hope that you now feel a little more informed about the ways in which you can protect yourself from cell phone fraud. The most important thing is that you are aware of the methods in which your cell phone privacy can be abused. For further information on this topic we have included some links below.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Privacy and Security

In some ways the Internet has afforded more privacy and security for people with STDs and people seeking more information about STDs.  In other ways it has posed a great risk for those same people. 

When you want to find out more information about an STD you no longer have to go see a doctor face to face. You can search for that information from the privacy of your home. A big barrier to getting tested and treated is the fear of embarrassment and since the Internet protects you from that I think more people will be getting the information they need. 

The Internet has also provided a way to get treatment for STDs online through online pharmacy services. Now, STD infected individuals no longer have to risk the scrutiny of other people in the pharmacy when they get their prescriptions filled. Unfortunately, this online pharmacy option causes more of your personal information to be on the Internet where it is susceptible to hackers. People with STDs have to decide if the privacy of ordering from home is worth the risk of having their condition leaked to the whole virtual community. 

One scary example of the Internet being used to breach the privacy of STD infected people is a site called This site has a registry of STD infected people that are reported by other people online. To me this seems like a major human rights violation. If you are infected with an STD, it is your right to tell your partner when you are ready. Although some people don't handle their responsibility to their partner and don't tell them about their disease, it is still not someone's role to out them.

The issue with STDs is that unlike other diseases, STDs have a stigma attached. So its not just a risk of people finding out you are sick, but a risk of being judged for the type of disease you have. This is why privacy and secure information on the internet is essential to STD infected individuals.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding Credible Information on STD Prevention

One of the most difficult things today is trying to filter through all the information on the internet and find a credible and unbiased source. The internet has given a platform to every person with an opinion, no matter how unfounded or misinformed that opinion may be. These opinions are floating out in cyberspace disguised as fact and waiting for the next novice searcher to click on them. Fortunately there are ways to weed out the useless information and get to the facts.
One of the first ways to find sites that are more credible, especially in the field of STD prevention, is to look for sites that end in .gov, .edu, or .org. If you are unfamiliar, .gov stands for a site produced by some part of the government, .edu indicates the site is maintained by an institution of education, and .org stands for organization. You have to be a little more cautious of sites at a .org address because technically anyone can use a .org site, they are just typically used by non-profits whose work is essential to STD prevention. It is possible to find credible information at a .net or .com site but you need to look in to the site owners and their motives. For example, the following site:, could at first seem biased but if you look at their section listing their partners you can see that they are supported by the California Department of Education and the Red Cross.
Another source of credible information on the internet are the scholarly, peer reviewed articles and studies. Peer reviewed articles are those that have been reviewed by peers of the author or experts in the subject of the article. There are a handful of ways to find these types of articles on the internet. One method is to do a google scholar search which google describes as a "simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature." Another method, the one that I prefer, is to use the research port provided by my university's library. Most schools offer this type of search engine that allows you to search different databases like "public health" or "medicine."  You still need to be careful with peer reviewed articles and look into the study to make sure it is unbiased. Some studies are funded by a company that has an invested interest in the study having a certain outcome. For instance, if you found an article on the benefits of getting vaccinated in order to prevent HPV, you would want to see who funded the study. If a company like Gardasil, a manufacturer of an HPV vaccine, was the main contributor you would want to use caution and discretion when citing it. 
Ultimately the best way to find the most credible information is to research your topic thoroughly and to find both sides. If you are informed of the different perspectives on a topic you can educate yourself more effectively. Sometimes finding the most accurate information is not as black and white as we would  like it to be. For example, when it comes to determining the best way to educate children on safe sex and STD prevention, you will come across different perspectives based on the differing views on what is right. As a researcher faced with the decision of what you believe to be fact, you must use some discretion and judgement of your own. 

Here are some sites to get you started on educating yourself on the topic of STD prevention: