The Scary Truth About Your Personal Data

The scary truth about personal data

Given the frightening nature of personal data privacy and protection, it’s only fitting that October is also National Cyber Security Awareness Month. What better time to learn the facts and take steps to protect yourself and your data?

Google Knows More Than You Think

You might think your spouse or intimate partner knows you best, but what about the world’s most popular search engine, and arguably the most powerful corporation in the world? Google knows more about you than you think, and your search history is just the beginning.

Google operates on a massive scale, and the company relies on the information it collects to support its advertising platform. This data collection may be legal, but it can also become a bit obtrusive. With location settings on cell phones, one of your social media “friends” could see your location without your knowledge, so pay special attention to your privacy settings and know what you are sharing.

Which Advertisers Are Targeting You On Facebook?

There is an old saying in the tech world that when the service is free, you are the product, and that is certainly true in the case of Facebook and other social media companies. Facebook is funded through its ads, and their advertisers rely on statistical algorithms and user data to target and reach the right audience.

At its core, Facebook is an advertising company, but users can learn what the company knows about them and control how much information is shared. If you want to see which advertisers have uploaded your contact information, go to Settings > Account Settings > Ads > Advertisers You’ve Interacted With. Then look for a section called “Advertisers who uploaded a contact list with your info”. When you click “see all”, you’ll likely see a long list populated with hundreds of advertisers you are both familiar with and have never heard of. How did they get your info? We’ll get to that shortly.

If you are uncomfortable with others sharing your data on Facebook, go back to Settings > General Settings > Ads. Then scroll through each of the ad sections, click Edit and change the setting to “No one”. This will take some time, but your privacy will be worth it.

Location Data Was Used to Set Up Speed Traps

The next time you’re running late, you might want to think twice before speeding, especially if you have an iPhone in your pocket. Location data not only reveals to advertisers and “third parties”, your exact location at any given time, but also the speed at which you are going.  The location data that makes the iPhone so useful can also be used to track your speed and location. Those two interrelated pieces of data are all that is needed to set a speed trap. GPS maker TomTom did just that, selling the data they collected to police in the Netherlands.

Acxiom Collects 1,500 Data Points Per Person

Acxiom may not be a household name, but the company has already amassed a massive database, one that touches almost every American consumer. Given the enormous amount of information Acxiom has already amassed, it may be surprising that the firm wants to know even more.

With an ability to process more than 50 million separate data transactions every year and data on more than 500 million consumers around the world, Acxiom collects 1,500 data points per individual. It is important to understand that this kind of data collection is the way numerous advertisers and websites gain access to your data.

Don’t Expect Government Intervention

Given the nature of data privacy and the threats to its protection, you might expect government intervention, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear this is very likely.

In fact, governmental regulations are currently moving in the other direction. Rather than cracking down on data privacy violations and urging an increase in consumer protections, the government has lightened the regulatory load on businesses.

There is currently no political will in Congress for additional regulations, and consumers cannot rely on legislators to protect their data. Instead, consumers concerned about privacy and data protection need to take a proactive approach.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Data

From freezing your credit to taking advantage of monitoring services and changing your privacy settings, there are things you can do to protect your personal data and stop it from falling into the wrong hands.

The recent Equifax data breach should be a wake-up call to everyone, since nearly every adult in the United States was involved in the data leakage. Here are some additional ways to protect your data and privacy.

  • Update your security software – Your antivirus and security software is only as good as its last update, so keep it up-to-date.
  • Turn on automatic updates – It’s easy to forget about software updates, so make sure they’re set to automatic.
  • Protect all your devices – That phone in your pocket is more than a calling device; it is a tiny computer, and it deserves the same protection you give your laptop or desktop.
  • Scan your USB devices – Plugging an infected USB stick into your computer could put your entire network at risk, so scan it before you open any files.
  • Use strong passwords – Using a common word as your password is just asking for trouble, so avoid common password mistakes and use a sentence instead with special characters, upper case, and lower letters.
  • Create unique account names and passwords – It’s best practice to have a separate user ID and password for every site you visit; you can track it all with a quality password manager.

The nature of the tech world creates some unique challenges for users, but there are ways to protect yourself. From changing your Facebook settings to keeping your security software up to date, a few simple changes can enhance your privacy and protect your personal data.

The 7 Best Apps for Emergency Situations

emergency apps

With summer coming to an end and kids heading back to school, from coast to coast, young people everywhere will be trading sand and surf for books and homework. While locating all the items on your children’s back to school list might have consumed the majority of your attention, in today’s world, it never hurts to prepare them for the unexpected.

It is an unfortunate reality that children today are faced with an uncertain and sometimes dangerous world. From severe allergic reactions at the lunch table to major catastrophic events, in this digital age, you can take steps to protect your children and keep them safe.

Technology to the Rescue

The apps on your mobile device can do more than just stream music and guide you to your next destination. Apps can also serve as a vital resource in the event of an emergency and these are 7 of the best for a variety of emergency situations.

1) Best SOS App

From active shooters to suspected robberies, there are times when a silent alarm is the best approach. For sending out an SOS, the Life360 app is our favorite. Here are the relevant details.

  • App name: Life360
  • For these devices: Android and iOS smartphones
  • What it does: This app tracks the location of the user, letting loved ones know where they are in the event of an emergency. Users can send a request for help, and location data is provided to first responders.
  • Most useful features: The Life360 app runs in the background, providing a steady stream of information. In an emergency, it sends an alert to your circle of friends and family, giving everyone a heads-up, and paving the way for a faster response time for first responders.

2) If You Are in a Dangerous Situation

Dangerous situations can happen to anyone, from seniors who suffer falls in their home to children exposed to an outside threat. When seconds count, the right app could literally be a lifesaver, and that’s where Guardian Defense comes in. The Guardian Defense app was created by two high school students in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting.

App name: Guardian Defense

  • For these devices: Android phones
  • What it does: Guardian Defense offers vital tools for a variety of emergency situations.
  • Most useful features: The app includes a handy mapping feature, guiding users to a safe place like a fire or police station. Users can also send an “I’m Safe” message to their loved ones, setting their minds at ease. Guardian Defense even provides specific advice for various kinds of emergency situations.

3) When First Aid is Needed

You never know when an injury will strike, and finding the first aid you need is vital. The American Red Cross is the recognized expert in first and emergency response, and their American Red Cross First Aid app is one of the best.

  • App name: American Red Cross First Aid
  • For these devices: iOS and Android devices
  • What it does: This app provides expert advice for first aid emergencies, guiding users with simple, step-by-step instructions.
  • Most useful features: The First Aid app includes an interactive quiz to help identify the symptoms of heat stroke, something that will come in handy on those hot days of summer.

4) If Your Pet Needs First Aid

First aid can be helpful for your fur-babies too! For pet-related emergencies, the aptly named Pet First Aid app is the best choice.

  • App name: Pet First Aid
  • For these devices: Android and iOS devices
  • What it does: The Pet First Aid app comes courtesy of the American Red Cross, providing a wealth of valuable information for many common (and not so common) pet-related emergencies.
  • Most useful features: Users can store veterinarian information, such as contact details within the app. You’ll enjoy the interactive quizzes that help you retain information that could one day help your furry family member. The app also offers tips for keeping pets safe during a natural disaster.

5) If You Suspect a Friend is Suicidal or Depressed

Suicide is a growing problem that can be prevented if you know how to recognize the signs. With the pressures of daily life and the magnification of those stresses through social media, whether you’re worried about a suicidal friend or experiencing your own dark thoughts, A Friend Asks could literally save a life.

  • App name: A Friend Asks
  • For these devices: Android and iOS devices
  • What it does: Produced by the Jason Foundation, a well-respected suicide prevention group, the A Friend Asks app teaches users to recognize the warning signs of depression and suicide. The app allows loved ones to take proactive steps, getting the individual the help they need before it is too late.
  • Most useful features: With the A Friend Asks app, users can access a list of common warning signs, including some that may not be so obvious. There is also a list of do’s and don’ts, so concerned friends and relatives don’t make a bad situation worse.

6) If You Get Lost

Even in the age of GPS and interactive maps, road construction and spotty Wi-Fi can cause you to find yourself in a situation where you are completely lost. But have no fear, the right app can get you back on course. The Citymapper app is one of the best at getting you out of a sticky situation.

  • App name: Waze and Google Maps
  • For these devices: Android and iOS devices
  • What it does: Google Maps is still one of the most popular apps when it comes to directions, but city driving often involves road construction and detours which can throw you for a loop. For this reason, we encourage you to check out both Google Maps and Waze (also owned by Google).
  • Most useful features: Waze is much more than a navigation app. In this app, multiple drivers work together to provide information about traffic accidents, detours, travel times, and even fuel prices. With Waze by your side, you won’t take a wrong turn or find yourself caught in a traffic jam again.Bonus tip: If you’re headed to an area where you anticipate you won’t have a cell phone signal, Google Maps makes it possible to download a map of an area in advance so you can still navigate when your signal drops.

7) If You Face a Natural Disaster

No matter where you live, you never know when a natural disaster will strike. From flash floods, to tornado warnings, Weather Underground is arguably the most versatile of the natural disaster apps, providing real-time weather updates and early warnings of tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

  • App name: Weather Underground
  • For these devices: Android and iOS devices
  • What it does: The Weather Underground app provides real-time information on all kinds of severe weather, including data on incoming storms and tornadoes. The app also provides detailed forecasts and radar maps, so you can track the progress of the storm both from your current location and the place you call home.
  • Most useful features: This app provides real-time notifications, so you can stay safe and steer clear of natural disasters. The app costs $2, but that is a small price to pay for safety, peace of mind, and a steady flow of real-time information.

Your smartphone is a valuable tool for work and play, but in extreme circumstances it could be a lifesaver. The 7 apps listed above could be your best friend in a disaster or emergency situation, so we encourage you to evaluate each one and download those you find most useful. Hopefully you will never need them, but it is nice to know they will be there if you do.

Step Up Your Summer Photography with Smartphone Camera Lenses

Step Up Your Summer Photography with Smartphone Camera Lenses

It wasn’t long ago that going on vacation meant hauling a bulky camera and packing extra SD cards in your luggage. Back then, smartphone cameras were basic devices, good for a few snapshots but not much else.  To capture those special moments and remember your summer vacations, you needed an expensive digital camera.

Since then, times have certainly changed. Whether you own the newest iPhone or the latest Android device, the camera inside your phone now rivals the best digital cameras of a few years ago. Even some professional photographers take shots on their smartphones, and for the casual photographer, these devices have become indispensable.

Now that summer vacation season is here, it’s time to start packing, but there’s no need for an extra camera.

Make Your Smartphone Camera Even Better

You might not need a standalone camera in your suitcase, but the right accessories can make your family photos rival that of a professional photographer. There are a wealth of smartphone accessories on the market, each designed to take your photography to the next level.

Professional Quality Lenses for Your Smartphone

If you’ve watched a professional photographer at work, you’d be amazed by the sheer number of lenses in their bag. In the old days, professional-quality lenses attached to bulky cameras, providing photographers with a vast number of options as they shot sporting events, weddings, family reunions, and more.

These days, lenses have gotten smaller, but the concept is still the same. Professional photographers still rely on a variety of lenses, from fisheye and wide-angle to waterproof lenses for shooting at the beach.

The average smartphone user can now get professional-quality lenses similar to what photographers have been using for years. Instead of connecting to bulky 35mm cameras or the newer sleeker digital cameras, these lenses attach directly to your smartphone.

For a surprisingly affordable investment, these smartphone camera lenses are sure to help your budding photography skills come to life.

Types of Smartphone Camera Lenses

The great thing about outfitting your smartphone with a new lens is creating a whole new look in a matter of minutes. To capture a wide range of shots, it’s best to use a variety of different lenses, each serving a different purpose. There are many types of smartphone lenses on the market, including those outlined below.

  • Fish eye lens: The fish eye lens is one of the most fun, unusual smartphone accessories. These unique lenses provide an up close view of the world, so you can create memorable shots of your family vacation.
  • Macro lens: It’s likely that you’ll want to take close-ups on vacation and a macro lens is specially designed just for that purpose. With a macro lens, you can zoom in on the action, taking close-ups with confidence and creating memories suitable for framing.
  • Waterproof lenses: Whether you’re relaxing at the beach, diving or enjoying water sports, you can accessorize your smartphone with a waterproof lens. This simple accessory will help you shoot more confidently in conditions that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
  • Wide angle lenses: With their short focal lengths and wide fields of view, wide angle lenses are designed to capture more of the action. If you want your finished photographs to recreate the whole scene, get a wide angle lens for your smartphone.

Tips for Finding the Right Smartphone Camera Lenses

When shopping for lenses, be sure you have the right accessories for your desired camera shots. Here are some tips to find the right lens for your photography objectives.

  • Think about the shots you want to capture. Do you prefer close-up shots or do you want to see the entire field of view?
  • Choose lenses that are durable and stand up to hard use.
  • Select lenses that are easy to install and remove. You will be switching back and forth often, so ease of installation is a must.
  • Experiment with shots before you leave for vacation. It can take some time to become acquainted with these lenses, so take lots of practice shots before you leave.

It pays to do a bit of research in order to find the right lenses for your phone, your photography style, and your next vacation so don’t rush into this decision. To begin your search for camera phone lenses, start by checking out this smartphone lens buying guide.

Are Smart Devices Spying on You?

Are smart devices spying on you?

What once was a crazy concept conjured up by conspiracy theorists, today, has become a real concern for many Americans. After years of dismissing reports and suspicions of smart devices spying us, manufacturers are finally admitting there may be some truth to the idea after all.

The Age of Robots

Science fiction writers have predicted a robotic revolution for many decades, but the reality of that revolution looks very different. The age of robots may be here, but it has taken the form of a personal assistant rather than a robot set out on a mission to conquer the world.

The Dark Side of the Robotic Revolution

While in-home and in-office robots may be convenient, there is a dark side to the robotic revolution.  As they improve our lives, devices like Alexa, Google Home and Siri pose a number of privacy risks and data vulnerabilities.  If you want to protect yourself and your data, you need to understand these vulnerabilities – and prevent these connected devices from becoming inadvertent spies.

With each new leap in technology comes a subset of unscrupulous people with their sights set on an angle to exploit it – more specifically the people who use it. The robotic revolution is definitely no exception. And unfortunately, many smart devices – (particularly household related), offer little protection in terms of security.

What is Considered a Smart Device?

Smart devices are everywhere, but there is still a great deal of confusion about what these devices are and what risks they pose to consumers.

One defining factor of smart devices is their ability to share data, connect to the internet and interact with other devices. A smart device could take the form of a smartphone, thermostat, refrigerator, door lock, speaker, light switch, or even coffee pot.

But when it comes to privacy concerns, thanks to a handful of viral news stories, Alexa and Google Home might immediately come to mind above all else.

Smart Devices in the News

  • One news story in particular centered on a family whose Alexa device not only recorded a private conversation, but sent the conversation to one of their smartphone contacts.The Alexa case is still being investigated, but Amazon claims that a series of unlikely events converged to create the scenario. Just how unlikely that scenario really is remains to be seen, but many Amazon fans are deeply skeptical of the company’s claims.
  • To add insult to injury, there have been a number of high profile cases where smart televisions were spying on their owners using built-in cameras to record what was happening in the room – and sending that information to third parties.
  • Even baby monitors have been implicated in smart device scandals, leaving new parents worried about their privacy – and the safety of their children.
  • Unfortunately, even seemingly innocent toys are not immune from the dangers of spying. Your child may have one of those CloudPets, but those plush toys are not as innocent as they look. These high-tech stuffed animals have proven to be very hackable, putting the security of their young owners in jeopardy.

The FBI Weighs In

Make no mistake, the federal government is well aware of the risk consumers’ face when it comes to smart devices. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently weighed in on the security of router devices used to connect our homes. The FBI recently issued an urgent warning, urging everyone who owns a router to reboot the device.

A vulnerability was uncovered as part of the Russian spying scandal – one that left hundreds of thousands of routers vulnerable to attack by foreign agents. And while the FBI was able to take control of the compromised website, the agency urged consumers and businesses to reboot their devices in an attempt to isolate and defuse the vulnerability.

The dangers posed by smart devices are very real, and the bad guys use the data they steal in a number of different ways. From appropriating trade secrets to swiping passwords, hackers and other bad actors have used the vulnerability of smart devices in a number of nefarious ways.

In response to these vulnerabilities and the seemingly endless parade of news stories, governments around the world are taking action. In addition to the recent GDPR legislation in Europe, a number of individual countries are taking further steps to protect the privacy of their citizens. Germany is one such example. The country recently banned the sale of smart watches for children, and a number of the nations are predicted to follow suit.

Tips to Protect Your Privacy

So what can you do to protect your privacy while still enjoying the convenience these devices bring to your life?

The good news is that you can protect yourself and your data before your privacy is compromised.  From changing the settings on your Android or iOS smartphone and avoiding untested apps, to resetting the passwords on your internet-connected devices, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your privacy.

Take a moment to follow these specific steps to prevent your smart TV, Google Home, Apple HomePod, and Amazon Echo from listening to your private conversations.

From smartphones to internet-enabled TVs, Alexa or Google Home devices – for many people, the convenience of these devices still outweighs the risk.

By being proactive and taking the necessary steps to secure your smart devices as best you can, you can minimize the risk of your privacy being violated and sit back, relax, and enjoy the amazing age of technology we live in.

How to Fix a Water Damaged Smartphone

June 21st, the official start of summer is just around the corner.

how to fix a water damaged smartphoneThat means sunshine, hot days, and lazy days at the beach or the pool…all of which provide a high risk environment for your smartphone.

Whether you drop your beloved smartphone in a lake or jump in the pool forgetting it’s in your pocket, you’re likely to experience a moment of panic once you realize your mistake.

When your smartphone suffers water damage, you might think that your options are limited to buying a new device or living without a smartphone – an unthinkable outcome in today’s “always on” world.

Fortunately, there are ways to fix your water damaged smartphone, so don’t have to revert to an analog life. While there are no guarantees of full recovery, it never hurts to give it a try.

The first thing to know, is that there are critical steps to take as soon as your smartphone hits the water. And while knowing what to do to salvage your water damaged smartphone is important, equally important is what not to do. These wrong steps could reduce your chances of successful recovery:

  • Don’t Panic: All is not lost, even if you fail to fix your water damaged smartphone. As long as your data is backed up to the cloud, you can recover your information even if your recovery efforts fail and you need to buy a new phone.
  • Don’t Turn It On: Resist the urge to power your water damaged phone back on. Doing so is likely to make the damage even worse.
  • Don’t Use This Method: You should also avoid artificial drying methods like hair dryers, and your microwave (yes, some people have attempted this). The heat from the hair dryer and rays from the microwave will damage the phone further, and that damage could interfere with your recovery efforts.

How To Fix Your Water Damaged iPhone

As soon as your iPhone hits the water, take these steps right away.

  1. Turn the phone off
  2. Dry the smartphone with a clean towel or cloth
  3. Remove the SIM card
  4. Place the phone on a flat surface and allow it to dry
  5. Turn the phone on and see if it powers on
  6. Fill a Ziploc bag with silica-based cat litter or drying gel and place your iPhone inside
  7. Leave the phone in the bag for 24 to 48 hours, then try to turn it on

How To Fix Your Water Damaged Android Phone

If your Android phone suffers water damage, the following steps can help you avoid shelling out cash for a brand new phone.

  1. Remove the Android phone from the water right away – every second counts
  2. Turn the phone off
  3. Remove the battery and SIM card
  4. Remove the micro SD card and set it aside
  5. Carefully wipe the SIM and micro SD cards with rubbing alcohol
  6. Use a cotton swab to place rubbing alcohol on the interior components
  7. Place all of the components in a Ziploc bag and fill the bag with rice
  8. Allow the components and the rice to sit for 24 to 48 hours
  9. Put the phone back together and try to power it on

Hopefully, these steps will allow you to salvage your water damaged iPhone or Android-based device.  If you’re lucky, the drying agents will remove not only the water, but any debris the water left behind. If that happens, your phone will power on normally, and you will enjoy the same great operation you did before your device went for a swim.

While it is important to hope for the best, there is always the possibility that your smartphone will not be restored by the drying steps outlined above.

If the worst happens, seek professional help to salvage any data you failed to back up before the unfortunate incident. To protect your phone from water damage in future, consider investing in a waterproof phone case or even a water resistant phone.

But a word of caution – just because a device or piece of equipment says it is water resistant, this doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. A phone’s resistance to water is often dependent on the water clarity, how deep it is submerged, and how long the device was submerged.

To be on the safe side, before you engage in summer activities, make sure all your data is backed up and consider investing in an insurance plan if you haven’t already so you’ve got your bases covered no matter what.

Most importantly, stay safe, have fun, and enjoy the beautiful Wisconsin weather this summer!

5 Ways to Stop Annoying RoboCalls

The formation of the Do Not Call registry has gone a long way toward stopping unwanted marketing messages, but even the best registry can only do so much.

How to stop robocallsAs traditional marketing calls have declined, so-called robocalls have exploded.

These automated messages have largely replaced telemarketing calls and many of them are actually scams posing as legitimate opportunities.

As Mother’s Day approaches, there has never been a better time to address this issue with your loved ones so they know what to watch out for.

Elderly people in particular are at increased risk of fraudulent rob call scams, so reducing the number of calls they receive is a step in the right direction.

Here are 5 simple ways to reduce the threat (and annoyance) of robocalls.

Tip #1 – Make Sure You (and Your Mom) Are on the Do Not Call Registry

While it may not help you prevent robocalls completely, adding your phone number to the Do Not Call registry is certainly a good start. Check your home phone number, your parents’ phone number, and your own cell number for inclusion, adding them if necessary.

Tip #2 – Block Unknown Callers on Your Home and Cell Phone

Robocallers routinely try to hide their identities and therefore, they often come through as unknown numbers. Blocking calls from unknown numbers is one way to reduce the number of calls from repeat robocall offenders. If you do receive a robocall from an unblocked number, be sure to note the phone number, block it manually on your phone and if they are especially persistent, report it to your phone company.

Tip #3 – Seek Out Robocall-Blocking Apps

On your smartphone, look for apps designed to block unwanted marketing messages and robocalls. There are many apps designed for this purpose, and plenty are free. Check out this review to find an app that works for you. You might need to test out a few different apps before you find one that works best for you.

Tip #4 – Use Your Voicemail

Robocalls aren’t picky about the numbers they target. Whether they’re calling your landline phone at home, your office phone at work or the smartphone in your pocket, if you don’t recognize a number, let it go to voicemail. If the message is important, the caller will leave a message.

Tip #5 – Threaten to Report Repeat Offenders

While the laws surrounding robocalls are still somewhat murky, there are some basic protections in place. Companies and individuals who persist in making robocalls, even when told to stop, are likely breaking the law.

Let them know you are onto their scam. Capture as much information as you can from each robocall, including the originating number and the company involved. Then report them to the local authorities and your telephone provider. No matter what, do not give out any personal information about yourself in any way.

Bonus Tip: Robocalls are rampant, and so are the scams they perpetrate. Watch out for the following scenarios, each initiated by a robocall.

  • Calls from your own number: Caller ID is the bane of the robocallers’ existence, but clever scam artists have found a way around it. Beware of calls that seem to come from your own number; they could be robocalls in disguise.
  • Athletic wear scams: The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently posted on their Facebook page about a robocall that targeted the good nature of sports fans. This robocall has been soliciting Hartford-area businesses, asking them to become t-shirt sponsors at local sporting events. If you receive such a solicitation – just hang up.

Robocalls are everywhere, and chances are, they’re not going away any time soon. While politicians are looking for a way around the problem, scam artists are busy creating new ways to separate honest citizens from their money.

So this Mother’s Day, take a few moments to warn your mother, grandmother, and any other loved ones about the threat of robocalls and how to avoid them.

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