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Digital privacy at stake? 10 Tips to avoid leaving tracks around internet

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Google and Facebook collect information about us and then sell that data to advertisers. Websites deposit invisible “cookies” onto our computers and then record where we go online. Even our own government has been known to track us.


When it comes to digital privacy, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We’re mere mortals! We’re minuscule molecules in their machines! What power do we possibly have to fight back?



That was the question I posed to you, dear readers, in the previous “Crowdwise.”


Many of you responded with valuable but frequently repeated suggestions: Use a program that memorizes your passwords, and make every password different. Install an ad blocker in your web browser, like uBlock Origin. Read up on the latest internet scams. If you must use Facebook, visit its Privacy Settings page and limit its freedom to target ads to you.


What I sought, though, was non-obvious ideas.


It turns out that “digital privacy” means different things to different people.


“Everyone has different concerns,” wrote Jamie Winterton, a cybersecurity researcher at Arizona State University. “Are you worried about private messaging? Government surveillance? Third-party trackers on the web?” Addressing each of these concerns, she noted, requires different tools and techniques.


Duck Google


“The number one thing that people can do is to stop using Google,” wrote privacy consultant Bob Gellman. “If you use Gmail and use Google to search the web, Google know more about you than any other institution. And that goes double if you use other Google services like Google Maps, Waze, Google Docs, etc.”


Like many other readers, he recommended DuckDuckGo, a rival web search engine. Its search results often aren’t as useful as Google’s, but it’s advertised not to track you or your searches.


And if you don’t use Gmail for email, what should you use? “I am a huge advocate for paying for your email account,” wrote Russian journalist Yuri Litvinenko. “It’s not about turning off ads, but giving your email providers as little incentive to peek into your inbox as possible.” ProtonMail, for example, costs $4 a month and offers a host of privacy features, including anonymous sign-up and end-to-end encryption.


Jam Google


The ads you see online are based on the sites, searches, or and Facebook posts that get your interest. Some rebels therefore throw a wrench into the machinery — by demonstrating phony interests.


“Every once in a while, I Google something completely nutty just to mess with their algorithm,” wrote Shaun Breidbart. “You’d be surprised what sort of coupons CVS prints for me on the bottom of my receipt. They are clearly confused about both my age and my gender.”


It’s “akin to radio jamming,” noted Frank Paiano. “It does make for some interesting browsing, as ads for items we searched for follow us around like puppy dogs (including on The New York Times, by the way.)”


Barry Joseph uses a similar tactic when registering for an account on a new website. “I often switch my gender (I am a cisgender male), which delivers ads less relevant to me — although I must admit, the bra advertising can be distracting.”


He notes that there are side effects. “My friends occasionally get gendered notifications about me, such as ‘Wish her a happy birthday.’” But even that is a plus, leading to “interesting conversations about gender norms and expectations (so killing two birds with one digital stone here).”


Avoid unnecessary web tracking


It’s perfectly legitimate, by the way, to enjoy seeing ads that align with your interests. You could argue that they’re actually more useful than irrelevant ones.


But millions of others are creeped out by the tracking that produces those targeted ads.


If you’re in that category, Ms. Winterton recommended Ghostery, a free plug-in for most web browsers that “blocks the trackers and lists them by category,” she wrote. “Some sites have an amazing number of trackers whose only purpose is to record your behavior (sometimes across multiple sites) and pitch better advertisements.”


Careful on public Wi-Fi


Most public Wi-Fi networks — in hotels, airports, coffee shops, and so on — are eavesdroppable, even if they require a password to connect. Nearby patrons, using their phones or laptops, can easily see everything you’re sending or receiving — email and website contents, for example — using free “sniffer” programs.


You don’t have to worry about Social, WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessages, all of which encrypt your messages before they even leave your phone or laptop. Using websites whose addresses begin with https are also safe; they, too, encrypt their data before it’s sent to your browser (and vice versa).


(Caution: Even if the site’s address begins with https, the bad guys can still see which sites you visit — say, https://www.NoseHairBraiding.com. They just can’t see what you do there once you’re connected.)


The solution, as recommended by Lauren Taubman and others: a Virtual Private Network program. These phone and computer apps encrypt everything you send or receive — and, as a bonus, mask your location. Wirecutter’s favorite VPN, TunnelBear, is available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. It’s free for up to 500 megabytes a month, or $60 a year for up to five devices.


Use Apple


“I don’t like Apple’s phones, their operating systems, or their looks,” wrote Aaron Soice, “but the one thing Apple gets right is valuing your data security. Purely in terms of data, Apple serves you; Google serves you to the sharks.”


Apple’s privacy website reveals many examples: You don’t sign into Apple Maps or Safari (Apple’s web browser), so your searches and trips aren’t linked to you. Safari’s “don’t track me” features are turned on as the factory setting. When you buy something with Apple Pay, Apple receives no information about the item, the store, or the price.


Apple can afford to tout these features, explained software developer Joel Potischman, because it’s a hardware company. “Its business model depends on us giving them our money. Google and Facebook make their money by selling our info to other people.”


Don’t “Sign in with Facebook”


Mr. Potischman never registers with a new website using the “Sign in with Facebook” or “Sign in with Google” shortcut buttons. “They allow those companies to track you on other sites,” he wrote. Instead, he registers the long way, with an email address and password.


(And here’s Apple again: The “Sign in with Apple” button, new and not yet incorporated by many websites, is designed to offer the same one-click convenience — but with a promise not to track or profile you.)


Identity theft, from a pro


My call for submissions drew some tips from a surprising respondent: Frank Abagnale, the former teenage con artist who was the subject of the 2002 movie “Catch Me if You Can.”


After his prison time, he went began working for the F.B.I., giving talks on scam protection, and writing books. He’s donating all earnings from his latest book, “Scam Me If You Can,” to the AARP, in support of its efforts to educate older Americans about internet rip-offs.


His advice: “You never want to tell Facebook where you were born and your date of birth. That’s 98 percent of someone stealing your identity! And don’t use a straight-on photo of yourself — like a passport photo, driver’s license, graduation photo — that someone can use on a fake ID.”


Mr. Abagnale also notes that you should avoid sharing your personal data offline, too. “We give a lot of information away, not just on social media, but places we go where people automatically ask us all of these questions. ‘What magazines do you read?’ ‘What’s your job?’ ‘Do you earn between this and that amount of money?’”


Why answer if you don’t have to?


The lightning round


A few more suggestions:


“Create a different email address for every service you use,” wrote Matt McHenry. “Then you can tell which one has shared your info, and create filters to silence them if necessary.”


“Apps like Privacy and Token Virtual generate a disposable credit-card number with each purchase — so in case of a breach, your actual card isn’t compromised,” suggested Juan Garrido. (Bill Barnes agreed, pointing out the similar Shopsafe service offered by from Bank of America’s Visa cards. “The number is dollar and time limited.”)


“Your advertisers won’t like to see this, so perhaps you won’t print it,” predicted Betsy Peto, “but I avoid using apps on my cellphone as much as possible. Instead, I go to the associated website in my phone’s browser: for example, www.dailybeast.com. My data is still tracked there, but not as much as it would be by the app.”


There is some good news: Tech companies are beginning to feel some pressure.


In 2017, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (G.D.P.R.), which requires companies to explain what data they’re collecting — and to offer the option to edit or delete it. China, India, Japan, Brazil, South Korea and Thailand have passed, or are considering, similar laws, and California’s Consumer Privacy Act takes effect on January 1.


In the meantime, enjoy these suggestions, as well as this bonus tip from privacy researcher Jamie Winterton:


“Oh yeah — and don’t use Facebook.”


For the next “Crowdwise”: We all know that it’s unclassy and cruel to break up with a romantic partner in a text message — or, worse, a tweet. (Well, we used to know that.) Yet requesting an unusual meeting at a sidewalk cafe might strike your partner as distressingly ominous.




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Now, ask Alexa to pay utility bills as Amazon adds voice-based feature

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In yet another step towards making online buying and other services completely voiced-based and hinged on its virtual assistant Alexa, Amazon on Wednesday announced that users in India can now pay their utility bills with Amazon Pay just by voice commands.


This new Alexa feature supports payment of bills across categories such as electricity, water, post-paid mobile, cooking gas, broadband and DTH among other utility payments. “Users of Amazon Echo, Fire TV Stick and other devices with Alexa built-in can just say commands such as ‘Alexa, pay my mobile bill’ or ‘Alexa, pay my electricity bill’ to get started,” the company said.



For existing Amazon Pay users, Alexa will retrieve the amount due for bills from their registered Amazon account and ask for customer confirmation before processing the payment. Customers can enable a voice pin on the Alexa app to make transactions more secure. Once approved, Alexa will complete the transaction using Amazon Pay, and send a notification to the customer’s registered mobile phone number, confirming the transaction. For new Amazon Pay customers, Alexa will send a link to register their bill details on the Amazon shopping app before proceeding with bill payment.


In addition to making payments, customers can ask Alexa the balance in the wallet and also command it to top it up from a bank account linked to Amazon Pay. This new feature on Alexa will further help in reducing payment friction as customers will be able to complete their payment transactions with just their voice command.


“This new integration of Amazon Pay with Alexa will help reduce both time and effort for customers who use Amazon Pay for bill payments and repeat similar transactions every month. We are also excited to share that this is an India-first feature which Alexa customers in India can enjoy before any other international customers,” Puneesh Kumar, Country Manager for Alexa Experiences and Devices, Amazon India said.


The company last month announced that Alexa can now speak in Hindi. Going forward it is planning to launch its voice assistant in a host of other Indian languages. Taking the competition to Google Assistant, Amazon is ramping up the usage of Alexa in India by tying up with speaker manufacturers, mobile phone companies to make Alexa the primary voice assistant on devices.


At the moment Alexa knows 500 skills in Hindi. In English Alexa can perform over 30,000 tasks. “Amazon Pay’s integration with Alexa will enable customers to use digital payments for their daily use cases making it hassle-free and swift. Paying of bills such as electricity, water, post-paid mobile, cooking gas, DTH and more will become seamless with just one voice command,” Mahendra Nerurkar, Director, Amazon Pay said.




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Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro India launch today at 12 PM: Expected specs, & more

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Chinese electronics manufacturer Xiaomi is set to launch the Redmi Note 8 Pro in India on October 16. Successor to the Redmi Note 7 Pro, the phone would bring several new upgrades, including a 64-megapixel sensor-based quad rear camera set-up, MediaTek Helio G90T mobile processor and fast charging support. Apart from the phone, Xiaomi is also expected to announce its next iteration of Android operating system-based user interface, the MIUI 11.


Redmi Note 8 Pro specifications



The Redmi Note 8 Pro boasts a glass build with Gorilla Glass 5 protection on the front and back. On the front, the phone has a 6.53-inch dot-shaped notch screen of fullHD+ (2340 x 1080p) resolution. The HDR-ready screen has anti-oil and anti-fingerprint coating for protection against smudges. Powering the phone is MediaTek Helio G90T system-on-chip, which is a midrange mobile processor aimed at gaming-centric smartphones. Though the phone’s Chinese version is powered by Android 9 Pie operating system-based MIUI 10 user interface, there are chances that the Redmi Note 8 Pro Indian version would boot the MIUI 11.


Imaging is covered by a quad camera set-up on the back, featuring a 64-megapixel primary sensor with an f/1.89 aperture, an 8MP ultra-wide angle sensor of an f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree field of view (FoV), a 2MP macro lens and a 2MP depth sensor. On the front, the phone has a 20MP sensor of an f/2.0 aperture.


Powering the phone is a 4,500 mAh battery, which supports 18W fast charging through supplied charger. The phone has USB type-C port for charging and data transfers, and a 3.5mm port for audio out. The phone’s Chinese variant comes with 6GB RAM and up to 128GB internal storage. However, the Indian variant is likely to get different RAM and storage configurations.





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Realme Buds 2 review: Budget earphones with impressive design, audio output

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Earlier this year, Realme decided to bet on an otherwise fading world of wired earbuds and introduced the Realme Buds. Expanding the portfolio, the company has now launched the second iteration of its wired earphones, the Realme Buds 2, which offers additional features, better build quality and improved audio output while keeping the price in the same ballpark. Let’s take a look at what this new pair of earphones offers:


Design and build quality



Realme Buds 2 has a great build quality, especially considering the price tag of Rs 599. The earphones use a 3.55 mm jack and have your regular three-button remote with a microphone that allows you to answer calls and change songs on your smartphone. But where it gets even better is the Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU)-braided cable below the Y-splitter which should give it additional durability. There is also a yellow rubber clip to help you keep the cables in an organised manner. The earbuds have a magnetic casing that allows you to hang it around your neck when idle. The earbuds feel comfortable and fit nicely. And even if it doesn’t, you have some additional silicon earbuds in the box. Take your pick. Look-wise, the earbuds’ yellow-and-black colour scheme is classic. And it’s not just the earbuds. Realme has taken great care of the product’s packaging, and it shows during the unpacking.


Performance


The earbuds have two 11.2 mm drivers, each with 32ohm impedance rating and 108dB sensitivity rating. True to its tagline ‘feel the real bass’, the earphones has an elevated bass response, sometimes to the point of being overpowering. I doubt you’ll ever need to crank it up to the top volume. Despite that, the overall sound output is quite crisp and clean at all levels with sharp vocals. The passive noise cancellation facility isn’t just a buzzword and you can actually rely on the earbuds to help you through a crowded commute. However, there’s a fair bit of cable noise. Another issue that my voice wasn’t always clear enough to the person on the other end when I used the mic for calls.


Verdict


Despite a few issues, Realme Buds 2 does most of the things rights. Its TPU-braided cable, magnetic feature, and even the overall sound quality are definitely of the breed of those found in earbuds priced at the higher end of the price range. At Rs 599, the Realme Buds 2 are a steal and make a great buy.




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