Smart Homes

July 20, 2018 at 11:39 am | Posted in Economoney, Security, Software, Technology | Leave a comment
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Modern “Smart” technology is a wonderful thing. Smart phones do vastly more than just make telephone calls. They give you information power unheard of until recently. That technology has also moved forward into TV’s, household appliances, and “personal assistants.”

However, the technology has also picked up bad habits. Many web sites exchanged free applications for your usage data and demographics for targeted marketing. This is the operating principle of Facebook, for example. Google picked this up then it migrated onto smart phones in a big way. Some applications use your paid monthly data to feed you ads and collect your information. It’s hard to find applications that don’t track you now. Even simple things like flashlights want to track your browsing history, calling history, and more. Pay attention to those permissions.

Ah, not a big deal you say – I give up a little privacy in exchange for convenience. Yet most people do not understand how much information is being collected about them,  from how many devices, and how it skews their world-view. Companies have been working to aggregate the data from multiple sources too. Now people are paying for “personal assistants” that essentially bug your home. Just who is this smart for?

In a recent TED talk, journalists Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu describe an experiment they ran. They speak of the ways supposed convenience is used to collect your personal habits and send it to corporations. That data is then used to manipulate you into buying more and is sold to unknown third parties. Your personal life has become a product without you knowing.

Much as companies may plead that no personally identifiable information is being saved, how hard is it to ID you if they also know who bought their products? Just one piece of data like your IP address can connect all the dots. You leave your IP address on every website you visit, sometimes with your contact info, photo, and so forth. If you use a router, your devices use the same IP.

Keep in mind this is being done without your informed consent and your life is being shared with companies you’ve never heard of, often off-shore. This is unregulated territory. Your email address has more protection than your sleep and sex habits.

Smart power meters are a simpler example. Power consumption itself doesn’t give a lot of information about you. But smart meters track patterns of consumption throughout the day. This maps your personal routines in detail. My hydro provider lets me look at my usage graphs and can make surprisingly informed suggestions to save money. But I have less concern about them than I do multinationals with little to no regulatory oversight.

Zeynep Tufekci talked at TED about artificial intelligence and the hazards of unconstrained tracking. For example, even if you don’t log in, YouTube will offer you “suggested” videos. Web sites feed us what they think will keep us there longer. This drifts to extremes, leading into dark corners and a very distorted view of the world. I’ve been surprised by the weirdness YouTube suggests if I watch a few clips, for example. News sites do the same thing in much less obvious ways.

The talk mentions how Facebook’s testing revealed small changes in posts changed the voting behaviour of hundreds of thousands of users. In the US election, this was more than the difference between the parties. And yet the vast majority of users don’t realize they’re being manipulated this way. Confirmation bias is unconscious.

Minimizing our use of biased platforms can help. Balanced news sources, non-tracking search engines, browser plug-ins that reduce tracking, and similar tools can help us get a more neutral view. But only if we’re informed and discriminating.

The EU has been more proactive about clamping down on some of this behaviour. But the Internet is still largely an open highway. That’s a good thing but remember the hazards of the open road.
David

Windows 10 Upgrade & Tweaks

May 13, 2016 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Software | 14 Comments
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If you’re using Windows 8, the free upgrade to Windows 10 is an obvious choice. Some describe it as what Win8 should have been in the first place. Windows 7 is a bigger jump but unless your hardware isn’t up for it, upgrading while it’s free may be a good idea. I waited for the dust to settle and the bugs to be fixed. But now, the end of the free upgrade period is coming July 29. Experts say it’s unlikely to be extended. If you’re considering it, it’s time to make your move and avoid a last-minute crunch.

If you’ve already upgraded, you may find the Protection section and below worth reviewing.

Usually, I install a fresh version of a new operating system so I’m starting from a clean slate without historical problems. But this requires reinstalling all the software and making all the settings changes from scratch. Because Win10 is a smaller change and my Win8 installs are newer, I opted for the free upgrade.

Preparation
You first want to update Windows fully.

And update your major software to ensure it’s current & compatible with Win10. You may find PSI useful. I had a problem with several things hanging after the upgrade. Turns out I needed to install a new version of my Antivirus tool. I had thought it’s version was current but it turned out not to be.

Next create a full image of your operating system – the update gives you the choice to revert but if something goes wrong, you want to be able to get back to where you started. I had trouble with Windows backup on my tablet. It wouldn’t accept any of the media options that where available. Macrium Reflect (free) allowed me to choose a large thumb drive and get the job done.

For Windows upgrade, you can download the tool to start the upgrade process here. This is preferable to using the “Get Windows 10” tool Microsoft has pushed on many computers.

If you’d like a fresh install, you can get the media creation tool here. It has DVD and thumb-drive options. But you’ll need a prior Win10 activation. To get that, you first have to Upgrade to Win10, then Activate, and then you can wipe the drive and install fresh. When you come to activate that, Microsoft will recognize a valid install on the same system. Fred Langa goes into details here. (paid content)

Installation
The install software first spends time checking your system and downloading the upgrade files. This can be done while you continue to work. When the time comes for the actual upgrade, a lunch break would be optimum.

I upgraded a hybrid tablet and a custom desktop system. Both went smoothly and retained most of my customization and settings.

As the install is completing, it will ask you to log in to your Microsoft account. If you had been using a PIN or similar, be sure to have your original password ready.

Next you get the “Get Going Fast” screen – don’t. Click the tiny Customize link in the lower left and review some of the default settings. If you want some privacy, you’ll want to turn a lot of the initial settings off. Also the default apps if you already have programs you prefer.

After more processing, it will bring you to the desktop. Most of it should look about the same.

If you were using a third-party start menu, it will probably have been turned off. Microsoft told me twice Classic Shell had been “removed” but it wasn’t uninstalled, just tuned off.

Protection
For some reason, System Protection is turned off by default. In Control Panel, System, System Protection, turn on System Protection for your boot drive, set the space at about 2% and create a Restore point. Details. This gives you the ability to roll back if an update causes trouble. Windows Updates are now only automatic so this is important.

Windows key-X will give you a quick menu to access various admin functions, including Control Panel. Or right-click the Start menu icon.

Adjustments
Three areas that need attention are the new variation of the Start menu, Search, and Settings. We’ll look at Settings first.

Continuing in the trend of Win8, Windows 10 has settings in 2 places – Control Panel and the Settings app. The second is accessed by the Gear icon in the Start menu. You’ll want to review each area as some of the default settings are less than desirable.

If you travel a lot and want to share settings across devices, want to use mostly MS products, and want to share everything with Microsoft and the world, you may be happy with the default settings. If not, spend a bit of time reviewing them. This will also give you a better sense of what Win10 offers and what you can control.

System
Most in here are fine. You may want to review Notifications.
Offline Maps may be useful for you if you need map access where Internet service is lacking. But the maps are large files. If they don’t finish downloading before you reboot, you have to start again.

Devices
By default, it has Windows manage your default printer, based on the one you used last. I turned that off. My printer was off during the update and was not on the list. When I turned it on and asked it to search for new printers, it said there was none but added the printer meantime.

Network
It’s notable Windows now tracks your data usage like a cell phone.
If you have wireless, in WiFi, Manage WiFi settings, turn off the automated connection options. You want to manage what hotspots you connect to, not your Contacts, etc. And why would you want where you connect being shared like this?

Personalization
I found that Windows retained my prior settings but the accent colour didn’t look as good.
You may want to tweak the Local Screen settings.
Start is where you adjust the Start menu. If you use default Windows locations for your music and such, you can control which folders are displayed.

Accounts
If you don’t plan to sync settings on multiple devices, turn off Sync. Key to understand here is it’s all synced through your Microsoft account on-line. That’s not exactly privacy.

You will need to keep your MS account but can add and use a Local account so you’re not obliged to sign in to Microsoft (and be connected to the Internet) whenever you’re using your computer. Of course, the later is required for some features.

To create a Local account, go to Family and Other Users: look for ‘I don’t have this persons sign-in’ and add a User without a MS account.

For security, it’s not recommended you do regular computing in an Admin account. One way to avoid loosing your personalizations is to create a new Admin user, then log into it and change the original account to Regular. You’ll need the Admin password to make changes but it prevents malware from running accidentally.

It was also recommended to create a 2nd Admin account as backup, in case the first gets corrupted.

Time and Ease
Worth browsing to see what’s here.

Privacy
This is the big one. Your Advertising ID? There are a series of sections to go over, including which apps can access your personal data. If you don’t use the App, you can turn it off.

Update
Updates are always automatic in Windows 10 Home. In Windows Update, Advanced options, change the setting to Notify. Otherwise it may reboot your computer to update while you’re working.

Some have suggested you can control updates by setting your connection to Metered. But that’s canceled whenever you connect to a new network.

Search
Click Cortana in the Taskbar (by the Start menu), then the Settings icon and turn off online. Otherwise, everything you search for on your computer is also searched on Bing and tracked. Don’t know about you, but I don’t expect to find my work files on the Internet. I also find it more useful to use a browser to search on-line. I can also then use the search engine of my choice. You may want to turn off Cortana reminders at the top too.

You can also change the space it takes – an icon may be fine. For that, right-click the Taskbar, select Search, and then box, icon, or hidden.

Start Menu
As usual, there’s some junk in the Start menu to unpin. I prefer desktop programs over almost any of the apps. Once you clean out the “Get Office” etc, the right side is more manageable. You may also find you can make the tiles smaller. If you’re not on a touchscreen, the big tiles just take up space.

I find the lack of a Programs folder view annoying. The All Apps alphabetical view is much less useful as I group related programs in folders. But I was happy to see you can right click and Uninstall the undesirables.

At first I found some weird things on the list, like program Help links rather than just executables. But that seems to have sorted itself out. However, if you open folders, it shows everything in all the sub-folders together, including files like “legal” & “readme”. It doesn’t show which program they’re associated with. They apparently assumed no one organizes their Start Menu.

You can browse the alpha list and Pin your more commonly used programs, or create a folder with shortcuts for them and make that a new Toolbar (from the Taskbar). Woody shares many other tricks here.

I’ll have to decide how I will organize the Start menu – break programs out of groups? That will make the list vastly longer and require I remember the right name (Office? Microsoft Office?). Or use a third-party Start menu? The free Classic Shell still works for Windows 10 and is great for hierarchical menus. The exploration continues.
David

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