About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

July 19, 2016

You ARE Being Watched

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:41 am

I have mentioned before that if you have an Android phone or use Google Maps on any device, your movements are being recorded.  Just browse to “” for a peek.  Once there, click the menu (hamburger, three horizontal bars) on the upper left and choose “Your timeline.”  Take a look around and see where you have been…unless you have stopped this feature.  More about that later.

Google recently came out with another tracking function that you may not have heard of yet.  It is called My Activity and you can find yours at

Basically this feature of Google follows you all over the web.  Pretty much anywhere you go online is recorded.  This activity page allows you to see when you visited websites (links are included so you can revisit them) along with everything you have searched for using Google.  It goes on to show you YouTube videos you have watched because Google owns that too.  All locations you have used in Google Maps are there.  Even the games you have looked for and played on your Android device have that history shown.  Finally, every app I use on my Google device is revealed.  I could see how many times I checked my Gmail and when I played a game of Hanging Free (the only online game I play).

By-the-time you read this who knows what else they may be finding out about you.  Well, Google is a search engine so what did you expect?

Now keep in mind that if you are not logged into your Google/Gmail account in your browser you are safe from being followed.  Keep in mind also that if you are using an Android phone, tablet or Chromebook, you must be logged into your Google account for everything to work.

Once you go to the “My Activity” site you will notice a declaration that states, “Only you can see this data. Google protects your privacy and security.”  You can click there and read all of the information Google has and how it is used.  I found it disquieting that their descriptions are done with little cartoons, since I personally do not like cartoons for important explanations.

My Activity MenuYou may ask, “Can I stop this!?”  Sure you can, I would not have tried to scare you like this unless I had a way out!  Go to your own My Activity page and to the right of each item you will see three vertical dots.  Click them and choose either details or delete and click the one you wish to perform. Next to the Day listing you can only delete.

Now if you just want to get rid of all of them try this.  Click the hamburger icon in the left corner next to “Google My Activity” and choose “Delete activity by.”  Once there use the controls at the top and choose what days you want to delete from your activity history.  Scroll to the bottom of the list and select “All time” and once deleted all of the information will vanish.

Finally, go back to hamburger “Google My Activity” but this time choose “Activity controls.”  When there you may select which particular types of information you want to stop by clicking the on/off buttons.  Do not panic! There are only six of them to adjust.  I cut them all off on my account with the exception of “Location history.”

September 16, 2014

Good News and a Warning

A few weeks back I wrote about an application you could use to retrieve deleted files from a computer’s drive, SD Card, etc.  This was really highlighted when I got an email from Tom in Harrisonburg, about his adventure with that application, Recuva

It began with, "I took a deep breath, downloaded, installed and ran Recuva on my wife’s defunct mini-SDHC card from her phone…"  Tom went on to tell me that Recuva fully recovered about 90%, over 600 photographs and eight videos.  These had been taken on her phone and then the card failed.  Now the grandkid photos were back.

He was so impressed he bought the Pro version.  I like hearing good news from all of you, so let me know if you read something that helps you out. 

Now a warning for all of you Android phone users.  If you sell, give away or toss your phone/tablet in the trash there are two things you should do first.  Number one is to remove your SD card if you have one installed.  It may contain many things about your system, possibly pictures you have taken, downloaded files, sites you visit, etc.  Next, you must perform a "factory reset" of your device.   

FYI, here is the way to do a factory reset.  Note: devices may vary slightly.  Go to Settings, select Privacy and then "Factory data reset."  You will get a big warning about setting your phone back to the way you got it out of the box when you bought it.  It may give you the choice to also wipe your SD card.  Choose, "OK" and it will be wiped clean. 

Until recently I would say you are now safe to get rid of the phone/tablet.  But new information has come to my attention.  It is now known that some disreputable people have been known to get old phones and recover information.  They run software like Recuva or other similar "rescue" apps and get a lot of information back from the erased system. 

You think,"That is fine, my pictures are of me fully clothed unlike some recent celebrities."  But what about your email username and password?  Or you bank account login, a personal letter you wrote, your Dropbox account and on-and-on?  Your personal data could be retrieved.

Locked filesThere is a safe way to get around this problem many geeks suggest implementing.  You add one new procedure to your Android device before you execute the factory reset.  Encrypt your device.  Encryption basically scrambles your device’s data with a cryptographic key so that only you can access it with a great password.  That way it cannot be accessed without that encryption key.  You can do this on your device at any time; however, it has a couple of drawbacks.  It can cause battery drain, it can also slow down your device and if you decide you do not like your phone encrypted it cannot be undone without a factory reset.  That causes a loss of all data.

Look under Settings and then Security to encrypt your phone/tablet.  Once encrypted you may then run a factory reset and if someone looks into recovering your data they end up with a recovered scrambled mess.  Your information will be safe.  

February 11, 2014

March 6, 2012

Alerts from Google

When I do talks and meetings with people who read this column around the area, there is a question I get most every time.  That question is, "Where do you get ideas for the columns?"  That is a great question and there are several answers to it. 

My favorite place is from emails my readers send to me.  You all are full of great ideas which I can often turn into useful columns for everyone else.  So, as always, keep those emails coming to me!  I usually get back to each of you but sometimes it may take a few days so be patient.  Also, if you email me and don’t hear back within a week to ten days shoot me another to wake me up.

I also use RSS feeds which I have written about, but today I would like to talk about another Google feature, "Google Alerts".

I realize that I mention "Google" often, (I even mentioned this particular part of it a couple of years ago) but I consider this to be one of Google’s top 10 features.  Google Alerts ( has been around for over ten years and I have been using it almost since the beginning.  It works very well. 

Let’s say that you have an avid interest in ostriches.  Coinciding with your interest you would like to be updated anytime there is new information on the feeding habits of these big birds.  Go to "" and login with your Gmail account username and password. is another good site I regularly visit but I will just mention it in passing this time.  If you don’t already have one, get a free Gmail account at any Google site to start enjoying the many features of Google.

Check out Google Alerts

At the Create a Google Alert area, first enter your search terms like, "feeding habits of ostriches." Next, the type of item you want to search for; News, Blogs, Web, Comprehensive, Video or Groups.  You can sign up for any or all of these categories.  Now choose how often you want to receive updates; daily, weekly or as it happens.  Daily is the one I use most regularly.  Then last, decide if you want all of the news types you chose or just the "best."  Depending on your set up you could be inundated with site links, but once set up you may always go back and change your original decisions.  

Google will now be on the lookout for those terms and email you a list of them as often as you like.  This is a great way to keep up-to-date with sports, hobbies, politics, medical conditions and the list goes on ad infinitum. 

It has been interesting to me when on occasion I write a column about a particular product or web site and the owner of the product or site will contact me to give me additional information, thanks or condemnations.  I have asked each time if they used Google Alerts to find me and the answer has, so far, always been yes. 

Happy information gathering!

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