Monday, January 30, 2012

BIG BROTHER IS THY NAME GOOGLE?

NOTE: (Feb 23rd) This fast moving topic has had several updates since the writing of this article. Several are posted at the end of it.


Effective March 1st, 2012, Google is changing their privacy settings. This means that anyone who has registered with a Gmail, Calendar, Maps, YouTube, Blogger, Chrome, Picassa, Earth, SketchUp, Reader, Google+, Wallet, and other accounts owned and managed by Google, will be affected by this change.

The following statement comes from Google to their users:
We're getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that's a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience for your users across Google products.

“We're excited about the improvements we are making across our products and appreciate your support. You can view the new privacy policy at http://www.google.com/policies.”


Translated into user-friendly language, what this means is that Google is collecting information across all these platforms to stitch together a more complete profile about you and your interests. What this really means is that Google will be able to better target advertising to you.

Google says that it won’t sell this information to advertisers, but if they have a few more quarters of poor earnings performance, I believe that eventually they will sell this valuable information to advertisers, who would be happy to know more about you and will gladly pay for it.

Information in seemingly unrelated accounts that are being held in a silo-type model will get shared in this new, merged approach, so what you watch on YouTube and what you receive in your Gmail in-box will become related. For example, if you watch an NFL clip on-line and you live in San Francisco, they could send you advertisements for 49er tickets to your Gmail account.

AND YOU CAN’T OPT OUT!

“Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” said Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer in a quote given to the Washington Post. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out — especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.”
HOW ELSE IS YOUR ACTIVITY BEING TRACKED?
Additionally, Google can collect information about users when they activate an Android mobile phone, sign into their accounts online or enter search terms. It also stores cookies on people’s computers so they know which Web sites are being visited, or use its popular maps program to estimate the location where the user is.
Google’s position as presented by Alma Whitten, Google’s director of privacy for product and engineering, as stated to the Washington Post is, “If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
If Google is already deeply embedded in your life, there’s not much you can do to un-embed them at this junction short of discontinuing your use of the services they provide. But this isn’t necessarily a practical solution since what they provide is beneficial, which is why you signed up for it in the first place.
Having said all of the above, users who have not registered on Google or any of its other sites, such as YouTube, Chrome, etc., are not affected by the new policy.
But that’s probably not you since they provide valuable tools that you like.
GOOGLE’S SEARCH ENGINE
The first and easiest line of defense is to stop using Google as your search engine when you’re logged in. You can change the preference of the web browser on your computer(s) and smartphone so that they will default to Bing or Yahoo instead of Google. This way Google won’t see what you’re looking for and won’t have your search history on file (yes, they do keep it forever). Or, you can simply log out of Google and use the Google search engine anonymously. Your choice.
GMAIL
If you’re using Gmail, your next line of defense is to change your email provider. This is definitely more challenging since you’ll have to notify all your friends, clients, vendors, family, etc., of your new email address. But it’s do-able if you find yourself barraged by unwanted marketing materials in the future.
OTHER GOOGLE PRODUCTS

Personally, I’ve opted not to give them my calendar and address book in the first place. I had a very “Big Brother” feeling about them way back then, and now I’m being proved right (big whoop). Sorry.
As with the Google search engine, you can browse and watch videos on YouTube without being logged in. You just won’t be able to save or share them until you are.
Moving forward, I won’t be using Google Wallet any time soon since I don’t want my buying habits tracked by anyone other than the credit card companies that I’ve authorized. And I’m certainly not interested in advertisers of competing brands than what I purchased bombarding me with promotional material.
If you don’t know about ALL the products that Google offers, here’s a link to a handy list. You might find something new and useful here because they do, in fact, provide excellent products. Click HERE to see the complete list with links.
WHAT DO THE FEDS SAY ABOUT THIS?
Hopefully, as this rolls out and the public gets wind of how their information is being shared, the cry will be loud and it will be “Give us an opt out capability!” 
But right now, the FTC, the regulators of this type of stuff, is looking at whether Google is running afoul of antitrust rules because of the way they’re using their dominance in the on-line search world to favor its own business lines.
So far, the FTC has declined to comment to the press about any interaction between Google and regulators on this new privacy change.
Time will tell, and we shall see. Stay tuned…


UPDATE: Google has agreed to a Do Not Track function. To read more, click HERE.
UPDATE:
Tips for keeping your browsing private 
If you’re truly paranoid about your Internet search and browsing history (and I won’t ask why), this video will show you ways to avoid having your activity tracked once and for all. To view it, please click HERE.


UPDATE:
Use Google's own tools to opt out of ad networks
In Google’s privacy policy are links to services that let you view and manage the information you share with Google. Some of the  personal information you volunteered, while some of it is collected by Google as you search, browse, and use other services.

To view almost everything Google knows about you, open the Google Dashboard. You can access all the services associated with your various Google services: Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, AdSense, and every other Google property. This dashboard also lets you manage your contacts, calendar, Google Groups, Web history, Google Voice account, and other services. 

                       
UPDATE: If you’re a Social Media, mobile or digital junkie, and/or you want to know more about how to maximize Google’s useful products and tools, then this article is a must read for you. It contains links to 15 Google related blogs from “The Ultimate Guide to Google’s Hidden Tools.” Click HERE.

Information contained herein is for guideline purposes only, is not intended as an endorsement of any product, and is no guarantee of the results.

Images courtesy of Google.

Copyright © The B. Hammil Company 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

POWER UP YOUR SMARTPHONE WHILE ON THE GO

If you’re one of the many millions of people who carry a smartphone, and who isn’t, then you’ve probably had the awful experience of it running out of power (aka “juice”) while you’re out and about. There’s never a good time for this to happen, so what do you do?

Once, unbeknownst to me (and it only happens once before you learn the lesson the hard way), I left the house with my smartphone’s power supply almost empty. I arrived at the restaurant and discovered my dilemma when I tried to call to find my missing dining partner. Desperate for a jump start in the restaurant, I asked the management if they had a power plug that fit my smartphone. Fortunately, someone on their staff had one, and I gratefully recharged while dining. Needless to say, I left a hefty tip for the extra service they provided.

If you’re at someone else’s house, and they have the same type of device as you do, you can usually get a charge from their power plug. And if you’re in your car, you probably (or should) carry a power plug that fits into a port in your car and so you can power up while on the go.

CHARGE WITHOUT A PLUG
Do you know that there are other handy solutions so you can re-charge your smartphone without plugging in to a wall outlet? Yup, clever little devices exist so you can boost your device’s power supply with external hardware when absolutely necessary. No wall plugs required while out and about *.

Depending on the type of smartphone you carry, there are a number of different products that fit on or around your device, or attach to it in some way to provide you with the power you need. Some fit on your smartphone and simultaneously function as a protective case. Choose the one the works best for your expected usage and device.

Mophie Juick Pack for the iPhone and soon Android phones.
MOPHIE is a popular multi-purpose juice pack for the iPhone (and soon for Android smartphones). It’s a protective case for your iPhone that’s sleek, and simultaneously adds battery life to the device; it purports to double the battery time, depending on what you’re doing with the device. It comes in a variety of colors to suit your personal style best. I like the red one so I can easily find my iPhone at the bottom of my handbag.

Third Rail adds a battery to its protective case on your iPhone.
THIRD RAIL is a slim case for the iPhone with an add-on battery. It’s bulky when you add the battery to the case, but the trade off is that it also has a USB port and cable so you can simultaneously charge other devices from it. Multiple batteries can be stacked for even more power. Perfect for the road warrior in the family.

RichardSolo 1800 adds juice, but it's not a protective case. 
RICHARDSOLO 1800 is an external juice pack with cable to the smartphone. It’s not sleek or elegant, but it does the job when you need more power while on the go. Make sure you purchase the right one for your smartphone type. 
New Trent iCruiser is an external power pack with multiple plugs for all your devices. 
NEW TRENT iCruiser provides a whole kit with plugs, external add-on battery, and even a pouch so you can carry all their stuff in one neat place. The iCruiser IMP1000 11000mAh External Battery Pack and Charger works for the iPad2 iPad, iPhone 4S, 4, 3Gs, 3G (AT&T and Verizon), iPod Touch (1G 2G 3G 4G 5G), HTC Android EVO, Blackberry, Samsung Galaxy S, Droid, Nintendo, Sony PSP, and much more.

Of course, one day we’ll be able to cut the cord entirely when power plugs will be a thing of the past; we’ll juice up either solarly, magnetically, or magically. Until then, we’ll just have to plug in somewhere. 

To read about all the things I carry in my handbag for smartphone juicing and other emergency functions, please click HERE.


* Sooner or later all these external battery solutions need to be charged themselves, so it’s yet another device that needs to sit somewhere with a cable attached to a wall outlet.


These are just a few solutions of the dozens out there and the information contained herein is for guideline purposes only, is not intended as an endorsement of any product, and is no guarantee of the results.

Images courtesy of vendors shown.

Copyright © The B. Hammil Company 2012



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Watch Media on Computers, Tablets, Smartphones, and TV's Too!


The most interesting trend in technology this year will be how to watch TV shows, movies, news, sports, and videos other than on television in real time.

It can mean watching on a TV set, sure, but via a different delivery system than in the past. It also means watching content on computers, tablets and smartphones too.

Scheduling, content selection, and minimal advertising are all motivators for an audience to gravitate to these alternatives.


Google calculates that there are 5 billion (yes, with a “B”) people worldwide watching 5 hours of content per day. That’s a huge audience with a huge potential.

THE DIFFERENCE THIS CAN MAKE TO YOU

WATCH TV ON YOUR SCHEDULE!
First, I’m challenged to commit myself to a network’s schedule because a show I like is on when I have other plans. I’d rather watch TV when I want to watch it than when I have to.

For example, this past weekend PBS re-ran all the episodes from season 1 of a series that I like, this in anticipation of season 2 starting next week; a way for new viewers to be brought up to speed and old viewers to revisit the show. But I didn’t want to sit in front of my TV all day. So instead, I watched the series on Netflix via streaming. I could watch for a couple of hours, do something else, come back, watch some more, pause to refresh my glass of whatever, etc. Grateful as I was for the reruns, I had cut the tether from the network and lived my life on my schedule, not theirs.

WATCH TV WITH FEWER COMMERCIALS!
Secondly, the announcer’s statement, “The following is brought to you with limited commercial interruption,” is music to my ears. Why? Because the average 60 minute television show contains 15 minutes of commercials; that’s 25% of an hour spent watching commercials in just one show. Multiply that by two or three one hour shows in an evening, and I’d have spent an entire hour watching commercials, many of them repeats. I have better things to do with an hour of my time than watch commercials!

25% of a 1 hour TV show is commercials!
Now that I have alternatives that include fewer commercials, why should I watch the same show with more of them?

HOW THIS IS POSSIBLE
Cable TV providers, network web sites, applications, and software give the erstwhile TV viewer alternatives for watching their favorite shows and movies on their own schedule with the ability to pause, stop and otherwise live one’s life in one’s own “real” time, not on the schedule of the networks and, coincidentally, their advertisers (but that’s another subject entirely).

These alternatives include but are not limited to YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, VuduTiVo, Slingbox, Xbox, Wii, PlayStation, (Update: Aug, 2012, and now included, Amazon) and cable system providers like Comcast / XFinity, satellite company Dish network, and many hardware manufacturers who make multiple function devices like DVR’s that connect to your cable provider so you can record and watch later, and BluRay players that network into your WiFi sytem so you can stream content and watch at your convenience.

Most networks have apps so you can watch their shows on your devices
and web sites to watch on your computer.
They have all have given us the freedom to watch movies and TV shows on our television sets on our own schedules. And now dozens of apps exist so we can also watch them on tablets, and smartphones when we’re away from home or not in the same room as the TV with this capability.

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?
The next big thing from Google (owner of YouTube), Apple, and numerous hardware manufacturers and software developers is that they are all vying to create the best delivery system for content and to lock up that content to ensure that viewers watch via them.


I’m also looking forward to the day when it won’t require six remote controls to switch from one type of viewing to another (yes, I know about Universal remote controls, but have you ever tried to configure one?), and where all the TV’s in the house function the same way.

True, we’ve had recording devices for years that have given us freedom from commercials and network schedules, but there’s some very exciting stuff in development.

The real challenge for individuals, no matter what the delivery system, is to find the time to watch content and simultaneously live life somewhere other than on the couch in front of a screen. Do I see jogger’s glasses with a built-in movie viewing capability in our future? 


Jogging glasses, anyone?


Why not? We already have cars with screens built into the front seat head rests so passengers in the back seats can watch movies instead of the scenery. Sigh….

As the saying from TV’s golden era goes, “stay tuned to this channel.” I'll bring you more information about these innovations as they emerge in the near future.

UPDATE: Oct 22, 2012
Last night I missed a TV show that isn't available to watch OnDemand, so I streamed it from my iPhone on Safari from its web site, and watched it on the television via Apple TV. Great image quality and no commercials. Yes, it's another solution that's going to play a bigger part in how media is delivered in the future, starting now! 


The information contained herein is for guideline purposes only, is not intended as an endorsement of any product, and is no guarantee of the results.

Images courtesy of Outdoor Sports Channel, BlueLine.ca, useit.com, 

Copyright © The B. Hammil Company 2012