Tag Archives: CNET

Is it Time to Disable or Delete Your Instagram Account?

By Tracey Dowdy

 Instagram influencers live their lives on a very public stage – that’s the whole point of being an influencer. They share everything from their favorite granola to their favorite brand of underwear, and everything in between. As it turns out, Instagram inadvertently gave many users a taste of what it’s like to give brands, marketers, and total strangers access to their private information and preferences. According to Tech Crunch Security Editor Zack Whittaker, “A massive database containing the contact information of millions of Instagram influencers, celebrities and brand accounts has been found online. The database, hosted by Amazon Web Services, was left exposed and without a password allowing anyone to look inside. At the time of writing, the database had over 49 million records, but was growing by the hour.”

The database was owned by Chtrbox, an Indian marketing company that connects influencers to brands looking to promote their product or service. Instagram (owned by Facebook) has since revoked Chtrbox’ access to its platform.

Since its inception, Instagram has morphed from a simple photo-sharing platform to an imitation of Snapchat or Facebook, with advertising cluttering your feed. For some Instagram users, the breach was the last straw. If you’re one of them, you can delete your account but it isn’t easy to do from within the app itself. Patrick Holland has a step by step tutorial on CNET’s How to Do It All YouTube channel that will walk you through beginning to end.

Keep in mind, once it’s deleted, it’s gone forever – you will not be able to recover it. If that seems harsh and you just want a break, consider disabling it for a while. By logging out, you have the option to resurrect your profile once you’re ready, but whatever option you choose, be sure to download your data. This is especially critical if you’re deleting your profile – there may be photos in your stream that you’ve forgotten exist but will be important to you down the road – because again, once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can request your download through your browser or through the app, but realize this isn’t an immediate download. It will take time for Instagram to collate all that data, and prepare it for downloading.

If you’re still unsure which option is best, check out Holland’s tutorial Instagram: How to delete or disable your account to determine which is best for youTech

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Spot Fake Reviews in Online Retail

By Tracey Dowdy

Amazon likes to think of itself as a level playing field for sellers where the best products rise to the top through honest feedback posted in the product reviews. In a perfect world, consumers buy a product or service through Amazon and then post a genuine review, free from any kind of incentive from the seller.

However, that ideal is far from reality. A Buzzfeed News story uncovered an entire industry built on fake reviews. The competition among third-party sellers is intense, so much so that shady sellers offer “black hat” services to boost rankings and help the seller appear higher than they should in search results.

Renee DiResta, director of research at cybersecurity company New Knowledge, told BuzzFeed News, “The extent to which sellers go to game the system, and the amount of resources they devote to doing it, [are] a testament to how Amazon’s recommendation and ranking algorithms shape consumption. While Amazon repeats that ‘even one fake review is too many,’ the fact remains that manipulative tactics from dishonest sellers make honest business owners afraid that they can’t remain competitive. And when manipulation is successful, it’s Amazon’s customers who are the victims.”

Amazon has made an effort to police manipulation of its marketplace, but a business model this successful is difficult to rein in. It’s so successful, a YouTube search for the term “super URL” results in heaps of tutorials on how to game the system and manipulate product and service rankings. These black hat consultants hide in plain sight attending and even speaking at Amazon seller conferences and events. Many have Facebook pages promoting their services.

Where does that leave us as consumers?

Rick Broida, a Senior Editor at CNET, offers two valuable tips for identifying fake reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and other online retailers.

First, make use of Fakespot, a site that evaluates product reviews using artificial intelligence to identify fake reviews. Just copy and paste the link to the product’s page, then click “Analyze.”  Even better, add the Fakespot extension to Chrome for immediate results. Just hit the Fakespot icon while you’re on the product page, and it will instantly tell you whether what you’re reading is legit or not. You can download the Fakespot app for both iOS and Android, so you always have reliable information at your fingertips.

Currently, Fakespot works on Amazon, Sephora, Best Buy, WalMart, Steam, TripAdvisor, and Yelp.

To give perspective on the scope of the problem, Fakespot found that over 50% of Walmart’s product reviews were “unauthentic and unreliable.” Best Buy, on the other hand, had less than 5% fake reviews.

Once analyzed, Fakespot provides a letter grade – A to F – based on the total number of reviews and the percentage that were flagged as unreliable or fake.

Another option is ReviewMeta, that exclusive screens Amazon reviews. They are clear from the moment you click on the site that their analysis is an estimate, not a fact. “ReviewMeta is not able to determine which reviews are ‘fake’ and which are not with 100% accuracy.  We’re simply looking at different trends and making a ‘best guess’ estimate about the reviews.” They also caution that a Pass/Fail/Warn does not necessarily indicate the presence or absence of a fake review.

“ReviewMeta is not able to determine which reviews are ‘fake’ and which are not with 100% accuracy.  We’re simply looking at different trends and making a ‘best guess’ estimate about the reviews.”

So instead of a letter grade like Fakespot, ReviewMeta shows you product reviews with the questionable ones removed.

The challenge here is that the two sites often provide different results, sometimes very different, so you’ll need to trust your instinct. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

On the other hand, just because a product has fake reviews, that doesn’t necessarily translate to an inferior quality product, and, just because a product is first in the search results, you don’t necessarily see the best option. For example, if you’re shopping for a cheaper version of an OtterBox phone case, a search of “off brand otter box” will bring up over 8000 results. When I clicked on the first option with 4.5 stars, Fakespot gave it a C, while the first option on the second page with only 3.5 stars earned an A. The first phone case analysis comes with the warning, “Our engine has analyzed and discovered that 64.7% of the reviews are reliable,” while the second says, “Our engine has profiled the reviewer patterns and has determined that there is minimal deception involved.”

At the end of the day, the adage “buyer beware” is still your best defense.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Do Fitness Trackers Really Help You Lose Weight?

By Tracey Dowdy

When the first wearable fitness trackers became popular in back 2014, “The Year of Wearable Technology,” individuals looking to improve their overall health and encourage them to exercise thought they’d discovered the Holy Grail of fitness. Since then, they’ve been used to monitor weight and to supporting healthier habits, including sleeping, eating and exercising by millions of users.  But the question remains, are they actually effective in promoting your health and fitness?

Scott Stein, Senior Editor/Reviews – Wearable Tech at CNET,  recently wrote a piece, “I Wear Fitness Trackers all the Time… and I still Gained Weight. Here’s Why.”  In his story, Stein writes, “I’ve always hoped that a smartwatch could be the Marie Kondo of my future health, eliminating the distractions, focusing on the real goals and clearing my cluttered, easily distracted mind. Instead, every day I get notifications, messages and occasional end-of-day “close the activity ring!” reminders.”

Stein asserts that while great for tracking steps and reminding you to get up and move around, an individuals’ “holistic health picture isn’t contained on the watch.” For example, his Apple Watch can remind him to close his fitness rings, but it doesn’t accurately measure calorie intake vs. calories burned.

More importantly, research has found that some of the devices produced inaccurate fitness data, which may affect users lifestyle and fitness goals or potentially lead to unnecessary activities. Fitness trackers use different sensors to collect data, and most products, regardless of brand or maker, use heart rate to calculate the number of calories burned, and motion sensors are used to measure movement. The problem is, “Heart rate alone is not an ideal indicator of calorie burn,” says Adam Sinicki of Android Authority. “The assumption is that when the heart pumps faster, you are creating a demand for oxygen and energy and thus probably engaging in an activity that is ‘costly’ from an energy perspective.” Of course physically fit individuals like my brother in law Ken, who regularly runs marathons, have lower resting heart rates than someone like me, who regularly runs her mouth. Factors like blood and air pressure, the ambient temperature of your environment, as well as your current mood can cause sudden heart rate changes.

A 2015 study by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that fitness trackers frequently overestimated total sleep time, provided inaccurate data about the distance an individual traveled, and miscalculated number of calories burned.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that over time, users got very good at ignoring prompts and a third lost interest in their results after just six months. Stein summed it up best, “The fitness trackers cannot force you to be healthy, and smartwatches aren’t designed to replace doctors (in fact, the Apple Watch specifically is designed to dovetail with doctor visits). But if the Apple Watch intends to eventually be a medical tool, trainer and fitness buddy for my life — and anyone else’s — it could be a lot better at meeting me at my needs faster. After all, these apps already have years of my data: my sleep, my steps, my heart rate, my weight. Put it together already. Use machine-learning magic. Tell me the big picture. Do something that slaps me in the face the way my doctor does when she tells me I need to lose weight.”

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Reuse or Recycle Your Android or iOS Device

By Tracey Dowdy

The first iPhone shipped to customers back in June of 2007 – less than 12 years ago, but somehow, it feels like smartphones have been around forever.

In those 12 years, we’ve seen a lot of changes and updated features for our smartphones and tablets, which encouraged us to upgrade, and upgrade again, and again…to the point there’s a good chance you have an old phone or outdated tablet sitting in a drawer or taking up space on a shelf. But instead of hanging on to digital clutter, consider these options to put your old devices to new use.

Smart Home Center – With devices like Google Assistant, Alexa, Nest, Hue, Smart TV’s, and Amazon’s Fire Stick becoming more common and accessible, it makes sense to repurpose your old phone or tablet as a dedicated hub for your smart home enabled tech. You can even use them to set up a media streaming center. The simplest way is to clear unused apps and free up as much data as possible. Download the streaming apps you need, along with any tools you’re using — Google HomeAmazon Fire TV RemoteNest, Hue, etc. – connect to the same network as the devices, and you’re good to go!

Your Child’s First Device – If you’ve ever handed off a $500 phone or tablet to a toddler, you know the gut-felt fear usually only seen in horror movies. But, handing off a phone or tablet that’s been sitting in a drawer or is being replaced with an updated version is a great idea. You’ll want to be sure to lock down any features you don’t want them to access through Parental Controls, and invest in a sturdy case as any device in the hands of a toddler is likely to take a fair amount of punishment.

 Digital Photo Frame – Remember the first digital photo frames? They were the hottest Christmas present of the year when they were first introduced, but the image quality wasn’t great, and they weren’t really reliable. But, your old Android tablet or iPad can make an excellent scrolling photo display, rolling through hundreds of photos an hour. How To Geek has a simple, easy to follow tutorial on how to make it happen on your Android tablet, and CNET has instructions for your iPad. Besides the vast improvement in image quality, both are WiFi connected, so you can set it up to automatically update to new images.

Security Camera/Baby Monitor – There are plenty of options for home security systems available, but remember, security cameras are simply network connected video cameras. Even the older versions of phones and tablets have network connectivity, so they’re perfect for use as home security cameras, baby or even pet monitors. There are many options available for both iOS and Android devices, but one that receives consistently positive reviews from experts is Alfred. The app allows any Wi-Fi connected phone to broadcast its camera feed to any other phone attached to the same account with no limit on the number of cameras you can connect to a single account.

Dedicated eBook Reader – I will always prefer an actual physical book to an eReader, but there are times when they come in handy. Using your old iPad or tablet as a dedicated reader, particularly for cookbooks, spares your cookbooks and primary device from the inevitable mess that comes from cooking and baking.

Help Scientific Research – Did you know you can take part in important scientific research with apps like BOINC for Android and DreamLab?  Both apps use your device’s processing power to run calculations for a variety of research projects – BOINC focuses on research on diseases, global warming, and space, while DreamLab focuses on finding a cure for cancer.

Recycle, Sell, or Donate – If none of these options are viable for you, you can always recycle, sell, or donate your old phones and tablets. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of locations where you can take your unwanted tech and have it safely disposed of.  Many retailers like Target and Best Buy offer trade-in options, and the website Gazelle offers consumers cash for working or broken devices, and offers deals on refurbs, providing less expensive options when upgrading.

Lifewire has a list reviewing trade-in programs, including the good and the bad about trade-ins with Amazon, Flypsy, and YouRenew.   

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

HDMI 2.1: What You Need to Know

If you’re like me, you pay attention to significant changes in technology – new phones being introduced, improvements or changes to our streaming services, etc. – but not a lot to the hardware that makes our phones, home theatres, and surround sound systems work.

That’s likely the case with the changes coming for the lowly – but indispensable HDMI cables that connect our systems, the literal “man behind the curtain” if you will. (HDMI, or High Definition Multimedia Interface, supports the connection that combines video and audio into a single digital interface for audio/video connectivity). It’s been around since the early 2000’s but has been largely unchanged until now, though you won’t need to upgrade or swap out your cables just yet, even if you’re planning on buying a new TV or stereo system in 2019. Consumers can’t upgrade current televisions to 2.1 specs, and there are no HDMI 2.1 sources commercially available yet.

CNET’s Geoffrey Morrison says, “This update is quite forward-thinking and takes into account formats and resolutions that won’t be widely available for years. However, if you’re considering certain new TVs in 2018 and 2019, you should make sure you understand the limitations of 2.0, and what 2.1 will offer if you choose to wait on your TV purchase.”

Morrison breaks down the “need to know” for HDMI 2.1 this way:

  • The physical connectors and cables will not change – they’ll be the same as today’s HDMI.
  • Bandwidth will improve from18 Gbps (HDMI 2.0) to 48 Gbps (HDMI 2.1).18 Gbps is sufficient for our current systems, but again, this is forward thinking and will allow for higher resolutions and higher frame rates as they are developed.
  • Can carry resolutions up to 10K, frame rates up to 120fps which won’t matter so much for watching video, but will be a feature that gamers will love.
  • New cables will be required for higher resolutions and/or frame rates. Just like that first generation of 4K TV’s aren’t compatible with 4K Blue Ray players, you may want to wait on that upgrade until TV’s have caught up with the new standard.
  • The first products were due in 2018 but never made it to market. Hopefully, some will arrive in 2019.

The bottom line, according to Morrison is this: “HDMI 2.1 is like a brand new, 10-lane highway in the middle of the countryside. There’s not much reason for it right now, but it offers an easy way to expand in the future. If you’re not considering an 8K TV then it’s a 10-lane highway in the countryside of a different state or country. Cool, but not something that will impact your immediate future.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.