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Google alternatives, Zoom tricks, free background checks, and more: Tech Q&A

Each week, I receive tons of questions from my listeners about tech concerns, new products, and all things digital.

Sometimes, choosing the most interesting questions to highlight is the best part of my job. This week, I received questions about Zoom tricks, private browsing, turning handwritten notes into text documents, and more.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask me? Tap or click here to email me your digital life questions directly.

Video call faux pas

Q: I’ve heard horror stories of people going to the bathroom and having secret conversations after a video call is over, but they are still being recorded. How do I know for sure that both my camera and microphone are off?

A: The struggle is real, especially now that people have largely replaced face-to-face interactions with video calls and remote conferences. An onboard microphone is designed to pick up pretty much everything, and it isn’t discriminating about the sounds that might embarrass you. As for your webcam, there’s that adage that “the camera doesn’t lie,” which can be a real liability if you forget that it’s on.

For many communication platforms, all you have to do is master the “mute” button. Your best bet, though, is to switch these devices entirely off. This may feel like an extra chore, but at the end of the day, most of us don’t need them operating anyway. Tap or click here for the steps to make sure both your webcam and microphone are off.

Google alternatives

Q: Is there a search site that does not track you like Google? I also don’t want to use Chrome for the same reason.

A: Google is infamous for collecting data on its users in countless different ways. Your searches are particularly telling, and Google uses this information to learn more about you and your purchasing habits. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to be as anonymous as possible online.

You can use DuckDuckGo for searching the web; the site won’t track you. Instead of Chrome, there’s Firefox. And there are Google-less options for mail, maps and more too. Tap or click here for several Google alternatives that won’t track you. 

Zoom tips

Q: I am new to using Zoom. Any tricks to help me out?

A: Millions of people had never heard of Zoom before the quarantine and are now regularly using it. The free software has made so many of our lives easier, connecting us to family and workmates with the click of a link. No registration required. At the same time, once we’ve gotten a handle on Zoom’s essential functions, we may be reluctant to change anything for fear that we’ll get visibly confused during a live meeting.

If you decide to experiment, you’ll find that Zoom offers some excellent customization. A popular example: The ability to change your background, so you don’t have to reveal the inside of your actual home, or you can imagine that you’re somewhere exotic and fun.

Zoom developers know what people want (check out “enter silently”), so the more comfortable you get with the platform, the easier these tricks will be. Test them out in an empty meeting room if you’re worried about doing something silly in front of coworkers. Tap or click here for five Zoom tricks you need to know.

Digitize notes

Q: I keep organized by making myself to-do lists. Can these notes be turned into text?

A: This is a godsend for those of us who still like to put pen to paper. Legal pads are still very popular, and you’ll find folks who love their hardback diaries and handwritten letters. Such documents can vanish easily, and there’s no cloud service for a lost Moleskine.

You may also find that carefully jotted notes from a meeting can get tedious to re-enter into a Word document to share with colleagues. Luckily, Google Lens will transcribe your notes into digital form for free. The only caveat is that your penmanship must be neat; even Google’s technology has its limits, and chicken scratch won’t make the cut. Tap or click here for an easy way to turn handwritten notes into typed text.

Vet yourself

Q: I lost my job like everyone else. I committed a small crime a long time ago. How can I do a background check on myself to see what a potential employer might find?

A: The easiest way to check on yourself is to run a search in a web browser, but a truly discerning hiring manager may do a more thorough background check. You want to make sure that your social media accounts are clean. Make sure there are no suspicious pictures or contentious posts.

Now, you won’t be able to erase the crime. You should prepare yourself for an uncomfortable question during the interview process. Some of the most obnoxious and data-hungry places on the web are ancestry sites, which will post lots of personal data without your permission. You need to take extra steps to remove it. Tap or click here for the sites and steps to run a free background check.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television, or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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