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 a non-tracking OS, modern police scanners, Amazon Echo privacy settings and more.
Do you have a question you’d like to ask me?
An OS that does not track you
Q: Is there an OS that doesn’t report back to Big Tech? I don’t want to use the Windows or Mac operating system.
A: The behavior of your standard OS also doesn’t receive a lot of mention in the press; while companies like Facebook have been raked over the coals (and justifiably so), the data-keeping of your standard OS isn’t even a blip on the media radar.
I can’t say these fears are legitimate – at least no more so than, say, the potential tracking by your smart TV – but if it concerns you, there is an alternative that will help you rest easy.
Use a digital age police and fire scanner
Q: Is there an app that lets me listen to local police calls? I’d like to know what’s really going on around me.
A: The old-fashioned police scanner has fascinated users for decades. All kinds of people have used these little black boxes to listen in on their local first-responders, from TV journalists seeking up-to-the-minute news tips to ambulance chasers looking for a thrill.
Special listening gear is no longer necessary, thanks to special apps, which converts those airwaves into a digital stream. These apps can also help you stay aware of dubious activity in your neighborhood, from rapidly spreading house fires to electrical blackouts and even criminals on the run.
Stop iPhone tracking your every location
Q: You recently said that your iPhone tracks your location unless you turn off a certain setting. Where is this tracking setting on my phone?
A: Unless you remove the phone from your person and leave it in a particular location, your iPhone knows where you are, unless you change those default settings.
Keep in mind, a phone’s internal GPS is helpful for many reasons; you can use the map feature, upload directions, figure out how many calories you burned on your run, track down local restaurants, and so on. Meanwhile, the iPhone app Find My Friends is extremely useful for people who get lost or live in isolated places, and it can literally save lives.
But if you want to stop your iPhone from being so geographically aware, you just have to change one setting.
Important Amazon Echo privacy settings
Q: I got an Amazon Echo recently. How can I make sure it’s not doing things I don’t want it to do, including listening all the time?
A: The truth is, Amazon Echo is listening all the time. For your Echo to work, it requires a “wake phrase,” which usually begins with “Alexa…” What’s even more concerning is that Echo also records the commands you deliver, archiving these audio files in a database.
Now, the purpose of these recordings is pretty benign: Amazon insists that they exist only to train the Echo to function better. (This is especially true if you have an unusual accent or speech impediment). In the end, you have to ask yourself: is a smart speaker worth all the security concerns?
If not, are you willing to terminate the Echo’s voice commands, reducing the device to a regular audio speaker? The choice is up to you, but some settings may make you feel more secure.
See what Microsoft tracks about you
Q: I use Windows. Does Microsoft make it known what they track about users?
A: Basically, every major tech company benefits from your personal data, and they are collecting as much as they can. Microsoft hasn’t gotten a lot of flak (see above question for an alternative private OS), but you can bet that the hallowed digital pioneer knows a great deal about you.
How much? Well, there are probably lots of data points that you could already guess. But there are ways to copy the critical information you have gathered while also cleaning your system of vulnerable history.
To help in this endeavor, you should know what about you that interests Microsoft in the first place.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call her national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen or watch to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.