Virtual assistant spies, saving texts, burner phones, and more: Tech Q&A


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Virtual Assistant Freakout

Q: So, do YOU have an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker in your house? I am freaked out that it’s always listening.

A: Yes, smart speakers are handy. Yes, they are fun. Yes, they can be fabulous for people with physical challenges. But it has also become clear that devices like the Echo and Home are always listening. Otherwise, how would these smart speakers know to respond to the wake word? Big tech data companies created these products, and the Echo and Home are intended to stand in the middle of your home, absorbing all sounds. Do I have one? Tap or click here to learn what I have done with the smart speakers in my house to maintain my privacy.

Facebook Facial Recognition Database

Q: Is it true that Facebook used my photos, and when I was tagged in photos so that one day, I could be tagged in a physical store? That’s outrageous!

A: “Outrageous” is precisely the word. Facebook has always been cavalier about user information, and every time the company claims to do more to protect privacy, the public learns about an alarming oversight. In this case, it was Consumer Reports that made the discovery: Facebook has been using face-recognition software to prevent users from posing as other people. Facebook’s recognition software is extremely powerful, and many users will feel uncomfortable that the company is scouring its entire database, looking for your image in photos and video. You can now opt-out of this feature, thanks to new privacy settings. Tap or click here to learn how to opt-out of Facebook’s facial database.

Archive Important Texts

Q: I have very important texts that I would like to save. Is it possible to send texts to my email address? This way, I can backup the texts when I backup my PC.

A: You can do this, whether you use Apple or Android devices. You can also download a third-party app that enables you to forward texts to your email automatically. iPhones have been a little more finicky in the past couple of iOS updates, but you can still automatically forward your texts. Tap or click here to send texts to your email right from your phone.

Girl, Wash Your Phone

Q: My phone is gross. What’s the best way to clean it?

A: Phones are quickly becoming the same as cash – ubiquitous, constantly touched, and a magnet for germs. Never mind how many people check their messages while actively using a restroom; the sheer exposure to daily activity is more than a simple screen rag can handle. Whether you would describe your phone as “gross” or not, assume that it could benefit from a good scrub. As you might expect, disinfecting cleansers are a good idea, especially now that flu season is on the way. There are some tricks you might not expect, though. Tap or click here to learn the right ways to clean and sanitize your dirty phone.

Business Numbers

Q: I’m the soccer coach this year. I don’t want to give parents my personal cell phone number. Can I add a second number to my existing phone?

A: As you likely know, “burner” is street slang for a phone that you use briefly and then dispose of. Burners are common among cheating spouses and serious criminals, and “Breaking Bad” fans saw their fair share of burners. But “Burner” is also the name of a very helpful app which functions much the same way: You receive a dummy number, enabling you to hide your actual phone number. Calls to the decoy are relayed to your phone, but you can get rid of that extra number whenever you want. But you may also try out several other apps, which offer similar solutions to your privacy conundrum. Tap or click here for other apps that give your phone a second number.

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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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.