how to protect your privacy, avoid fraud and achieve more
When the old year comes to an end and the new one begins, it is a good time to take stock of your technical habits. What works and what is hindering you? What new habits could make your life easier? We’ve put together a few suggestions for your New Year’s resolutions.
Drop the distractions
The idea that the internet negatively affects our brain has been around for some time. We have access to unlimited information available to us, and yet our attention spans and our ability to retain information have decreased.
That can’t necessarily be the internet’s fault. New developments are always blamed for possible grievances in society that go back to antiquity. The Greek philosopher Socrates thought that writing was inferior to memory and the spoken word; The printing press was another invention that would lead to the demise of civilized society and that didn’t even stimulate us on television.
So it is not inevitable that the internet will affect our brain performance. But it’s hard to argue that technology isn’t increasingly distracting us. Look around the next time you’re in public. How many people are so busy with their smartphones that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them?
How often do you get distracted by all the emails and messages that land in your inbox while you work? Is it a reflex to look at your phone when you’re bored or – like most of us – just procrastinating?
If technology has become more of a hindrance than an aid, it may be time to give things back a little and get a grip on your technology usage.
It seems strange, but technology can also help us defeat it. Apple’s latest version of iOS has the ability to set multiple “focus” modes that reduce distractions but let important or relevant notifications through.
For example, do not disturb mode mutes all notifications and apps, but a customizable work focus mode allows notifications from important people and apps, and lets people know you’ve muted notifications. You can add focus modes for fitness, reading, mindfulness, driving, gaming, or even add your own.
On Android, the digital wellbeing settings allow you to adjust focus modes to hide notifications from distracting apps. You can also set it to turn on automatically, for example at a certain time of the day when you know you have to work non-stop.
There are also apps that allow you to focus on tasks for a short time without interruption. For example, the Bear Focus Timer uses the Pomodoro technique, which divides the work into intervals with a short break in between.
You open the app, put your phone’s screen face down and the app plays white noise like campfire, stream, rain or night noises so you can focus until the time is up. It will then commend you for your good habits and give you that nice endorphin rush that kept us stuck to our phones from the start.
Take back control
Tech companies pull our strings and use our personal information to target content and create pretty meaningful profiles of us to help us sell more products and services.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are many tools out there to help you protect your privacy, from ad blockers to built-in controls in operating systems that prevent apps from tracking your movements online.
For example, Ghostery offers an extension for your desktop browser and a dedicated web browser for your smartphone that blocks many of the most common trackers. The Brave web browser also helps keep trackers away from your online business.
And if you’re using iOS, the newer versions of the software force apps to ask for permission to track your activity, which you can easily decline. You may be targeted more by adverts for toenail fungus treatment than you’d like, but in the short term, this is a minor nuisance.
Dial down doom
The last two years have been tough for everyone. We all thought the pandemic was a distant memory and that we would celebrate a more normal Christmas in 2021. Even if you managed to keep your spirits up, talk of Covid cases of 20,000 a day would be enough to make anyone lose faith.
You don’t have to bury your head in the sand; We are not ostriches. However, it’s wise to take a break from Doom scrolling, whether that means putting your devices away, wiping your social media apps off your phone, or just leaving the house for a quick walk.
One fact, however, about ostriches: they don’t bury their heads in the sand to avoid predators. It is believed that the mischaracterization came from observers watching the ostrich monitoring its eggs. So don’t ignore it, just keep an eye on things.
Check your sources
If you want to keep up with the latest news, it is advisable to carefully check your sources. A recent poll published by the Central Statistics Office found that more than 60 percent of Irish internet users have seen content online that they think is untrue or doubtful.
Which makes us wonder what the remaining 30-plus-percent are really reading.
Of those who had seen content they believed to be untrue or doubtful, around 64 percent researched and checked sources and information, or participated in discussions about the content online or offline. This was highest in the age group of 20 to 44 year olds, where 97 percent sought further information.
However, the quality of these sources is crucial. Look for good quality sources that can be verified. This is more difficult than you can imagine, as it is not always clear when there is an agenda behind a particular story or analysis. You can find more tips on evaluating news sources at bemediasmart.ie.
Be more cynical – when it counts
This year there has been an explosion of scams targeting phone users. Almost everyone has either received a phone call or knows someone who claims they have been called by an ill-named government agency. If you didn’t have any of these, you received scam text about a fake delivery and customs duties. Others have been targeted by scammers who claimed to be offering Covid-19 testing for a fee.
One of the newer headlines is the WhatsApp scam. You may receive a message on WhatsApp claiming to be from a friend or family member on a new number because they lost their phone. Well do you think it will happen.
Then comes the request for help; Perhaps they have lost their wallet or have been mugged and want you to send them money. If your scam radar is beeping, you’re right. Unfortunately, such cons are designed to tap into our human instincts for assistance, and when coupled with the urgency of the request, some people have fallen for it.
If you receive a similar message, contact the person on their old number to make sure they are no longer in their possession, or ask the new number to send a voice memo to verify their identity before leaving separate from money.
And if someone asks you to send them a security code that they “mistakenly” sent to your phone, don’t do it. This scam allows people to gain access to your WhatsApp account and send messages to your contacts who pretend to be you – and inevitably a monetary claim will follow.
Increase your security
This should be on your list every year. We do more and more online every year, so we should protect our accounts as best we can.
Your technology can reveal a surprising amount about you. When someone has access to your online accounts, they can get an idea of you and your life. For example, the places you visit regularly, your home address, where you do banking, where you shop online and what social media accounts you have.
That password, which you’ve been using for the past 10 years, is likely hanging in a cache of compromised credentials on the dark web. It’s time to rethink things.
If your accounts offer two-factor authentication, implement that and choose an authentication app instead of plain text message authentication.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but security experts recommend using a password manager to create random, unique passwords. All you have to do is secure the software with a single strong password and it will do the rest for you. Just make sure the password is as strong as possible – and not a reused one.
Pay for what you need
We collect subscriptions these days. From music streaming to video services and online fitness to digital magazines, gaming services and audio books. Now is a good time to take stock of what you are paying for and what you are actually using. It might not seem like much when you sign up – the cost of a sandwich or two a month – but the cost adds up as the year goes on, even more so if you find you haven’t opened the app in question for about six months to have. You can redirect that money to a more meaningful cause.
If you signed in through the App Store on your phone, find the subscriptions in Settings, select your iCloud ID and check under Subscriptions.
On Android, go to Settings> Passwords & Accounts and select your Google Account. Scroll to Payments & Subscriptions to see your recurring payments.