It's been an exciting year for consumer technology. But accompanying the release of new gadgets, software and online tools were the usual headaches associated with life in the digital age. So, to recap, I've rounded up my top five tips and tricks from a year of input from our team of geek advisers.
No. 5: Download your data. Thanks in part to social media, blog platforms and image-sharing services, we're living in the most well-documented age in history. But those statuses, updates and photos won't mean much if the service you're using shuts down or - in the case of the image site Instagram last week - drastically changes its terms of service.
Fortunately, many of the most popular social media services offer users the option to download their own data. Just last week, in fact, Twitter announced a feature to allow each user to download his or her entire tweet archive.
If your favorite service lets you back up your digital legacy, take advantage of it.
No. 4: Acknowledge the annoying. Pop-up ads are a relic of the adolescent Internet. It's almost 2013, and, frankly, we have no excuse for accepting them anymore. Instead of just ignoring them, get rid of pop-ups for good by downloading NoScript for Firefox or AdBlock for Firefox and Chrome. Both free browser extensions improve your browsing experience by blocking the code that triggers the ads.
No. 3: Keep your phone secure. Like anything else you download, smartphone applications can carry plenty of risk. Research published by N.C. State computer scientists this year shows that many apps - especially free ones - allow advertisers to access private user information. Although some of this information, such as GPS location and browser bookmarks, is useful for tailoring ads to users, it's important to know which permissions you're granting to every app you run. Examining these permissions carefully also can prevent applications from running malicious codes.
No. 2: Handy products and tools. Our geeks in residence have recommended a number of tools in the past year, but there are a few in particular I've adopted to keep my personal information a little more secure.
First up is OpenDNS. Although it got mixed reviews from some readers, I've seen great results with this free service, which is designed to cut down on page-load time and filter out phishing sites.
For another layer of security, I also use the free browser plug-in HTTPS Everywhere. The software forces browsers to display information with HTTP Secure, the same encryption technique most companies use when processing online credit card orders. The extra step helps protect any sensitive information traveling between your computer and the websites you browse.
To round out my security efforts, I use another free browser extension called Privacyfix, which walks me through my privacy settings on popular social networking sites and helps me learn how I'm being tracked online.
No. 1: When destruction is necessary. Without a doubt, my favorite reader question of the year asked how to properly dispose of old hard drives and the data they contain.
There were some tame recommendations, to be sure. But if you want to be really confident you got everything, several of our geeks recommended blunt-force trauma. Smash it with a hammer. Drill holes straight through to the other side. You can even dismantle the casing and sand the hard disks one by one.
It may be overkill, but last time I checked, using technology was supposed to be fun.
(Think you can stump the geeks? Send your high-tech question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address and daytime phone number. Individual replies are not given.)
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