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On Computers: Have you been ‘FLoCed?’

Worcester Telegram logo Worcester Telegram 4/25/2021 Joy Schwabach
a person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Joy Schwabach © File Photo Joy Schwabach

There have been lots of complaints about Google’s new “FLoC” tracking system. You may be wondering what the fuss is all about. Here it is, in a nutshell.

 “FLoC,” which stands for “Federal Learning of Cohorts,” replaces third-party cookies that track you on the web. Instead of being followed individually, your anonymous browsing activity gets lumped with thousands of similar users. Then the whole group is given an identifier. For example, if 3,000 users visit a bunch of furniture websites, a group identifier will allow advertisers to send furniture ads their way

Despite the complaints, FLoC seems less intrusive than the current system. Significantly, Google says there won’t be any identifiers on sensitive activities. These include searches for personal medical, political and religious information. But skeptics fear that these areas could be added in the future and somehow traced back to you.

In any case, only one half of 1% of Chrome users in 10 countries, including the U.S., are part of the FLoC trial. You can see if you’ve been “FLoC’d” by visiting AmiFLoced.org. I’m not part of the trial, but if you are, and you’re concerned, consider one of the browsers that opted out of the system, such as Vivaldi or Brave.

Google Play Books

I like to read books in the Kindle app on my phone or tablet. But I was reminded of Google Play Books when they offered me a discount recently. My favorite feature in both apps is the ability to make highlights by dragging my finger over a section.

Google highlights are automatically saved to a Word-like document, which you can view or edit at Docs.Google.com. That’s nice, but I have so many documents stored in Google Docs that my highlight pages are tough to find.

Kindle highlights are much easier to locate. They’re found at read.Amazon.com/notebook. The icons for your books appear in a column on the left. Click one to see the highlights you’ve made. Click “options” to go right to that part of the book.

When I went there, I found highlights for the book “Polio: An American Story,” among hundreds of others. I viewed a highlighted sentence about Americans being encouraged to spray their living rooms with DDT. A note I’d made appeared under the highlight. Handy.

Speaking of Kindle stuff, your Kindle’s lock screen can now show the cover of the book you’re reading. It’s available on most Kindle models but not the Fire tablet. To set it up, find “Show Cover” in “Device Options."

Finding your stuff

I’ve lost a gadget in couch cushions too many times to count. If I’d had a Samsung phone with Augmented Reality, and their new $30 Galaxy SmartTag, I’d have found these things easily. The AR aspect makes it different from similar smart tags.

AR Finder shows you how far away you are from a tag and points you in the right direction. Once you’re 130 yards away or less, it will ring loudly, even if you’re offline. You can put a SmartTag on a backpack, a wallet, a key chain, or any object. It can also control the lights, if you have the smart kind.

App happy trivia

Whenever I’m visiting my sister and brother-in-law in California, we watch “Jeopardy!” We compete with each other loudly, calling out compliments when one of us hits the nail on the head. Now I can practice with a free app.

“Jeopardy! World Tour,” free for Android and iPhone, lets you play by yourself offline or with others online. I thought it was fun.

Password tip

Here’s a  suggestion from PCWorld.com: The longer the password the better. JackandJillWentUpTheHill is harder to crack then $xZ1#. If you use 10 characters or more, hackers must go through at least a sextillion number of combinations to guess it. Lately, I’ve been using actors and movie titles, such as BogartInCasaBlanca. I add a special character and a number, when required.

Drones in the classroom

Three thousand drones are heading to classrooms this year through a partnership with drone maker Draganfly and Woz Ed, a program designed by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.

Students get an intro to aviation in kindergarten. Later they get hands-on experience piloting and spotting for drone missions. Then they study the physics and engineering aspects. By the time they leave high school, they’re certified drone experts. The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International projected more than 100,000 new jobs in unmanned aircraft by 2025.

Internuts

●  “The first room burglars check for valuables.” Search on that phrase to find an interesting RD.com article. The bedroom is the worst. They zero in on the bedroom closet, the dresser and under the mattress.

●  Collections.Louvre.fr/en has the entire 480,000 works from the Louvre Museum online. I was surprised to find only three paintings by Renoir. There are eight at the Art Institute of Chicago.

●  BrainPickings.org, a site suggested by a reader, has interesting essays, including several by Oliver Sacks, author of “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”  He said the best way out of the doldrums is through music or gardening.

Windows updates

A reader reminded me that you can’t avoid Windows updates forever. If your system gets buggy after an update, use Windows recovery mode to fix it. Then wait a bit, but don’t delay the next update indefinitely. They help you avoid security risks.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: On Computers: Have you been ‘FLoCed?’

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