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How to tell if someone or something is following your device’s every move

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Every week I help people like you on my national radio show with their tech or digital life issues. Sometimes the answer is simple. I recommend a great way to do something online, give a buy recommendation, or share my technological wisdom.

Other times the problem is more difficult to pin down. Here’s a common question I get: “A friend called me and told me he received a strange email from me that I don’t remember sending. What happened? “This almost always means your inbox has been hacked. Tap or click to see five subtle signs that your inbox has been hacked and the steps you can take to lock it down.

There is the contextual issue, of course. “I can’t do anything on my phone without pop-ups filling the screen. It’s malware at work, and it won’t go away on its own. Tap or click here for clues that your device is infected with malware.

Lately I’ve been getting a constant stream of “Is it me or someone, something that’s tracking everything I’m doing in my device?” ” Here are some examples:

I see ads for things I’ve talked about

I’m sure this has happened to you. I was talking to my husband about hiking in Patagonia. I went upstairs, sat down at my laptop, and Patagonia getaway travel announcements were on my screen. Tech companies insist this is a coincidence. They pretend that they aren’t listening or if they are listening, it is so that you can send voicemail messages. They don’t use what you say to serve ads.

Big tech companies are hard to trust. These are the same people who tell you that smart speakers don’t always listen; they’re just listening to the wake-up call. I don’t see the difference, but hey, it’s just me. Tap or click on some of the 1000 terms that accidentally trigger smart assistants.

If you don’t want to believe tech companies at face value, take your privacy into your own hands. Ignore the smart speaker or mute the microphone when not in use. It’s painful, but at least you’ll be in control.

When it comes to your smartphone and computer, you can mute your mic for specific apps and sites, or force your device to ask you every time. Tap or click here for the simple steps to follow.

They know where i am

Dana called my show up with a scary story. Her daughter is a student who was afraid to leave home because unknown numbers were texting her threateningly no matter where she went.

She deleted her social media accounts to get rid of the guy, but he still found her. The person took the harassment a step further. He posted Dana’s number on a sex rental porn site. Sick.

“They know what time we have dinner, where we work and our schedule,” Dana told me.

This case was a real harassment. I called a friend of the show and digital forensics expert Ricoh Danielson. He helped track down the guy – someone Dana’s daughter had spoken to on a dating app. Tap or click here for Ricoh’s advice on what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation.

I did not install that

Sometimes I hear people discovering apps on their phones or software on their computers that they don’t remember downloading. This is a serious matter of concern.

Where is he from? In some cases, it is spyware planted by a jealous partner or someone else. This invasive software keeps track of every keystroke, which site you visit and more. Tap or click to find out if someone is spying on you.

In other cases, malware is to blame. Tap or click here for the steps to take if your computer has been infected. Here’s what to do if it’s your iPhone or iPad.

Is Google stalking me?

I heard a caller who was concerned that Google was too familiar with their schedule. A few weekends in a row, he went to his son’s house to mow his lawn when he was out of town. The following Saturday, a Google Maps pop-up told him how long it would take to get to his son’s house in the current traffic.

He called me worried that a privacy setting might be enabled, which it shouldn’t be. This is exactly how Maps is supposed to work. Your navigation app looks for patterns where you go, and it’s up to you to turn them off.

On Google Maps, you need to tweak a few settings to prevent the tech giant from recording your every move.

While you’re at it, check out this hidden map in your phone that follows wherever you’ve been. It’s in a weird place, so I bet you’d never see it any other way.

Strangers know my name

What about the man who called my show fearing complete strangers would address him by name? He was sure he was followed by people watching his every move on social media, texting, emailing and browsing the web. Well, his name was Buddy. “Hey buddy!” isn’t that a strange greeting.

He was right about one thing, however. Most stores use surveillance cameras and they may know more about you than you realize. Tap or click to see if your face is part of an artificial intelligence surveillance database.

There is a huge difference between a good dose of skepticism and true paranoia.

When I hear from someone who really concerns me, I privately recommend that person call the National Alliance for Mental Health helpline at 1-800-950-6264.

BONUS TRACKING TIP: 8 hidden cards and trackers you must turn off

You understand that your phone knows where you are. This is how GPS works, how Find My Friends sees your location, and why you get local ads on Facebook and Google. This location data, just like other data on your phone, is a must-have commodity for internet marketers in today’s digital economy.

Fortunately, you don’t have to put up with this type of data collection if you aren’t comfortable with it. These tactics are legal because the companies behind them give you the choice to accept or decline, but not everyone knows how to change the settings. We’ll show you how to stop your phone from tracking you.

Tap or click here for a full list of steps to take. Do not wait.

Check out all the latest tech on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s biggest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and gives advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacking. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.


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