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Is Facebook Listening to Your Conversations? Not Exactly

Have you ever gotten that eerie feeling that someone is watching you? Of course, right? It’s a common phenomenon. Michael Jackson even wrote a song about it:

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I have no privacy

Facebook can give you that same impression when the app displays an ad that relates to something you just discussed privately on your smartphone.

Imagine you just got off the phone with your local florist. You launch Facebook out of habit, and the first ad you see is 1800Flowers.

The most obvious explanation is that Facebook must have spied on your conversation.

So, is Facebook listening? Likely not how you think they are (via recording audio), and it’s complicated. First, let’s look at why conspiracy theories about this abound, then examine the evidence.

Many Don’t Trust Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg

Research company Toluna found that Facebook is the least trusted tech company by a considerable amount. Forty percent of said they didn’t trust Facebook with their personal information.

Mark Zuckerberg has been grilled by congress on numerous occasions. They’ve blasted him for failing to curb the proliferation of fake news, not fact-checking political ads, Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency, etc. Each time he appears in congress people the public is reminded that Zuckerberg is generally viewed with suspicion by government leaders.

Audio Transcription Tech Raises Concerns

In August 2019 Bloomberg wrote a piece about Facebook contacting an external company to create software that transcribes audio conversations in their Messenger app. The transcription tech was tested on users that opted in, and the possibility of human review of conversations was part of the terms associated with using it.

To the average reader this was confirmation that Facebook is indeed spying on its users’ private conversations. Years of conspiratorial speculations rose to the surface, as this news was exactly what Facebook’s critics needed to add legitimacy to their theories.

It was Senator Gary Peters that asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook listens to conversations and then generates targeted ads with that data. Zuckerberg replied, “You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and use that for ads. We don’t do that.”

Facebook has attempted to set the matter straight via their Newsroom. They’ve stated that ads are generated based on people’s profile information: their interests, job title, brands they follow, etc., and not what you’re talking out loud about.

Is Spying on Users Practical or Even Possible?

Despite anecdotal claims that Facebook must be listening, the data doesn’t add up.

Wandera, a mobile cyber-security company, conducted a test to determine if audio picked up with the phone’s mic influences which ads are displayed.

They put a Samsung and Apple iPhone in a room, then played an audio loop of pet food ads for 30 minutes per day, for three days. They placed another set of phones in a silent room so they could compare the results.

No pet food ads appeared on any of the phones. And more tellingly, there were no differences in data consumption, battery use, and background activity.

Experts have pointed out that it would take an incredible amount of server resources for Facebook to listen to over 150 million daily active users in the U.S. alone.

Alternatively, if Facebook were to scan audio for keywords coming into the microphone it would take a considerable amount of your phone’s CPU processing power which would be impossible to hide.

Another reason Facebook would almost certainly never even consider doing this is it’s illegal to collect audio recordings of people.

Do You VPN?

People that simply don’t trust Zuck or Facebook can use a VPN to mask their location, IP address, etc. Read about LetMeBy’s top VPN picks to learn more.

A Reality Check

The truth is there are much more efficient and effective ways to gather data about users than harvesting audio.

Facebook has a complex algorithm that considers the information you post or input when determining which ads to show you.

It can be so stunningly accurate in determining what products or services you’re interested in you’d swear they must be listening to you. However, what really happened is the algorithm made an educated guess and managed to hit the bullseye.

There are valid reasons not to trust Facebook due to lack of privacy but spying on your conversations is not one based on the evidence.

Want to Upgrade Zoom’s Privacy and Security? Use a VPN

The pandemic forever changed the way we connect with friends and colleagues. Video chat apps have now become an even more integral part of our digital world.

Zoom recently peaked at #1 as the most downloaded app globally. Business and home users alike have quickly adopted it.

With that shift came greater concerns about privacy, as confidential information discussed at meetings could be intercepted by malicious users or authorities.

Free Comes at a Cost

Security experts have noted that the free version of Zoom lacks end-to-end encryption, and this is generally frowned upon in the software industry. Theoretically Zoom, the police or FBI could access calls if they wanted to, although the software company denies they would ever do this except if Zoom is used for obvious illegal activity.

Zoom elaborated on the policy in a statement. “Zoom does not proactively monitor meeting content, and we do not share information with law enforcement except in circumstances like child sex abuse. We do not have backdoors where participants can enter meetings without being visible to others. None of this will change,” said a spokesperson.

Take special note that just because they don’t proactively monitor calls doesn’t guarantee they won’t do it. So now the question becomes, is taking Zoom’s word for it good enough for you?

A system not requiring trust, made possible with tech, is always superior to believing a company. However, to get that with Zoom you have to pay for the premium version of the app.

The Troll in the Room

Some users have reported a phenomenon called Zoom bombing. This involves uninvited guests gaining access to group chats and dropping slurs, offensive images, etc.

Zoom is addressing this problem, but it’s an ongoing threat. Thus, it raises more concerns about the overall strength of the app’s security.

VPN Upgrade Alternative

Should you stick with Zoom despite these weaknesses? Although video conferencing alternatives with better privacy and security exist, it likely won’t be feasible to convert your friends or coworkers.

Luckily there’s a quick, easy way to upgrade Zoom’s encryption to prevent privacy leaks: simply use a VPN.

A virtual private network (VPN) is a secure tunnel between your device and a remote server operated by a VPN service provider. All online traffic goes through this encrypted tunnel so apps and websites cannot gain access to data such as your IP address, location, and certain actions you take.

If you don’t need the added features of the Zoom Pro or Business plan and want the best privacy and security, a VPN is the best option. A VPN service will give you added privacy with any app or sites you visit.

VPNs that are most recommended here at LetMeBy are below. For more detail, you can check out full reviews of the top 3 VPNs services.

Conclusion

Zoom is a terrific video conferencing app overall. It’s easy to use, as the user interface (UI) is simple and intuitive.

Privacy and security concerns shouldn’t prevent you from using it, as leveraging a VPN or upgrading to a paid plan takes care of the main shortcomings concerning encryption.

How to Unblock Instagram at School or Work

Social media allows us to accomplish diverse tasks: from video chats with friends to spreading the word about your company’s services.

Use of apps like Instagram may be productive and relevant to what you’re doing at school or work, however many people scroll through content to slack off.

So, many institutions have opted to ban social media apps entirely, and network administrators are able to follow through on this by blocking access to URLs like https://www.instagram.com/.

Situations can arise where you need to check Instagram to do your work, but the network won’t allow it. And this is when bending the rules on occasion may be reasonable.

Can Insta be Productive?

Content on Instagram varies a lot and it has evolved considerably from a place to take in beautiful photos or post photos of your road trip. In fact, education, business and self-improvement are very popular topics on the platform.

Instagram can be enriching or a waste of time depending on your habits. It’s important to be mindful of the accounts you follow. While a lot of the photos on Instagram will merely be a distraction at school or work, some of it provides succinct knowledge that could actually save you time.

If used correctly, it can increase your productivity. However, few people have the discipline to pull this off.

The app has a great feature that allows you to limit the time on spend on it daily. To use it, go to “Settings”, then tap on “Account.” Next, tap “Your Activity” and you’ll see reminder and notification settings.

Unblock Instagram

Use Phone Data

If you launch Instagram and can’t view your feed, try turning off Wi-Fi and enabling wireless data.

There’s a good chance this will work because Wi-Fi uses the network which has internet access rules applied by the admin, while mobile data works independently of the local network.

Get a VPN

If you don’t have mobile data or don’t want to use up your monthly bandwidth, you can also use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access Instagram.

A VPN service allows you to choose a new IP that is associated with the location of your choice. This provided IP allows you to bypass restrictions set by the network admin while still connecting to the network via Wi-Fi.

It’s the best solution for people that want to hide their identity, location, or unblock apps and websites. You need to be subscribed to VPN service, many of which are fast and affordable.

To get started, learn more about the best VPNs that are recommended here most.

Use Your PC with Tor

If you simply want to browse Instagram and don’t need to post, using your PC is an alternative that is often overlooked.

If the URL https://www.instagram.com/ is blocked on all devices, you may be able to download and install Tor. This is proxy software that allows you to use the IP of another user connected to the Tor network.

Once the software changes your IP, Instagram will be unblocked. It’s free but be warned that it’s not as safe or nearly as fast as a VPN.

Typically, Tor should be a last resort, only to be used temporarily then uninstalled. This approach will only work at small businesses that don’t restrict which software can be installed.

Wrapping It Up

Use these tips responsibly and enjoy your new-found access to Instagram!

As the app can be useful at both school and work, blocking access might not be the best policy. However, it’s best to be as respectful of the restrictions even if you’re forced to bypass them at times.

Concerned About Zoom’s Privacy Woes? Here’s Your Alternatives

The coronavirus crisis has forced businesses and institutions to forever change how they operate.

Due to social distancing measures video conferencing apps got a popularity boost. Zoom in particular is extremely hot. It even reached #1 as the most downloaded mobile app worldwide.

Despite Zoom’s overnight success, experts have been warning users that it might not be the best choice for every situation.

In short there’s a tradeoff between ease-of-use and privacy / security.

Most people that aren’t tech nerds gravitate toward apps with high usability. However, if highly-confidential information is being discussed, Zoom’s convenience factor may not be worth the risk.

So, let’s have a look at the alternatives, as well as the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision based on your needs.

Zoom

The San Jose based company quickly become the new go-to video conferencing app when conducting all meetings online became the new normal in 2020.

Pros:

  • It’s easy to use thanks to the intuitive user interface.
  • Joining a meeting doesn’t require a software download – attendees merely have to click on a publicly shared link.

Cons:

  • Zoom has a history of glaring problems with privacy and security. Users have reported “zoom bombings,” in which hackers gain entry to chat rooms then drop foul, offensive messages.
  • It’s paid for by the number of hosts you need per account, so it can get pricy for larger teams.

Facetime

If you’ve got an iOS device, this great option is built in and ready to launch. It’s often overlooked, but this certainly isn’t because Facetime is a mediocre offering. Rather, it’s because only Apple users have it.

Pros:

  • It’s free and you can use it on any Apple device, from a Macbook Pro to an iPhone.
  • Apple is known to leverage strong encryption, making it generally more secure than other apps like Zoom.

Cons:

  • Only supports 32 users, and you can’t use links to gather the troops, making arranging a meeting less convenient.
  • Software works on Apple devices only, so you need to be aware of which type of phone everyone has when hosting.

Skype

The granddaddy among today’s best options, Skype was first released in 2003, then acquired by Microsoft in 2011.

Pros:

  • Skype is free, and since it’s been around for a long time, many already have an account, and have it installed on their devices.
  • Includes an instant messaging solution. You can leave a message for others to view immediately or at a later date.

Cons:

  • It’s not intended for big gatherings, webinars or enterprise use as a maximum 50 people can connect.

Microsoft Teams

Skype for Business is now called Microsoft Teams. It’s a robust app that enables you to host a video meeting with up to 250 people. It has features not available to Skype users like screen sharing and recording of meetings.

Pros:

  • Included in two different Office 365 plans, making it an attractive option for business users utilizing the Microsoft ecosystem.

Cons:

  • If you don’t work in a Microsoft-centric environment, you’ll miss out on great features and overall convenience.

Google Meet / Google Chat

Formerly known as Google Hangouts, anyone who has a Gmail account has the ability to start video chats. To better serve those who need either a personal or business solution, they split it into two products: Google Meet and Chat.

Pros:

  • Formerly a paid-only product for G-suite users, Google Meet now has a free tier.
  • Seamlessly integrated with Gmail, making it an attractive option if you use it frequently.

Cons:

  • Users that value privacy should be warned using this gives Google knowledge of even more of your data than it currently does.

Zoho Meeting

Those that prefer open-source software may want to check out Zoho Meeting, which allows you to host meetings and calls with up to 100 people at once.

Pros:

  • Highly accessible as users don’t need to create an account to join a meeting; they can connect via web browser, desktop software or mobile app.

Cons:

  • History of some shaky functionality, such as a subpar screen sharing experience, plus video and audio permission issues.
  • Like Microsoft, they offer an Office suite that is nicely integrated with Zoho Meeting, but not many use it.

GoTo Meeting

Like Skype, GoTo Meeting has been around for a long time: since 2004. This is a paid-only app, and they offer different plans depending on how many participants you need to support.

Pros:

  • Flexible plans available, with the ability to accommodate very large groups. The entry-level solution allows up to 150 people to connect, while the enterprise version supports 3,000.
  • Supports multiple meeting facilitators, as well as useful features such as screen-sharing and the ability to record meetings.

Cons:

  • Reports of audio issues that can arise, and the only way to solve it is to restart the app.

Wrapping It Up

Zoom is an attractive choice today as its widely used, so people are familiar with how to use it which is key.

For everyday video conferencing it’s great, however if privacy is important for a particular meeting you may want to explore other options.

Zoom is working hard address privacy and security issues. However, it’s been noted that its weak encryption is not going away any time soon.

There is certainly no shortage of Zoom alternatives, and business-users in particular may be better served by those covered.

Clever Hacks to Get YouTube TV in Canada

YouTube TV launched in the U.S. in 2017. There’s been speculation that they would expand outside of the U.S. and offer their streaming service to Canadians along with others like Hulu. However, YouTube TV hasn’t made an official announcement about this.

So, Canadians that are tired of hoping and waiting may want to grab the bull by the horns. Yes, you can get access to YouTube TV in Canada today! All you need to do is jump through some hoops before signing up and follow the tech savvy steps in this guide.

Is It Worth the Effort?

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and CBS All Access are available in Canada. Thus, one might wonder if getting YouTube TV in Canada is really worth it.

For those who want a comprehensive replacement for cable TV, it is. This a great opportunity to get sports, news, and special interest programming you don’t have access to on Netflix.

Channels on YouTube TV

Google has obtained deals with the five major TV networks in the U.S.: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and The CW. About 40 cable channels owned by the parent companies of those networks are all onboard. This includes content from The Walt Disney Company, CBS Corporation, NBCUniversal, Brave, USA Network, Discovery, CNN, Cartoon Network, Fox Sports 1, BBC, ESPN and more.

Like traditional cable TV, it’s also possible to add additional premium channels. Some of these channels include AMC Premiere, Showtime, and NBA League Pass.

How to Gain Access to YouTube TV in Canada

YouTube TV has a variety of methods to verify if the user is based in the U.S. Therefore, to pass these checks and successfully get a YouTube TV account, you need to ensure their site can’t tell you’re based in Canada.

1. VPN Location Magic

First, you’ll need a VPN. By using a VPN, you can access the web with an IP address associated with a physical location in the U.S.

To do that, sign up with a VPN provider, and choose a plan. These services are very inexpensive these days. And typically, if you’re willing to commit to a plan for a year or more, you can save quite a bit.

Recommended VPNs are listed below. For more details, read full reviews of the top 3 VPN services here.

2. Get a U.S. PayPal Account

If you use a Canadian credit card, you’re rolling the dice. You may be able to rig YouTube TV’s payment system to accept it, but that doesn’t work with every credit card provider.

The most reliable method is to set up a U.S. PayPal account.

To ensure success, be sure to follow these tips:

  1. Before you do anything, enable your VPN. And make sure the service has assigned you with a U.S. IP address. This will give you access to the U.S. version of PayPal.
  2. Use a valid email that isn’t already associated with a PayPal account.
  3. When signing up, put in your real street address and credit card info, as you normally would.
  4. You’ll need to choose a zip code and find the U.S. city that is associated with it. The full process is below.

Your Canadian postal code needs to converted to a zip code. To do this, remove all the letters from it. For example, a postal code of M4B 1G7 is changed to 417. Next, to make it valid, add zeros to the end so it’s five digits. So, your new zip code should look something like this: 41700.

Keep in mind the zip code you got from the above process must be real for it to work. To verify if it’s valid, go to the USPS website and enter it. If it’s invalid, replace one of the zeros with a one. That should do the trick.

Finally, enter the U.S. city from the address found in the USPS link, along with your real street address. Now you should be able to complete the PayPal sign-up process.

3. Create a U.S. Gmail Account

This part is really simple!

  • Go to Gmail.com and click on the option to get a new account.
  • Make sure that you select the United States as your location.
  • Validate your account with your mobile phone number.

4. Change Your Location in Chrome

Although you’re now using a VPN to hide your location, Chrome can still spill the beans and reveal that you’re actually based on Canada.

The final step in hiding your whereabouts is editing the settings in Chrome’s location services.

Important: you’ll need to repeat these steps every time you launch your browser

  • Launch Google Chrome
  • Press ‘Ctrl,’ ‘Shift,’ ‘I’ to open Chrome’s backend framework on a PC. Mac users will want to hit ‘Command,’ ‘Option’ and ‘I.”
  • Click the icon made up of three little dots in the top corner of the new panel that just launched. Go to ‘More Tools,’ and then select ‘Sensors.’
  • You’ll now see an option called ‘Geolocation’ with a dropdown menu next to it. Select a location in the U.S. such as ‘San Francisco’ or ‘Mountain View.’
  • Great, now Chrome will think that you’re in the U.S.

5. Access Your YouTube TV Account

Whew, you’re nearly there. All you need to do is test that everything worked.

  • Go to the YouTube TV website.
  • Sign in with your U.S. Gmail account.
  • Choose to pay for the service with PayPal, then sign in the PayPal account you just created.
  • If all is good you should see a $1 charge and refund in your PayPal account (this is part of the validation process).

You Did It!

Congrats! You now have YouTube TV, just like the fortunate folks in the States.

As the process is pretty involved this guide is intended for PC and Mac users.

If you’re even more ambitious and tech savvy you can also get YouTube TV to work on Google Cast, Android, iOS, and Apple TV. To learn more about support for these platforms check out the guide on MobileSyrup (and scroll to the bottom of the article).