Every week, I help people like you on my national radio show with their technology or digital life issues. Sometimes, the answer is simple. I recommend a great way to get something done online, give a shopping recommendation, or share my tech wisdom.
Other times, the issue is harder to pinpoint. Here’s a common question I get: “A friend called and said they got a strange email from me that I don’t remember sending. What happened?” It almost always means your inbox has been hacked. Tap or click for five subtle signs your inbox has been hacked and the steps you can take to lock it down.
There’s the pop-up question, of course. “I can’t do anything on my phone without pop-ups filling the screen.” That’s malware at work, and it won’t go away on its own. Tap or click here for clues your device is infected with malware.
Lately, I’ve been getting a steady stream of, “Is it me or is someone, something tracking everything I do in my device?” Here are some examples:
I see ads for things I talked about
I’m sure this has happened to you. I was talking to my husband about taking a hiking trip in Patagonia. I walked upstairs, sat down at my laptop, and travel ads for a Patagonian getaway were on my screen. Tech companies insist this is a coincidence. They claim they aren’t listening or if they are listening, it’s so you can send voice messages. They don’t use what you say to serve ads.
It’s tough to trust Big Tech companies. They’re the same ones that tell you smart speakers aren’t always listening; they’re just listening for the wake word. I don’t see the difference, but, hey, that’s just me. Tap or click for some of the 1,000 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. Skip the smart speaker or disable the microphone when not in use. It’s a pain, but at least you will have control.
When it comes to your smartphone and computer, you can disable your mic for specific apps and sites or force your device to ask you each time. Tap or click here for the simple steps to follow.
They know where I am
Dana called my show with a frightening story. Her daughter is a college student who was afraid to leave the house because unknown numbers sent her threatening text messages no matter where she went.
She deleted her social media accounts to throw the guy off, but he always found her. The person took the harassment a significant step further. He published Dana’s number on a sex-for-hire porn site. Sicko.
“They know what time we eat dinner, our workplaces, and schedule,” Dana told me.
This case was true 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 talked to on a dating app. Tap or click here for Ricoh’s tips on what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation.
I didn’t install that
Sometimes I hear from people who discover apps on their phone or software on their computer they don’t remember downloading. This is a serious cause for concern.
Where did it come from? In some cases, it’s spyware planted by a jealous partner or someone else. This invasive software keeps track of every keystroke, site you visit and much more. Tap or click for ways to tell if someone is spying on you.
In other cases, malware is to blame. Tap or click here 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 from a caller who was concerned Google knew his schedule too well. A few weekends in a row, he drove to his son’s house to mow his lawn while he was out of town. The next Saturday, a pop-up from Google Maps told him how long it would take to get to his son’s home in current traffic.
He called me worried a privacy setting was enabled that shouldn’t be. That’s exactly how Maps is supposed to work. Your navigation app looks for patterns where you go, and it’s up to you to turn that off.
On Google Maps, you need to change a few settings to keep the tech giant from recording your every move.
While you’re at it, check out this map hidden in your phone that tracks everywhere you’ve been. It’s in an odd spot, so I bet you’d otherwise never see it.
Strangers know my name
What about the man who called my show concerned that complete strangers would address him by name? He was sure he was being tracked by people watching his every move on social media, texts, email, and web browsing. Well, his name was Buddy. “Hey, buddy!” isn’t all that odd a greeting.
He was right about one thing, though. Most stores use surveillance cameras, and they might know more about you than you realize. Tap or click to see if your face is part of an artificial intelligence surveillance database.
There’s a huge difference between a healthy dose of skepticism and true paranoia.
When I do hear from someone I’m genuinely concerned about, I privately recommend the person call the National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline at 1-800-950-6264.
BONUS TRACKING TIP: 8 hidden maps and trackers you need to switch off
You understand that your phone knows where you’re located. This is how GPS works, how Find My Friends sees your location and why you get local ads on Facebook and Google. That location data, just like other data on your phone, is a hot commodity for internet marketers in today’s digital economy.
Thankfully, you don’t have to stand for this kind of data collection if you’re not comfortable with it. These tactics are legal because the companies behind them give you a choice to opt in or out, 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 the full list of steps to take. Don’t wait.
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.