Many readers have written to rave about the search engine “DuckDuckGo,” because it promises privacy as you search the web. But we learned that it’s only partially private. DuckDuckGo itself doesn’t track your movements, but you can still be “seen” by the websites you visit, for marketing purposes.

An alternative is Startpage.com. Search on anything and when the results come up, click “Anonymous View” next to the site you wish to visit. Your computer’s address will be masked. So will your location, your browser, operating system and personal information.  So … when you go on Facebook or Twitter, those sites can’t share your activities with the websites that advertise with them.

We actually don’t mind advertisers collecting data on us, since advertisers use it to show ads for stuff we might be interested in. But just like a late night TV pitch, it turns out “that’s not all they’re getting.” A report from thezebra.com, a site that helps you find cheaper car insurance, says your search habits can, and often do, influence what companies charge you. For example, if you search for auto insurance on a computer, you would save 5.49 percent compared to the average payment. If you search with an Android phone, you’d pay an extra 2.25 percent. Searching with an iPhone would cost you an extra 4.93 percent. We’re guessing that’s because smart phone users are assumed to have more money than computer users. However, your email address also makes a difference, with Gmail users paying more. Even the time of day you search makes a difference, with morning users paying less.

Word Alternatives

Wow, our lead item last week about Microsoft Word touched a nerve. That’s the nerve inside people’s wallets. A bunch of readers weighed in after we said we were cutting ties to Office 365 and going back to an earlier version of Microsoft Word. Here’s what they’re using instead.

One guy said he refused to pay $100 a year for Office last year, and started using the free Google “Docs” instead of Word, and Google “Sheets” instead of Excel. “Docs is totally free and is very similar to Word, plus, everything is automatically saved to Google Drive.”  We tried it too and find it works well.

Another reader said he likes Google Docs, but when he wants to work offline, he uses LibreOffice, free from LibreOffice.org. “Libre does everything I need, is totally free, including periodic updates, and always works. I can open and edit any file types, including Microsoft files (.doc & .docx), OpenOffice documents (.odt) and ordinary text (.txt & .rtf); it can also save to these formats.”

Another reader says he wouldn’t mind giving up Microsoft Office when he retires, but he’ll miss Outlook, the email program. We told him there’s a free version of Outlook at Outlook.com. We tried it and it works well. He said “I like it that Outlook syncs with my iPhone contacts and syncs the email accounts so if I send, delete, or receive one, it’s the same on my home computer and iPhone.” But this is also true of Gmail, Yahoo and other services.

App Happy

  • Tipster Guide,” free for iPhones only, gives tipping advice for the whole world. When you cross a border, you are immediately notified of tipping etiquette for restaurants, bars, hotels, taxis and more. It also tells you which currency you should be using.
  • “Afterlight 2” is  photography app, free for Android and $3 for iPhone. We were impressed by its ability to take a dull photo and liven it up. Among its special effects, it can turn a photo into a letter of the alphabet, filling in a hollow version of the letter.
  • KeyMe” lets users scan their house or car keys and order a duplicate to be sent in the mail. They also have kiosks in places like 7-Eleven and Bed Bath and Beyond, where the key is duplicated on the spot.
  • QuizUp has 20 million players in five languages. You choose a category, like geography or tech and play a random player if you wish. Dots on the map showed players all over, including Africa and Australia. When we played we met our match in a top-ranked player from Portugal.

Numbers Report

According to a survey of 1,108 U.S. millennials who bought tech products on Amazon this year, there are some surprising trends, says Max Borges Agency, a public relations   firm.

  • Fewer than one in four say they would buy a tech product if it’s not available on Amazon. They like Amazon because of Prime (two-day) shipping.
  • Around 77 percent said they’d rather give up alcohol than Amazon; 44 percent said they would choose Amazon over sex.
  • 90% consult Amazon Customer Reviews before making a tech purchase on the site.
  • A mere 8% of millennial buyers are likely to make a tech purchase on Amazon with a 3-star review, but 47% would purchase when the star count hits 4. The majority require a 5-star review.

(Note: Bob has long been skeptical of reviews on Amazon and other web sites, such as Yelp. Of course he tends to be skeptical by nature.)

The report also analyzed when millennials are shopping on the site, with 61% shopping in the middle of the night, and 57% while working. Almost half of millenials shop in the bathroom, and 19% admitted to purchasing tech goods while intoxicated.

Tech purchases outweighed all others, at 61%, followed closely by clothing, shoes and jewelry at 60%. However, smartphones are least likely to be purchased on Amazon, as respondents still look to brand retailers for assistance, pricing and compatibility. Over 71% shopped for tech products on their mobile device.


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