Why are they all spying on us? It’s because they want to sell us stuff.

The “they” we’re talking about are Google, Amazon and Apple. They record you when you use the microphone on your cell phone or computer. It also happens when you talk to one of your smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home.

We tap the microphone symbol when conducting searches on our phone. We can ask for a Chinese restaurant nearby faster than we can type it. These days everybody delivers.

We’ve written before that we don’t care what gets recorded. Our conversations are beyond boring. A reader wrote that he agreed but was still bothered by it. He felt that what he had to say was also boring but he thinks big business may find a way to take advantage.

We can’t expect to get services for free. If the search engines are going to find things for us, it’s only reasonable they want to advertise similar products. People worry that their insurance rates might go up if Google sells their data. But Google, which is by far the leading search service, does not sell your information.

If you stop their data collection, you’ll still get ads, but they’ll be way off. Our reader turned off all personalization options when he got his Android phone. So he gets the same annoying ads over and over. One is from a law firm looking for clients who want to sue someone. He also gets political ads.

If it bothers you to be recorded when you press the mike icon, keep in mind that it’s not just the Google search engine. If your TV takes voice commands, these are also being recorded.

If you have privacy concerns, here’s how to stop Google from storing your voice: Go to your computer and search on the phrase “Manage your Google Account.” Click on the first result that comes back. Choose “Manage your data & personalization.” Look for “Activity Controls.” Now look for “Web and App activity.” Uncheck the box next to “include voice and audio recordings.” If you click “manage activity,” you’ll get a chance to delete all the recordings they have.

You might think that using Chrome’s “incognito mode” or “private browsing” in Microsoft Edge or Mozilla Firefox would be enough to shield you from prying eyes. But you can still be tracked. The difference is that nothing is saved on your local machine.

Craigslist Scam

A PhD researcher we know nearly lost $9000 in what appears to be a scam.

Looking for a place to live near Stanford University, she saw an ad on Craigslist that seemed to provide the answer. Housing there is so scarce that some businesses are leasing parking lot spaces with showers so people can sleep in their cars. In San Francisco, the average rental for a one-bedroom is $6500 a month.

Our researcher searched the web and found other ads that were strikingly similar, even down to describing the property owner’s occupation. If in doubt, Google the words from an ad, along with the word “scam,” or “risk” before you fall for it.

In a Vice.com article, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb,” a woman says she was told at the last minute that her Airbnb room was unavailable but there was another one three times bigger. She was forced to make a decision on the phone, so she said yes. The place looked grimy, like a flophouse. They forced her to move out the next day, which might have been OK but she only got a third of her original payment back: $399 instead of $1,221. It was part of a nationwide scam involving eight cities and nearly 100 properties, using fake reviews and intimidation.

Fast Company reports that some Airbnb hosts use hidden cameras. Look for oddly-placed clocks, smoke detectors, plants, mirrors, speakers and USB wall plugs. Shine a flashlight on a suspicious object. A lens made of glass will be more reflective than its surrounding material.


“The Impossible Fortress,” by Jason Rekulak, is a hilarious techie/caper novel, set in the 1980s. In it, a guy and gal try to win a video game contest. You can play a game similar to the one in the story at the author’s website, JasonRekulak.com.

“WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us,” by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Press, says we don’t have to be afraid that robots will take our jobs. We’ll have more rewarding ones than they will. If you want to look at the future, he says, look at what rich people do today. They’re the leisure pioneers. For instance, a car phone used to be a marvel, but now most people carry one. Travel and dining out used to be a luxury activity. Now it’s common.

How to Return an Audible Book

Joy loves Audible.com, which reads you books for $15 a month. But sometimes she chooses the wrong one. What to do?

You can return a book and get your credit back. Go to Audible.com on your computer. Next to your name, click the drop-down arrow and choose “Account Details.” Then click “Purchase History.” You can exchange any book that has the word “Exchange” next to it.

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