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Trust Your Intuition To Shop Online (And Offline) Safely

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Shopping Online (And Offline) Safety Tips

In one way, shopping online is very similar to shopping at kiosks, in shops and in malls. Personal and financial safety is always of great importance, but it’s easy to forget about safety when we’re distracted or in a rush. Either way, online or offline, searching for the best item at the best price can be very distracting, and distraction can be a real problem.
 
Think about the actions of a pickpocket for a moment. Professional pickpockets are looking for victims who are distracted, making it much easier to lift wallets, phones, purses and bags from preoccupied shoppers. Victims in hectic airports and on busy sidewalks are often distracted by the crowd, and they might be talking or texting on their phones at the same time, too.
 
How many times have you passed through an airport and consciously thought about a pickpocket or a thief? And whenever you’re making your way through a downtown crowd or attending a special event, are you thinking about your personal and financial protection?
 
If you’re not inclined to think about your safety while in a crowd, you’re probably not thinking too much about your safety online either. Sadly, unscrupulous online vendors are well aware of that fact. They may set up a website, or a Craigslist or eBay listing, based upon the fact that most shoppers are too busy and too distracted to take a moment to consider their personal shopping safety.
 
Trusting your intuition is a very useful safety measure … assuming you pay attention to it.
 
If you just don’t feel right about a particular brick-and-mortar store, you probably avoid it, right? That’s natural. But do you avoid a website or auction listing just because something doesn’t look or feel right about it? If so, good for you. You are ahead of many folks in this area.
Most people who have used online dating sites become well-acquainted with profiles that don’t seem to make sense. It’s not always easy to identify the problem, but something just seems off, so they click away and check out other profiles as they shop for a possible date. Maybe it’s just a feeling, but they learn to trust it.
 
Online dating can teach you a lot about using your intuition when you shop online. Even if you haven’t explored online dating yourself, no doubt you’ve heard stories about fakers and scammers who compromised the personal and financial safety of someone they met online. Sadly, it’s not an uncommon experience.
 
That’s why internet shopping safety is primarily a matter of considering the real person or company behind every website and each listing you visit. Trust your intuition to guide you. To do this, you have to set aside distractions and you can’t be in a rush.
 
Look for:
  • Product descriptions that are too short, clipped and inadequate. If a normal person needs more information to make an intelligent purchase, move on to another site to make your purchase. Something may not be right.
  • Spelling and grammar errors that stick out and detract from your shopping experience. Reputable companies hire experienced copywriters and editors to eliminate basic spelling and grammar mistakes. Scammers, many of whom are not located in the United States, skip the expense and try to do it themselves.
  • A physical address in the United States. If you can’t find a physical address at the bottom of a website, or on the About or Contact pages, there’s a problem. The CAN-SPAM Act requires commercial emails to include the physical address of the sender in the email and on the website to which any commercial email is linked. But, CAN-SPAM does not require websites to list a physical address, and it does not impose a fine as it does on commercial emails without physical addresses.
 
In other words, the law does not protect you by requiring a physical address on every website, but your own intuition can    protect you by raising a red flag whenever you can’t locate a physical address. Reputable sellers are eager to provide the information buyers need to identify and verify them. Go elsewhere to shop if you don’t find a physical address you can verify online by making sure it matches the business you found on the web.
  • A secure payment portal. Look carefully at the website address in the address bar at the top of your browser screen. It should begin with https:// because the “s” indicates a level of security you need whenever you’re going to enter credit card or other personal information.
 
However, you may visit a site with an address beginning with http:// (without an “s”) and it can also be safe because it will direct to a secure site for credit card or checking account information when you check out. Usually, you’ll need to begin a purchase transaction before you know how a merchant is set up to collect your data. So, it’s not a bad idea to select one item and simply begin the checkout process, stopping short of clicking, “confirm”. That way, you’ll know what to expect with your real purchase.
 
 
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The ‘Pink Tax’

Pink Tax: Does Shopping Like a Girl Cost You Money?

What’s the ‘Pink Tax’ Anyway? 

Several economic studies have confirmed the existence of a so-called “pink tax,” an inflated price attached to goods and services specifically marketed to women. While theories abound to explain the pricing discrepancy, its existence seems clear. On everything from razors and deodorant to car repair and haircuts, women are expected to pay more for products marketed directly to them. In many cases, marketing is where the differences stop.
 
It may seem like pennies, but across the board, these pennies add up. One study by the University of Florida found that women end up paying about $1,400 more per year. This invisible tax is taking money out of your pocket. Want to get it back? Here are some ways you can avoid the pink tax.
 
Go ScentlessBetter sit down ladies! He paid $4.99 for a razor and she paid $10.79.
 
Personal hygiene products are among the biggest contributors to that $1,400. Items like lotion are rebranded as “facial moisturizer” and packaging with floral designs. The “moisturizer” sells for 7-8% more than the “lotion.” The functional difference between the two products? In most cases, absolutely none. When there is a difference, it’s usually in perfume.
 
The worst culprit of the flowery-smelling foul play is deodorant. Men’s and women’s deodorants all have the same active ingredients, usually in the same ratios between brands. A stick deodorant is a stick deodorant until it comes time to scent it. Floral-scented deodorants sell for as much as a dollar more than their muskier counterparts.
 
No one wants to smell like a man (even many men). So what’s the answer? Look for scentless or perfume-free personal hygiene products. Not only are they cheaper, but the lack of chemical perfumes can be better for your body in the long run, too.
 
If you miss the floral aromas of your old products, consider purchasing essential oils in similar scents. You can add them to lotions and deodorants yourself at home for a fraction of the cost and keep a closer eye on what you’re putting on your skin.
 
When in doubt, check the ingredients. Compare your usual to a comparable male product. If there’s a reason for a gender difference, it’ll show up here. In most cases, the active stuff is all the same.
 
Ignore the packaging
 
The most flagrant example of the “pink tax” has to be in razors. No difference exists between razor cartridge replacements for men and women except the color of the packaging. Yet, a 4-pack of Venus razors costs $4 more than a 4-pack of Fusion razors. They’re the same razor, made by the same company. The only difference is the more expensive one is pink and the cheaper one is blue.
 
It’s not just razors, though. Toys, like scooters that are marketed to children, can vary wildly in price depending upon their paint job. One retailer listed blue childrens’ scooters for $24.99 and an identical pink scooter for $49.99. Incontinence aids marketed to men contained twice as many pieces as the same product marketed to women. Either in quantity or in cost, pink packaging costs quite a bit!
 
Women frequently encounter what one economist calls the “pink expectation.” Most products for men are imagined to be the default, so products for women must be modified in some way to make them more acceptable. Even when there’s no difference in the product, the expectation is used to justify the increased cost. Manufacturers have been exploiting that expectation to make money on the backs of women for years.
 
Where possible, look for gender-neutral or generic brand products. For razors, especially, the only possible differences are number of blades and level of lubrication. If it has the same number of blades as the razor you’re currently using, you can use more shaving cream or soap (another popular target for the pink tax!) to increase your comfort.
 
Online services
 
Perhaps the most surprising place for price differences to occur is in the service industry. Dry cleaners, auto mechanics and hair stylists are getting away with charging more to women than to men. What can be done here?
 
For some industries, justifications may exist. Dry cleaners may need to take more care around adornments on women’s clothing, and stylists may have more hair to deal with. In these instances, it’s best to take the justification head on. Women with short hair should ask for the men’s price and cut. Bring a mixture of men’s shirts and women’s shirts to the dry cleaner and ask the counter staff to explain the pricing difference. In many instances, service providers value your business more than they value an artificial markup.
 
Where possible, though, remove gender from the equation altogether. Buying cars via email using a gender-neutral signature, like the first letter of your first name, can result in more fair haggling practices. Getting quotes and estimates from mechanics via text message can discourage them from attempting to artificially inflate their bills.
 
Finally, if you see an instance of biased pricing like this, let others know. Let businesses that do these things know that it’ll end up hurting their bottom line in the long run. By frequenting establishments that don’t practice this kind of discrimination, you can help end the “pink tax” for everyone.

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What Is The Cloud And Is It Safe?

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Why do we use the cloud?

There was a time we used to buy furniture to hold our media.  CD racks, DVD racks, photo albums and filing cabinets filled our living rooms, guest room closets and wherever else we could pile them.  Even in our cars, we would install massive CD changers to keep our music flowing or carry enormous books of CDs so we could have our tunes while on the open road.  If you try to explain this to young people today, they’ll look at you like you just described preparing your covered wagon rather than a mid-2000s Honda Civic.  If you try to explain audio cassettes, they might just suspect you have a loose screw or two..

Today’s media and data is so small, it might as well not even exist.  Using the Apple Music and Spotify libraries as a guideline, every song that’s ever been recorded and released would fit into flash storage drives the size of a 12-ounce can of Crystal Pepsi.  Even as our data gets smaller, we make so much more of it that it can get out of hand – much like processor speed, the amount of information the world produces doubles every two years.  Some of that information is pictures of kittens and makeup tutorials, but we also produce a lot of data that isn’t nearly that important.

In such a data-driven world, we trust more and more of our lives to the cloud, and often it seems like blind faith.  After all, what is the cloud?  How much do you know about it?  Are their laws governing the way people use it?  Most importantly, have you taken enough steps to protect yourself when all of your information exists on what is, if we’re really honest about it, not much more than a metaphor for the shared hallucination that is modern life?

Why should I start to care now?

This week, iPhone users started noticing problems with Safari.  Initially attributed to an iOS update from earlier this month, it is now suspected to be a server-side problem stemming from Apple’s cloud-based syncing with its Safari web browser.  The issue doesn’t affect security, but it demonstrates a critical problem with cloud-based computing, something all of the major tech companies are pushing us toward. And it’s something where we have little control over our online security.

The cloud itself has insinuated itself in a variety of news stories in the last few years, from the theft of intimate photos belonging to Hollywood stars like Jennifer Lawrence to the operation for ending corruption in FIFA.  Cloud storage is behind the surge in Amazon’s stock valuation, because they are the largest provider of cloud storage to businesses, including Netflix, the largest private user of bandwidth on the planet.  The cloud is the basis for Google’s push into the laptop business via Chromebooks, and by extension, the efforts of a variety of organizations to get low-cost laptops in the hands of less-privileged kids.  It’s even changed Microsoft Office, probably the most ubiquitous piece of software in the world, by forcing Microsoft to create free versions of its Office suite and charge for excess storage of the files you create.

In other words, your investments, your data and the future of law enforcement may be intimately tied to cloud-based computing, and something as simple as a server-side bug can have an enormous ripple effect for millions of users.  The issue won’t be going away any time soon, as more people use the web more often on mobile devices, which will eclipse 50% of personal Internet usage in the next few years. These devices rely on storage in the cloud to compensate for smaller on-device storage capabilities and a lack of long-term storage peripherals.

What is the cloud?

The cloud is a series of servers which store data that can be accessed by users whenever it’s needed.  This frees up hard drive space while protecting us from data loss due to hardware failure, including a stolen laptop or dropping your phone into the pasta you’re boiling on the stove.  It’s not magical, and your information doesn’t live on the Internet in any particularly novel way.  Instead of a home video being stored on your local storage, it is stored on someone else’s storage, far away.  These server farms are enormous undertakings, and if you’re into mechanical processes and design, they’re also beautiful and fascinating.  For example, check out these pictures of Google’s data centers:  http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/

How much of my data is stored on the cloud?

The amount of your information stored on the cloud varies from person-to-person, but if you’re reading this on a device that plugs into a wall at any point, you’ve got at least some data on the cloud.  If you own an iPhone, your device backs up your photos, videos and music to the cloud, in addition to storing periodic backups of your phone.  If you have a web-based email address, like one from Gmail, Yahoo! or AOL, your emails are backed up there as well.  Depending upon which apps you use, your health details, dating history or even your exact current location could be on the cloud as well, possibly being shared with third parties.

Wait, who can see what?

For the time being, the government can probably see more of your data than you think.  Exact details are fuzzy, and you can make your own moral judgments on homeland security, domestic spying and Edward Snowden.  However, if you think the government doesn’t want access, keep in mind that Apple is currently fighting both California and the United States federal government to keep a form of encryption on your data that it can’t break.  Apple no longer wants to surrender data to the government, so it has blinded itself from seeing large swaths of your data.  The government is less happy about this, because that data might point to potential threats to homeland security.  Again, this article isn’t trying to make a moral or political claim.  The point is that the government is a third party who wants the ability to look at your data, which represents another point of vulnerability to a malicious attack.

Outside of the government, a lot of the companies that maintain those expensive server farms pay for all of that technology by sharing some or all of your personal information with private businesses.  You should already know that, of course.  If a web service is free to you, then the company providing it makes its money some other way.  If they’re charging you, they still might make money by selling your data.

You’ll never know, because you accepted the terms without reading them.  Don’t feel bad, though, we all do that.  The iTunes end user license agreement (EULA) is over 20,000 words long, about four times as long as the Constitution of the United States.  There are, however, some resources to help you.  For a shortened and simplified version of various EULAs, try tosdr.org, which is a donations-based organization that explains what you’re agreeing to and offers an add-on for your browser so it’s only a click away.

Is my data safer when it’s in my control?

That question is up for debate, but usually the answer is no.  In most instances, end users are the most vulnerable point of attack for cyber scammers.  However, when you have control of your data, you can work to make it safer.  When you don’t, you’re trusting someone else with it.  To put it another way, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and other tokenized payment plans are the safest way to make a purchase because they require your thumbprint, protects your data with single-use encryption that’s worthless to a third party, and doesn’t store your info in the cloud.  Doing your best to emulate those services is a good idea.

So, what do I do to protect myself from the cloud?

The easiest solution is to spend some time and some money.  Find a single site to store your files, whether it’s with Google, Microsoft, Apple, or Dropbox.  Read each of their EULAs and decide for yourself.  Then pay them to get as much storage as you need, rather than spreading your files among various services in order to stay under the amount for free storage.

Next, go through and make a list of which sites and services have what information of yours.  Determine your level of comfort.  Delete what you can live without, move the rest to somewhere you feel safe.  Clear out your email inbox whenever you can.  Don’t archive private data, like medical records or financial statements, with your email provider.  Instead, save them locally on storage you have at home or work, which you can disconnect from the Internet.  A 2-terabyte solid state removable storage drive is less than $100 and offers you great protection.  As an added measure, back up your drive in a second location once a month, in case something happens to your house.

Finally, as you move forward, try to think critically about what you’re telling people.  If someone can make money off your information, they’ll find a way to do so.  The only way to protect your information and that of your family’s is by being vigilant.

Sources:
https://tosdr.org/
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/11/end_user_license_agreements_does_it_matter_that_we_don_t_read_the_fine_print.html
http://genius.com/Apple-itunes-terms-of-service-annotated
http://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2010/aug/02/infographic-data-cloud
http://www.infostor.com/storage-management/worlds-data-doubling-every-two-years-.html

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