5 Tech Myths: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & More


tech mythsMyths are more common than most people will admit. They perpetuate because they sound like they could be true – and nobody has time to fact-check every last detail. Eventually, as the myths are repeated time and time again, they sound more factual than the truth.

Technology is as susceptible to myths as any other niche. The complexity of the subject, combined with the rapid introduction of new, unfamiliar innovations, creates a perfect breeding ground for misunderstanding. Let’s set these tech myths straight.

RAM Usage Is Bad

tech myths

MakeUseOf will occasionally receive a question from a reader that asks about how to reduce RAM usage on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Their alarm is understandable. A user browsing the web in Windows 7 might open their task manager to find over six gigabytes ofRAM used. “Ack!” they think, “no wonder my computer is so slow!”

In truth, this relationship should be flipped on its head. RAM is very, very quick. Mechanical hard drives and some forms of flash storage (like most SD cards) are slow. By storing data that might be needed in RAM, a computer can increase the load speed of frequently accessed software. If RAM is not full of data, it’s effectively doing nothing, so why have it sit empty?

Smartphone users shouldn’t worry for the same reason. Background apps can negatively impact performance on an Android phone, but this usually isn’t because of memory. Instead, the culprit is usually an app that’s running in the background. Clearing memory appears to improve performance only because the offending app is closed to free up space.

Improperly Unmounting A USB Drive Will Delete Data

tech myths busted

Windows has long sounded the alarm about improperly unmounting disk drives. To this day, you may still receive warning messages when you remove a drive that you haven’t properly disabled through the operating system. Given the alarm, you’d think that the consequences of disobeying would be disastrous.

Not true. USB drives can be freely removed from a computer without issue in most situations. I can attest to this personally. As part of my work, I often have to move flash drives from one PC to the next, and I’ve never lost data from a drive because of it.

So why the warning? Microsoft is playing it safe. Data corruption can occur, but only if a USB drive is actively in use at the moment it is unplugged. Most users don’t do this. Still, Microsoft doesn’t want to be on the hook for the 1-in-1000th  time it does occur. And that’s why the alarm is raised even when there’s no fire.

You Don’t Need An Antivirus If You’re Careful

tech myths busted

Whenever I write an antivirus article I inevitably receive a reply from some smart-alec who claims that you don’t need an antivirus if you’re careful. Viruses come from infected files, right? So just don’t download them! You’ll be fine.

Well, actually, that tech myths couldn’t be more wrong. A decade and a half ago, most viruses were distributed through infected files, but they’ve become far more sophisticated since then. Worms, a specific class of virus, can infect any vulnerable computer through networking exploits. Other viruses spread using browser vulnerabilities. And still more are designed to spread via USB drives or local networks.

Clever users might respond by claiming people don’t have to worry if their software is up to date. This too is no guarantee. Zero-day exploits are common and even a patched system is a sitting duck. An antivirus may be able to stop such an attack (even though it’s unknown) by using heuristic detection to raise the alarm when a file behaves suspiciously. Those without antivirus, however, have no defense.

Cell Phones Cause Cancer

tech myths busted

Many consumer technologies rely on energy and therefor emit or use some form of radiation. Even radio waves are a form of radiation, and since cell phones use them, there’s been concern that having a source of radiation close to our heads could cause cancer. This has been backed up by an alarming report from the World Health Organization which labeled cell phones a “Class B Carcinogen”.

You’d expect that to be based on some fairly hefty evidence, right? Actually, the WHO report is less damning than it sounds in headlines. Class B simply means that a study has indicated that there might be a link, but the link is too weak to be definitive. Meanwhile, numerous other studies have found no link. This includes a massive Danish study involving 350,000 people that was released in late 2011.

Further evidence against the risk of cancer can be found in what we know of physics. Radiation comes in multiple forms, and humans only need to worry about radiation energetic enough to damage DNA. Ultraviolet rays from the sun, which can cause skin cancer, are over 400,000 times more energetic than those emitted from cell phones. Low energy waves like radio can’t hurt DNA, and that means they can’t cause cancer.

Everything Electronic Causes Cancer

tech myths

This means that what holds true for cell phones should hold true for other wireless devices, as well. The rise of wireless networks has caused distress about what all those waves bouncing through the atmosphere might do to our cells. The answer is simple – nothing.  Sleeping on a bed made of wireless routers would be uncomfortable, but it’s not going cause cancer.

Some users become concerned because of another alarming effect. Heat. As electronics are used, they put out heat, and that heat is absorbed by our bodies. That’s why your thighs are warm after using a laptop.

Computers can be harmful if they’re too hot, but the problem isn’t limited to electronics. Dermatologists have long known that constant exposure to heat can cause scaly, discolored skin which is often permanent. A hot computer can cause this – as can a heating blanket, seat warmer, fireplace or oven.

While skin discoloration and minor burns can be a problem to a handful of people, there’s no evidence that normal, intermediate use of a computer will cause cancer. The lesson from dermatology is simple. If something is hot, don’t hang around it too long.

Conclusion

This is merely a handful of tech myths. There are plenty more out there, ranging from the believable to the utterly outrageous. Have you heard a tech myth that you later found out wasn’t true? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

By Matt Smith makeuseof.com

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What’s A Cookie & What Does It Have To Do With My Privacy?


Most people know that there are cookies scattered all over the Internet, ready and willing to be eaten up by whoever can find them first. Wait, what? That can’t be right. Yes, there are cookies on the Internet (technically, the World Wide Web), and yes, they really are called “cookies”.  But they aren’t delicious and they can affect your privacy, so you should know what they do.

Whether you’re browsing Google search results, logging into Facebook, or just innocently chatting away on an online forum, you’ve encountered cookies. They aren’t inherently harmful but, just like passwords or email addresses, they can be exploited when placed in the wrong hands. Keep reading to learn how you can protect yourself.

What Are Cookies, Really?

In simple terms, cookies are just files that reside on your computer. Cookies are created when you visit a website. They are used to store bits of information about your interactions with the website, which the web server can use later when processing your sessions. The cookie is specific to you and it can be read by the web server (when interacting with it) or by programs on your computer.

To be technical, your browser is the program that mediates cookie control between your computer and the website. These cookies used by a website to present different types of content depending on who you are in relation to that website. Cookies can expire after a given time period (usually determined by the website issuing the cookie), but if necessary, they can be manually deleted.

Why are cookies used? Because they’re convenient and efficient. If a website wants to service thousands of users without cookies, it would have to store all of that interaction data in its own storage and it would have to be processed on its own. By offloading that work to the user, it becomes a faster and less strenuous procedure.

What are cookies used for? One reason for a cookie is to identify you. If you log in to a website and close your browser, then open it back up, the website knows it’s you because that cookie exists (it was created when you logged in). Cookies can store all sorts of information, like your preferences, your browser type, your location, etc. and this information can be used to better your experience.

How Do Cookies Affect You?

For the most part, cookies are NOT harmful. They’re just another protocol used on the Internet to facilitate communication between users and servers. Worried about viruses and malware? You can relax. Cookies cannot carry viruses or malware, nor can they transfer such things to other users.

Cookies are a necessary part of the Internet experience and they shouldn’t be feared. For example, deleting your cookies will log you out of sites like MakeUseOf and Facebook. If you like convenience and personalization, then you should learn to embrace cookies.

But what should you worry about?

The worst possible scenario would be the interception or forgery of one of your cookies, which would allow another user to impersonate you on some website. This could result in them eavesdropping on your user data OR hijacking your account credentials. However, don’t be too alarmed. Cookie security mostly depends on the website and your browser; a cookie encryption feature, for example, can help protect you from hackers.

A more prevalent issue is a specific type of cookie called the “tracking cookie.” These cookies aren’t used to better your experience. Instead, they keep track of all of your actions on certain websites. These can be used to build browsing history profiles, which can be used to target specific ads to you. This is where invasion of privacy comes in.

Protecting Your Privacy

Here’s what you need to know about cookie privacy: they cannot know any information that you don’t personally provide. In other words, just because a website has a cookie on you doesn’t mean that they know everyone in your family and which schools you’ve attended–unless you entered that information to the website.

The biggest problem with tracking cookies is that an advertising agency can view your browsing history (since that’s what they use to target ads relevant to your interests). You can prevent them from doing this, of course, by playing with your browser settings and disabling cookies.

If you don’t want to disable ALL cookies (which would keep you from enjoying the legitimate features on legitimate websites), certain browsers let you disable specific cookies from certain domains. Some more advanced browsers let you synchronize with black lists; these are maintained by people or communities to keep out domains with shady cookie practices.

Ultimately, when it comes to cookie privacy, it’s all about trust. Do you trust that website to log every interaction? Read their privacy policy and terms of use–they’re usually linked on the website near the header or footer. If you don’t trust them, you can always wipe your cookies later.

Want to test a website’s cookie integrity? Try “Cookie Checker”. Want to see what sort of cookies are on your computer and what websites are tracking with those cookies? Try Cookie Spy.

By Joel Lee makeuseof.com