Ever wondered how Google knows the last time you visited your favourite bakery and then asks you to review it, even when you have not searched for it on any Google service? Does it surprise you when Google suggests the estimated arrival time to your office as soon as you step out of your house? Well, that's just a small bit of your data that Google has access to. Most of us do not realise that while signing up for various services, apps or even while setting up an Android smartphone, we unknowingly accept most of their conditions, agreements and grant them permission to access our data (who reads the long list of agreement clauses?). If Google's omnipresence bothers you and you want to take a U-turn, here is a quick guide on how to revoke most of the controls Google has access to.
Google has created a page that allows you to glance through such permissions and change them. Within 'My Accounts', there is a dedicated tab for 'Privacy and Personalization' that allows you to manage data and choose what activity is saved to personalise the Google experience.
You can start by checking your personal information that Google has made available in public (others using Google services) and what is not shared publicly. The 'Personal Info' tab under 'My Account' lists photo, nickname, date of birth, gender, email ID, phone number, and more. Hit the 'Go About Me' option at the bottom of the page and all your information available both publicly as well as hidden will be displayed. You can make the necessary changes right then and there.
Clearing browser history does not mean that your searches are removed from Google servers too. For quick search results, Google offers to save the activity, such as searches and associated info like location, across Google sites and apps, in the Google Account. But if you want Google to stop tracking and saving all activities such as the apps you use, your Chrome history, and which sites you visit on the Web, you can turn off the toggle from the 'Web and App Activity' option. However, Google says that pausing this may limit or disable more personalised experiences. For example, you may stop seeing more relevant search results or recommendations about places you care about.
Automatically Delete Search and App Activity
If you do not intend to turn off the above settings or wish there was an automatic way of deleting history, you are in luck as Google recently announced a new option to automatically delete the saved data. This works in real time. However, you can opt for automatic deletion after a period of three or 18 months. Earlier, this had to be done manually.
Look for the 'Manage Activity' option within 'Activity Controls'. By default, the option of 'keeping activity until you delete it manually' was saved in my account; I switched it to delete after three months.
If the location history setting is turned on for your account, Google will save all the information, including where you go with your devices, even when you arent using a specific Google service. This helps Google give you personalised maps, recommendations based on places you've visited, and more. This can be paused within 'Activity Control' on the 'Data and Personalization' page. Another easy way to keep your location a secret is by turning on the new 'Incognito Mode' in Google Maps. On Android devices, you can select the profile icon on the top right in Google Maps, and select 'Turn on Incognito Mode'. In this mode, Google will not save the maps activity to the Google Account and won't automatically show information about, say, your commute. While the incognito mode is not available on Google Maps for iPhone, users can choose 'Use Maps Without an Account' option.
With the YouTube history setting turned on, Google will save the videos you have searched for and videos streamed on this platform, offer better recommendations and even remember where you left off. You can turn off this setting within 'Web and App Activity'. The 'Manage Activity' option within YouTube History can be used to automatically remove YouTube history between three or 18 months.
The Fun of Learning
By Nidhi Singal
Shifu Orboot is a knowledge-building toy for children. Using augmented reality, it helps children learn not just names of countries, their capitals and cities but also explore local culture, monuments, animals, and more.
Shifu Orboot is primarily a globe that comes to life with the Orboot app. Unlike a traditional globe that has borders and names of countries and popular cities, this one has a graphical representation of the regions along with visuals depicting cultures, monuments, animals, weather, and more. For instance, India was represented with Taj Mahal, a Kathakali dance figure, a tiger and more. All countries have a 'star' icon which audio-visually shares a lot of information about the country. For instance, when pointed the camera at the Taj Mahal icon on the globe, a 3D image of the same appeared on the phone's display. A tap on the image triggered display of more information. In all, over 400 highlights and 1,000 facts are available.
The app isn't just restricted to the icons on the globe. It has other interactive modes too. 'Mysteries with Shifu' has close to nine interactive lessons such as the ancient wonders' quest, the Russian adventure, trip to Asia, the crown jewel and the desert adventure. Using onscreen clues, the camera has to be pointed at the graphical representation on the globe that helps in exploring new places.
While exploring cultures, I learned about the Thai Songkran Water Festival, and the Harbin Ice and Snow festival celebrated in China. There are quizzes to be played and an Oko National Park that can be explored.
Frankly, without the Orboot app, the globe isn't of any use. The Orboot app works smoothly on both Android and Apple devices. While the app works well enough on a smartphone, the experience is far superior on the big display of an iPad.
The globe's build quality is nice. It comes with a 'passport' that can be filled in and stamped when one is through with a particular country.
Shifu Orboot is an addictive learning tool. Once a child gets the hang of Orboot, she is likely to continue exploring. With parents concerned about reducing the screen time of their kids, Shifu Orboot can convert the existing screen time into a productive and educational one.
By Nidhi Singal
Most wearables are focussed towards tracking activities - steps, calories burnt, workout and sleep. Dipitr's Strack is a small wearable that helps correct posture.
This is a very small device that can be attached to a person's back; it gives vibration alerts every time that person slouches. Measuring just 47x31x9 mm, the Strack houses an LED indicator with a multi-purpose button at the front. One can wear it using supplied magnets (on the shirt) or adhesive tapes (pasted on the back). Between the two, I found the adhesive tape better. With the magnet, the device slips due to the vibrations. Plus, the vibration feedback is stronger when attached to the back. The adhesive strip is a little difficult to peel off but the company says it is replacing it with a better-quality one.
Setting up is easy - just install the app, answer a few questions (height, weight, how often you experience back pain), pair the device and calibrate it. Once set up and pasted on the back, Strack gave vibration alerts every time I slouched. It also has a coach mode that has small sessions on improving the sitting posture.
As I don't suffer from back pain, the automatic coach-mode started with a five-minute session and increased the time gradually. All the data - minutes of straight posture, number of slouches and more - is accessible within the app. The data is categorised on an hourly and weekly basis.
You can customise the settings - from the vibration intensity (low, medium and high) to alert time (after 0, 5 or 10 seconds). While most of the features are accessible using the app, you can also control using the multi-purpose physical button. When turned on, pressing the button once turns off the vibration and pressing it again activates the vibration again. This feature comes handy while having meals as that's the time when one bends forward often. As the position of the Strack might change every time you wear it, the same can be calibrated just by pressing the button twice.
Strack packs in a rechargeable battery that lasted me over two days on a single charge. As the functionality is vibration-driven, the battery life may vary from user to user.
Is it good? Yes, because it makes you cautious about slouching and helps correct the sitting posture.