Monday tech roundupThis week we talk about privacy or what is left of it and how the big guns like Yahoo and Facebook are pushing the limits – in Yahoo’s case, getting sued for doing so; a new photo service from Google that is free and there are no strings attached; and why the drop of PC sales doesn’t mean people are not using them.

Did Yahoo break its own privacy rules?

Privacy issues in the age of the Internet and free apps are not going to disappear overnight. It seems that more and more vendors are slipping up when it comes to privacy issues and going against their already liberal privacy policies.

Yahoo, for instance, is being sued by users who claim the company looks at emails sent to Yahoo Mail accounts from non-Yahoo accounts. Why would it do such a thing? Money. Just as its mines data from emails sent and received by its own email subscribers to sell targeted ads, it appears to have been doing the same with non-subscriber messages.

This behavior is par for the course when you sign up for free email accounts, social media platforms and anything Google or other Internet vendors have created. These are free because the vendor sees great opportunity in learning about you and then give you to the advertisers who fit your profile.

If you are emailing friends about your upcoming family holiday, don’t be surprised when display ads or spam from travel agencies or airlines suddenly appear.

If privacy is a major concerns for you, it’s best to avoid certain free apps. In the event that you must join the ‘social’ world, then take the necessary steps to protect your privacy.

Facebook privacy – what privacy?

Facebook is not exactly a bastion of privacy, and a new revelation that it can track our very whereabouts only serves to confirm it.

An apparently ungrateful Facebook intern took a close look at Facebook Messenger and how it is used on smartphones. The intern found that the location/GPS features let the website track users’ every move, putting together detailed routes of everywhere they have been.

It seems that your location pops up every time you chat and for some people that is almost all day long. The more you chat, the more detailed routes you are providing Facebook with.

The trouble is Facebook Messenger does not ask you if you want your whereabouts to be tracked – it does so automatically! And it tracks your location to within a single meter.

Going one step further, as a user, you can track the locations of your friends or whoever you chat with. Now this is scary – would you want your location to be tracked by someone you have chatted with but is not part of your close circle of friends? I don’t think so.

The intern found that non-Facebook friends can also be tracked if they are part of a group you are attached to.

Facebook privacy problems are nothing new. A Belgian privacy regulator recently lodged a complaint against Facebook, arguing the site violates European law by tracking users too closely and without consent.

The regulator, dubbed the Privacy Protection Commission, is advising European users to adopt software that can protect privacy.

It also claims that the social media giant completely ignores regulators. Facebook argues that since its European operations are based in Ireland, this is the only country it has to listen to.

Google develops new photo service

Fact: Google has your search history, it most likely hosts your email, provides storage for your videos, and may also host your productivity software and files. What more? It wants your photos too.

The new Google Photos is not so much an innovative service; it is somewhat a new take on the old idea of photo hosting, established long ago by Flickr and Dropbox.

Google hopes to have an edge on the competition because the service is a free and there are no limitations on its use. Many free services are gratis till you run out of space, then you need to pay for additional storage. Google Photos gives users unlimited space to store photos and videos.

Because storage hardware, though cheaper every day, isn’t free, Google maximizes what it has by compressing your files. This can slightly degrade the image quality, especially in the case of video. Then again, when it comes to free stuff, you get what you ‘pay’ for.

PCs sales slump as expected, but so do tablets

When PC sales fall, it is no real surprise. Consumers are spending more on alternative devices such as smartphones and tablets.

IDC predicts PC sales will fall 6.2 percent this year. This could be worse. Windows 10 is expected to give PC sales a bit of stimulus and prop up the sagging PC market.

Pundits have long seen PC softness as meaning these work horses are living on borrowed time. My analysis is quite different, perhaps informed by the fact that I am writing this on a laptop. The fact that PCs aren’t selling so much doesn’t mean people are not using them. The reality is that unless your PC is worn out, there is very little reason to replace it with a unit that does the same thing albeit maybe faster. Upgrading is a hassle and could prove to be more expensive than purchasing a new PC outright.

The other issue is that we now have what I call ‘companion’ (as opposed to replacement) devices. Our tech budget is split between our PCs, tablets and phones, and with the latter two items we often add wireless broadband services which don’t come cheap.

Something else that is punching a hole in the ‘tablets will replace PCs’ theory is the fact that tablets sales are also expected to be soft. IDC expects fewer tablets to be sold this year compared to last – down 3.8 percent.

My PC theory also holds with tablets. Those who need a tablet have one and the latest versions have not offered any revolutionary features. The original iPad is pretty hard to distinguish from a brand new one.

Get your free 30-day GFI LanGuard trial

Get immediate results. Identify where you’re vulnerable with your first scan on your first day of a 30-day trial. Take the necessary steps to fix all issues.