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Archive for January, 2017

Cell Phones Track Your Movements by Default

Cell Phones Track Your Movements by Default

The big and very public smart phone privacy arguments are centering around government intrusions and data collection.  However, one very important detail is falling through the cracks of media coverage, and it impacts anyone who has a smart phone or tablet.  Programs in Android as well as Apple operating systems track your movements, aggregate data and store information both on your device as well as out there in the ether. 

The scary thing is that these settings are switched on by default.  You need to dig through buried privacy settings in order to turn them off.  Unfortunately, this is completely legal as long as these companies give you the option to turn them on or off, even if they don’t make this obvious to consumers from the beginning.  Consequently, anyone who accesses your phone, whether from law enforcement or an estranged lover, can know where you’ve been, your travel habits as well as what you do. 

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Aggregation of Services

This feature differs from various apps and other data-collecting services that we are more familiar with.  It’s called “frequent locations”, and it acts more like an umbrella that takes in data from various sources in order to target advertising efforts, pre-load driving routes, provide suggestions based on your habits and even alert you to things that range from construction and transit disruptions to events in your area.  In a nutshell, your phone quickly learns where you go, what you do and when you do them.

Since this information is stored, anyone, especially investigators, can quickly ascertain whether you were at a place you told them.  Your boss could use it to see if you were really home sick, and the government can easily build a profile about your life.  What is even more scary is that anyone who has access to this real-time as well as stored data can know when you are home.  Not good news for anyone who cherishes their privacy.

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How to Manage This Feature

You can switch this feature off by going into the settings of your devices.  For Android-powered devices, go into settings and tap on “location”.  Scroll down until you find Google Location Settings and tap on that.  Tap on Location Reporting and Location History.  You can now move the slider to the off position.  The next step is to clear your location cache and history.  Under Location History, there’s an option called Delete Location History.  Tap it, and the device will be clear from your previous travels and nothing new should show up as long as Location Reporting is switched off.  Make sure that you do this for all of your Google accounts.

If you have an Apple device, tap into “settings”.  Then go to Privacy and find Location Services.  Scroll until you locate System Services.  Look for Frequent Locations.  You will see a log of all of your movements, and this should be enough to scare anyone.  Switch this option off and the history will be deleted and future tracking should be disabled.

Keep in mind that these steps will only clear your device of your past movements while supposedly preventing them from monitoring your movements in the future.  However, this will not delete any information that these companies have already stored in the ether somewhere.  Furthermore, you will not be able to use a lot of apps that rely on these services in order to function properly.  So, it’s important that you weigh the pros and cons of using these services or giving up your privacy. 

Finally, this is much different than removing your battery while moving from place to place in order to prevent your device from tracking you.  This stores and aggregates data and builds a profile, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that anyone can use this information to predict your movements in the future.  This will also not prevent the NSA or other government agencies from spying on you.  However, it can turn out to be very helpful if you ever lose or have your device stolen in order to protect details about your life from falling into the wrong hands.

Make sure that you take care of this now if you are concerned about privacy, and seriously consider creating a new Google account in order to start fresh in order to make your trail of digital bread crumbs disappear.


Cobras and Vipers: Two Snakes You Want to Avoid at All Costs

Cobras and Vipers:  Two Snakes You Want to Avoid at All Costs

A lot more people get bitten and die from cobra and viper bites than originally thought, according to new information reported by the World Health Organization.  While the majority of these deaths occur in India as farm workers in their bare feet accidentally step on snakes, bites are occurring with more frequency closer to home. 

A rise in viper bites in North America has health officials worried that current anti-venom treatments are losing their effectiveness.  While agencies are trying to develop second and third-generation alternatives, a gap exists at the present time that is reducing treatment options for those who get bitten.  Consequently, more people are being exposed to the risk of becoming seriously ill or dying as a result of bites from vipers.

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Different Species, Different Problems

There are so many different species of cobras and vipers out there, and each has different methods of attacking and subduing prey.  Some spit venom that adheres and then soaks into the skin whereas others inject it through their saliva even without needing to bite.  The impact of bites on humans depends on their size, the location of the bite, amount of venom injected and the species that launched the attack.  Unfortunately, it’s usually a race against the clock in terms of treatment, so many patients succumb to the devastating effects of venom before doctors can identify the snake that caused the bite.

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Identification is Key

It is important, if bitten, to know what snake did the biting.  Whenever possible, try and remember descriptive characteristics of the snake and relay this information to doctors.  While most cobras and vipers are not indigenous to North America, the illegal importation, unregulated breeding and accidental or intentional release of these snakes into the wild is contributing to their population growth. 

Consequently, it’s only a matter of time before cobras and vipers establish a presence in North America and bites become more common.  However, for the time being, it is a challenge for doctors to deal with the problem because fast access to venom as well as a lack of familiarity delays appropriate treatment.  Being able to either bring the snake or describe it to healthcare providers can save precious time and lead to a better outcome for the victim.

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What to do if Bitten

The most common technique for treatment in the field is to wrap the affected limb with an ACE bandage or other material as snugly as possible.  The aim is to slow the spread of venom by constricting the blood vessels in the affected area.  The use of a blood pressure cuff, inflated to its maximum pressure, above the bite site can also be particularly helpful. 

Start with the foot or hand, and wrap the bandage as tightly as possible while working up the entire length of the arm or leg.  Tie off the bandage at the top.  Do not elevate the bite site.  Do not allow the victim to move or exert energy.  Remember that the aim is to keep as much of the venom in the affected area and prevent it from circulating throughout the body.  It is also recommended not to use ice or cold compresses as these methods have been linked to the development of various neurological disorders.

DO NOT suck, lance or try to extract fluid and blood from the wound site.  Doing so will only draw more blood to the region and also potentially expose first aid providers to the toxins as well.  There is also a lot of debate as to whether using a tourniquet is as effective as bandaging.  Long-term loss of blood to the extremity can cause it to develop an gangrenous infection or lead to amputation from oxygen deprivation.  Some providers suggest that a tourniquet is okay if the victim is near the hospital because this loss of circulation is minimal time-wise.  Use your own judgment and do some research before developing a response plan to deal with a bite from a cobra or viper.

If the venom is injected in the eye, thoroughly rinse it out with running water immediately after the bite.  Continue to do so as often as possible until the victim reaches the emergency room.  In all cases, be prepared to perform CPR as well as rescue breathing if the venom starts to attack the circulatory or respiratory system.

There are really no good, long-term solutions to treating cobra or viper bites in the field, and how the patient responds to the venom will depend on a host of factors, including those mentioned above.  The trick is to keep the patient calm and still, compress the affected area to minimize the spread of the venom, and get them to emergency medical services as quickly as possible.