Home Tech News The best digital photo services and why you should skip a VPN

The best digital photo services and why you should skip a VPN


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It can feel like we’re always doing it “wrong” when it comes to technology in our lives.

There is a lot of confusing advice out there, and what’s right for your best friend might not be the right choice for you.

In a live online chat last week, I answered some of your pressing technology questions, including whether everyone should use a VPN (spoiler alert: no), the best ways to save your digital photos and whether identity theft-monitoring services are worthwhile.

This selection of reader questions and my responses have been edited for clarity and to add new information.

Q: Do you use a VPN? Should we all be using one? If so, top five?

A: No, I don’t use a VPN. (A virtual private network is software that can hide what sites you’re using or obscure your location when you’re connected to an app or website.)

Most security experts have told me that if you live in the United States and want to use a VPN for digital security and privacy reasons, don’t do it.

You’re essentially giving the company that owns the VPN a bird’s-eye view of everything you do on your phone or computer. Many VPN companies are shady and some online advice overstates VPNs’ security protections.

My colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler wrote a column last year recommending three VPNs that you can trust.

If you’re trying to protect your digital security, there are far better steps you can take like creating unique passwords for all your online accounts and using two-factor authentication. Read more advice here.

If you’re researching sensitive subjects like depression and don’t want family members to know or corporations to keep records of your activities, you might be better off using a privacy-focused web browser such as Brave or the search engine DuckDuckGo.

Q: I love taking digital pictures, but I can’t figure out the best way to store them. Any advice?

A: There’s no perfect answer, but I’ll give you a rule of thumb.

If you have an iPhone, it’s simplest to save your digital photos with Apple’s iCloud — and you will probably have to pay for it. (My colleague Heather Kelly has written about alternatives to paying for iCloud storage.)

If you have an Android phone, it’s simplest to save your digital photos to Google Photos — and you might have to pay for it. Although you might not. Google is more generous with its free digital photo and file storage. (Read advice from Tatum Hunter on alternatives to paying for Google cloud storage.)

One big problem with this advice is it’s a pain to move your photos if you don’t want to keep them in Google’s or Apple’s cloud anymore.

You have many other options. Microsoft’s OneDrive digital file storage works across Windows PCs, Mac computers, iPhones and Android phones. Subscribers to Amazon Prime have access to unlimited online photo storage. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

SmugMug is a non-Big Tech subscription alternative. Some people prefer to skip the cloud entirely and save photos on a hard drive that you own.

Q: There was a recent digital security incident at the brokerage firm we use. They suggested we look into buying identity protection. What should we look for in these services?

A: For folks who aren’t familiar, identity theft protection services say they’ll monitor the web and notify you if your personal information was stolen or used to open a bank account or take out a loan. Sometimes they offer to help reimburse you if you lost money.

I have spoken to consumer finance experts who say these services generally aren’t worth the money.

It stinks, but you should assume that your personal information will be stolen at some point. (Louisiana and Oregon told residents in recent days that details from state motor vehicle records were likely exposed to hackers.)

When it happens to you, your best course of action is free but time consuming: vigilance.

Now that you know information from your brokerage account may have been stolen, be alert for signs that someone is pretending to be you.

If you receive a text about phone service you didn’t order, a bill from an unfamiliar doctor or a notice about an application for government benefits that you didn’t make, alarm bells should go off. Also, change the passwords on your important online accounts.

One thing I’ve personally done after talking to consumer fraud experts: I froze my credit with the three large credit reporting bureaus. This is free by law.

Follow the links to freeze your credit with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Or start on AnnualCreditReport.com. (NEVER Google anything related to credit or identity theft.)

If you freeze your credit, no one can check your creditworthiness to apply for a loan or rent a home in your name. This discourages criminals from impersonating you and sticking you with unpaid bills.

It’s inconvenient, though. You’ll probably need to unfreeze your credit before you apply for a credit card or buy a new cellphone plan.

I read all your emails. Ask me your questions or tell me your inner musings about tech at [email protected]. My colleagues and I steer our reporting to topics that are relevant to you.

Try the Google Lens phone feature to translate documents, menus, street signs and other writing into your preferred language.

Google Lens is a separate app for Android phones. On iPhones, you’ll find Lens as an option in the Google app. (Lens is also a feature in the Google app on some Android phones, or in the Google search bar at the bottom of your home screen.)

To use Lens within the Google app, tap on the icon to the right of the Search box that looks like a square camera with a dot in the center. For Android phones and iPhones, change the option to “translate” at the bottom of your phone screen.

Now point your phone at any writing in an unfamiliar language. The text you see on your screen automatically morphs into your preferred language.

Like any translation software, Google Lens doesn’t work perfectly. It’s also not practical to translate a book or other voluminous writing.

But for a short document in a foreign language or a restaurant menu when you’re traveling, Lens gives you the gist of what you’re looking at. It feels like a sprinkle of magic.

(Google Lens should recognize both the language in the text and your preferred language. If the software is wrong, you can change either or both languages in a menu that pops up on your phone screen. Lens translation may not work in your preferred language.)

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