Do You Have a Weather Emergency Plan?


Hopefully this winter will be fairly mild, and snowstorms won’t be a worry. But we’ve had a few storms in recent memory that have made it difficult for employees to travel to work. When that happens, how do you keep business going as usual?
 
For some businesses (like ours), it’s actually fairly easy to stay open – even if no one’s able to leave their house. For instance, two years ago during a winter storm, only a handful of our call center employees were able to make it to the office. But with the help of our hosted phone system, the majority of our staff were able to answer calls and work from home. Our customers never noticed.
 
Because Hosted PBX functions from the cloud, rather than as a traditional phone system, there are multiple ways to route calls in the event of a weather emergency. From virtual phones on their laptops to seamless call forwarding, our employees were able to answer calls just as they would from work. And with the addition of VPN, our employees had everything they needed… plus the ability to work in pajamas.
 
If your business needs to answer the phone no matter what, make sure you know what your weather emergency plan is. Need some help coming up with one, or not sure what your options are? We’d love to help – give one of our business representatives a call at 1-800-SOCKET-3. Someone (probably not in pajamas) will be happy to walk you through your options.

How Are YouTube Ads Targeted?


Have you ever noticed that the ads you see on YouTube sometimes feature local businesses (Socket included)? Did you know that most of your YouTube ads are tailored specifically to you?
 
Ad space online is sold differently than it is for, say, television or newspaper space. In fact, many of those ad spaces are auctioned off per user, per view. You might not realize that, before you watch your 3 minute video clip, there’s an incredibly fast bidding war happening in the microseconds before the winning advertisement plays.
 
Here’s a quick breakdown of how that bidding system works:
 
Audience Targeting:
 
Say there’s a business that exclusively sells women’s cosmetics. Naturally, it benefits them to show their advertisement to women. Ads they show to men just aren’t very effective.
 
Now say there’s also a business that sells anti-aging cream. They’ve found that people over 55 love their product, but people under 55 aren’t interested at all. So ads they show to anyone younger than 55 are wasted.
 

The 24-year-old female who took this screenshot has some issues with the accuracy of her profile.

Here’s where the bidding system jumps in. As thousands of users start watching videos, YouTube begins letting companies bid on the spaces. By setting presets ahead of time, each company lets YouTube know what they’re willing to pay per user – for instance, the cosmetic company will pay more for female users, and the anti-aging cream will pay more for users over 55.
 
Where those two profiles overlap – say, a 60 year old woman – the two companies will continue bidding until one of them hits their maximum payment cap.
 
Now imagine all of this, but instead of only two companies, there are hundreds of thousands simultaneously bidding. And all of this happens in the few seconds it takes for your video to load.
 
User Profiles:
 
So, how does YouTube know if someone is a 60 year old woman?
 
Well, they don’t. But they can guess. Based on what you search for and what you do, YouTube (and its parent company, Google) can usually estimate what gender and age you are, as well as your interests.
 
Of course, this is often less than perfect. Google doesn’t know whether you’re shopping for men’s shirts because you’re a man, or because it’s a Father’s Day gift. When multiple users share a computer, these profiles can become amusingly incorrect, too.
 
Wondering what information about you is being used for advertising auctions? Visit www.google.com/settings/ads/onweb to see who Google thinks you are, as well as to opt out of targeted ads.

Scott Stratman - Socket's You-Make-The-Difference Winner for December


Scott Stratman with SocketCongratulations to Scott Stratman, Network Facilities Manager, on winning this month’s You-Make-The-Difference award!
 
Other than owner George Pfenenger, Scott is the longest service employee at Socket, having started here back in 1996. At the time, the company had fewer than a dozen employees, and only sold dial-up Internet service (we've grown a lot)!
 
Since then, Scott has become our Network Facilities Manager, working to make sure Socket’s network remains healthy as we continually add new services to it. His years of knowledge and experience with Socket are always a valuable resource for teammates to draw on, as well.
 
“He is never shy about helping out, or just being a friendly face if needed,” said a coworker who nominated him for the award. “His many years of service also leave him with invaluable knowledge and skills… I am blessed to work with him.”
 
Originally from Jefferson City, Scott now lives in Ashland with his wife, Dena, and three daughters. In his free time, Scott can be found tinkering in his garage with “anything that has an engine,” a pastime he’s glad to see his daughters taking an interest in as well.
 
“I’ve seen [Socket] grow from an ISP with a total of 100 dial-up modems to what it is today…” said Scott. “And I’ve enjoyed the challenges that come with Socket’s evolution and new service offerings. Working with so many talented and intelligent people, I’m proud to have received this award.”
 
Congratulations, Scott!

These Online Ads Are Ruining Christmas!


Online shopping has, in many ways, made it easier to find that perfect gift. However, it’s also made it easier to ruin the surprise, especially when members of a household share a computer.
 
We’ve heard the same story multiple times now – after purchasing a gift, that item then appears in advertisements all across the web. After getting bombarded with ads for a very specific model of laptop, it’s hard to not guess what just arrived in the mail.

Can you guess what we were just looking at on Best Buy’s website?

We’ve written about retargeting before – so with that information in mind, here are a few ways you can avoid spoiling a holiday surprise.
 
- Use Incognito Mode
 
Most browsers come with a “private” or “incognito” mode – what this means is that all of your search history, viewing history and cookies for that session are deleted as soon as you close the browser window. Do your shopping in these modes and you shouldn’t see any related ads.

Things that you download in this mode will still stay downloaded, though, so be careful. In Chrome and Firefox, these modes can be activated by clicking the button with three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
 
- Delete Cookies
 
If you’ve already made a purchase and are currently being followed by ads, search for the cookies placed by that website. In most browsers, your cookies are listed under the “privacy” options. If you spot any listed under the site that’s targeting you, delete them.
 
- Click On Everything

 
This is less technical, but still effective. Search for everything under the sun and click on it – socks, tea kettles, motorcycles, paperweights - until your targeted ads are a mess. If you suspect someone is actively trying to guess what you’ve ordered for Christmas, this is definitely the more entertaining approach.

Who's Tracking You Online?


If you’ve ever paid attention to those small ads floating around your favorite site, you might have noticed that they’re eerily specific - almost as if they’re tailored especially for you. That’s because they are.
 
Learn how companies collect your information, how they use it, and how you can manage your privacy online.
 
How do companies track me?

Unlike most cookies, this one is fairly easy to read - it's just a zip code. Many cookies are long strings of code that aren't as easy to interpret.

You’ve probably heard of “cookies,” but it’s not entirely obvious what they are or what they do.
 
When you visit a website, it will scan your computer for an identifying code specific to that site. If it doesn’t find one, it will create one for you and place it in your web browser. This code is the “cookie”. When you next visit the site, it can find the cookie to determine which user you are.
 
For example, say you visit Weather.com and search for the weather in Columbia. The site will place a cookie on your computer; “LocId:65202”. The next time you visit, it can spot this cookie and automatically bring up the Columbia weather without having to ask where you are.
 
Cookies are a simple way for websites to gather anonymous information. Many (if not most) sites use cookies to track visitor information, including whether you’ve been there before, what pages and preferences you set, and how often you visit. Generally, these cookies are benign, limited to a single site, and meant for your convenience. However, there are some sites that offer or sell this information to others.
 
For instance, Weather.com knows that you’re in area code 65202. Alone, this isn’t very useful information. But say that another site knows your age. Perhaps you’ve been shopping online for clothes; that site can reasonably infer your gender. Online advertising companies can purchase all these scattered bits of data and piece them together to create a cross-site profile. While it’s still technically anonymous, a business will know enough about your online behavior to send you targeted ads.
 
For some individuals, this can be annoying or even downright creepy. This can also lead to some privacy issues for those with shared computers. (Imagine borrowing a friend’s computer and seeing nothing but ads for toupees and hair loss products!)
 
How can I increase my privacy online?

 
Before signing up with a service, check their privacy policy and opt-out features if they have any. There are often separate checkboxes at the end of registration forms for things like email lists, third party sharing, and data collection.
 
There are also settings you can adjust in your web browser. Check your cookies to see what sites have information saved about you. If you’re not familiar with a cookie, delete it. If you’re extremely cautious, you can disable cookies altogether. Keep in mind that some sites need cookies to function; you can always delete the cookie when you’re done.
 
Resources:

 
See what demographic information Google has on you, or opt out of Google’s interest-based ad network:
 
www.google.com/settings/ads/onweb

 
Yahoo offers a similar page. You can also adjust your demographic information or opt-out entirely:
 
info.yahoo.com/privacy/us/yahoo/opt_out

 
See how Facebook uses your data to create personalized ads:
 
www.facebook.com/about/privacy/advertising

John McCrady - Socket's You-Make-The-Difference Award Winner for November!


John McCrady with SocketCongratulations to John McCrady, Business Center Analyst, for being named the November recipient of Socket’s You-Make-The-Difference award!
 
After being encouraged to apply by several of his friends who already worked here, John started in residential tech support about three years ago. Since then, he's worked his way up to the business center, helping customers with their service issues and acting as a resource for his fellow agents.
 
"John is constantly going out of his way to make every customer feel special, and will work on any problem to completion," said a coworker who nominated him. "John is a great co-worker, a great employee, and a great person in general."
 
A native Columbia resident and a graduate of Rock Bridge, John is deeply knowledgable when it comes to cult 1980s action movies starring Kurt Russell. He is also, of course, a master at quickly solving customer issues, as his coworkers will attest.
 
"It's all in the reflexes," said John.
 
Thanks for all you do, John - you were born ready for this award. Congratulations!

Get Ready For Cyber Monday 2014!


Cyber Monday is always one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. But before you click “buy”, make sure to check out these tips first – they could save you a holiday headache!
 
- Make sure the payment site is secured.
In your browser’s address bar, check that it says “https” rather than just “http” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Some browsers also add a little lock icon to make this easier to read – check for this in the top left corner of the window.

Check for the lock icon, or look for the "s" after "http", to verify the site is secured.

What this means is that the connection is encrypted – in other words, the information you send will be coded, so anyone intercepting it won’t be able to read it.
 
- Double-check your shipping dates. What may seem like a great deal can end up being a disappointment if it doesn’t arrive until the New Year. Many sites are upfront about what shipping methods you’ll have to select for Christmas delivery, but some sites pair their “great deals” with highly inflated shipping and handling rates. Make sure to check the delivery guarantees – and if you’re not shopping for Christmas gifts, don’t pay extra on shipping if you don’t need to.
 
- Use varying passwords. When creating accounts on multiple sites you’re not sure you’ll use again, it’s very tempting to reuse an ID/password combination. However, if one site is compromised, all sites with the same password are as well.
 
One way to get around this is to incorporate the site name or something specific about the site into your password. For example, let’s say your password is always “password123” (not a good choice, by the way). If you’re creating an account for a shoe store, it’s a bit safer to make it something like “password_shoes_123”. Easy to remember for you, and less useful to an automated cracking program.
 
- You don’t have to save card info. Again, if you’re ordering from a site you’re not sure you’ll ever be using again, there’s usually a way to check out as a “guest”. This both prevents the password issue discussed earlier, and prevents your card info from being tied to an account.
 
Entering in credit card data usually only takes a minute or two – a small amount of extra work if you do end up making a repeat purchase.
 

You, too, can be the proud owner of this photo of a PS4!

- Read all the details! Everyone knows that if it’s too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. But sometimes even not-so-great things turn out worse than you’d assume. Take, for instance, people paying more than retail price for the newest video game systems on eBay. Except instead of buying a system, they’d missed the fine print where the seller explained the auction was for a photograph of the system.
 
Naturally, eBay determined that these auctions were fraudulent… but it probably made for a disappointing holiday nonetheless. Double-check the details, especially on any auction or resale site.

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Who is Socket

Founded in 1994, Socket is a Missouri-based telephone and Internet service provider with the largest service area in the state.

Socket is a privately held company that provides families and businesses a choice for local and long-distance phone and Internet service. We combine the highest quality customer service with in-depth technical knowledge.

Our network serves more than 20,000 residents and businesses in more than 400 Missouri cities, and our customers enjoy simple billing and quick, friendly service.
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