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.

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

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.

Reduce Computer Strain With 5 Quick Tips


Many computer users experience pain, strain, and soreness after a long day in front of their computer, either at home or at work.  However, just a few slight adjustments to your workstation can reduce the daily fatigue and strain resulting from long days in front of a monitor.
 
Here are five easy items to adjust that will leave you feeling better all day:
 

  • Chair – Adjust your seat before fixing up everything else in your workstation. Your hips should be as far back as they can go in the chair, and your knees should be a little lower than your hips. Adjust the height until your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Monitor – Once your chair is adjusted, sit down and make sure the top of your screen is level with your eyes and about an arm’s length away. This will reduce craning and neck strain.
  • Keyboard – When typing, make sure your wrists are neutral - not bent up or down. Line up the “b” key with your bellybutton, and relax your shoulders.
  • Mouse – One way to reduce stress on your dominant hand is to alternate mouse usage between hands. Yes, you’ll probably feel weird using a mouse on the other side of the computer, but you’ll get used to it within a day or two. Make sure that mouse movement is coming from your elbow, rather than your wrist.
  • Phone – If you’re frequently taking calls at your desk, don’t use your shoulder to cradle the receiver! Free up your hands by using a headset instead – your neck will thank you.

Of course, no matter how well your work station is set up, it’s always important to take short breaks every hour or so. Grab a drink, stretch, or take a little walk – anything to get your blood flowing and reduce muscle strain.
 
With these tips, you’ll start feeling happier, healthier and a little less sore at the end of the day.

Manage Your Multimedia Multitasking


If, like most technology users, you’re convinced that you’re a successful multitasker… you’re probably wrong. Multiple studies have shown that multitasking leads to slower and worse performance, and that we simply aren’t as good at it as we think we are.
 
While it’s now almost universally accepted that texting while driving is often as, if not more, dangerous than drunk driving, many of us still allow ourselves to be distracted by our phones and web browsers when trying to accomplish other tasks.
 
Whether you’re trying to get your work done, study for an exam, or just getting in some good time with a book, focusing can help you get it done better and faster. Here are some tips for staying on task:

 
Disable Notifications:
Does your phone buzz at you every time you get a text, tweet or Facebook message? Just turn it off. Disable the social media notifications, and set your phone to Do Not Disturb. Or just silence your cell and put it out of sight.
 
Close Your Email Client:
Resist the urge to check your emails. Set aside a specific time to go through your inbox, rather than dropping what you’re doing as soon as you see something arrive.
 
Clean up:
A desktop full of open tabs, notifications and windows can distract you from the task at hand. Close all programs you aren’t using, and refrain from opening up web pages to read “later.” In fact, if you don’t need to, don’t open your web browser at all.
 
Set Timers:
There’s always the option of setting a good old-fashioned egg timer, and forcing yourself to work on whatever you’re doing until it goes off. If your self control doesn’t allow for a solution that simple, try one of these applications:
  • For Mac: Self Control – Enter in a URL and Self Control will prevent you from accessing it for up to 24 hours. Uninstalling the app won’t disable the timer, either.
  • For Chrome: Nanny – Block specific URLs, or set timers to restrict how long you can be on a site.  You can also have certain sites blocked on just weekdays or during work hours.
  • For Firefox: LeechBlock – Like Nanny, you can block sites or create timers. LeechBlock will also keep track of the time you spend on your “block” sites, so you can better see where you’re getting distracted.

With these tips, you can minimize the distractions and get that work done – leaving you plenty of time to catch up on Facebook guilt-free!

The Definition of Broadband Is Outdated – Let’s Change It


October 2, 2014 -

Recently, several Internet service providers have balked at the idea of broadband service being reclassified as 10 Mbps by the FCC. Socket is not one of them.
 
Under current FCC definitions, broadband in the United States is defined as 4 Mbps. Any ISP seeking to build out a broadband network using government funding or subsidies must therefore provide speeds of at least 4 Mbps to the users they plan to serve.
 
Socket received funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to build a fiber network to the underserved residents of rural Boone and Callaway Counties. This network currently provides speeds of at least 100 Mbps per household (25 times faster than the minimum), with faster speeds available to business customers. And we’re hoping to push that speed even higher.
 
Technology marches faster than anyone ever predicts. Just four years ago, the definition of broadband was a mere 768 kbps – that’s kilobits. The idea that those speeds would be adequate for people working from home or taking online classes today is unthinkable. So what will that threshold be in 2020?
 
Building new networks is costly and time consuming, and as a result, any company hoping to do it will need significant funding. It was true of both our power grid and our landline telephone system, and those networks have provided an immeasurable benefit to our nation as a whole.
 
Using these funds confers a responsibility to provide a broadband network that will have an equally beneficial effect – one that will last for decades to come. A 4 Mbps network does not meet those standards. In fact, a 10 Mbps network may not, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.
 
Add your voice to the conversation – learn more about what other ISPs are saying, and check out the full FCC proposal here.
 
UPDATE: As of December 11th, 2014, the FCC has decided to raise the definition of rural broadband from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

September 10th is "Internet Slowdown Day"


If you see a lot of loading icons on September 10th, it’s not a problem with your connection – and your favorite websites aren’t actually running any slower. But it is an example of what could happen if the FCC fails to pass comprehensive net neutrality rules.
 
Many websites will be displaying prominent loading icons on September 10th in order to create awareness of the threat to Net Neutrality, including Reddit, Vimeo, KickStarter, Etsy, Imgur, Mozilla (creators of Firefox), and Foursquare.
 
One of the proposals being reviewed by the FCC would allow for cable and Internet companies to prioritize service to paying websites, a move that would create Internet “fast lanes.” Rather than all websites being treated equally, service providers would get to choose which sites customers could access at a reasonable speed – a frightening prospect when many service providers also own or have stakes in large websites.
 
For a more in-depth explanation of Net Neutrality, check out our past blog post on the topic – Socket remains committed to the principles of a free and open Internet. And to learn more about “Slow Down The Internet,” check out the campaign’s website here.

Protect Your Data on the Cloud


While experts still aren’t quite sure how hackers accessed a slew of compromising celebrity photos, the source of the photos is clear – Apple’s iCloud storage service.
 
Cloud services can be extraordinarily useful, but like any technology, it’s important to understand how it works and how to protect that data. Here are some tips on preventing someone from seeing what you’d prefer they didn’t:
 
Get two-step authentication:
This is something that most online banking accounts require, and it’s easy enough to set up. When you try to access your accounts from a new device for the first time, you will be sent a code or pin number to an already-registered device – usually your cell phone or desktop computer.
 
If a hacker manages to guess your password, they would still need to go through this verification, since they wouldn’t be logging in from your computer. Visit Apple’s guide or Google’s to set this up, depending on your device.
 
Don’t Use Guessable Security Information:
If your password is an English word, or your security questions can be answered by viewing your Facebook page, they’re not safe. Some of the simplest password-cracking programs just run through the dictionary until they find a hit. And if someone is specifically targeting your account (as happened with many of the celebrity photo leaks), knowing a birthday and favorite pet’s name can get a hacker pretty far.
 
Check out our post on secure passwords for more tips.
 
Beware of Phone Backups
Because of automatic cloud backups, things you delete off your phone may not actually be gone. Double check your settings to make sure you’re not saving things you don’t want to be saving.
 
Remember that these features are meant to be helpful – in the off chance that your phone or device is lost, these backups allow for data recovery and syncing to a new device. Keep these risks in mind before you disable the service.
 

Google Drive:
If you have an Android device or Chromebook, chances are your documents, pictures and data are being backed up to Google Drive. Check any Google apps you have (Google Photos, Google+, Google Drive) to see if there are any documents or photos that you did not intend to upload. If you have linked your device to a Gmail account, it’s probable that there’s at least one app syncing something.
 
To disable auto backup, check Google’s guide for your particular device.
 
iCloud:
Users with an iPhone, Mac or other Apple product may not realize their information is being backed up to iCloud. To check, follow this guide from Apple to manage which apps automatically back up data.
 
Keep in mind that iCloud also keeps music, data and updates synced between a user’s multiple devices, so disabling all features may prevent the user’s devices from updating. For instance, if a user purchased an iTunes album on their desktop Mac, it might not be accessible through their iPhone until the devices are allowed to sync.

 
With the amount of data we share, keep, and consume, it’s inevitable that most people will need to use a cloud storage system at some point. But a little bit of knowledge (and caution) can do wonders for keeping your data safe.

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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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