By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives on the topics you want to learn more about. Today we are going to look at App Stores. What are they? And how do You use them?

What is an App Store?

At its most basic, App Stores are where you go to ‘purchase’ an app for your device. Notice I put them into the literary equivalent of air quotes? This is because purchasing does not mean the same thing to you and me as it does to Google or Apple. To most people the act of purchasing something is you trading money for goods or services. To these companies though, purchasing is any time you acquire a good or service from them. Free or paid, it does not matter, you are purchasing it. Thankfully, most apps people ‘purchase’ these days are free.

What is an App?

Good question. I get this confusion often. People in the tech space talk about them and programs without really explaining. So let’s take a quick moment to talk about apps. Apps are programs. Ever open Word or Photoshop on your computer? Well, you are opening an application we just call them programs. Basically, the substitution of app for program was a marketing thing. They could have kept calling them programs and today we’d all be talking about the Prog Store. But we aren’t, we are talking about the App Store.

Yeah, about that…I don’t have the App Store.

Are you sure about that? Because I bet you do have it, you just aren’t seeing the name App Store. App Store as a named location tends to be the main purview of Apple. If you have an iPhone or iPad you have an icon named App Store. If you aren’t on Apple though, that’s okay. You still have an App Store, they just call it something else. For Android devices the App Store is named Google Play or Google Play Store, or just Play Store.

Anything else?

Yes actually, glad you asked. I would like to take a moment and circle back to the free part of apps. Now don’t worry, I’m not about to go and reverse free but I do want to issue a warning or two. Many, many apps are as free as their price tag say. Google Maps, Photos, Mail, Docs, Slides, and more, they are all free. However, there are other free apps that are more likely to be called freemium. A freemium app is one you pay nothing for to download but there may be hidden costs down the road. Such costs might include: powerups in games, removal of ads, increased features, extra storage space, or other conveniences. You don’t have to pay for these things. Most apps are designed to still be usable without them. However, these add-on micro transactions are there to trickle money out of you. Instead of charging 20 dollars up front, they give the app away for free then charge you .99 cents here and there and, before you know it, you have suddenly paid much more than the 20 you could have.

This is not to say avoid all apps, just go in understanding that sometimes free doesn’t always come without a cost. Which, I think, is good advice in general.

But what if I want to pay for something? Is my information safe?

Not to be super spooky but, is anyone’s stuff safe? But in all seriousness, yes probably. It’s about as safe from attack as your information on Amazon or any other. And if you are really worried about someone getting your credit card information there are ways around that. Legal ways I might add.

Do go on…

Right. Companies know you don’t want to give them your information. Because of this, the big names in the business, Amazon, Google, and Apple, have prepaid cards you can purchase at most stores. Just buy the card for your particular service, Google Play for instance, then follow the instructions on the card to load your ‘money’ on the account. Now, any purchase requiring money will instead use the pre-set amount on the card you added. This is a great way to limit yourself or your loved ones. After all, many of these services, especially the games, are designed to draw you in and lay down far more money than you might have otherwise. The card puts a quick and easy limit on that and keeps your information safe.

You have a good point there. Anything else I should know?

No, not really. At this point the wonders of the App Store are open to you. Although, if I were you, I would make sure one of my first ‘purchases’ was for an anti-virus, especially if I was on an Android device. Malwarebytes is pretty good, but there are other free ones out there too. Other than that, remember…

Have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

Tech Tuesday – Search Engines

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome back to this, another Tech Tuesday. If you remember last week, we talked about Address Bars in our browsers, a key way to search for information and go directly to websites as needed. Now on that Tech Tuesday we discussed searching only in the broadest strokes. Why don’t we add some detail to those strokes, eh? So today we are going to look at how you search for things on the internet and for that we are going to look at Search Engines.

What are Search Engines?

At its broadest definition, a Search Engine is a tool you can use to find information in a database. Ever look for a word in a dictionary? If so, at that moment you were the Search Engine, and the dictionary was the database you were accessing. Computer-based ones do the same thing, looking through a large set of information for keywords and phrases. Only the size of these dictionaries is so unfathomably huge I cannot properly put them into words.

You say ‘Engines’, how many are there?

There are more out there than you may thing. In fact, there are so many it can be very hard to keep track of them all. Here are a few you may have heard of: AOL, Yahoo, Bing, and Google. Google is THE premier name when it comes to searching for information on the internet, so much so that the act of searching is now called googling it. Now just because Google has placed themselves at center-stage does not mean it is the best, it is just the most well-known. The others mentioned have their pluses and minuses depending on you the user. For me, if I am searching for high-quality, high-resolution, images I will often go to Microsoft’s Bing because I find their selection slightly better. That being said, I often will just stick with Google since its overall database has been used more and is slightly more robust.

If you don’t want to have your information used for tracking and advertising you can use a Search Engine called DuckDuckGo.

Tracking? What is tracking me?

Now this will sound a little scary, but most of the internet is, in some way, tracking you. This tracking is used to learn more about you. Knowing you have searched for a certain brand of shoes, or for a cool vacation allows the companies running the Search Engine to sell the fact that you searched for those things to companies who can advertise to you. Now this can be a good thing and it can be a bad one too depending on your point of view. Thankfully, more companies are realizing customers do not appreciate their advertising practices and are changing their tactics and allowing you to opt out of their targeted advertising. Not all are, however, hence DuckDuckGo, which does not track you at all. Ads with them are based off what you searched for, as if you were at a store and staff suggested a purchase based on what you just grabbed.

Wait, my Search Engine just changed, what’s up?

Hopefully you will never encounter this, but sometimes your Search Engine will change without warning. There are a few reasons why this could happen so let’s take a look at them.

You live with someone else.

If you live with someone else, they might have changed the Search Engine on your computer. As with anything else, the choice of Search Engines can become almost cult-like. People have been known to change someone else’s Search Engine just because it was not the one they preferred. If that happens to you, simply turn it back in your browser’s settings.

You updated something.

While this does not happen as much anymore, sometimes when you update Windows or your browser some of the settings will be returned to factory standard. One common item to be reset is your browser’s Search Engine. Microsoft-branded browsers, Internet Explorer and Edge, can switch from Google or Yahoo back to Bing. While Google-made Chrome is likely to change back to Google. This is annoying to be sure but, as with the above, just change it in your browser’s settings.

Your browser has been hijacked.

This option is, unfortunately, as ominous as it sounds. If someone in your home hasn’t changed your Search Engine and your update hasn’t either, then a virus or malware has taken control of your browser and has switched it. When this happens, you will need to run an anti-virus and an anti-malware scan on your computer. You may have to do it multiple times depending on the infection. You will also have to remove any virus-installed products from the machine through your computer’s Uninstall Programs area and remove the rogue Search Engines from your browser.

Well that was spooky, anything else?

Well there is Incognito Mode but that doesn’t have anything to do with Search Engines and we will talk more about it at a later date. So, for right now, not really. We’ve talked about Search Engines and their uses. Now it’s up to you to use them and learn more. More about Search Engines and more about the world around you.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.