Tech Fact Or Fiction

GREENSBORO, NC -- From waterlogged phones in bags of rice, to magnets that destroy all your information. Some of these tech stories are fact, some are fiction. Kent Meeker from Tech Scout is sorting out what is fact and what is fiction.

#1. Laptops Are Watching You (via built in camera)

Virtually all laptops have a built in camera. It's nice because it opens our world up to Skype video chats and taking crazy selfies of ourselves. But is that camera always on? Is your laptop watching you?

A. No, you're laptop is not watching you. It doesn't care if your hair is a mess or that you just woke up. However, if your laptop is compromised (virus), then it is entirely possible that a hacker, with malicious intent, is. Most laptop cameras have a little light or screen message indicating the camera is active. If this light/message is on.....then your camera is on. If you didn't turn it on then either a program or someone who has access to your computer did. To be fair, hackers have learned how to disable this light as well. As a precautionary measure, some of us put a black piece of electrical tape over the camera lens to prevent someone from using it.

#2. Magnets Will Erase Your Important Data

The story goes that an unfortunately placed magnet can erase all of your data from a laptop hard drive, thumb drive, or external media device. Is it true? Is your secret financial data, treasured family photos, or your entire 10 GB collection of hilarious cat videos are in jeopardy of ultimate destruction because there is a magnet in the room?

A. No. A common household magnet cannot overcome the extensive shielding of a modern hard disk drive. If you find yourself in a facility that houses a 1.5 Tesla MRI-caliber superconductive electromagnet....then you should worry. Otherwise, rest easy. It would take a seriously strong magnet, one which you more than likely will never own, to do that kind of damage. Incidentally, solid state drives, found in iPads, smartphones, and expensive laptops, don't use magnetic data storage, and therefore almost totally immune to erasing or "degaussing" effect of magnets. The little unshielded magnetic strips like ones that are on hotel key cards or your credit cards.....that's a different story.

#3. Laptops Should Be Turned Off When Not in Use

Laptop batteries are expensive and some are almost impossible to replace (thanks Apple). Word on the street is that turning your laptop off when your not using it 'saves' your battery and extends its life. True?

A. No....not really. Years and years and years ago, laptops used nickel metal hydride batteries that were susceptible to all sorts of problems. Mainly "memory effect". To sidestep that issue, most of us would unplug our laptops and let the battery drain completely down. Today's laptops don't have this annoying problem as they use lithium batteries (which have a two or three year lifespan....regardless of how often they're discharged). Likewise, turning your laptop off to preserve overall battery life is a myth. It simply doesn't matter anymore. Note: Smartphones and tablets use lithium batteries as well. So go ahead and keep your devices on.

#4. Identity Theft When Donating Used/Old Computers

You've got an old Windows 95 or *gasp* Windows Vista machine that is ready to be decommissioned but don't want it added to the landfill. Good for you! Donating it to a church, recycling center, or Goodwill is a great way to help out people as well as the environment. But what about your personal data? It's been said that personal information, as well as peoples identities, are being stolen. Is that true?

A. Yes. <---RESOUNDING YES! This is happening more than the media reports. Destroy your hard drives before sending them out to be recycled (see WFMY segment on this). It is extremely easy for someone who is armed with a couple of programs and an external hard drive reader to quickly acquire ANY information on your computer.

#5. Anything You Delete From Your Hard Drive Is Gone Forever

So you deleted an important file from your computer, purposely, so it's gone forever, right? No prying eyes will ever see it now?

A. No. It's still there. Sadly, the truth is it's very difficult to permanently get rid of your data. Depending on the expertise of this individual trying to retrieve said data it could take no more than a few minutes to retrieve that file. Great if you've accidentally deleted something. Terrible if you didn't want prying eyes to see it. There are many programs that claim to permanently delete data but most are just performing encryption on those files. Solution? See #4. Destroy the drive.

#6. Putting a Water Damaged Cellphone In A Bag Of Rice Will Dry It Out

So you've dropped your cellphone in the public pool. (Or at least that's what you told people.) Is it ruined forever? Some people say putting your phone in a bag of rice for 2 days will dry it out and allow it to return back to normal. True?

A. Yes....and no. There are stories on the internet that swing both ways on this one. But lets just examine the facts. Rice can absorb water...this is true. But rice won't draw water out of a tightly sealed smartphone. It just won't. So why do people claim that putting their phone in a bag of rice for 2 days helped? Because they waited two days. Odds are, the phone sat for two days and slowly evaporated (or drained) the excess water returning the phone to a usable state.

Additionally: Best procedure for a wet phone: After retrieving it from the water DO NOT attempt to turn it on (and turn it off it's somehow still on). Water+Electrical(battery) Current = a fried phone. DO NOT take a hairdryer to it. You're only making it worse. DO remove the battery (if possible) and let it sit for several days before attempting to power it back up.

#7. Malware and Virus's are the same thing

Which would make you less nervous?

"You have a virus."

"You have Malware."

Or, does it even matter? They are the same thing, right?

A. No. Malware is a process where a computer gathers, tracks, and reports specific information about your computer/web usage to an external location. This is a privacy issue and can drastically slow your computer down. A virus typically destroys data, locks your computer, or causes your system to do things you didn't authorize. Most virus's incorporate a malware component (why not snag as much data as possible before your destroy it, right?). Both are detrimental to your computer but are not the same thing (even though they are used together in most instances). In fact, when done right, malware isn't even noticeable (your machine won't 'slow down' alerting you there is something wrong).....and that's the scary part.

You can ask tech expert Kent Meeker your questions:


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