Rich Warren | It pays to be a little paranoid

Rich Warren | It pays to be a little paranoid

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. My friend Thom lives by that axiom. With the recent Facebook revelations, not to mention the Panera, et. al. hacks, apparently the bad guys not only know our politics, but also the kind of bread you want for your sandwich.

Recently, the U.S. government leaned on Chinese electronics companies with government ties, Huawei and ZTE, to restrict their smartphone sales in this country. Last year, the government came down like a hammer on Russian company Kapersky, which sells antivirus and internet security programs here.

In the past year, I've had one of my credit cards replaced twice and the other once because of fraud. Both card companies were very cooperative. One was very proactive and caught the bogus charges before I did. Even though I was not charged, someone paid for the fraud. This results in higher prices somewhere in the chain.

Not apropos to my credit cards, but ZTE manufactured my smartphone and Kapersky protects my computer. So perhaps the Chinese and Russians know everything about me. Not that I wish to support America's competitors or enemies, depending how you view them.

ZTE marketed the best phone for the money. In every test, Kapersky scores at the top of antivirus software. Most likely when my current phone no longer upgrades to the newest Android iteration, I'll replace it with a Google Pixel phone. Then I remember that Google keeps track of everything. When my current subscription expires, I may replace Kapersky with Bitdefender. Of course, I'm not sure how much I can trust any antivirus program. Several come from Eastern European countries or China.

If, in fact, China and Russia are spying on me, there must be some very bored snoops tracking me. In fact, I would bet most of us are putting those snoops to sleep, because few of us have much to hide. A University of Illinois physics or chemistry professor specializing in cutting-edge research or someone mulling becoming a political candidate might want to be more wary.

Data security resembles personal hygiene. Avoid shaking hands, wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. Be aware of the products you use, their origin and the software and apps you load into your computer or smartphone. Don't sign up for any perks you won't regularly use. Decide the value of retail perks, whether from Thorntons, Macy's, or Binny's, versus your privacy. (I'm not denigrating these merchants, but merely using them as generic examples. Any company can be hacked.) Does it matter if a group of nefarious individuals know the brand of beef jerky or underwear you buy?

The major problems occur when miscreants compile this data to procure additional information to build a complete profile of you to either sway your political leanings or access your bank accounts and credit cards. As to my friend Thom's maxim, it pays to be a little paranoid, but there's not a lot you easily can do to escape in our current data-driven world.

On a different topic, a reader wondered why his favorite radio stations disappeared from his C. Crane internet radio. He was told they only would be available through TuneIn radio, a computer/smartphone/tablet app that offers many radio stations, but not available on his Crane. Apparently, Crane relies on a database from in England. If Reciva drops a station, it vanishes from Crane.

Nearly all companies marketing internet radios rely on third-party databases to "tune" radio stations. Thus, the source of the database determines what stations the internet radio delivers. I suggested he try a Bose SoundTouch or Sonos internet radio. Most broadcast radio stations do not relinquish their internet streams solely to TuneIn. Selecting an internet station bears no relationship to tuning an over-the-air station. Incidentally, all providers of internet radios keep track of your station choices and listening habits. No privacy there either.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at

Topics (2):Internet, Television