Hurricane specialist Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center tweeted that the world had never seen anything like the hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia -- three severe storms threatening land simultaneously. All the while it took more than two weeks for flood waters to recede in Houston, and more than a million acres have burned in Montana.
Many Americans have been forced from their homes, and they might not have homes to which to return. Even after the wildfires stop burning and the hurricanes dissipate, it could be weeks before roads are passable and utilities restored. There were reportedly 3.3 million Floridians without power Sunday night. And just because you can go home doesn’t mean you can live in your home. It could take months to rebuild and repair all the homes affected by the hurricanes and wildfires.
The increasing instances and intensities of these destructive weather events will further increase insurance rates, but technology can help victims of hurricanes and wildfires save money and save their sanity during most trying times. Here are five apps to help you recover from hurricanes and wildfires.
Waze is the best traffic navigation app out there. I tried it specifically because Google Maps kept recommending routes through construction zones that should have been avoided. Waze does a much better job avoiding construction and road closures because its users, called Wazers, help report those closures. When you’re trying to navigate a hurricane or wildfire, the last thing you need is to travel down a road only to be forced to turn around because the road is closed due to flooding or wildfires.
You might also need the assistance of police while navigating hurricanes and wildfires, and Wazers report the location of police officers, too. The best part about Waze is you can start your route using a Wifi hotspot or mobile data, and if you lose your connection, the app will still display your location and route. Wifi and mobile data services will most certainly be affected by the hurricanes, so having a GPS that will work regardless is invaluable to hurricane victims.
Insurance companies only offer so much money for so many days when people are forced from their homes due to flood or fire. The number of days and maximum payout will depend on your homeowner’s insurance plan, but it’s almost assuredly not enough, especially if you don’t have family or friends nearby with whom you can stay and are forced to pay for hotel rooms.
The ParkAdvisor app is free and provides a cheaper alternative to hotels. Plus, you can try to use this time away from home to take that family camping vacation you keep putting off. Camping will likely help you and your family restore its relationship with nature despite it testing your resolve. America has a lot to offer, and seeing it with your family around a campfire will take your mind off the rebuilding that will be required upon your return home.
A foundation formed to help cyclists find places to rest their legs and get a warm shower, Warmshowers.org could really come in handy for hurricane and wildfire victims. If you rely on well water and have no electricity to pump the water into the well, you only have access to water until the well is dry. This happened to us in Eastern Montana after a “wind event” took out power for about a week. Since not all campgrounds provide access to water, getting a warm shower regularly can be one of the hardest things facing those recovering from hurricanes and wildfires.
The mail is still delivered as soon as it can be delivered, so you can still order necessities online and have them delivered whether you’re at home or away from home. Say you need a solar panel to charge your mobile devices because power is still out at your place. You can have one delivered the next day. Depending on your location, you can have some items shipped the same day if you’re a Prime member.
Victims of hurricanes and wildfires who return to find homes and furnishings destroyed will be required to take inventory of the items for insurance purposes. Sortly allows you to easily create and export lists, including photos, SKU, UPC or serial numbers, and notes on damage or original purchase price and date. You can even tag the items of your list so you can easily find them later.
Don’t recover from hurricanes Harvey and Irma as you did Katrina or Sandy. Use technology to your advantage and help make hurricane and wildfire recovery easier on you and your family.
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Comcast’s cable television, telephone, and internet arm, Xfinity, has entered the mobile phone leasing industry. You can now lease a smartphone from Xfinity Mobile.
The move likely comes as no surprise to Xfinity customers, who provide 16 million public wifi hotspots available to every other Xfinity customer in the United States. And it makes sense for Xfinity to take advantage of its network of public wifi hotspots made available by its customers for their customers.
While there were plenty of complaints from customers whose rented wireless routers were used by the company to broadcast public signals to other Xfinity customers, Xfinity allows customers to disable the public signal, despite how difficult the process might have been in the past. Customers who don’t disable the public signals are basically sharing internet bandwidth for which they pay with their fellow Xfinity customers -- a socialized hotspot network, if you will.
When you connect to a public Xfinity wifi hotspot for the first time, you’ll be asked to enter your Xfinity email and password to verify that you are a member of the Xfinity party. Your mobile device will then connect to every Xfinity wifi hotspot within range automatically (unless you deactivate auto-connect). This helps Xfinity customers use less data and save money, which was exactly what the Xfinity customer service representative echoed.
“Our plans are designed specifically to save you money,” he said. And I believe him because Xfinity Mobile offers a single gigabyte of data for just $12. It’s website states you could save anywhere from $40 per month when you switch from T-Mobile and $90 per month when switching from AT&T with their $12 per gigabyte of data plan.
According to 20SomethingFinance.com’s Jan. 2017 report, only Freedom Pop offers a cheaper mobile data plan (it’s free up to 500 texts, 200 minutes and 500 MB). Republic Wireless plans start at $15 per month for unlimited talk and text but no mobile data. Republic offers 1 GB of mobile data for $20 per month.
Xfinity Mobile is going to reap the benefits of people pinching pennies due to rising costs for rent, energy and transportation, prescription drugs and health insurance, and cable and internet services. Hell, the newly appointed Republican head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, doesn’t think people need high-speed internet service anymore because mobile data is good enough, making it more expensive for rural America to get online.
Xfinity is attempting to take advantage of a market that’s been underserved -- the poor. Even poor people need to get online, and while many have access to public wifi hotspots made available through their municipality, library or McDonald’s, not all of them have high-speed access to the internet at all times in their own homes. Xfinity Mobile can give them that without a $50-per-month internet bill or $100-per-month cable bill.
I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to internet service providers in my area. Xfinity was the only provider in my area that offered upload and download speeds that would allow me to do what I need to do everyday.
I had a terrible experience having Xfinity internet installed. While I bought my own modem and router, and had the self-installation kit sent to my house, no one bothered to check and see if my cable line was internet ready or capable of receiving a signal. It took weeks to get setup, but Xfinity made it right.
It’s going to be difficult for me to pass up on this deal now that I’m an Xfinity customer. While you can’t bring your own phone to Xfinity Mobile yet, I’m probably due for an upgrade, and since I don’t pay a mobile carrier currently, I’m in the perfect situation to be an early adopter.
I don’t even need to make calls or send texts. There are apps for that. But what I’d really like is to be able to use Google Maps with or without an Xfinity wifi hotspot. Hotspots are hard to come by when you’re driving in traffic at 70 miles per hour, and the last thing I want is for anyone to be fumbling with their phone while driving.
One gigabyte of data per month would be just enough to use my smartphone as a GPS and occasionally check email without wifi. That’s all I need, and I’m willing to pay $144 per year for something that cost me $540 per year with StraightTalk Wireless before I dumped them. I was paying $600 per year with Verizon Wireless before that, so mobile data is becoming more available to low-income Americans thanks to Xfinity Mobile.
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The United States Supreme Court’s next decision will determine whether a warrant is needed for law enforcement to review your cellphone location data. It was announced Monday that Carpenter v. U.S. will be heard by the Supreme Court and determine whether your cellphone location data is your cellphone location data and not public information.
Timothy Carpenter is alleged to have committed multiple armed robberies in the Midwest from 2010 to 2011, but he was convicted of six robberies because a prosecutor sought and obtained cellphone location data spanning more than five months, placing Carpenter in the area of the crimes.
Currently, law enforcement needs no warrant to view cellphone location data because of the Stored Communications Act, which was supposed to bolster the weak Fourth Amendment when it comes to protecting your data stored online. Only a subpoena and prior notice are required of law enforcement to entice a service provider to disclose the contents of an email or files stored online.
Carpenter’s appeal to three judges of the Sixth Circuit was unsuccessful because Carpenter “had no reasonable expectation of privacy in cellphone location records held by his service provider.” Expect the conservative majority Supreme Court to uphold this decision because you are not required to use a cellphone. You choose to use a cellphone because of how much easier it makes your life. You are not required to store information online. You choose to store information online so you can easily access it from anywhere. Again, you are choosing serenity over security -- publicity over privacy. You are at the discretion of your cellphone carrier when you sign a contract or purchase minutes for your cellphone. It’s no different than signing a contract with an internet service provider who can monitor your online habits and sell that information to advertisers.
Storing data online is a form of publication. Regardless of how you encrypt it or password-protect it, people who want access will get it. There are things you can do to avoid ending up like Carpenter, though.
If you’re going to commit a crime, turn off your location services in the privacy settings of your cellphone. You can always turn location services back on when you’re looking for a place to eat near you or trying to catch a bus, but unless you want law enforcement and the government to know your exact whereabouts at any given time, turn off location services when you don’t require them.
Turning off location services does not keep law enforcement or the government from determining your approximate location. As long as you are connected to a cell tower, your carrier can determine your approximate location. The only way to avoid this is to turn off your cellphone altogether.
One of the easiest ways people can gain access to cellphone data is by obtaining a cellphone that unlocks via the fingerprint scanner. Of course, many of the known hacks still require the finger of the cellphone owner to create a mold, but imagine you’re suspected of a crime like Carpenter. All authorities would need to unlock the data on your cellphone is your finger, and courts have repeatedly ruled with law enforcement on this issue.
If you’re dead, whoever wants to access your phone doesn’t even need your permission. Say you recorded video or audio of a murder. The murderer would just need your dead hand to delete the evidence. Determining which of the 10,000 possible combinations your passcode could be would take a lot longer.
A recent review of four smartphones for privacy and security by Gadget Hacks resulted in the Blackphone 2 taking the title as most secure cellphone. Blackphone’s manufacturer Silent Circle offers a year’s worth of encrypted phone calls and messages for free, so not even your carrier can intercept your communications. The phone also warns you when it’s connected to a suspicious cell tower in an attempt to protect your calls and text messages from StingRay surveillance devices used by the government.
What might be the best feature of the Blackphone, though, is the speed in which bugs are fixed. Silent Circle offers up to $1,024 for any bugs found with the phone’s security, and security updates that fix known bugs are released within 72 hours of the bug being discovered. The other three phones reviewed have security patches ready in a month or so.
One of the best ways to protect your mobile data is to delete it if your phone is lost or stolen. With Find My iPhone, you can log on to iCloud and delete your data from any other device. Here’s how you do it on Android devices.
If you want to protect your cellphone data, backing it up to the cloud is pretty oxymoronic. Your backup data should be stored on a secure computer or hard drive that’s encrypted and password-protected. You should keep multiple, encrypted backups as well, in case your computer drive fails.
I cannot stress enough the importance, convenience and sense of security that comes with using a virtual private network. For less than $4 per month, you can dictate the IP address location of all your devices so internet service providers and websites can’t monitor your online habits. This comes in handy when you use public wifi networks at the library, restaurants or even at the office. You’re more likely to come across spies on these networks, but with a VPN, the spies can’t see a thing. It really is worth the money. Plus, you can use a VPN to workaround blackout restrictions so you can watch your favorite baseball team’s games online.
Unless you’re using an iPhone, you should have some sort of anti-malware and antivirus app on your cellphone. Apple’s iOS is more secure by design, but if you jailbreak your iPhone, you should be using an anti-malware and antivirus app. Over 95 percent of malware attacks were targeting Android devices, so if you use an Android device, it’s critical that you have a line of defense against these attacks. You can even install a firewall to protect your device.
The best thing you can do to limit the amount of data cellphone carriers have on you is to not pay a cellphone carrier for service. Talkatone is a free, wifi calling and messaging service that allows you to do everything a cellphone carrier provides as long as you’re connected to a wifi network. If you do most of your calling and messaging from a place with a wifi network, you seldom need to use a cellphone tower, so don’t.
The only downside to not having cellphone data is if you live in a rural area that lacks public wifi networks. It makes it hard to send and receive calls and messages if you’re rarely around a wifi. If you rely on your cellphone as a GPS while driving, you’ll sacrifice that convenience, but we’ve managed to find our way with maps and atlases for centuries.
So there’s seven ways to protect your cellphone data. Take advantage of all of them so you don’t end up like Timothy Carpenter, whether you’re guilty or not.
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