Ask Rick Maybury 2014



Ask Rick 336 22/11/14


Tracker Cracker

How worried should I be about the denizens of the Internet watching my activities? I have configured all of the privacy, cookie and history settings in my preferred browser (Firefox) and enabled Private Browsing mode, so can I still be monitored? Not that I have anything to hide, I just don’t like being spied upon.

David Pope, by email


Be concerned, very concerned! It helps if you avoid divulging personal information on social media and the steps you have taken have limited your exposure to some of the more blatant nosey parkers but they never stop coming up with new ways to watch and follow you on the Internet. There are plenty of exotic ways to remain anonymous online but since you are using Firefox and hopefully not indulging in any risky behaviour you should road test a free app called Ghostery. (versions are also available for IE, Chrome and Safari and Android and iOS devices. It shows you who is attempting to collect information, and blocks them all, using a constantly updated database. To install it in Firefox go to Tools > Add-Ons, type Ghostery in the search box. Make sure that you enable auto updating and select all of the Tracking options.   



Location Frustration

We recently had our BT Home Hub replaced after many download speed issues. This has greatly improved broadband speed on our desktop computer, but it has caused our iPad to relocate us on all apps to an address in Northampton. Unfortunately, we live in Suffolk.

Annie and Peter Eaton, by email


The first thing to do is establish where in the world your current IP address places you, and you can do this on your PC by going to the website ( This tells you where the server to which your IP address has been assigned, is located. It is usually fairly close, generally within a few miles of your home, but IP addresses are distributed in blocks so it could just as easily point to a more distant location. However, it can change; most ISPs issue what are known as dynamic IP addresses and you get a new one every time the router is turned off, or the service is interrupted.


Now we come to iPads and iPhones, which use a system called Location Services to figure out where you are. Apple is notoriously secretive about the fine details but basically it combines information from GPS receivers and cellular networks (on 3G models) and crowd-sourced data for Wi-Fi hotspots and networks. You can try resetting Location Services by switching it off (Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Off), then open Google Maps etc. Tap the location arrow, it prompt you to switch Location Services back on and with luck it should find you fairly quickly.


There is a fly in the ointment, though, and that is your new router, which may have been previously used in Northampton, where it was logged by Apple’s Location Service database. It is unclear if the database uses the router’s unique and fixed MAC address or its SSID (Service Side Identifier), which you can change, but it if you know your way around your router’s setup menu it is worth doing a full factory reset and creating a new SSID. One last thing to try, and it is a long shot, is ask a friend with an iPhone to come to your home and go through the Location Services procedure outlined above. It is possible that the data from their phone will speed up the database update. It should be corrected eventually though, and apparently the database is routinely purged of stale data.



Conference Call

I am a member of a society that holds committee meetings three or four times a year for between 6 and 10 people. Our membership is widespread and meetings involve a considerable expenditure of time and travel. (My next meeting will involve me in 500 miles and a possible overnight stay). Would it be a practical proposition to set up a videoconference? A brief look at the net suggests that software is aimed at business users and costs accordingly. Our funds and IT skills are limited.

Geoff Smith, by email


Searching the web for video conferencing services and software will result in a lot of expensive business oriented solutions but if you change the search terms slightly, to group video calls or video chat, you will find that there are plenty of no-cost alternatives. The best place to start is Skype, which supports group video for up to 10 people. There are no serious compatibility problems and it is completely free. It is also very easy to setup and use, and provided everyone involved has access to a reasonably fast broadband service, the results can be very good indeed. Some of your fellow committee members may already have it; these days the software (or app) is widely pre-installed on new devices and computers. If not, it is available for free for all popular operating systems (Windows, MAC OS, iOS, Linux and Android). There is a short video tutorial on group video calls and a link to the download at:



Beating The System

I have an HP computer with Windows 7. Defragmentation results shows that drive C: is 3 percent fragmented, HP Recovery drive D: is 0 percent fragmented and System is 19 percent fragmented. I have tried to find out, via Help and Support, how to defrag System but without success. Finally I tried HP Support and they wanted a year's contract costing £8 per month. Will you tell me please what to do?

Keith Hook, by email


Keep your credit card in your wallet and ignore it. The System partition is not a physical drive, it is protected, cannot be defragged and the files it contains have no impact on performance. In fact it is a mystery why it is even shown on the list as it occupies a relatively small amount of disc space and due to the way files are stored, in fixed locations, those fragmentation results are pretty much meaningless. 




© R. Maybury 2014 0311

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