The Time My Phone Spied On Me

Moments before Thanskgiving Dinner this year, I almost threw my phone across the room with the intent of shattering it into a million tiny pieces.

Earlier that day, I’d been having a conversation in our living room about carpet cleaning while the baby was doing some tummy time. The rest of the morning was a whirlwind of running a 5k, showering, and getting the baby ready and out the door to be with family, so when I had a moment to sit down, I decided to check Instagram (instead of watching football). As I scrolled through my feed, I saw an ad. Not unusual, but this was an ad for a carpet cleaning service.

Between all the craziness of the morning, I hadn’t had a chance to search online for carpet cleaning services, nor was I particularly interested- what I had said was “It probably wouldn’t hurt to buy some carpet cleaner.”

My kneejerk reaction was to destroy my phone (I have a serious distrust of robots/A.I. on a good day). Instead, I was informed by someone that I simply had to turn my microphone off for certain apps (the same ad appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, but I assume that was because Instagram and Facebook are connected). Anyway, it turns out that on iPhones, you have to go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone, and see what Apps have Microphone on. It turns out, I had both Facebook and Instagram on, as well as Snapchat.

Facebook vehemently denies that it uses our microphones to listen to us. Well, what they actually said was “…it would only use the microphone on someone’s cell if the app had permission to do so and if the user was engaging in a microphone-specific activity.” In this post from Marketing Land, Facebook addresses allegations that it was using the microphone to target ads, which they continue to deny (I haven’t found anything mentioning whether Instagram might be listening, though…).

To be fair, you have to give these apps permission to use your microphone, so it’s not like it happened without an opt-in. The tricky part is, certain features of these apps require microphone use to use, and it doesn’t disclose any other stuff that the microphone could be used for.

For instance, I allowed Facebook to have microphone access because in order to record a live video from your phone, you obviously need to utilize the microphone so people can hear you (unless, for some reason, you’re doing a “silent film” style live broadcast). On Instagram, if you want to do Stories (the little 24 hour posts), you have to enable both camera and microphone access.

Now, I’m not opposed to giving these apps permission to use my microphone so I can record video or posts of my child hiccupping that are probably only endearing to me personally, but it would be nice to know what exactly this permission entails (like, trying to get me to hire a certain carpet cleaning service, which may actually work, but that’s besides the point).

Moral of the story: read the fine print, and if there is no fine print, maybe think long and hard about what you might be giving permission for. This could all be paranoia/speculation, but regardless, it was fairly creepy.

Check out our related post, Is your phone listening to you? for additional slightly creepy info.

Can Your Phone Do That?

**This post contains affiliate links**

In addition to phone cases that do more, there are lots of accessories and attachments available that can transform your phone into any other tool you may need for your business. I couldn’t cover ALL the possible phone accessories/attachments in one blog post, since there are so many (and you can only really use one or two at a time, otherwise you’d have an Inspector Gadget phone). The following phone related gadgets are practical and affordable, plus their application can mean saving money on an extra piece of equipment.

Car Mount. This is helpful for people who travel a lot for work related purposes, but it can also be useful if you need a mount for pretty much any reason. This mount attaches to many different surfaces, so you can set it up on your window, wall, kitchen counter, and pretty much anywhere else. Think about anytime you’ve been using Google Maps on your phone for directions while trying to drive- not exactly a safe situation unless you have an extra arm. There are several different types of mounts available for different prices, but here is a recent list of 17 to get an idea.

Square Reader: If you’ve ever needed to accept a card payment from a customer on the go or without a retail setup, the Square Reader lets you swipe from your phone. To get the reader, all you have to do is sign up for a Square account and you’ll get the magstripe reader. Although it costs a little extra, you can purchase a Square Chip Reader for $29 that reads both chip cards and the usual stripe. Either way, the processing fee is 2.75% (which, if you consider the convenience factor is a bit of a fair trade). The reader works online and offline, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of a bad internet/data connection in order to accept payments.

Keyboard. A useful tool for freelancers/people who may not have the budget to purchase a laptop but need to work on the go. Typing on your phone’s keypad is fine for shorter content, but as someone who has to type a lot of longer content, that tiny keyboard gets old fast. Some keyboards can be connected physically or through Bluetooth. Some of these keyboards range from $30-$130, depending on the brand. A couple features to consider- whether or not it comes with a stand (which I’d recommend if you don’t already have one to keep your phone upright while you type), and whether or not you want it to fold (which may be useful if you pack up and go a lot). We really like the ZAGG keyboard– it’s foldable, wireless, and can connect to your smartphone.

Dongles. Need to connect your phone to a projector? Certain dongles (the funny name for certain cords that connect your phone to another device) can hook you up. This Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter will connect your phone to a projector or any compatible AV device. For Samsung users, this HDMI cable will also do the trick. It’s also a great way to do movie night (not really a business application, but a fun idea nevertheless).

Selfie Stick. Don’t knock it till you try it. Selfie sticks are not the magic wand of narcissistic millennials, they can also have a business application. You can use them to get a better vantage point for a picture, recording live videos, and more. (Additional ideas for using a selfie stick include self defense and feeding your pets). Selfie Sticks may seem like a frivolous phone accessory for your business, but you’d be surprised at how handy they can actually be.

Are there any practical phone accessories you’ve found helpful that got neglected in this post? Let us know! We love hearing about useful tech stuff 🙂

Phone Cases That Do More

**This post contains affiliate links**

Most people with cell phones consider cases a necessary add-on. After all, who wants to be left in the lurch with a shattered screen or malfunctioning phone after it has a little lovetap with the ground? Phone cases are also a way to show off a bit of individuality (since we all have the same 2-3 phones, it’s nice to feel like we’re standing out in some small way). My favorite former case was my iPhone 5’s Otterbox, which finally had to be retired, but if I dropped my phone it would just bounce right back up into my hand (more or less).

Although phone cases are a necessity nowadays, there are a variety of functional cases that can actually benefit your business while protecting your phone.

In1 Case Tool Kit: If you’re like me, you don’t think a whole lot about having a tool kit until that moment strikes when you suddenly need one. The In1 Case not only has a built-in kit with different tools, including ball point pens, a nail file, tweezers, a set of scissors, a Philips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, a bottle opener, and a kick stand. So, you probably aren’t going to be able to do any major renovation projects with this phone case, but you can safely remove a splinter or tidy up your nails before a meeting on-the-go. And, it’s TSA compliant, so you can still travel with it.

Lifeproof: Lifeproof is perfect for anyone who needs something that’s a step up from Otterbox (which I wasn’t even sure was possible until recently). For those working around a lot of water, dirt, or out in the elements in general, this case has you (and your phone) covered. Beyond just being waterproof, this case can remain submerged in 2 meters of water for up to an hour without any damage to your phone. It can handle a drop from 2 meters high, and you can take it on your next ski trip without worrying about snow getting inside. This case is perfect for anyone who is active/adventurous/maybe a tad careless.

Megaverse Anti-Gravity: If you’ve ever tried watching a YouTube tutorial on something that requires both hands while also trying to hold your phone, you’re not alone in this predicament. Instead of trying to grow a third arm, the Megaverse Anti-Gravity case is the perfect solution. This case can stick to just about any surface: “…windows, mirrors, whiteboards, metal, kitchen cabinets, tile, flat car dashboards and more.” You can lift weights or bake while binge-watching your latest show on Netflix and not having to worry about dropping a dumbbell or spilling flour all over your phone. It’s also perfect for hands-free selfies/live-videos. The cases are also slightly more customized, with built-in wallets and bottle-openers (why have a case that can only do one cool thing?)

Cases that Charge: A lot of freelancers or even just on the move a lot during the workday and don’t have time to sit around plugged into a wall, a phone case that acts as a battery pack may be a good idea for you. Since there are so many different types of phones out there, I’m just linking to the Amazon best seller list (personally I’m an iPhone user but Samsung is represented here as well). Continuing on the “more than one cool thing” idea, some of these cases have kickstands or other features.

Edible Gummy iPhone Case: This was an intriguing find during internet travels that I had to look into. Although I’m not convinced this case provides a lot of protection to your phone, you can still at least gnaw on your phone case if you find yourself trapped somewhere without access to other food. The flavors are pretty intriguing, too, with offerings like Bubble Tea, Fermented Apple, and…Fish Lips? I also really enjoyed the product photo (below).

Having a phone inevitably means having a phone case, but you might be able to find something that can bring something extra to the table for you and/or your business.

Setting Technology Boundaries

“Are those all your notifications?!” A friend looked at my phone, horrified.


This is my phone. I know, I'm overwhelmed too.

This is my phone. I know, I’m overwhelmed too.

As a business owner (or heck, just someone who lives in the world), it can be challenging to figure out tech manners and a tech personal code of conduct.

I recently decided to set a couple personal boundaries with my phone:
1) Turn off email notifications. Me getting an email is as frequent as my dog thinking about food.
2) Sleep with my phone outside my bedroom.

I posted this ‘boundaries’ idea to Facebook and got some great ideas from others about it.

Differentiate Between ‘Work’ and ‘Personal’

As you see, I sort of started to do this here (‘Personal Social’ versus ‘Social Media’) but did not fully commit. My friends have ideas on this.

From Sarah:
I use different apps for personal and work email. Work email goes in an app I have to open a folder for — means it isn’t right there in my home screen every time I look down.

From Jeremy:
My notification light is different for different email accounts.

From Jesse:
I turned off all my social media notifications (except for work) and that helps a ton!

Use Do Not Disturb… And Tell People

My friend Kathy brought up the point about modeling behavior. The adage ‘What you put up with, you end up with’ applies to tech too. Here are some ways people made themselves incommunicado without trying to make people uncomfortable.

From Jake:
There is a do not disturb function on most phones. Between 11 pm and 6 am it stays silent.

(Note, there was a lot of variation as to times people had this turned on. Let’s say I can now tell which of my friends are more night owls and which are more morning people.)

From Brian
I use DND on my phone from 10pm until 9am with certain numbers programmed to break through in case of real emergencies.

From Kathy:
I let people know verbally and in written communication that I will respond to them, for instance, M-F 9-5, and ask them to make personal contact at those times so they aren’t frustrated at no response at odd hours.

Just Saying No In Other Ways

If you feel like you’ve ‘tried everything’ this may be your section.

From Breanna:
I don’t check email on my phone.

From Anne:
Turn your phone screen gray. More here:

Various people on my friends list:
Don’t have a phone at all or do something relatively extreme to the phone you do have (among the responses: hammers, hot oil, don’t tell anyone your phone number).

All in all, it was fun to figure out how people figured out their own personal ‘rules’ with cell phone technology. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to contribute them as a comment here!

Computer Science Is Not Just Coding

My friend is a teacher at our local high school and for the first time this year, she is going to be offering a computer science course. She’s gone to two summer workshops to help her prepare. One workshop was basic, a bit more about how to teach it (‘get in small groups and discuss what a computer is’- I paraphrase, I wasn’t there). The other was a Harvard coding workshop which involved problem sets and otherwise sounded really intense. The aim for her would be for a class somewhere in the middle, but leaning very heavily towards coding.

I told her the computer industry wasn’t all about coding: there really was a lot of ways people could be involved in IT/computer science without necessarily learning a programming language or two fluently. She told me her class had signed up for the class expecting coding. (The benefits of a small school: teachers knowing who you are.) I admitted to her I would have never taken a coding class in high school (full disclosure:of the 20 students in her class, one is female).

And all that got me to thinking…

There’s all these initiatives getting students to code. One of my programmer friends just helped at a camp for 7-12 year old kids with these skills. I can only picture what fun things a 7 year old could program (I’m thinking dinosaurs). And there are coding camps in the summer, after school programs, and classes for mainly middle and high school kids all over the US (and likely the world). Adults are paying thousands to learn to code in short periods of time so they can get better paid jobs. Coding is so hot right now.

Coding is so hot right now! Love Zoolander.There is no doubt computer programming skills are valuable, even if the language you learn is no longer in wide use when you hit the work force (I can throw most of my Visual Basic knowledge out the window in a general way but the principles still work). You learn problem solving, logic, and other knowledge you can apply to all kinds of fields.

There seems, however, to be an emphasis on coding almost to the exclusion of other parts of the computer world. Sure, programmers are well paid and very in demand but where would they be without sales people, teachers, integrators, designers, animators, editors, marketers, copywriters, technicians, database and network admins… in other words other complimentary fields?

I’m not advocating for getting rid of these amazing coding programs. I’m just saying let’s broaden our definition. Let’s introduce these other computer science fields and how they are involved in tech in addition to coding. It’s hard to want to be something when you grow up if you don’t know it exists after all.

I’ll use myself as an example of why this larger world view may be valuable (then I’m not putting anyone else on the spot). My credentials are weird. I am entirely self taught. I’ve hand coded three HTML sites (thankfully none of which are still online as they were UGLY). I’ve been working in Joomla and Wordpress for seven years relatively regularly during my 60ish hour work weeks. I have worked on about 300 websites and probably of those built half from scratch.

And yet I would never call myself a coder.

Why? Well a few reasons:

1) I know so many people who know so much more than I do. I joke sometimes that I spend 2-3 hours of my work day feeling completely stupid. It’s all relative I suppose!
2) I don’t know how to do things by memory. I often know what things are called or the desired result I want to get… but I often need Google to tell me a couple steps to put me in the right direction.
3) I’m very very slow at things like CSS, which is why I typically work with others. I can only modify existing PHP, not write it from scratch. Ruby on Rails sounds cool but building my own framework seems exhausting… you get the idea. There are gaps in my knowledge I recognize.

So yeah, I’m not a coder. But I live in a coding world and work in the computer science field. And if someone is taking a computer science class, shouldn’t these students have at least a brief idea of the different kinds of jobs/opportunities that are available? That people like me exist and are not only complimentary to coders but help create work for them?

I think so. And I think my teacher friend does too.

To those of you preparing to talk to your kids about careers, or to teach a computer science class this coming school year, you can assure students lots of us in the computer science world do some coding entirely unintentionally… and in addition, we bring our gifts and contribute to the computer science world. And if they do want to be straight up coders, they’ll be working a lot with people like me. I’m happy to talk, in real life and virtually, with your classroom as I’m sure are some of my computer science friends.

Coding is so hot right now, and I’m happy to be a part of the larger movement of this computer science field. Education has come very far with offering these kinds of courses to students but broadening the focus would make them even more valuable.

Tech Thursday: There’s a Plugin for That!

Ok, remember how a couple years ago everyone was saying “There’s an app for that!” (at least, Kassie is pretty convinced this happened)? Well, we thought we’d take some time this Thursday morning and appreciate the fact that when it comes to Wordpress sites, there’s pretty much a plugin for everything. From simple display preferences to online booking systems, and functional things like security and back ups, if you have a problem, someone has (most likely) already created a solution in the form of a plugin.

We take a moment to appreciate some things that we’ve used plugins for and reflect on some of our favorites. Plugins for the win!

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