Ask the expert: Gadget Guru

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Baffled by Blu-ray? Enraged by iPods? Or just overwhelmed by the range and complexity of computing, digital photography, and home entertainment products on the high street? The FT’s personal technology expert Paul Taylor answers your gadgetry questions in a column exclusive to FT.com.

Please send more questions and comments to paul.taylor@ft.com

Internet privacy

Q. How can I be the one who actively determines my level of privacy when surfing the net, rather than the current situation where the websites I visit determine this without my knowledge?

I have known for some time about Amazon’s features which track my browsing habits within Amazon in order to provide recommendations. ThisI find acceptable and useful. But I was most concerned to find out recently that Amazon.com monitors web searches that I conduct in non-Amazon.com websites. I find this an intrusive and unethical invasion of my privacy, but suspect I will not be able to change Amazon’s practices, so would appreciate your advice on possible responses.

Amazon provides links to software and service providers such as Anonymizer.com. I don’t want to stop using cookies as without them I would have to enter my myriad of usernames and passwords every time I visit my regular websites such as ft.com. Can you recommend any solutions that would allow me to receive cookies for normal legitimate use (e.g. allowing Amazon.com to track my browsing history within its own website) while also allowing me to actively manage the scope of the data they collect (e.g. preventing the collection of data not related to my visits to their sites)? Further, would these solutions be compatible with my existing Norton internet security software?

Dorje

A. Interesting question and I’m afraid there is no single simple answer.

As you note, there are a number of software programs out there that act as ‘anonymisers’ enabling you to surf the web without revealing your identity. One source is anonimyzer.com however most would also block what you describe as acceptable tracking.

Most security software packages like Norton Internet Security, which you have installed, also block confidential information from being sent without the users permission, however, I would also recommend that you also use a browser like Firefox (www.mozilla.com) The latest version includes a new feature called ‘Clear Private Data.’ This enables you to delete all personal data, including browsing history, cookies, Web form entries and passwords with a single click.

Unfortunately however, this would also delete ‘useful’ cookies including those that make it easier to log onto sites like FT.com.

I do not know of any software that would enable you to actively manage the scope of cookies – but maybe another reader can help?

Apple MacBook

Q. I have always liked the design of Apple’s products but have eschewed their notebooks because of the poor way the OS handles MS Windows et al.

Using Outlook remotely on a Mac is highly stressful so I was delighted when the Intel powered Apple notebooks came out. I was very close to buying one until I saw it. How disappointing that they are encased in easy-scratch silver plastic rather than uber-cool Apple white. And only available with big, heavy screens. Will Apple bring out a 12” screen notebook, in white, with an Intel processor, do you think?

Alex Bennett

A. Apple must have been reading your mind. The new MacBook comes with a 13.3 inch widescreen display Intel Core Duo processor and a choice of black or white cases. Prices start at $1,099.

Personal Finance Software for the Mac

Q. I recently took the plunge and changed my home computer (an elderly Dell) for an iMac and I am, thus far, delighted with it. I can send and receive emails and documents from my office (a PC environment) without problems and the machine is a dream to use and a joy to look at. There’s a “but” coming…

A key piece of software for me is a home finance package, so that I can keep track of what little money I have and can do cash flow projections. For that I have to use Microsoft Money, running on my iMac using Bootcamp software. But having to log out of the Mac and into Windows and back again is a pain. The trouble is, I can’t seem to find a software package as good as Money, that runs on a Mac. Any ideas?

Chris Matthews

A. personally I would recommend Intuit’s Quicken for Mac 2006 which costs $60. You can check out the features at http://quicken.intuit.com/commerce/catalog/product.jhtml?lid=left_nav&prodId=prod0000000000007992902

Screensaver

Q. Several years back I obtained a free screensaver of hedgehogs crossing a road with cars rushing by. The inevitable consequence was that one in 3 or 4 were squashed! I know that this all sounds gross but I have been unable to locate a copy and was wondering whether you might have suggestions of where to look.

Robert Davidson

A. Sorry Robert, I have not been able to track down the screensaver you are looking for – but I did find quite a few alternatives by ‘googling’ ‘screensavers hedgehogs.”

Please send more questions and comments to paul.taylor@ft.com

Previous columns

May 18: Issues with your iPod

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