Last week was an interesting one for computer bugs. Apple took 42 attempts to install the latest Itunes update on one Mac (and that was the good one that normally presents no issues with updates), but, to its credit, once it was done there were no further problems. Windows, however, gave me a few headaches and Iâm recording the solutions here for others who might have the same, since what Iâve read online doesnât always apply.
The old laptop was freezing every time I used Firefox. God help us, I even downloaded Chrome when I was in the Philippines, since it was the only browser compatible with YouTube, to which I had to upload a few videos for work. (Internet Explorer kept producing an error, with YouTube saying I had to get the latest version, and Microsoft saying I had the latest version.) And no, I didnât accidentally turn on my search history since the dates donât even correspond, and I was using another account.
Fix: remove Avast. The bug had been plaguing that work machine for a few weeks and I had an inkling it was Avast. One of the team had accidentally allowed an Avast 30-day trial to proceed, which was the root of the problems. It was roughly at this time the issues began. I had downgraded back to the standard one, but things were so irreparably damaged that the only solution was removal altogether. That laptop is back to AVG, although Microsoft Security Essentials is recommended to me.
My main desktop computer, which is running Windows 7 (since Microsoft has been completely silent on how to upgrade to Windows 10, with the advisory box giving me no clues other than I am in the queue), began freezing me out earlier this week. Twice at night the keyboard and mouse became unresponsive, although the computer itself had not hung: things were happening in the background normally. I had to do a hard reset twice that night, and had a painless day for the subsequent day, but then the bug recurred around 10 times on Friday.
In the meantime, should this happen, putting the computer to sleep works, which, like most bugs, seems to be the opposite of the advice you get. I was still able to access the computer via VNC on Android, and control it through there. Putting the PC to sleep (discovered entirely by accident) and then awakening it worked in getting keyboard and mouse control back.
You begin suspecting certain things.
Keyboard and mouse faulty? You would hope not, since I spent NZ$160 on the former, though it is under warranty. On two occasions I heard a USB disconnect sound. However, both were checked and appear to be fine. I altered some USB sleep settings, but they made no difference (and were put back to default).
Hacked? Actually, yes. I run TightVNC, and there were repeated hacking attempts from IP addresses in the US, the Netherlands and Colombia of late. These were added to the firewall and the TightVNC program updated to the latest version. The Event Viewer had picked these up.
But the bug persisted and even became more regular.
Was it to do with the Windows Error Reporting service? I had not signed up, and it was switched off, but I still went into the Task Manager and disabled the associated tasks. No joy, nothing changed.
One person wrote that they experienced this error after downloading the Intel update driver utility, which I had done so, too, after Microsoft advised that I had Intel issues and was unable to upgrade to Windows 10. That was in August, but it was close enough to the September bugâand I had been away, after allâthat it was a possibility. I removed it, but, the bug continued.
I did the usual disk checks and verified the hard drive.
What finally worked? Removing everything by Apple with the exception of QuickTime. It turns out that not only was the Itunes update problematic on a Mac, it could freeze you out on Windows. That meant removing every updater, Itunes, any Apple utilities connecting you to portable devices, and an Apple service called Bonjour (which had generated a lot of errors in the Event Viewer). Till Apple sorts itself out with Itunes, thatâs the thing you should avoid. Although having used it for the first time in many, many years, only to be told that what I wanted to buy was not available to New Zealanders (who, incidentally, could have watched the same programme for free from the copyright ownerâs website), Iâm not entirely sure why anyone would. At this rate, I wonât be using it again in a hurry, at least not for another few years till someone asks, âCan I download Itunes on to your computer?â
Postscript: A few days after writing this post, which included a trouble-free day, the problem recurred, and this time, there was nothing in Event Viewer at all. After even more investigation, it turns out that in Windows, a faulty mouse can knock out your keyboard. Go figure. Of course, that could lead to a full post about mice.âJY
Check your YouTube settings: even if you switch off your search history, Google may turn it on again
Here I was, telling friends that 2014 marked the first year in which I didnât have to call Google out over something, be it privacy breaches, deceptive conduct, or simply not measuring up to its claims.
As usual, I spoke too soon, as tonight I stumbled across another example of Google saying one thing and doing another. All in the quest to get data on you, without you knowing.
Last time that happened, Google had to change its practices regarding its Ads Preferences Manager, a system where it claimed you could opt out, where it then inserted an opt-out cookie, but, when you werenât looking, removed the opt-out cookie and began tracking your preferences again. Now, if only it sold diesel cars, thereâd be an uproar in the US media.
But it was all sorted very quietly, with the Network Advertising Initiative forcing Google, its largest member, to stop its deceptive conduct.
This was a year before the Murdoch Press exposed Google for hacking Iphone Safari browser users, for which the company was eventually fined $17 million, or four hoursâ earnings. Again, if only it was selling diesel cars, the fine would be a thousand times greater.
This oneâs related: the tracking of your history on YouTube. Google wants to track your data so it can customize advertising to you, since Doubleclick, its advertising unit, makes milliards a year. I had suspected it was going on in July 2014, since the site was delivering a large number of motoring advertisements to me, but needed to gather more proof. Like the investigation I made into Ads Preferences Manager four years ago, I should have checked Googleâs settings; at the time I didn’t, thinking that Google would be incredibly stupid, callous and ignorant to manipulate user settings again after getting busted twice in the last five years for disrespecting them. But when the punishment is four hours’ earnings, with hindsight, of course, it wasn’t afraid.
I have had my YouTube history turned off for years, ever since I first discovered Googleâs cheating over monitoring. However, in 2012, YouTube had switched this on again, without my intervention. You could argue that I had forgotten, that I must have switched it back on myself, as unlikely as that would be. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned that I blogged about it in November, noting that I had found myself with a YouTube viewing and search history earlier that year. Itâs something I would have deleted and turned off again in 2012.
What did I find when I checked my YouTube history today, now that Google has revamped its account management interface? You guessed it: a search history. Itâs not completeâit doesnât have everything Iâve searched forâbut it does begin again on July 23, 2013. This jumps ahead to August 14 and 23, then October 3; June 23 and 30, July 3 and 4, 2014; then August 24 through 27, 2015. You have to ask yourself: how does Google have a search history for someone whose search history was turned off in 2012 (and even before then)? The only conceivable answer to me is that Google switches it on again without your permission, and it was indeed on again when I visited the Privacy Check-up pages today.
I also have a watch history, with videos in March, April, November and December 2012.
I shanât be deleting either, as this will serve as a record of the fact Google still messes around with our privacy settings regularly. But I will say again, today, that I had to âpauseâ the search history for YouTube again, and Iâll check in again later, although not three years later, to see if Google switches it back on.
I was surprised to find that I have a YouTube account, and Google gave me the option to delete my zero videos, playlists, subscriptions and subscribers. However, if I proceeded, and I might after this investigation, the above histories would also vanish.
We may have another Ads Preferences Manager case on our hands, one where the US and tech media will just shrug its shoulders and proclaim Google to be the Almighty on which their jobs hinge. At worst, some states’ attorneys-general will go after them for another few hours’ pay.