Alexander: Skype less of a threat than it seems

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2013 - 6:59 PM

Q: I have a tablet computer that uses the Android operating system. I’ve noticed that when applications such as Skype are updated they ask for permission to do things that seem increasingly invasive, which is worrisome. In particular, these apps ask for permission to write data to or delete data from the tablet’s SD (Secure Digital) memory card, to make calls without my permission in ways that can expose my tablet to malicious software and to access my contacts without my knowledge or permission.

What exposure to harm do these updates pose, and why would any user agree to these things?

James Hutchison, ST. Augustine, Fla.

 

A: While malicious software is always a threat, Skype’s lawyers certainly believe in full disclosure. The company warns that the application could allow malware to run up your phone bill, steal your information or erase your data. That doesn’t mean it’s likely.

The truth is, the access Skype wants to your tablet is essential for the application to work as a smart video phone.

For example, Skype can disable the keylock and password security on your phone, but that’s what any smartphone does to answer an incoming call. Skype also has access to your tablet’s SD memory card, but it has to store data somewhere. In addition, Skype has the ability to call phone numbers, via the Internet, without your intervention, which is the same thing that happens on a smartphone when you click a contact’s name and then phone number.

I’d be more worried about the U.S. government monitoring Skype calls than about Skype monitoring your tablet computer.

 

Q: I’m having a problem with my wireless PC mouse. When I move the mouse, the pointer on the screen will sometimes resist moving, then, after a delay, will jump to another location on the screen. Any ideas?

Craig Weidenhammer, Reading, Pa.

 

A: If you’re using any USB 3.0 devices with your computer, the USB port on your PC could be interfering with the signals from your wireless mouse.

Why? A USB 3.0 port on your PC offers several times the data transfer speed of its predecessor USB 2.0. It does so by using a wider swath of the electromagnetic spectrum than USB 2.0, which means an active USB 3.0 port on your PC can interfere with the radio waves used by your wireless mouse.

Try moving the USB 2.0 receiver for your mouse farther away from any USB 3.0 ports that are in use. Try using a USB extension cable to place the receiver farther from your PC.

If you aren’t using USB 3.0, try changing the battery in the wireless mouse. You can also adjust how fast the mouse pointer on the screen moves; go to Start, choose Control Panel, select Mouse and click the “Pointer Options” tab.

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@

gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 ­Portland Av. S., ­Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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