Category: Tech

How To Protect Your Phone And Privacy When Traveling Across International Borders

phone edinburgh

You are traveling in a world that’s getting smaller while at the same time carrying more information about yourself than at any time history. As international travel becomes easier, more and more travelers are confronting the legal reality that many rights you may have in a country don’t apply at the border. Earlier this year, Sidd Bikkannavar, an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (and a US citizen), was detained in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and his NASA-issue phone searched.

Such cases are more common than you may realize. In the United States in 2015, an estimated 4,444 phones were searched or seized at the border. It’s important to understand your digital rights as a traveler and protect your personal information from unwarranted searches and seizure.

What Are Your Rights At A Border?

Not all borders are the same but broadly speaking borders don’t have to be lines on a map either. Sea and airports are considered borders themselves, which is why you haven’t technically entered a country until you pass the immigration line. The United States Supreme Court, for example, has repeatedly ruled that the American 4th Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t quite apply at the border, even if you’re a U.S. citizen.

Your phone, all the social media accounts its logged into, photos, and other personal information can be searched, confiscated, or downloaded without probable cause in most countries. There are however, some measures you can take to protect yourself faster than you can say, “I have nothing to hide.”

Tactics From Simple To Drastic

First of all, know your rights depending on where you are going. Not bringing your phone with you is the first, most drastic option. Leaving your smartphone which serves as camera, GPS, fitness tracker, and more isn’t feasible for most people. Many companies (not to mention journalists and lawyers) whose employees travel with sensitive company information on their devices, opt for a less drastic maneuver. To protect their proprietary information, sources, etc. they back up their phones to a hard drive, cloud service, or somewhere else; then wipe their phones before traveling. Once they arrive at their destination, they simply restore their phones from the backups.

Other tactics include getting a “burner” phone, one you only use while traveling that’s not logged into your social media or email accounts. (Maybe a new Nokia 3310?) Obviously, you’re shifting your data elsewhere and inconveniencing yourself to varying degrees depending on how concerned about your privacy you are.

Digital Resistance Band

In many countries, it’s legally more difficult for border agents to compel you to give up a password, than a fingerprint. Some privacy advocacy groups recommend removing fingerprint unlocking capabilities from your phone; or turning the phone off so you can legally refuse to give up your passwords. (Be careful though, in Canada for example, this can get you charged with obstruction.) And in pretty much all cases, resisting is going to get you a lot of hassle.

Ultimately, this is an issue that will continue progress (or not) in the various legal systems around the world. In the meantime here’s how to boost the privacy of your iPhone, improve privacy settings on Android, and come up with your own personal travel security plan.

How To Track Steps Using Your iPhone (Hint: It’s A Built-In Feature)

lisbon 25 de abril

Many of you want to track the number of steps you’ve taken during the day or know the distance you’ve covered sightseeing. Activity trackers like Fitbit are good options, but if you’re an iPhone user mainly interested in tracking distance and steps, this functionality is already built-in your phone.

fitbit charge 2 Fitbit Charge 2 Heart Rate + Fitness Wristband

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All you need to do is activate the feature from Apple’s Health app and remember to keep your phone on you at all times. Here’s how to do the first part, the second part I’m guessing you started a long time ago.

Dust Off Health

It’s easy to ignore the Health app, which has been a part of iOS since version 8.0. Trust me, it’s there, because Apple doesn’t let you delete it – but unlike a number of fairly useless apps Cupertino forces on you, Health, although clumsy, is a convenient way to track your daily movements.

  • In case you can’t find it, ask Siri to “open Health” or swipe down from any screen to search for Health.

Once you’re in the Health app, if it’s your first time using it, you’ll be asked to either enter (or skip) your medical data and emergency contacts. After you’ve completed or ignored those steps, you’ll see the Heatlh Data screen shown below.

ios health data

Tracking Activity

Tap Health Data, then Fitness > Walking + Running Distance. Next, toggle on Show On Dashboard, and go back to the Health Data screen. From there, in about 24 hours after your phone has had a chance to collect some data, you should see a graph of how many steps you’ve taken, flights of stairs you’ve climbed, and the overall distance covered.

ios walking steps

There’s no need for any additional equipment except the phone of course, it can’t track how much you’re walking if it’s not in your pocket. iOS also has a list of recommended apps, which can expand your fitness tracking ability, but for simple sightseeing step counting, Health is a handy tool.

With some data on how much you’re walking, you can better calculate how many calories you burned sightseeing, and potentially encourage yourself to 10,000 daily steps, even at the airport.

Simple But Powerful, Currency Is An Essential App For International Travelers

currency app

For nearly as long as I’ve been traveling with a (then) iPod touch, now several mobile phones, there’s been one app so consistently useful I’ve overlooked how integral its become to my travel routine. Currency is a free app for Android and iOS that lets you convert between multiple currencies, easily and offline.

Current Conversion

Currency is a pretty simple app to set up. Once you’ve downloaded it [iOS or Android] you add the currencies (e.g. dollars, euro, pesos) you want, then pick one to convert the others to an equivalent amount. So, let’s say the U.S. dollar is your home currency, you would choose dollars, then add the other currencies you might be using the near future. Set your home currency to one dollar, to see how many euro or yuan that happens to be. You can also quickly tap on the euro to change it to 1 (or 2, 3.5, whatever) to see how much it is in all the other currencies you’ve added.

currency app

The conversions in Currency are set to update automatically, so whenever you have an Internet connection the rates are as up to date as the time of your last Internet connection. When you don’t have an Internet connection, you can see do conversions with the last rates that were synced. Most currencies don’t change enough over a short period of time to where that should cause a major concern in most cases (save for some local financial collapse).

Constantly On Hand

Currency is extremely handy when you’ve arrived at an international airport so you don’t have to walk up to an ATM with no idea how much money you’re actually withdrawing. You can also help yourself when bargaining abroad because our minds tend to evaluate costs best in our home currency.

There are two versions of Currency: one that’s free with ads – to remove them you’ll need to pay $3.99. The ads aren’t intrusive but if you want to support the developer, it shouldn’t hurt your travel budget at all to purchase a well-designed app that provides a very handy function.

A Review Of The World’s Thinnest iPhone Charging Case: ChargeTech ThinCharge

The ChargeTech ThinCharge is a such a simple piece of technology, it’s hard to appreciate how useful it is, until everyone who sees it asks you about it. ChargeTech sent me a ThinCharge for the iPhone 6s, which I’ve been using for the past few months. You can see more in the video above on how it works, how thin it is, and what a benefit it is to expand your iPhone’s battery capacity by 1.5 times in an 85 gram, 11 millimeter-thick protective case.

chargetech thincharge  ThinCharge: World’s Thinnest iPhone 6 / 6S Battery Case [Black]

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The ThinCharge takes around 4.5 hours for a complete charge, which should comfortably get you through the day (or a long flight). An LED light on the side indicate how much charge the case itself has (the more it flashes the less power is left).

Nearly Perfect For Case Haters

The buttons of the case where the LED light is located is my only real gripe with the ThinCharge. Although you can charge the case and sync your phone with iTunes on your laptop without having to take it out of the case, you need to turn the case on by long pressing the top volume button. That means every time you turn on or off the ThinCharge, your ring volume will jump to maximum and you’ll need to remember to turn it down.

thincharge chargetech

Otherwise, the ThinCharge is an ideal charging case for people who both hate cases for adding bulk to a phone and hate Apple for making anemic batteries. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus users, ChargeTech’s Indegogo campaign was successful, so those should be available for purchase soon. I’ll post links here when the iPhone 7 model is released; available now is the ThinCharge for iPhone 6 and 6s which you can find here.

Do Airfare Booking Sites Offer Different Prices Based On The Device Or Browser You’re Using?

vienna international airport

There is a lot of evidence that airline booking sites and airfare search engines offer different pricing to people based on their location – more specifically, by country. There is less evidence for, but many more rumors of, airlines manipulating prices based on the physical machine you’re searching from (e.g. an iPhone 7 versus a Galaxy S7 Edge) and even by the web browser you happen to be on.

It’s pretty easy to change the country you appear to be in using a VPN to find lower prices on plane tickets but is it worth it to go through the trouble to make it seem like your iPad is a Surface Pro? Or obsessively switch between Chrome and Firefox? This is a question more than one reader has brought up so here is what we know – and don’t – about how airlines change ticket prices based on your digital fingerprint.

Evidence Is Hard To Collect

All airfare search prices are the result of many, many, reasonable factors such as how full a flight is, how many people are searching for it, and the number of days before departure. You can search for the same flight and get different prices within minutes for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with browser cookies, for example.

airport line havana

Added on top of all this is, as the consumer, we don’t really know the actual cost of a seat on a given flight at a given time. The airlines obviously want to profit as much as possible on a given seat (whose costs vary considerably up until the last ticket can be sold) plus search engines take their cut too. Many people logically assume both the flight search engines as well as the airlines, want to squeeze as much out of us as possible.

Conspiracies Fed

I’m not saying airlines working fares in their favor is a conspiracy but like conspiracy theories, when one of them turns out true, it gives credibility to the rest. Orbitz, for example, shows Apple users higher prices first, since they tend to spend 30% more on hotel bookings. It’s not that the lower prices aren’t there, they were just being shown a lot lower on the list.

Test Results

The problem during my testing over the past few months is that prices went up and down, but I was unable to correlate them to browsers or devices. Web browsers in privacy mode (i.e. no cookies, or search history) tended to show lower airfare more than half the time, until it came to actually booking. The infamous “this fare is no longer available” appeared regularly, making me think airlines show (what they think) are new users enticing rates to get them to click closer to a purchase.

istanbul airport activity

Consumer Reports also found anomalies after several hundred test searches but similarly, couldn’t determine a definite pattern. To their credit, Kayak denies they use cookies or other browser information to slyly hike up prices:

“Cookies or no cookies, it is impossible for us to show different prices to different users,” a Kayak spokesman told us [Consumer Reports] when we reported our findings. He suggested that a difference of even a few seconds on simultaneous searches may have affected our results.

You can of course, run your own tests. Web browser plugins like User Agent Switcher for Chrome or Firefox can fool most websites into thinking you’re on a Windows machine instead of a Macbook, for example. (You’ll need to jailbreak or root your phone to do the same on mobile.) When you don’t have the most time, it’s best to stick to the best flight search engines and use a VPN like this to find discounts. Don’t forget that there are a lot more effective ways to get low prices on airfare than by trying to spoof your browser – plus you can stop chasing cheap flights to really save on travel.

How To Download Google Maps For Offline Use And Why You Should When Traveling

google maps offline

Smartphone GPS are great for navigating, especially when you’re traveling, but not terribly useful if you don’t have a mobile Internet connection to actually download the background maps. (Or don’t want to burn through a data plan.) Originally I was going to write about the the best offline map apps but while free options like MAPS.ME (their all caps, not mine) are good, Google Maps is superior in nearly every way.

Until about a year ago, you couldn’t really use Google Maps offline, but they quietly rolled out the feature for iOS and Android – something a surprising number of people still don’t know about. Here’s how Google Maps’ offline feature works and how to download the maps you’ll need to get directions and lookup locations without an Internet connection.

First Step: Human Memory

For starters, you need to download the Google Maps app for iOS (simply called Maps) on Android. Both are free. Google Map files are large, usually at least a few hundred megabytes depending on the specific area you want to grab, so you need to remember to download them when you’re on a solid wifi connection. (I consistently forget to about half the time.)

google maps app

Start Downloading

Unlike MAPS.ME, where you specify specific countries for download, Google Maps has so much more detailed data you can only download a metropolitan area effectively of about 400 square kilometers (~250 sq. miles) at a time. Although the screenshots below are from an iPhone, the process is the same for Android.

1.Open the Google Maps app.

2. In the upper left, tap the three-bar menu icon.

google maps menu

3. Tap > Offline areas

4. Next, you’ll have the choice of either ‘Local‘; which is the area around your current location, or ‘Custom area‘ where you can specify the cities or region you want to download. Pinch to zoom in or out up to 1.5 gigabytes worth of map on iOS or 1.75 GB on Android, then tap Download. You’ll be prompted to name your map, tap Save, and the download will begin.

google maps offline

Be sure to wait for the download to complete because it hardly ever works if you leave it to the background.

You’re Set For 30 Days

After these steps, you’ll have the parts of Google Maps you wanted (you can download multiple maps up to what your device’s storage limits are) for handy things like walking directions, searching for the best restaurants on the fly, and starring important locations (like your hotel) on the map.

google maps offline areas

There are a few other advantages to using Google Maps offline, even in places where you aren’t necessarily traveling. Downloading maps offline obviously reduces the amount of mobile data you’ll use. A nice side effect of which is, like using airplane mode, noticeably increased battery life.

You’ll need to update the maps once every 30 days to keep using them and it’s really unfortunate Google doesn’t make an auto-delete option for maps after a certain period of time. You’ll have to remember to delete saved maps when you don’t need them or want to free up space on your phone. Aside from those two minor gripes, offline Google Maps are probably one of the most useful tools on a travelers smartphone. Unless you forget to download them.


About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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