TIME Apps & Web

The Best Browser Privacy Tools (That Don’t Make Life More Difficult)

Privacy
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In a year when social media giants and governments alike have made headlines for tracking users online without their consent, battening down the virtual hatches has become a vital part of Internet hygiene.

Blocking tracking technologies, however, also disables those handy auto-fill log-ins and web personalization features, preventing you from easily shopping online and making your web experience feel as if you’re back in 1999.

So we went in search of privacy tools that don’t impact your browsing experience. We tested browser tools ranging from the basic Private Mode on all browsers to full-featured ad blockers. We looked at the four most-used browsers in the United States: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. Here’s what we found to be most helpful for safeguarding your privacy and anonymity — and what measures of convenience you might have to give up if you use them.

The lowdown on cookies

Cookies are small text files that contain one or more bits of information about your computer, most commonly a user ID a website assigns you in order to keep track of your movements through the site. Cookies are often essential to using a site successfully, enabling you to check out from shopping sites or click around Facebook without having to repeatedly re-enter your password.

These first-party cookies come from the website you’re on and exist mostly to offer you a personalized web experience. Benefits include greeting you by name, giving you weather data relevant to your home location and keeping track of your achievements in a game.

It’s the third-party cookies from ads on the websites you visit that track you as you move between websites. Advertisers place these cookies in their advertisements, allowing them to follow your movements among the network of sites where they advertise.

Information about your surfing patterns goes toward compiling a profile of preferences and basic personal data — things like location, age and gender — that is used to create targeted advertising. If you’ve clicked on a lot of gardening sites, for example, targeted ad placements could even show you ads for tools or plants on non-gardening sites. If that bothers you, you can disable third-party cookies in your browser settings.

Browse in private mode

Seeing targeted advertising probably doesn’t bother most people if all they’re surfing for is news, cute cat pictures or a new iPhone. But for looking up information about something like health concerns, privacy mode allows you to browse without associating the search with your existing profile.

To open a private window in your browser:

  • Firefox: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P
  • Chrome: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+N
  • Safari: Safari/Private Browsing
  • Internet Explorer: Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+P

This turns off your web history and enables the cookies necessary for the site to work but blocks third-party cookies. At the end of the session, all cookies are deleted.

The downside

Browsing in private mode does not stop the website from recording that you were there based on your IP address, which can still be tracked. And, crucially, private mode doesn’t stop social networks from tracking you. It’s best used for hiding activity on a shared computer rather than actually remaining invisible online.

Block third-party cookies

Third-party cookies aren’t the only way to track people around the Internet, but disabling them in your browser’s settings means advertisers can no longer store files on your browser to track your web surfing.

Here’s how to block third-party cookies, assuming you’re running the most recent versions of the browsers (a good idea from a security point of view):

  • Chrome: Preferences > Show Advanced Options (at the bottom) > Privacy > Content settings > Check “block third party cookies and site data.”
  • Internet Explorer: Tools > Internet Options > Privacy > Move the slider to the level of cookies you want blocked
  • Firefox: Preferences > Privacy > History > Select “Use custom settings for history,” then set “Accept third-party cookies” to Never.
  • Safari: Preferences > Privacy > Select to block cookies “from third parties and advertisers.”

The downside

Some websites require third-party cookies to work; for example, Microsoft asks you to accept cookies when downloading an update. In these cases, head into your browser settings and add the sites as exceptions.

Block the Flash super cookie

Sites may store Flash cookies on your computer regardless of whether you have allowed third-party cookies. Flash cookies can’t be easily deleted, and they may be downloaded to your computer from any website running Adobe Flash (such as sites with video or an interactive application). Designed to locally store your settings for the rich web apps that Flash enables, the capability for the Flash plug-in to allow other sites to store files in a user’s computer can also be hijacked by advertisers wanting a new way to track Internet users.

Flash cookies can identify you across different browsers on the same device and, in some cases, have been found to regenerate deleted browser cookies. Because they have far more storage (up to 100KB) than other cookies, they can contain more complex information about your habits. Like browser cookies, Flash cookies are used by websites to deliver a customized experience as well as give advertisers extra data.

Cookie cleaners and Flash player settings

Blocking Flash entirely could be an option with script-blockers such as NoScript (Firefox) or ScriptNo (Chrome). However, such plug-ins stop all Flash and Java on all pages, breaking the sites in many cases, until you can customize the settings so that trusted objects and pages can run freely. This can take a long time and represent a pain for the less technically minded.

If you use Firefox, you can download the BetterPrivacy, which automatically deletes Flash cookies as they crop up (as well as clearing cookies already there). You can also whitelist necessary Flash cookies, such as cookies used when playing a game.

If you’re not on Firefox, you’ll have to dig into your computer. First, disable future Flash cookies from being left on the machine. If you’re on a PC, open Control Panel and click on Flash player > Local Storage settings by site. You’ll find the default is “Allow All Websites to Store Data”; change it to “Block All Websites from Storing Data.” Then you can easily delete the Flash cookies by hitting the neighboring Delete All button, followed by “Delete All Site Data and Settings.”

If you’re on a Mac, change your Flash settings online at Macromedia by clicking on Global Storage Settings in the (pretty clunky) Flash-based settings manager. Uncheck the box for allowing third-party Flash content to store data on your computer. Then pull the slider for how much data third-party companies can store on your machine to None (far left).

Finally, to delete sites that have already left cookies on your computer, grab the free download CCleaner (Mac/PC), which deletes both Flash and browser cookies.

The downside

Sites including eBay use Flash cookies to verify your identity, so deleting them across the board can mean needing to re-enter passwords more frequently.

Dodge tracking you never signed up for

Microsoft recently announced it would not scan any of the content in its Outlook.com inboxes to use in targeted advertising, but Google makes no such promise with Gmail — quite the opposite.

As for the social networks, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn track users even after they’ve signed out — and even if you don’t click on a social media sharing button. The very act of landing on a page with a social-share button means it relays back to the social network. Sophos’ security blog has a straightforward account of how Twitter does it and how you can opt out. (Remember that opting out doesn’t stop ads or the collecting of information.)

In addition, Facebook uses an alternative to tracking cookies called a conversion pixel, which advertisers affix to their ads to see how many clicks they get. So a website doesn’t need a Facebook button to let Facebook know you’ve been there.

Anti-tracker plug-in Do Not Track Me (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer) stops a website from sending information back to Facebook or Google unless you actually click one of the +1 or Like buttons. It also blocks other trackers and boasts a clean, intuitive interface for customizing blocking options. The Mask My Email and Make Me A Strong Password features help deter spam and hackers. When you’re signing up for a new account, masking your email address stops potentially dodgy sites from selling your real email address, while the password option creates a hard-to-guess password (that, crucially, isn’t the same as one you already use), then saves it in the plug-in’s encrypted password manager.

On the toolbar, clicking the Do Not Track Me icon shows how many trackers it has blocked — for me, 666 in under 24 hours.

Disconnect (Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Opera) is a similar plug-in that offers the additional benefit of dividing trackers into social, analytic and advertising categories. A graph shows the time and bandwidth saved by blocking trackers requesting information, and you get the option of adding trusted sites (and their cookies) to a whitelist.

The downside

There’s little downside to taking any of these anti-tracking measures. The only thing these scrappy little guys don’t do is block ads; you’ll still see them, but they won’t be targeted based on your previous clicks.

Kill most ads

Many companies (including Facebook, Twitter and Amazon) promise to honor opt-outs for “interest-based” advertising. But while opting out stops companies from delivering targeted ads based on what you’ve clicked on, it does not stop ads based on general information such as your location or other details you may have volunteered while signing up for the account. Crucially, it doesn’t stop companies tracking you and collecting your data.

To prevent ads from showing at all, thus thwarting the purpose of tracking via third-party cookies or other means, try a plug-in such as AdBlock Plus (for Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Internet Explorer), which blocks “annoying” ads: video ads, Facebook ads, pop-ups and the like. By default, a whitelist of ads that fall under the developer’s guidelines for acceptability is allowed, but you can change this setting to disable all ads.

You can also add different filters to block more or different types of ads. For example, the anti-social filter blocks social media buttons from transmitting back to the mother ship that you were there, neatly avoiding the all-seeing Facebook eye.

AdBlock Plus also blocks trackers and websites known to deliver malware.

The downside

Blocking ads deprives sites of revenue, and many websites rely on ad revenue to stay afloat. Unless you tinker with the settings for which ads should be allowed at different sites (a process that may take a long time to complete), you may end up depriving your favorite sites of those caching clicks.

Search securely

Two-thirds of U.S. search traffic is made through Google, distantly followed by Microsoft’s Bing (19%) and Yahoo (10%). While Google’s search algorithms turn up highly relevant results for most of us (in May, 31% of all Internet traffic came from Google, versus less than 2% for Bing and Yahoo combined), there’s an additional trade-off: Search results are also personalized based on what you’ve clicked on in the past.

That may not seem like such a big deal until you consider that Google also combines your search history with other information from your Google accounts, such as YouTube and Gmail, for use in targeted ad campaigns. Search histories can reveal highly personal information such as your interests, religion or health issues, substantially filling out the information already compiled from your YouTube clicks and Gmail messages.

Instead of switching to another Big Three search engine, try DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t log your searches so that all users get the same results. In our test, searches for subjects including current events (“Hong Kong protests”), general knowledge (“why is the sky blue”) and straightforward subjects (Halloween costumes), helpful links turned up in the first half of the page. However, when we typed the more ambiguous phrase “Tuscany fall cuisine,” only Google noted that we wanted autumnal food in Italy, not the town called Tuscany Falls.

DuckDuckGo also offers many of the same convenience features as Google, including a good range of “zero-click info.” For example, type “weather in California,” “650 USD in EUR” or any calculator function such as “square root of 60,” and the answer is displayed above a list of link results.

Similarly privacy-centric search providers include Ixquick, which doesn’t store your IP address or search data (and consequently doesn’t sell any of your information), delivering results based on what the five major search engines are saying. Two or more stars indicate multiple search engines have relayed the same result. However, Ixquick lacks the uber-convenient zero-click search.

Finally, the Disconnect anti-tracker plug-in also has a separate search extension that anonymizes your searches in any of the Big Three search engines as well as DuckDuckGo itself.

The downside

Auto-complete in Google Search has been a godsend when it comes to typing searches for news and factoids you can’t quite recall. Not having a search history also means not having those purpled-out links that indicate at a glance which sites you’ve previously visited (handy when you’ve forgotten to bookmark a great source).

The all-in-one option

Not up to fine-tuning settings, cherry-picking plug-ins and switching to a new search engine?

Get a whole new browser. The Epic Browser offers privacy mode as the default and only option. Epic doesn’t store web histories, search queries or cookies. Clicking on a plug icon in the URL bar turns on a proxy feature that anonymizes your computer by routing your traffic through a U.S.-based proxy network.

Epic also blocks trackers with a handy pop-up telling you exactly how many it’s blocked — and just to rub its success in competitors’ noses, it shows how many trackers exist on the other browsers you’re using. On my computer, Firefox had 143 data-collecting trackers (including Amazon, Experian, all the social networks and a ton of ad providers); Safari had 56 (including BuzzFeed, LinkedIn and Tumblr); and my Chrome browser with Do Not Track Me Plus running let through just two (eBay and ad provider Double Click).

The downside

It’s back to the caveman days of manually typing everything in, from passwords to URLs. There’s no auto-fill feature for log-ins or website addresses, because Epic doesn’t store any history. Nor does Epic save passwords, and it doesn’t yet work with password managers, so you’ll either have to remember all your log-ins or save them on your hard drive.

Browsing completely anonymously (mostly)

All of the options we’ve discussed prevent third parties from tracking you within and across websites. However, the website can still see where you came from through your IP address, and that address could be used as an alternate means of tracking your activities. For example, a person or company who disagreed with your comments on a site could use your IP information to track you down and sue you for libel.

To hide your IP address from being uncovered, you will need to use either an anonymous web proxy or virtual private network (VPN) service. Both not only mask your IP address from the website you’re visiting, but will also prevent anyone who monitors your network (e.g., your employer) from monitoring the sites you’re visiting.

The downside

Some of these services have stronger privacy options than others, and many are still susceptible to disclosure if they receive a legal subpoena from the jurisdiction where they’re located. Read our article on VPNs and web proxies for more details.

Future tracking options

What we do online has value to companies now because of what we may buy if we’re shown the relevant advertising. Down the line, we might be the ones negotiating the worth of our web habits.

Encrypt your own web behavior

The Meeco app for iOS recently launched with the ability to log your web visits — where you visited and for how long — and save the traffic into an encrypted cloud accessible only by you. Websites can only see what you click on while you’re on them, not what you do after and before, preventing the site from building a profile of you. The software also analyzes your usage patterns so you can glean insight into your habits — the same insight brands buy from data brokers now. Eventually, the idea is to create a data framework where users can offer such data to brands in exchange for loyalty points, discounts or other incentives.

Founder and CEO Katryna Dow says an aim is to help people understand that the value of their data is invaluable — and, at the moment, immeasurable.

A Meeco browser extension for Chrome and Firefox is available in beta; currently, users must manually add favorite sites to the dashboard, then click them in order to launch the site in the browser’s (natively available) private window.

The downside

Right now, the browser extension does not save the traffic to your Meeco encrypted account (as the iOS app does), but Dow says the company is looking at including the feature in future updates.

Where to draw the privacy line

Being tracked and advertised to by the websites we use is the trade-off for a free Internet. In fact, there are some really good reasons for why you may want to be tracked online,

But not drawing our own line at how much privacy we are willing to give up could mean some companies will cross that line when it comes to where they scrape information about us. Your likes, dislikes and identifying details taken from email, private messages or personal notes could then be linked (as Google already does) to information from other facets of your online life, and companies or the government may eventually make assumptions about who you are before offering you a service. Whether you find that convenient or creepy, it’s something everyone should have control over, not default into.

What do you think? Have you downloaded browser plug-ins to control your privacy, or do you believe that targeted advertising is what makes the Internet go?

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Apps & Web

The Best White Noise Apps and Sites

The science of sound can help you in many aspects of your life, from increasing concentration to creating the right atmosphere for a better night’s rest. The key is to know which kind of sound will do the trick and the easiest way to access it. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites and apps that do just that.

Pink noise generators for better sleep

Do you notice that you sleep better when the rain falls steadily outside or the wind blows gently through the trees? That’s what researchers call pink noise, a combination of sounds that contain all of the frequencies that people can hear, with volume decreasing in high frequencies. This kind of pink noise “has significant effect on reducing brain wave complexity and inducing more stable sleep time to improve sleep quality of individuals,” according to a Journal of Theoretical Biology study. In comparison, white noise keeps the volume consistent across all frequencies and most people don’t find it as restful.

There are many apps that offer noise generation for better sleep, but be sure to only use the features that provide a steady, consistent sound, not intermittent noise.

Lightning Bug

Lightning Bug provides relaxing nature sounds that will help you sleep better at night. Make sure to enable plug-ins and download the free White Noise pack. In the pack, you can choose from white noise and pink noise. Bonus: it also comes with an alarm, snooze button and sleep timer.

Price: Free with premium plug-ins available at Google Play

Sleep Fan

Sleep Fan

Similar to falling rain, the noise of an electric fan also helps many get a better night’s sleep. This app, a favorite here, generates that exact sound for you. You can play a fan sound at low, medium or high speed and also set a time for how long you want the noise to play. It even plays as a background app, allowing your phone to go into sleep mode but still play fan sound through the night.

Price: $1.99 on iTunes

WhiteNoise

If you don’t like fan noises, try WhiteNoise. It has pink noise, brown noise (low frequency sound masking) and many more soothing sounds. Plus, it gives you great flexibility for painting your own soundscape, mixing up to five sounds at once. Pay a little extra to get a recorder and generator to create your own sounds.

Price: $1.99, $0.99 each in app for recorder and generator at iTunes

Sleep Bug: White Noise Soundscapes

Here’s your Windows Phone alternative. Sleep Bug offers an interesting twist on mixing your own sounds by providing auxiliary tracks that you can turn on or off on top of main tracks.

Price: Free or paid upgrade for additional content at Windows Phone; also available for iPhone on iTunes

Finally, if you are looking for an all-around effective noise generator, not just an app or sound file that mimics sounds, we highly recommend the Original Sleep Sound Generator from Hammacher Schlemmer. It creates a soothing sound that helps block other sounds in your environment that may be distracting you.

Sound for better focus and concentration

No matter how many times experts remind us to turn off the distractions when we’re trying to get things done, most of us enjoy listening to music on the job. A little bit of whistle-while-you-work can boost flagging energy and bolster creativity — but too much of a good thing is a definite no-no.

What you need is the right noise for the job: ambient sound for creative focus, white noise for tight concentration or more relaxed soundscapes for calm efficiency or relaxation. If you’ve always suspected you do better and more rewarding work when you cart your laptop down to the local shop, research is on your side. When you’re trying to coax creativity out of hiding, moderate levels of ambient noise can provide just enough of a distraction to free the rest of your brain for broader thought.

A study in The Journal of Consumer Research shows that background noise as mundane as the hum of a coffee shop in full swing or the muffled chatter of a television in the other room can enhance performance. Apply that knowledge with discretion: Higher noise levels are too distracting, and tasks that require concentration and focus on detail are better performed in a quiet environment.

If your surroundings are already littered with distracting sounds and conversations, you might need white noise to mask the chaos. Be careful about playing these sounds too loudly, too close to you or for too long. A recent study shows that white noise used to keep babies drifting in a peaceful slumber could in fact damage their hearing.

Options for laptop, desktop and mobile browsers

Ready to download some sound apps to help tune up your life? Not so fast. Our favorite sources for ambient sound, white noise, meditation gongs and calming music aren’t apps at all — they’re free websites you pull up right in your browser.

Coffitivity

Coffitivity

Here’s the hottest spot to find that coffee shop ambience — what Coffitivity calls a “combination of calm and commotion” that inspires and supports creativity. Choose from several different vibes: “Morning Murmur” gives you the traditional hustle and bustle of the corner café; “Lunchtime Lounge” carries a little more energy; and “University Undertones” soothes you with the calmer sounds of a campus café.

Price: Free at coffitivity.com or for Mac desktop at iTunes; Coffivitity app free at Google Play and iTunes

Noisli

This ambient sound generator plays to maximum advantage on a second monitor because it includes a color generator that helps set the mood. Research also backs the role of color in influencing productivity. Using a blue desktop background, for example, can enhance creative performance, while red helps you attack and focus on nitty-gritty details.

Noisli lets you toggle and layer as many sounds as you like to create your own tapestry of sound. Choose among coffee shop chatter, three types of white noise and nature sounds including rain, thunderstorms, waves, crackling fire and more. Still distracted? There’s also a text editor for distraction-free writing.

Price: Free at noisli.com

myNoise.net

Here’s some serious noise. “Welcome to the convergence of serious audio engineering, creative sound design and the scientific understanding of human hearing,” reads myNoise’s introductory text. “The site you are about to enter is not just another of those soundscape websites but a serious tool oriented toward the needs of hearing professionals, sound therapists and people interested in noise machines in general.”

At myNoise, choose from sounds designed specifically for noise blocking, healthcare, sound therapy, meditation and tonal sound. The site allows you to calibrate much of the sounds to your own computer and hearing. Because the website is so robust, playing the noise generators from Mobile Safari (iOS) requires the larger RAM sizes of the newer iPads and iPhones; on Android tablets, Firefox 22 has been confirmed to play well. An iOS verson is anticipated to launch within the next month.

Price: Free at myNoise.net

App options for mobile productivity

If you’d prefer an app for your mobile device, you have plenty to choose from. Just remember to use earbuds or headphones if you’re going to use an ambient sound or white noise app on a mobile device; you’re seeking immersion in sound that surrounds you, after all.

Ambiance

Ambiance

For your iPhone or iPad, we like the capacious sound library of Ambiance. With this polished app, you get more than 2,500 free sounds, from ambient and urban environment (the traditional coffee shop mix plus many alternatives), binaural beats and more. You can mix multiple sounds to blend just the right custom sound.

Price: $2.99 plus $0.99 for premium sounds on iTunes

Naturespace

While the whole idea of these apps and tools is immersion, if you’re really committed to going deep, go Naturespace. Naturespace attempts to reproduce soundscapes in a 3-D environment; you hear the birds in the trees above you as well as what’s before and behind you. This is some of the best sound quality out there.

Price: Free with limited previews or purchases from $0.99 and up on iTunes and Google Play

White Noise Box

Looking for something free? White Noise Box is the ticket. You get all the basic sounds and features you need and expect.

Price: Free or $0.99 for premium (removes ads and pointer to the store) on iTunes and Google Play

If what you really need is pure, sweet silence, try a pair of noise-cancelling headphones; Techlicious’ guide shows you the best.

This article was written by Lisa Poisso and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Apps & Web

Yahoo to Users: No More Signing in with Google or Facebook

The Yahoo! offices are pictured in Santa Monica
Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

You really ought to have a Yahoo ID, says Yahoo.

Have you been using Google or Facebook to sign into Yahoo services such as Flickr or Fantasy Sports? You won’t be able to in the future, as Yahoo will eventually require a proper Yahoo account instead.

Reuters reports that the shift will occur gradually, and that Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’Em will be the first service to require a Yahoo login:

“Yahoo is continually working on improving the user experience,” the company said in a statement, noting that the new process “will allow us to offer the best personalized experience to everyone.”

Translation: We’d like to be able to have better-targeted advertising by requiring a single sign-in. The same strategy’s working out pretty well for Google, after all.

Okay, maybe that’s a little cynical. If you’re using lots of Yahoo services, it surely makes sense to have a single login for all of them. And with Yahoo buying up companies that deal with contextual information, such as Donna and Aviate, it’s possible the company wants in on the AI/virtual assistant craze to compete with Google, Apple and Microsoft. If that’s the case, having a single point of entry into Yahoo services is essential.

Not that those reasons are any consolation if you basically just use Yahoo for Fantasy Football. Hope you enjoy your new Yahoo Mail account!

TIME Video Games

Batman: Arkham Knight Is Going to Be All About the Batmobile

WBGamesUK / YouTube

The next Arkham game is real, and Rocksteady's been working on it all along.

When I think Batman, I don’t think Batmobile, unless I’m thinking about the silly-looking Adam West thingamajig, or the slick, overwrought version Tim Burton cobbled together back in 1989, and that Chevy basically used to hype its Chevy Impala for ages (alright, I admit I loved it when I was 17).

So when Sefton Hill, Rocksteady’s director of the just-unveiled new Batman Arkham game, says that the game’s pièce de résistance is Batman’s ride, I’m a little nervous, because like I said: not what I think about when I think about Batman.

But I am sold on Rocksteady doing more Batman games, because where the studio created something terrific and daring with its 2009 bolt-from-the-blue, Batman: Arkham Asylum, it elevated the series to masterfulness with Batman: Arkham City — one of the best games, superhero or otherwise, I’ve ever played.

People who don’t engage with superhero games or even much care for open world ones played Arkham City. People who have no investment in the Batman mythos (or who, like me, have little use for the comic industry’s commodification of the postmodernist horse it’s been beating since Alan Moore’s subversions) played Arkham City. If you haven’t played Arkham City, you might as well be telling me you haven’t played BioShock 2, Dark Souls, Grand Theft Auto V, The Last of Us, Persona 4 or Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s not a game you miss.

Judging from Game Informer‘s overview, it sounds like the new game, dubbed Arkham Knight, takes place a year after Arkham City‘s events. Rocksteady says it wanted to do a next-gen version for its third (and apparently final) Arkham outing, so it outsourced Batman: Arkham Origins for last-gen platforms to keep the series rolling for commercial reasons, rolled up its sleeves, and got to work on Arkham Knight — ostensibly the conclusion of what Rocksteady’s now calling its Arkham trilogy.

Let’s talk metrics. According to Game Informer, Arkham Knight‘s sandbox play-space, still situated in Gotham City as you’d expect, is “five times” the size of Arkham City‘s map. Rocksteady adds, however, that the focus is on making that play-space more detailed. The days of slipping into a deli in the middle of nowhere and striking up an arbitrary, procedurally generated conversation with a contextually-aware but otherwise game-irrelevant A.I. shop owner, say about recent events in the neighborhood for whimsy’s sake, are probably decades away, but it’s nice to see a developer working to flush out the usual prettified facades.

What else. The game is single-player only (thank goodness). The game’s cutscenes and gameplay are of a piece now: the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are powerful enough to keep everything seamlessly in-engine. Kevin Conroy is back as the voice of Batman (though I thought Roger Craig Smith did a fine job in Arkham Origins, and would have welcomed him back here). And it sounds like you can use certain gadgets, say throwing out zip lines, more dynamically, instead of looking for narrowly defined usage zones.

Combat’s been diversified, but not further complicated, so think alternative maneuvers, not fussier mechanics. And there’s the Batmobile, which sounds like Rocksteady’s making a noir version of Car Wars: vehicle use is for much more than city traversal, up to and including locking onto and lobbing missiles at enemy vehicles.

As for your nemesis this round, it won’t be the Joker. That’s my takeaway, anyway, and thank goodness. That story and character have played out in this timeline. If you’re reading this Rocksteady — and minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t played Arkham City — if you reanimate the Joker’s corpse, or play it all off as a trick, Sherlock-style, I’ll be very unhappy. Fingers crossed the shadowy Bat-like character silhouetted in the Game Informer piece really is someone new, as claimed, and not just a story stunt involving Joker clone cells and Days of Our Lives-caliber shenanigans.

Arkham Knight is due for PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One on October 14.

TIME Apps & Web

FileThis Automatically Gathers and Files Important Documents Online

FileThis

FileThis is one of the more exciting new products for taking financial records to the digital realm.

Finally, a critical missing link in the paperless billing chain has been filled. FileThis is a new Web-based service that that automatically downloads your e-statements into your PC or cloud storage.

FileThis covers the gamut of household paper filing — bank statements, phone bills, tax documents, mortgage statements, credit card statements, insurance policies and benefits, online shopping accounts, utilities and so on.

Is It safe?

Security is a legitimate major concern on such aggregating sites, for fear that one password could give a thief access to the family jewels. So let’s address that up front.

Do you have to give the site your passwords to access bank accounts and more? Yes. How secure can that be? It is essentially as secure as online banking, using the same methods.

FileThis encrypts your login information the moment you enter it. Once you’re on its servers, everything is encrypted to the highest standard so no one can decode your content, even if hackers were to somehow break in. The few employees who manage the encryption process undergo the same rigorous security measures used in banks, including background checks.

And finally, even if someone accessed your FileThis password, it could not be used to make changes to your accounts, because FileThis only does one thing: retrieve statements. Your individual account passwords are never visible, not even to you. The system has been built from the ground up to be secure and safe.

FileThis is based on a user fee revenue model (free basic service with fee-based advanced services). Income comes from customers, not from partners or advertisers. This means there are no hidden loyalties.

Why would I need this?

Our world is gradually shifting from paper to paperless systems. During the transition, consumers must grapple with both types of media for tasks such as preparing taxes and maintaining records. Many institutions charge a fee for paper statements or don’t offer paper at all.

Digital records can equally be a hassle because of the manual process necessary to download all e-statements into your digital file cabinet. PayPal, for instance, keeps only three months’ worth; fall behind at your own risk. FileThis comes to the rescue by automating the whole process, running in the background to collect e-statements while still giving you complete content ownership and control of where they get filed.

How does it work?

First, link your various accounts. It takes just a moment to find your institutions on the supported list and enter login credentials for each. Then choose where you want the documents stored.

The rest is automatic. FileThis automatically fetches all the stored statements at the institutions — up to three years’ worth if available — and saves them in PDF format (a boon, if you’ve been lax at downloading and filing or if you’ve wrangled PDFing HTML statements).

Next, FileThis analyzes each document to automatically give it a descriptive file name, tag it with the correct date, index key words and categorize it for easy searching (for example, “tax documents” instead of “bank statements”). All of this occurs in the background.

Finally, documents are moved to the destination you’ve chosen in automatically created sub-folders. According to the company, most consumers choose one of the supported cloud services, such as Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive, although some users chose their local PC drive. FileThis also offers its own proprietary cloud with additional robust features like advanced filing and keyword search.

What’s the hitch?

FileThis carries a few limitations. The list of covered institutions is finite. FileThis has to write code to connect to each institution, and though it plans to continue adding new ones, those with the largest demand take precedence.

So while you’ll find major institutions like Chase, Comcast, Verizon and Amazon all covered, FileThis lacks regional institutions like health insurers or local utilities. As a work-around, the site offers document upload and invites users to suggest other institutions to support. The list of supported institutions is expected to triple from 330 to 1,000 by 2015.

Another limitation: The service is available only in the United States.

And, finally, it’s not easy to direct documents to more than one location — for example, both your local PC and a cloud service. FileThis is designed to be used with one or the other. Lastly, while some leading cloud services are supported, many are not yet.

Pricing

The free version of FileThis allows connections with up to six institutions, with $20 per year for 12 connections or $50 per year for 30 connections.

If you’re using the proprietary FileThis cloud storage, your storage space increases from 500MB to 10GB.

Of course, there are no space limitations if you’re downloading to your PC or your own cloud service.

Similar solutions

Other products perform some of the same functions. Manilla, built for online bill payments, offers more breadth in some ways, such as email syncing that automatically pulls in emailed statements. But it connects with institutions at a different level, often grabbing only the information it needs for bill payments rather all the e-statement documents needed for filing and tax documents, and Manilla does not go back so far to pull history. Another example is Doxo, similar to Manilla.

Services like these are evolving rapidly, as they pioneer new ways to organize digital household information.

What currently sets FileThis apart

  • FileThis is a digital mailbox and filing service for all documents, including healthcare benefits or policy documents, year-end tax documents from mortgage or investment companies, trade confirmations and quarterly reports from investment companies — not just billing statements!
  • FileThis is designed for viewing and storing documents. There is no access to transactional processes.
  • FileThis automatically files documents, classifying and tagging them and making them text searchable.
  • FileThis lets you choose where to store documents.
  • FileThis consumer-paid subscriptions are its single source of income, so there are no backroom deals with business partners or advertisers.

The bottom line

I have to admit, FileThis is one of the more exciting new products for taking financial records to the digital realm. That paper tiger no longer seems quite so scary.

This article was written by Kristy Holch and originally appeared on Techlicious.
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TIME How-To

Quick Gmail Trick: Pre-Write Email Messages with Canned Responses

Watch the above video or follow the steps below:

1. Click the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of Gmail, then choose Settings.

2. Click the Labs tab, find Canned Responses, click the Enable radio button to enable Canned Responses, scroll down and click Save Changes.

3. Compose an email message you’d like to use over and over again, and then click the arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the message window. Choose Canned Responses, and under the Save heading, select New Canned Response. Give your response a name and click OK.

4. The next time someone emails you something that warrants the canned response you created, reply to the message and instead of typing your response, click the arrow button in the lower right-hand corner, select Canned Responses, and then under Insert, choose the canned response you created in the previous step. You’ll then see your response appear in the body of your reply.

5. You can also automate canned responses to be sent out based on certain criteria (sender, keyword, label, subject and things like that). Click here to read Google’s how-to.

More Quick Tech Tricks:

 

 

TIME Video Games

Zynga Wants You Back with New Farmville, Words With Friends and Poker

Zynga

What's Facebook? Zynga's new games are all about phones and tablets.

If you could just stop playing Candy Crush Saga for a minute, Zynga would really like you to get back into Farmville, Words With Friends and Poker now.

As such, the company is announcing revamped versions of its hit games for mobile devices:

  • FarmVille 2: Country Escape has you raising crops in a coastal setting on phones and tablets. It connects with the web version of FarmVille 2, has a common rewards system and adds “Social Control” options so you don’t have to spam all your friends and family with your progress. It also works offline.
  • Words With Friends is getting a dictionary, leaderboards and detailed statistics. Players can switch to the new version and have all their in-progress games and history carry over.
  • Zynga Poker will be faster and more responsive, and will learn how good of a player you are to match you up with people of equal skill.

Things haven’t been going so well for Zynga. A few years ago, Zynga dominated Facebook gaming with hits like FarmVille and CityVille, but the company hasn’t been able to sustain that success, and declining user numbers have led Zynga to lay off hundreds of employees over the last year. On mobile devices, Zynga hasn’t been as dominant, and one of its biggest efforts to buy into the space–with the $200 million purchase of Draw Something makers OMGPOP–was a spectacular failure.

The trio of revamped games are a clear attempt by Zynga to refocus on mobile. In fact, the company’s blog post announcing the games doesn’t mention Facebook at all. Still, Zynga will need more than few warmed over classics to recapture the enthusiasm of its Facebook heyday.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Autos

Volvo Shows Off the Apple CarPlay iPhone Interface

Hot on the heels of Apple rolling out the details behind its CarPlay interface, Volvo has posted a video to YouTube showing off what everything will look like.

Hot on the heels of Apple rolling out the details behind its CarPlay interface, Volvo has posted a video to YouTube showing off what everything will look like. As you can see, you’re presented with a limited number of apps that have been given car-friendly designs: Maps, Phone, Messages, Spotify and others.

Apple says “even more supported apps are coming soon,” which is a sign CarPlay won’t just be a free-for-all where you can futz with every app you have on your phone. They’ll each have to be re-imagined for a quick-glance environment first, which is probably safest for everyone involved. There’s no mention of web browsers, either, which may very well be another safety measure.

You can read more about CarPlay from my colleague Harry here.

Volvo and Apple CarPlay [YouTube via 9to5Mac]

TIME Rumors

A Glimpse at Cortana, Microsoft’s Version of Siri and Google Now

Microsoft

The Halo-inspired AI will reportedly follow Google into creepy-useful territory.

Microsoft’s long-rumored virtual assistant Cortana will likely make its debut next month at the company’s Build developer conference. In the meantime, The Verge is showing what the Halo-inspired AI might look like.

Cortana reportedly takes some cues from Siri, addressing the user by name and showing an animation — a circular blue icon, as opposed to Siri’s white microphone — when it’s thinking or speaking. Users will apparently be able to ask Cortana questions by voice or type them in.

But Microsoft’s assistant will also reportedly borrow ideas from Google Now, digging into e-mail, location and other sources of personal data to serve up information without the user having to ask for it.

As we’ve seen with Google Now, e-mail can be a pretty rich data source for things like flights, restaurant reservations, ticket purchases and incoming packages. A virtual assistant could use this data to give directions when it’s time to leave for dinner, or let you know what the weather will be like on your next trip. It’s as creepy as it is useful. (Thankfully, Cortana will apparently let users control which data the service can access, or turn off e-mail monitoring entirely.)

At first, Cortana will reportedly be part of Windows Phone 8.1, which itself will be revealed in full next month. But as Microsoft slowly merges its phone and tablet operating systems, it seems likely that Cortana would find its way into Windows as well.

This is Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri [The Verge]

TIME Apps & Web

Shutterfly “Doodle” Feature Lets You Draw Custom Gifts

Shutterfly

Draw pictures or words with your finger in your choice of colors.

One of my favorite photo-publishing services is Shutterfly. The company takes all the cool pictures trapped on our phones and cameras and helps convert them into real world things. And not just prints, of course – you can have photos printed on mugs, phone cases, canvas prints and all sorts of other unique photo gifts.

This past week, Shutterfly announced a new Doodle drawing feature now built in to the Shutterfly Photo Story for iPad app. It lets you draw pictures or words with your finger in your choice of colors. It’s a nice little way for kids to add their own signature or personal touches to a gift, or for them to create their own children’s storybook.

Since Doodles are saved to shutterfly.com, you can use the company’s website to order from its large catalogue of custom-printed gifts as well. That opens up some neat possibilities for the creatively inspired, like creating your own custom throw pillows.

You can download the free Shutterfly Photo Story for iPad app on the Apple App Store.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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