TIME Web

How Health Websites Are Sharing Your Symptom Searches

Health Website Symptom Search
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

From WebMD.com to CDC.gov

Searching for symptoms of your sickness online can be a huge hassle, and now there’s another headache to consider: your online privacy.

From for-profit sites like WebMD.com to government sites like CDC.gov, health websites are passing along your searches to third-party websites, according to a report in Motherboard.

The culprit? Many of these sites employ tracking tools that end up forwarding your searches onto big-name companies like Google and Facebook, along with lesser-known data brokers.

Read the rest of the story at Motherboard.

TIME Web

Reddit Restricts Nude Photos After Celebrity Hacking Scandal

Users are now banned from posting nudes without permission

Reddit is cracking down on sexual content following the posting of many celebrities’ nude photos on the messaging site last year.

The company said Tuesday that it is changing its privacy policy to ban users from posting nude photos and videos of people engaged in sex acts without getting their permission first, the New York Times reports.

Many people criticized Reddit in September when nude pictures of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence were widely disseminated on the site. Reddit eventually removed the photos but argued that the removal was because some of the images may have violated copyright or depicted underage girls, not because they were an invasion of people’s privacy. The new rules, however, seem to indicate that Reddit is shifting its typical opposition to any and all forms of censorship. “The opportunity here [is] to set a standard for respecting the privacy of our users,” Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said.

The company, which attracted $50 million in new venture funding in September, also plans to launch moderation tutorials to help users in leadership positions better govern the activities of communities on the site.

[NYT]

TIME Mobile

Beware Apps That Promise a Cancer Diagnosis

Apple Productivity Apps
Sean Gallup—Getty Images A shopper tries out the new Apple iPhone 6 at the Apple Store on the first day of sales of the new phone on Sept. 19, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

The government is cracking down on so-called "educational" apps

Given the questionable sales pitches that seem to drive Internet marketing for some apps, this statement uttered by an FTC official on Monday might seemed understated: “Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace.”

But some messages are beyond the pale. The official, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, was referring to a couple of mobile-phone apps whose providers have claimed, without offering any proof, are able to detect the presence and severity of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The regulator on Monday announced actions against the makers of two such apps: Mole Detective and MelApp. The apps have been marketed with claims that, by analyzing user-taken photos, they can determine whether the risk of melanoma his high, medium, or low.

Although the apps, which were sold for $4.99 in 2011 and 2012, advised users to see a doctor if they had any serious concerns about their health, the FTC says they were sold as “diagnostic” tools. (The caveat about seeing a doctor apparently didn’t contain a caveat of its own, stating that if you should see a doctor if you’re worried about cancer, there is obviously no reason to buy and download an app.)

According to the FCC, thousands of people downloaded the pieces of software.

The company that marketed MelApp, Health Discovery Corp., will pay $17,063 as part of its settlements. New Consumer Solutions, which developed and marketed Mole Detective, will pay $3,930. That app was later purchased by the British firm L. Health Ltd., which has elected not to settle the FTC’s case against it because, it says, the original developer had guaranteed the app didn’t violate U.S. law.

Mole Detective shot up in popularity after it was featured on “The Dr. Oz Show,” according to a report in the Washington Post. L. Health Ltd.’s Avi Lasarow said that the app “always stated that it should be used for educational purposes…”

None of this activity means that smartphone apps aren’t already becoming powerful aids for diagnosis and health management. In the case of something like skin cancer, a doctor could surely review photos to determine whether or not a patient should come in for an examination. The key word there is “doctor.”

TIME policy

Google to Strip Porn From Its Blogging Platform

Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Jan. 30, 2014.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Jan. 30, 2014.

Starting in March, graphic nudity is being removed from Blogger

Google is cracking down on sexually explicit content on its blogging platform, Blogger. The search giant announced Monday night that images that show graphic nudity won’t be publicly shareable beginning beginning on March 23. Nudity that, in Google’s estimation, offers a “substantial public benefit” artistically, educationally or scientifically will still be allowed.

Users who have sexually explicit content on their blog will have the option to make the content private rather than having it removed by Google. The company is reserving the right to take down any blogs created after March 23 that post explicit material.

The change may convince some bloggers to flock to Tumblr instead, which has lax policies regarding sexually explicit photos.

[The Verge]

TIME Smartphones

Siri Took All Those Language Classes You’ve Been Putting Off

Apple's Siri on iPhone
Oli Scarff—Getty Images A man uses 'Siri' on the new iPhone 4S after being one of the first customers in the Apple store in Covent Garden on October 14, 2011 in London, England.

Siri is learning Russian, Danish, Dutch and more

A new beta of iOS 8.3 Apple released Monday morning shows Siri will soon be fluent in many more languages.

The new iPhone operating system build shows that Russian, Danish, Dutch, Thai, Turkish, Swedish and Portuguese will be added to Siri’s impressive repertoire, 9to5Mac reports. The new iOS will also add different English accents for regions like New Zealand.

Siri already knows French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, Italian, Cantonese, Korean, and Spanish—as well as regional variants of those languages.

The new iOS will also have a slew of more racially diverse palette of emoji, allowing users to click and hold on any emoji to change the skin tone.

There’s no set release date for iOS 8.3 yet.

[9to5Mac]

TIME Advertising

Sheryl Sandberg: Simplifying Facebook Ads Led to Enormous Growth

FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit - Day 2
Paul Morigi—Getty Images Chief operating officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit on Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington D.C.

The company hit the milestone Tuesday

Facebook has come a long way from the banner ads that populated the site back in 2004. The world’s largest social network announced Tuesday that it now has 2 million “active advertisers,” defined as an advertiser that’s placed an ad in the last 28 days.

The company crossed the milestone less than two years after it reached 1 million advertisers in June 2013.

Facebook has recently been taking pains to court small businesses in particular, cutting the number of ad products in half to make its offerings easier to understand. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company has also been hosting free marketing training sessions around the country. A new Ads Manager app launching for iOS Tuesday that lets Facebook advertisers create and edit ads on the go could help lure still more smaller marketers.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg attributes the company’s fast advertiser growth to the streamlined ad products in particular. “A couple years ago, our offering was, ‘Do you want to become a Facebook advertiser?’ That sounds complicated,” Sandberg says. “Now you do a post, and we ask, ‘Do you want to promote this post?’ That’s a pretty easy on-ramp to being an advertiser.”

Though Facebook likes to say its ads are effective because of the amount of data it has about its users, Forrester researcher Nate Elliot says advertisers are actually attracted to the platform mostly because of the sheer number of people using it: 1.3 billion. Citing surveys of marketers, Elliot says Facebook ads have not been found to be particularly more effective than other online ads.

“Facebook knows more about its users than likely any other company in history,” he says. “For its ads to work only about as well as the ads on Yahoo or the ads on a random online network is a bit damning.” Facebook says that in an internal study of 20 retailers, it found a 2% average increase in offline sales for shoppers who were shown a Facebook ad compared to those who were not.

One thing is certain: marketers are continuing to buy them, pumping money into Facebook’s coffers. The company generated $3.8 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2014, a new high. That came almost entirely from advertising. And there are plenty of potential advertisers that remain untapped—Facebook says it hosts a total of 30 million active small business Pages, up from 25 million in November 2013.

Owners of these Pages are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that they’ll have to pay to have their posts seen by many users. Facebook has been ratcheting down the reach of non-paid posts, while it tweaked its News Feed algorithm in January to cut down on promotional posts.

The company is pivoting to promote Pages as a free, simple alternative to a hosted website rather than a free way to get into users’ News Feeds. Nearly a billion people visited Facebook pages directly in October, the company says. “While organic distribution has gone down, as more people have come on the platform, it’s still really the only organic distribution or free distribution that small businesses can get that I’m aware of,” Sandberg says.

However, Elliott warns that Facebook could change the design or utility of Pages at any moment. That means a company could spend time and energy building a Page, only for its efforts to become less valuable down the road.

As for Facebook’s future, the company is continuing to push its video product, noting that 800,000 small businesses posted videos in September 2014. The company is also experimenting with new presentation formats for Pages, such as showing dinner menus or items for purchase on restaurant and retailer’s Pages. As long as users’ eyeballs are glued to Facebook, advertisers large and small will be there too.

“They’ve improved the creative formats and they’ve improved the forms of targeting that are available to marketers as well,” Elliott says. “They still have a lot of room to grow on both counts.”

TIME Drones

Mysterious Drones Spotted Over Paris

Earth Hour In Paris
Antoine Antoniol—Getty Images The Eiffel Tower is seen before the lights are switched off for Earth Hour 2012, on March 31, 2012 in Paris, France.

Flights over U.S. embassy and landmarks raise surveillance concerns

French police are searching for the pilots behind several mysterious drones that were seen cruising over Paris landmarks and secured compounds on Monday and Tuesday nights.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are already prohibited across the French capital, the Wall Street Journal reports, but the flights spotted this week have raised surveillance concerns in a city that is on high alert after the January terrorist attacks. The drones were seen flying near the Eiffel Tower, the U.S. Embassy and the Interior Ministry.

Police have not yet established how many drones were involved, or whether there was any connection between the flights.

Read more in the WSJ

Read next: Watch This Stunning Drone’s Eye View of Frozen Niagara Falls

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TIME Spending & Saving

Budget-Minded Travelers Have to Look Harder for Deals

airplane-landing-runway
Getty Images

Consolidation means would-be deal hunters must turn to new sites for savings

One of the ways the TV show The Americans makes it clear that it’s a period piece is by showing its Soviet spies working at a travel agency. Yes, those were indeed different times when a family could support a decent lifestyle by booking trips for tourists. When the web emerged in the 90s, travel agencies were one of the first to fall by the wayside.

A generation of web startups emerged helping travelers to quickly find the cheapest fares on their own PCs: Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz. Priceline offered its distinctive “name your own price” model before giving in and adopting the basic discount business model of the others. Meanwhile, independent travel agents in North America and Europe closed up shop.

After a while, consolidation became inevitable and it grew harder to differentiate between the myriad travel sites. A generation of younger startups like Kayak and Trivago emerged to improve on things, by offering meta-search engines that searched the travel search engines for deals that were getting harder to find. Airlines and hotels wised up to the game, inserting add-on fees onto their posted fares or offering deals available exclusively through their own sites.

In time, consolidation gobbled up the young startups: Priceline bought Kayak and Expedia acquired Trivago. Many of the older sites are still around , for anyone loyal to them–Travelocity, Hotels.com, Cheaptickets.com–only they’re owned by either Expedia and Priceline.

And earlier this month, when Expedia said it would pay $1.3 billion for Orbitz, it left basically two major online-travel sites. There are a few mid-sized travel companies remaining but some, like TripAdvisor, have seen their stocks rise on speculation that its shares could soon be in play.

For consumers, the trend probably isn’t a positive one. It may well make finding the best travel deals that much harder, now that there’s less incentive for Expedia and Priceline to compete with others for the best deals. The Justice Department may review the proposed Expedia-Orbitz deal for antitrust concerns. If regulators act to derail the transaction, Expedia will owe Orbitz $115 million, so Expedia has a strong incentive to see the acquisition go through.

In the meantime, competition from other web giants hasn’t really emerged. There have been reports that Amazon would enter the online-travel space in January, but they haven’t panned out yet, and Amazon’s plans may be as modest as some package deals as part of Amazon local. Google’s purchase of ITA hasn’t made it a huge presence in online travel, but it allowed it to create a spiffier interface for the same flight data that can be found on Kayak, Orbitz and others.

If there’s any hope for bargain-hunting travelers, it may come from the ever flowing emergence of new travel startups. The clearest example is Airbnb, the accommodation-rental marketplace that more than any other startup of the past decade has shown there’s still growth for new entrants. Airbnb was recently valued around $13 billion, or slightly less than the combined market value of Expedia and Orbitz and about a fifth of Priceline’s.

For airfares–or for hotels and vacation rentals that can’t be found in the lodging-sharing economy pioneered by Airbnb–there are mostly smaller players. HomeAway, which offers through VRBO.com and other sites vacation rentals that avoid Airbnb, has a $2.9 billion market cap. CheapOair and Skyscanner represent a new, more-meta kind of airfare engine that scours fares available to online travel agents.

In the end, consolidation may simply push budget-minded travelers away from the biggest companies and toward new startups that are figuring out new angles for finding travel values. Vayable, for example, connects travelers with locals who can act as tour guides, while Gogobot uses a social model to help tourists plan trips based on their interests.

And then there’s Flightfox. The San Francisco-based startup, sensing the difficulty of finding the best travel deals online in an era of consolidation, uses crowdsourcing to tap the expertise of others who know the tricks of finding deals. In a way, Flightfox has brought the online-travel industry back full circle to the traditional travel agent. After two decades of online travel sites, having a human book your itinerary may be the once again the best option.

TIME Autos

You Asked: How Do Driverless Cars Work?

In the future, your Dodge Laser may be equipped with an actual laser

Even though they’re barely on the road, self-driving cars have been talked about so much that they already seem like they’re last year’s model. Google has been working on one for years. Apple is allegedly, possibly, working on one, too. And there’s even speculation that everyone from Uber to Tesla could join the race, too.

But before you give up the wheel, get familiar with the technology driving autonomous vehicles.

There are three things required to turn a regular car into an automated one, according to Sridhar Lakshmanan, a self-driving auto expert and engineering professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The first is a GPS system pretty much like the ones found in many vehicles today. The second is a system to recognize dynamic conditions on the roads. And the third is a way to turn the information from the other two systems into action on your ride.

“What the autonomous system is supposed to achieve, in its full maturity, is the best of a computer, which is able to process large reams of data, and the ability of a human being to be adaptive in a new or known environment,” says Lakshmanan.

While having a GPS may seem like a no-brainer, it’s actually a vital part of a self-driving car’s over-arching technology. This system, which is essentially no different than Google Maps’ driving directions, defines the “mission” of the autonomous vehicle by setting the starting and ending point of the drive. It looks at all the roads, chooses the best path, and is often better than people at doing it.

“Human beings are not equipped to process tremendous amounts of prior data like maps,” says Lakshmanan.

But GPS alone is not enough to make a smart car. Its maps never (or rarely) change, and the reality of the road includes dynamics like detours, traffic, and other obstacles. “Autonomous driving requires a second level of intelligence with the ability to fill in additional details in the map,” says Lakshmanan. This system, which Lakshmanan calls a “differential GPS,” uses an array of technology such as radar and cameras to detect the ever-changing variables that surround it.

“If you think of the map as having a static view of the world, the sensor system is providing a dynamic fill-in to that map,” he says. “These two, together, provide what is called a ‘world model’ for that autonomous vehicle.”

Among the sensors feeding information into the differential GPS are cameras, radar, and lasers. Cameras, obviously, let the car’s computers see what’s around it. Radar, however, allows the vehicle to see up to 100 meters away in the dark, rain, snow, or other vision-imparing circumstances (Interestingly, “adaptive” cruise control systems in newer vehicles already use radar technology.) And the lasers, which look like a spinning siren light, continuously scan the world around your car and provide the vehicle with a continuous, three-dimensional omni-directional view of its surroundings.

“These sensors are providing you with raw information of the world. You need very sophisticated algorithms to process all that information, just like a human would,” says Lakshmanan.

Of course these sensors are necessary because autonomous cars are adapting to a human-driven world. There is hope that, in the future, all cars would be able to talk to each other in a connected vehicle environment. Your car would know precisely where other vehicles are, where they’re going, and where they will turn, so the computers can navigate smoothly. But we’re not there yet, says Lakshmanan, though its framework is in its experimental stage.

And lastly, the autonomous vehicle needs to be equipped to take the GPS and sensor information and turn it into actions, like steering, accelerating, or hitting the brakes. This is typically done by what’s called the “CAN bus” (which stands for controller area network). This in-vehicle electronic network has been in cars for decades, which means that autonomous vehicles of the future aren’t much different, mechanically, than the dumb-mobiles we’re driving today.

So, if someone — whether it’s Google, Apple, or a company we haven’t even heard of yet — finds a way to build an aftermarket system that would let people equip their cars with the necessary sensors to detect the world around it, one day you could kick back and let your Geo Metro take you all over the city — or even the world.

Read next: You Asked: How Do Virtual Reality Headsets Work?

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TIME computer

How to Clean Out and Organize Your Computer

computer-screen-folders
Getty Images

Follow these tips for a lean, mean processing machine

If you haven’t been organizing and discarding files as you go, it’s likely your hard drive is stuffed with downloads, unwanted photos, file copies and other digital dust bunnies. This can reveal itself in slower performance, that unsettling humming noise, and the Mac’s dreaded spinning wheel or Windows’ inverting hourglass.

You may even have, like me, taken advantage of the Mac’s awesome Migration Assistant to shift all your documents, files and settings from one Mac to another — only you now have duplicate Downloads and Documents folders in different destinations, causing bafflement every time a file is saved.

Deep cleaning your computer of unwanted files and streamlining your folder system can not only free up storage space, but improve your computer’s performance. From decluttering tips to apps that do your organizing for you, here’s how to spruce up your computer and make sure it stays that way.

1. Cleaning

Find duplicate files

You’d be surprised how much storage is used up by duplicate files, whether they’re files you saved twice to different locations or multiple downloads of the same file. If you buy music on iTunes, you may have a few gigabytes of duplicate songs from, say, buying a greatest-hits album that contains tracks you already own.

The easiest way to find those superfluous files is to download a third-party app that will scan your folders for duplicate content, then let you review the dupes to decide if the extras should be deleted.

Mac: Head to the App Store on your computer and search for “duplicate cleaner.” We like Duplicate Detective ($2.99), a simple app with a straightforward interface for hunting down duplicates. Duplicate Cleaner For iPhoto (free for a limited time) is an easy to use app for zapping double images, even if they’ve been edited.

If you fancy doing it manually, you can also click All My Files, order the files by sealecting Name from the drop down sorting icon, then scan for files that have the same name. However, this method is less effective if you’ve saved the same file under different names.

Windows: There are quite a few good options for free duplicate zappers for Windows, so we’ll skate over the manual method, and recommend Duplicate Cleaner (free) and DupeGuru (free), which comes in three versions: regular, a Music edition and a Pictures edition that can find duplicate songs and images even if the files are coded differently. For example, if you have the same music track at different bitrates, or if a picture has been resized or slightly edited, DupeGuru will flag it and let you decide which to keep.

Clear your system’s cache

The processes your computer runs through when you use files or programs creates tons of tiny, temporary files that help it retrieve the information you’re need faster. Clearing your computer of all these can often help speed up its performance.

Mac: Start with Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities), and hit First Aid > Repair to scan and patch up your hard drive. Next, search for “Mac cleaner” apps on the App Store, such as Dr. Cleaner, to clear your computer’s cache of temporary files from browsers and other programs. Dr. Cleaner found 12.89GB out of my meager 140GB storage that could be reclaimed, with 12.82GB coming from application-cached files. This app also gives you to option to clear your Downloads folder, but unless you have a clever structure in place to automatically save important downloads (see the final section for relevant tips), don’t check that box just yet.

Windows: For Windows 8, head to the Control Panel and find Disk Clean-up. If you’re on older versions of Windows, find it in System Tools. You can then start cleanup for temporary and system files that are no longer needed.

Clear the downloads folder of unnecessary files

The Downloads folder can be expunged of detritus such as PDFs of old plane tickets, GIFs and humorous cat pics from emails, torrent links to files you now have, .dmg (Mac) or .exe (Windows) installers of apps you now have, and so on.

Mac and Windows: Open the Downloads folder, and view its contents by file type, then go through each category and drag the unneeded files to the Trash (Mac) or Recycle Bin (Windows).

Leave the documents, photos, music and videos for now. They can be dealt with when you’re ready to start sorting the files you want to keep (see the next section).

Delete applications

Mac: You can delete unused programs by dragging them from the Applications folder into the Trash. This deletes most files associated with the app, such as data generated, but not preference files and support files. Preference files contain info about your settings in the app and are usually only a few kilobytes, while application support files can range from kilobytes to gigabytes when it comes to large media apps such as DVD Studio Pro or GarageBand.

To delete these, head to Finder, click on Macintosh HD (or Home) > Library > Application Support, where the files will be listed by app. You may even find some old files from apps you’d thought you were totally rid of. Dump them in the trash by dragging and dropping. Be careful in here: only delete files from apps you know you deleted, otherwise you may end up deleting crucial files from, say, Microsoft, which makes the Silverlight video plugin you probably use regardless of whether you have any Microsoft programs. Alternately, try out AppZapper, which lets you delete five apps and all their associated files for free; after that it costs $12.95.

Windows: Windows PCs have a pretty spiffy uninstall feature that removes everything associated with an app, so on all versions of Windows, head to Control Panel > Programs and Features, select a program and select uninstall.

Although some programs may leave behind settings info in the registry, a database of configuration settings, the data is minimal and Microsoft recommends not modifying the registry unless you really know what you’re doing.

Defrag? Still?

In the long-ago times of early 2000s computing, most of us incorporated disk defragmentation into our cleaning rituals. Disk fragmentation occurs as a file system loses its ability to keep related data together, causing the hard drive to work harder to bring up data related to current tasks, thus slowing down performance.

In general, Mac computers don’t need to be defragged, especially newer Mac laptops that have solid state drives (SSD), use a different method of maintaining data. Windows 8 automatically runs a disk defrag (now called disk optimization) on a weekly schedule.

If you want to hasten a defrag (or optimization), Windows support has the lowdown for Windows 8 computers as well as PCs running Windows 7 or older.

Zap spyware and trackers

It’s possible that in the course of your internet browsing, you acquired some trackers, spyware or even minor viruses (unless, of course, you have been using up-to-date security software). Even so, malware is an ever-evolving beast, so it’s a good idea to run a scan of your system with an anti-malware program such as Avira Free (Mac/PC), which scans for viruses, trojans, trackers and other malware.

Finishing touches

Mac: In Finder, if your Favorites column contains links to unused folders, delete them by right-clicking and selecting “Remove from Sidebar.” And don’t be afraid to remove applications from your Dock unless you really need daily access to them. Just close the app first, then hold on its icon in the Dock, and drag it to the Trash.

Windows: Minimize the number of programs that get to be in the Start Screen (Windows 8) or Start Menu (Windows 7) by right-clicking the unwanted app, and selecting “Unpin from Start Menu.”

2. Sorting

Now that we’ve cleaned things up a bit, we can get down to gathering all files of a type.

Merge duplicate folders

If you have two folders with the same name and they should really be the same folder — say, two “Invoices” folders squirreled away in different parent folders (or in my case, two of every important folder) — you can manually merge them.

Mac and Windows: Choose which folder will be the one you use henceforth, then select all the files from the other folder and drag or Copy/Cut+Paste into the desired folder. If files have the same name – either because you saved twice to different locations, or simply because you accidentally named different things the same – select to “Keep Both” and sort out the naming later.

Find a home for photos

First, identify where all your pictures might be – for example, the Downloads folder if you often download from email or Facebook; folders for imports from phones and digital cameras; or a cloud storage service such as Google+ or iCloud where they may have auto-synced from your smartphone.

If you use an iPhone and a Mac, assuming you’re on iOS 7 or newer, your photos will be synced to Photo Stream and viewable on iPhoto on the Mac.

If you use an iPhone and a Windows PC, Apple’s My Photo Stream automatically downloads the most recent photos to your PC, viewable in C:\\Users\[user name]\Pictures\iCloud Photos\My Photo Stream. Make sure you have iCloud installed and that Photo Stream is turned on in Settings > iCloud > Photos.

If you use an Android phone, your photos may be auto-synced to your Google+ account (on the phone, open the Photos app > Settings > Auto-backup toggle), or you can import them via USB connection to a folder on your computer.

Mac and Windows: Next, create the master collection of photos. You may want to simply download all photos from, say, Photo Stream or Google+ to your computer, but with digital cameras allowing infinite shots of the same scenes, this can quickly fill up your hard drive.

Instead, consider purchasing an external hard drive specially for photos, then transferring photos from your phone and digital camera into the hard drive, followed by moving any other photos on hard drive folders into the external photos-only drive.

Alternately, a cloud storage service for your photos can be a handy means of ensuring a backup even if your devices are lost or damaged. Our list of the best photo-sharing (and storing) sites includes ThisLife, which pulls together pictures from your social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, and allows uploads from your hard drive too.

Move all your documents to the Documents folder

Sounds obvious, but I have docs floating on my Mac desktop, in my Users folder and in Downloads. Comb each folder for documents then move them to their rightful home via copy/cut and paste.

Move all songs to the Music folder and all video to the Movies/Videos folder

There are a finite number of file types you use on your computer, and both Macs and Windows PCs come with predefined folders for them: Documents, Movies (Videos in Windows), Music, Pictures. Sort each file type into its appropriate “master” folder, and further sort the files into sub-folders later.

Alternatively…

Sorting your files manually is simple, albeit potentially time-consuming, but if you feel like taking a crack at creating some software rules to automatically organize photos, music, documents and videos across all your folders – and keep them organized — check out the next section for Mac and Windows apps that do just that.

3. Getting Organized

Now that you’re free of all digital flotsam, the next step is to build a folder system that will allow you to save files where they should go and incorporate an intuitive naming system so that when you forget where you put things, it’s not so hard to find them again.

Make a nest

…of folders and sub-folders. Take Documents: within this master folder, create sub-folders for major categories. For example, Work and Personal, or more specific folders such as Invoices, House Budget, or Ideas. Browse your Documents folder to get an idea of the types of files you’ve built up, then create the folders-within-folders you need.

Make sure to download new files to the Downloads folder

Then implement a regular Downloads cleaning schedule where you manually sort files into Documents, Movies, Music, or Pictures. If you have a bit of time to invest in building simple software rules, you can also check out a couple of apps that automate the process.

Organize new files as they arrive

Mac: Hazel is an intuitive, easy to use app for monitoring and auto-sorting any folder on your Mac. Setting up rules is extremely simple in an interface with drop-down options for each aspect of a rule (see screenshot). For example, when setting up a rule for moving music files out of downloads, instead of needing to specify file extensions (of which there may be several), you can simply select “Image” as a file type. You specify which folders that your rules apply to at the start of setting up each rule and then Hazel works in the background, popping up notifications when it moves files. It’s $29, with a 14-day free trial and works on Mac OS X 10.7 or newer.

Windows: DropIt is a free, open-source app that allows you to set up rules for what to do with particular file types so that you can, for example, dictate that all .jpg files are to be moved to Pictures. To zing that rule to the Downloads folder, you can add a monitoring option so that DropIt scans Downloads for new files to apply the rule to. Other actions include copying, compressing, as well as extracting – handy to apply to downloaded .zip image or music packs that you want unzipped straight into the correct folder. Setting up a rule is a straightforward process: name the rule, select the file type, pick the action from a drop-down menu, then type in the destination folder the file should be sent to afterwards — for example: C:\Users\[Your Name]\Pictures.

A similar app with a more novice-friendly interface is File Juggler, which costs $25 and features a 30-day free trial.

Back up efficiently

Setting up a backup system is crucial. Better yet, it’s a system you’ve taken the time to automate so that in the event of a computer crash or data loss, your most valuable documents will still be safe. For example, a cloud storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox is handy for automatically backing up smaller files.

When you sign up for a cloud storage service, it will create a folder on your computer that constantly syncs to the cloud so that anything in the folder is saved online as well as on your computer. You might want to save all insurance applications or a long-term project to the cloud-synced folder. Depending how much storage you have, you may want to save special photos. Amazon Prime subscribers, for example, get unlimited storage for full-resolution photos. Check out our feature on cloud storage services to see what works best for you.

If you’re backing up larger media files, such as songs or videos, you can purchase external hard drives with 1TB or more of storage (A terabyte is 1000GB, which can hold up to 250,000 photos or 1,000 HD movies). LaCie and Western Digital both offer 1TB Wi-Fi drives for $179.99, and non-Wi-Fi versions for $99.99 and $64.99, respectively.

Wi-Fi-connected models allow you to send and back up files from your smartphone as well. Some, like the Western Digital My Cloud external drive, offer 2TB to 6TB (starting at $149) of storage in a personal cloud, accessible from other connected devices and handy for creating two backups – one in the cloud, one on the drive itself.

The ultimate folder nest? Save long-term projects and other crucial files to a cloud-synced folder on your Wi-Fi hard drive for one-click multiple backups of your work that won’t crash even if your computer does.

This article originally appeared on Techlicious.

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