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13 Digital Basics Most Americans Actually Don’t Know

Digital experts weigh in on the little-known things about the technology we use every day that could change your life.

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Young woman using a smartphone in a

You’re in for some surprises

Did you know that Amazon’s e-commerce site isn’t actually the company’s biggest money-maker? Or could you name the percentage of the world’s population that currently counts as active Facebook users? If you’re looking to expand your digital knowledge, scroll on for answers to these questions (and so much more) from ten digital experts who have their fingers on the pulse of all things new and interesting. While you’re at it, find out the technology myths you need to stop believing ASAP.

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Man using desktop pc computer, mobile office conceptVasin Lee/Shutterstock

Track (and delete) your own data

Everything you do online is tracked. But you can monitor what that means and how long some of that information remains. “Most people don’t know that they can see a list of their online activity by visiting (when signed in to their Google account),” shares Khaleela Jones, founder and CEO of Careful Feet Digital, a marketing agency for small businesses and startups. “From there, you can set your activity history on most Google products (search, Maps, etc.) to erase itself after three or 18 months.” You should know the 12 red flags someone is spying on your computer.

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Experienced businesswoman reading publication via laptop computer making research for planning startup at desktop,female secretary checking mail on netbook organizing working process in officeGaudiLab/Shutterstock

Vet any website you use

“You can easily see an estimate for the traffic that a given website has by entering the URL into a tool like SimilarWeb,” says Phil Strazzulla of Select Software Reviews. “This is useful when you are using a new website and are unsure whether to trust it or not.” Strazzulla explained that websites requesting your personal information, including credit card numbers, should have at least 100,000 monthly visitors if they are legitimate and not scam sites. “You can also see the authority of a website by entering the URL into a tool like Moz.” Protect yourself by checking out the websites you use before getting in too deep. Knowing the 12 signs a shopping site is fake will also help you avoid any scams.

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Keyboard in the workplace in the officePeter Kotoff/Shutterstock

Learn the shortcuts

“Keyboard shortcuts can save you time, and make you look like a whiz on your computer for any colleagues or friends watching,” says Strazzulla. “Start to use three to five shortcuts in your daily use and you’ll notice a huge difference in how you interact with tech!” To get started, check out these 11 keyboard shortcuts that make web browsing 10 times easier.

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google incognito mode screen close upSam Kresslein/Shutterstock

You’re not that stealthy

“Browsing in incognito mode only hides your surfing history,” shares Kenny Trinh, managing editor of Netbooknews. Your internet company may still have access to your browsing history, and your autosuggestions still collect the data—which means your future autosuggestions (including the ads served up to you) might hint at things you’ve been searching in the past, even if you were in incognito mode. “So next time you’re searching for something embarrassing, keep that in mind because you may not like the suggestions it prompts.” Here’s more on the hidden truth behind incognito mode.

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Ipad and Iphone on a wooden table backgroundmama_mia/Shutterstock

Which came first…

It’s not as hotly debated as the chicken and the egg, but nevertheless, “the iPad, despite appearing on the market after the iPhone, was invented first,” Trinh shares. “Once, Steve Jobs saw the prototype of the then ‘iPad,’ he decided to have it made smaller, into what eventually become the iPhone.” Here are some other things Apple employees won’t tell you.

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close up of facebook on a smartphoneWachiwit/Shutterstock

You aren’t crazy, Facebook IS watching

Many people report experiencing a Facebook ad appearing for something they were just discussing with their friends. It’s always creepy, and it’s definitely not a coincidence, according to Emma White, an SEO Coordinator for Multi Layer Media. “Ads are shown to you based on a few things: Your activity on Facebook, the content you interact with, your location, age, job, the places you travel to, profile information, advertiser uploaded lists, and many other conditions,” White explains. But that’s not all. “If you visit a website, some of your details could be stored in a ‘Facebook Pixel.’ This then allows the website to retarget ads to you via Facebook for up to 180 days.” Here’s how to stop Facebook from tracking your location.

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May 3, 2018 Sunnyvale / CA / USA - Amazon logo on the facade of one of their office buildings located in Silicon Valley, San Francisco bay areaSundry Photography/Shutterstock

Amazon is richer than you realize

Look, we all know Amazon makes big profits—many of us spend a good deal of our discretionary income on the site each month. But Brad Ormsby of Colorstone Marketing revealed that the online retail store is just the tip of the Amazon iceberg. “ has a portfolio of more than 100 other businesses including Zappos, Twitch Interactive, and,” Ormbsy explains. “And while you may think that their eCommerce store,, makes all of their money, the majority actually comes from their Amazon Web Services (AWS)—a cloud computing division of the company.” In fact, AWS alone was one of the highest-grossing companies in 2018, making $25.7 billion. Find out the 21 secret Amazon hacks for saving money while shopping.

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apple store with prominent logoArt Silpakorn/Shutterstock

Apple facts

Like Amazon, Apple has a history of snapping up other companies. Jonathan Lubic, president of the digital marketing company Distinction Agency, shares a major one: Apple acquired Beats Music and Beats Electronics (maker of your favorite headphones) for a whopping $3 billion back in 2014.

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Close-up Of A Man's Hand Working On LaptopAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

There are good hackers

Not all hackers are trying to break into systems and steal information, explains Casey Ellis, founder and CTO of Bugcrowd. “The good guys, aka whitehat hackers, work with companies to find their vulnerabilities and fix them before the bad guys can exploit them,” explains Ellis. “Think about it like a burglar versus a locksmith: A trained locksmith could make an incredibly competent burglar if they decided to go that route, but they have made their own decision, based on their own ethics and morality, that they will use those skills to help instead of harm.”

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close up of youtube app icon on a deviceBigTunaOnline/Shutterstock

YouTube is bending some rules

Most online platforms set their age limits at 13+ very intentionally. “If a website allows users under 13 on their platform, they have to comply with regulations that protect the privacy and safety of children online,” says Sean Herman, founder and CEO of Kinzoo, a kid tech startup. But, as he explains it, “YouTube’s top earner in 2018 was a then 7-year-old boy named Ryan, who reviews toys on his channel, Ryan’s World. This certainly appeals to children who are technically not supposed to be on the platform.”

YouTube does have a platform specifically for kids, though it’s faced an onslaught of criticism for allowing children to access unsavory content. In response, the company says they are working hard to better protect their young users, and parents can access a variety of parental control features meant to provide a safer user experience.

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facebook login screen on a laptopsitthiphong/Shutterstock

Facebook has taken over

“Despite a seemingly endless amount of negativity surrounding the company and privacy issues, Facebook is still growing,” says Herman. “As of the second quarter of 2019, Facebook’s Monthly Active Users increased to 2.4 billion people, a year-over-year increase of 8 percent.” But that’s not all. “As of the same time frame, approximately 31.3 percent of the earth’s population was counted as a monthly active user of Facebook (meaning they have visited the site at least once in the past month).” If you fall into that category, it may be time to check out these 9 signs you spend too much time on Facebook.

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Green chairs with free standard USB power socket or USB port slot charger in airport. Travelling comfortDmitry Dven/Shutterstock

Hold off on that public USB port

When your phone is running low on battery, you probably wouldn’t think twice about plugging it into the nearest public USB Port for a charge, especially when you’re at the airport. But that’s a mistake according to James Song, principal investigator at Shadow Foundry, a New York-based strategic technology partner for fast-growing companies.

“When you plug your charger into a public USB port, it’s possible that the port is reading information from your device,” he explains. “Data goes two ways through a USB cable. There is no way to know if a USB port is attempting to collect your data or not without dismantling the USB port and studying its components.” In addition to being wary about public USB ports, avoid these 14 things you should never do on public WiFi.

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Overhead View Of Couple Sitting Face To Face Using Laptop On TableAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Teaming up

There are a surprising number of big companies that are jointly owned, says Brandon White, entrepreneur and tech expert. A few examples: Jack Dorsey who CEO of both Twitter and Square (the payment processing company), eBay owns Pay Pal, Microsoft owns Skype, and Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp. That’s a lot of big names all under similar umbrellas. Next, read on to find out 11 more things IT professionals don’t want you to know.

Leah Campbell
Leah Campbell covers technology for Reader’s Digest as well as sites including She has a degree in developmental psychology and has written extensively on topics relating to infertility, dating, adoption and parenting. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also author of the book Single Infertile Female. She lives in Alaska. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.