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Originally published Friday, May 2, 2014 at 4:39 PM

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Big data at work, or does networking service snoop?

How did LinkedIn seem to know names on a reader’s email address list? The company’s explanation — commonalities with existing members or contact lists they have uploaded — is believable, writes Patrick Marshall. Also, some advice on choosing an all-in-one computer.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: Computers are a bit puzzling for those like me who use them for simple things like email contact with grandkids and old friends. Perhaps you can bring me up to date a bit.

Recently, a neighbor who uses LinkedIn sent them my name and email address as a potential user. LinkedIn sent me an email inviting me to join. It included four names from my email address list in Hotmail and suggested they could be easily contacted or followed via LinkedIn.

I never discussed the four names with the neighbor, so they didn’t get them from her. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter or any of those kinds of services, so they couldn’t have been a source.

Did LinkedIn go into my computer to get those four names? Or into Hotmail’s computer? If so, how prevalent is that practice? Is it legal for LinkedIn (or anyone else) to do that?

— H.W. Petersen, Bellevue

A: According to LinkedIn, people you may know are identified based on:

1. Commonalities between you and other members (e.g., same company, industry or school).

2. Members in your Imported Contacts list.

Of course, if you are in the contact lists of others, you have a commonality with others in those lists. So we’re very quickly talking big data here — people who know people who know people. If, for example, others in your neighbor’s uploaded contact list also have you in their uploaded contact lists, they would be added to the list of people you might know, as will many others who appear in those lists.

I can’t swear for sure that there’s no malware peeking into your Hotmail account. But I do believe there are other ways to make those connections. The most likely explanation is that LinkedIn checked to see what members have you listed in their list of imported contacts.

Q: Our old XP laptop is no longer being supported, and is pretty slow anyway. We are looking at the new all-in-one machines with wireless mouse and keyboard and touch screens.

This is a very open-ended question, but after looking at myriad reviews of machines and visiting Best Buy to see some of the machines firsthand, we have not reached a decision on which machine is a “best” buy.

We’d like something with four or five ports, a built-in wireless card, medium-size screen with good resolution, easy to use, midrange cost and power, an optical drive and is reliable (maintenance free).

I am not enamored of purchasing a monthly Office 365 contract for Word and Excel applications. These costs could rise, and the idea of one more monthly fee added to our budget is not appealing.

My wife contends that, since consumers are being forced to upgrade more and more often, a lower-cost machine will suffice, as long as it has all of the above characteristics. Can you recommend two or three devices which we could look at?

— Rich Thomasy

A: I can’t in good conscience make recommendations of equipment unless I have recently reviewed it. And I haven’t reviewed any all-in-one computers. In any case, computers have become pretty well commoditized. The major brand-name devices often have the same or very comparable components.

That said, the biggest potential drawback to an all-in-one is that you can’t swap out components as easily.

First, go sit in front of the computer you’re considering and make sure you like the screen. After all, you’re not going to be able to replace it. Also, make sure to overestimate the amount of RAM you need, or at least make sure you can add RAM at a later date.

As for the wireless, I’d be surprised if you could find a computer that didn’t have it built in.

I agree with you about the trend toward software subscriptions. Although it does tend to improve security, since the manufacturer can automatically take care of updates and keep the software current, users who don’t need the new features are generally required to pay much more than they did with the old licensing model.

You might want to consider using a free open-source office suite, such as Open Office.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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