15 Tech Myths: Busted and Confirmed

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Myth 10: 'Unlimited' 3G broadband access really is unlimited.

Bogus Meter 3.5

Photograph: Image Courtesy of Verizon Wireless
When carriers tout their unlimited high-speed data plans, rarely do they give you free rein over what you can do with that bandwidth. But some carriers are worse than others.

Until recently, Verizon Wireless advertised an "unlimited" broadband plan that really wasn't. Although EVDO subscribers could surf the Web and send and receive e-mail, Verizon's terms of service forbade them from uploading or downloading files, viewing Webcams, or using Voice over IP services. The company also placed an undisclosed 5GB cap on each account; if it detected that you had sent or received more than that in a given month, it would terminate your contract. After months of denials, the company quietly added information about the cap to its service agreements and stopped promoting its broadband access package as unlimited.

In Cingular's (now AT&T) terms of service, you'll find that its unlimited 3G plans "cannot be used for uploading, downloading, or streaming of video content (e.g., movies, TV), music, or games." Unlike Verizon Wireless, though, it does not impose a hard data cap. It may still monitor you, though, to make sure your data usage is not too high.

Sprint's unlimited EVDO plans don't place specific restrictions on how much data you can shuttle, nor do they prohibit downloading or streaming. However, Sprint does "reserve the right to limit or suspend any heavy, continuous data usage that adversely impacts our network performance or hinders access to our network."

According to Michael Ginsberg, president of 3G portal EVDOinfo, Sprint has yet to send any termination notices over excessive bandwidth usage to his customers. And we've also found few complaints and no reports of people getting cut off by Sprint due to excessive bandwidth use. "But that doesn't mean they won't have to change their policies at some point. Their own bandwidth isn't unlimited," Ginsberg says.

Myth 11: Airport X-ray machines can damage or erase your digital camera's memory card.

Bogus Meter 5.0
Graphic: Chip Taylor

Photograph: Image Courtesy of SanDisk
The Transportation Security Administration puts it succinctly: "Our screening equipment will not affect digital cameras and electronic image storage cards."

In fact, that CompactFlash card, Secure Digital card, or Sony Memory Stick may be tougher than you think. In tests conducted by Digital Camera Shopper magazine, memory cards proved to be quite resilient, surviving a soda pop bath, a trip through a washing machine, being run over by a skateboard, and the evil machinations of a six-year-old child. (However, they didn't fare as well when smashed with a sledgehammer or nailed to a tree.)

If you do damage your memory card, you may be able to use a program like WinRecovery's $30 CardRecovery or Ontrack's $89 EasyRecovery Lite to restore your lost photos.

Now, about getting your name off that No Fly list....

Myth 12: Excessive cell phone use can cause cancer or other health problems.

Bogus Meter 2.5

Photograph: Image Courtesy of Motorola
According to both the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration, using a cell phone does not cause any known health problems--unless you're using it while driving, in which case you're an accident waiting to happen. But it can interfere with your pacemaker, hearing aid, or defibrillator.

End of story? Not exactly. Most studies on the health effects of cell phone radiation are inconclusive or contradictory, leaving both organizations to state that further research may be needed. A Finnish study published last August in the journal Proteomics found that some people may have cells that are genetically predisposed to respond to wireless phone radiation. This may explain why the studies performed thus far have come out with different conclusions.

By the way, there's no evidence that talking on a cell phone while filling your gas tank can cause explosions. However, the Federal Communications Commission does warn: "While any potential threat by wireless devices is very remote, there are potential ignition sources at gas stations like automobiles and static electricity." So why risk it? Save your gabbing for when you're done at the pump.

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