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Austin startup to offer blockchain tech to mortgage industry

(TECHNOLOGY) An Austin startup is heading the initiative to move mortgage industry to move towards blockchain technology.

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For a guy who has on two occasions written in favor of the robot apocalypse, I can be pretty twitchy about security in tech. I surf behind a VPN (because the NSA is super interested in my herbal tea blends) encrypt important files for storage, all that good paranoid stuff.

But of course, the real nightmare when it comes to tech security isn’t on the consumer end. We’re not worried about robots swiping unused RAM or reading our browser history (well, I’m not; I don’t know what you’ve being doing lately, you deviant) nearly so much as the new reality that everything from money to mortgage papers is digital, and 1s and 0s don’t much care who’s futzing with them.

A fine state of play on the issue can be found here, but the TL;DR is that to date a money-based economy has required an intermediary between buyer and seller, someone whose only job is to manage the money itself. That middleman’s big job is verifying the value of what’s being exchanged, resolving the “double spending problem” of spending the same unit of value more than once.

Fun fact: that’s literally why there are coins.

Originally the heads on the “heads” side weren’t just rulers showing off, they were stamps from the royal treasury that confirmed the proper amount of precious metal was in that particular lump. The authenticity problem is literally as old as money, and now we’ve gone and thrown away the stamp.

Thanks to the authenticity problem, historically it’s been impossible to perform a straight peer-to-peer exchange of value with money: note that yours has deceased politicians on it. In theory, digital exchange makes that unnecessary. Cryptographic technology can guarantee authenticity better than a green picture of a dead guy, and exchange can occur between people directly.

That’s bitcoin, for example. But bitcoin is just the application of the idea. The idea behind bitcoin and a bunch of other clever digital things is blockchain.

Blockchains are “distributed ledgers.” All transactions made by members in a set time period are put in an encrypted “block,” then the blocks are distributed to the network and the first member to validate the encrypted transaction gets a bonus.

As soon as that’s done, the block is timestamped, locked, and added to the chain. Every member’s ledger is identical because the records are generated automatically, and instead of going through a bank or credit card company, users have direct access to all their information at any time.

Best of all, with current technology, blockchain is effectively hack-proof.

Once a block is stamped it never changes again, permanently linked to every other block, every block is safe behind the kind of crypto that – no hyperbole – a hacking tool can’t finish the necessary math because the Sun will blow up first, and you have to hack every block to get to any of them. It’s a big deal.

And it’s come home in a big way.

Austin startup Factom just blew away their latest funding round. Factom is about “blockchain as a service,” implementing blockchain for transaction security and information storage in vital industries.

Their new hotness is Harmony, a service aimed at the mortgage industry that will integrate blockchain into existing tech to guarantee security for sensitive housing data. World-class VCs like Tim Draper and corporate stalwarts like Overstock and Stewart Title have already bought in.

Nobody was ever sure if bitcoin was a monster, a punchline or the Big New Thing, and it suffered for it. But the blockchain tech created for it is legitimately important, a straight-up new way of doing business, and courtesy of Factom, it sounds like Austin will kick off the revolution.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

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Real Estate Technology

The real reasons we’re all obsessed with spy machines (I mean smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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Real Estate Technology

Curated newsletters help you learn literally anything you want

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) All the news you could ask for in a large quantity of topics, from independent journalists brought to you in a neat looking Newsletter Stack.

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Newsletter Stack

To say it has never been more important to stay up-to-date on world news than it is right now doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch, but the issue of where to start can be so daunting as to overwhelm people–a problem that Newsletter Stack attempts to fix, and quite handily at that.

Newsletter Stack is a curated news service that delivers “unfiltered and fresh takes” from independent journalists on a variety of topics (56, to be exact). These topics are expansive and range from things like artificial intelligence and technology to think-pieces on pop culture and wellness, and one can browse by featured collections–for example, “Adult Picture Books” or “Emerging Markets”–for a more immersive experience.

Should the urge strike, one might also find themselves browsing the reading materials of other curators, a list found immediately below the Newsletter Stack collections library. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch for anyone looking to consume information they know is interesting to like-minded (or dramatically dissonant) individuals.

Newsletter Stack even has a section of their website dedicated to news submissions if you come across a piece that fits their aesthetic. That aesthetic is actually a huge selling point for the service; while plenty of inbox news subscriptions (and even more established services like Apple News) allow you to curate topics and sources to your liking, Newsletter Stack places a heavy emphasis on independent authorship.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, one can browse a list of all current curators on the service’s website, search through their reading preferences, and see their recommendations.

Independence in an age of digital literacy metrics might be a sticking point for some folks, but Newsletter Stack makes it clear that they aren’t anti-mainstream media. In fact, it seems that the point behind this news subscription is much less holistic than other services (again, inbox subscriptions fall into this trap). At no point does Newsletter Stack make the claim that they should be one’s only source of news, and that’s incredibly important.

If you’re at all interested in expanding your knowledge using independent authors, and a clean interface, Newsletter Stack deserves a few minutes of your time.

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