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COVID-19 remote work is no reason to spy on employees

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) COVID-19 related remote work is bringing with it some remote surveillance…and it can be a lot. With the new blend of work and home, privacy is paramount.

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spying on employees

Think that remote work means you’re off the hook when it comes to being monitored on your productivity? Unfortunately, the technology that makes working from home possible also provides supervisors with the means to keep an eye on your efficiency.

In other words, surveillance doesn’t stop just because you aren’t in office anymore.

Take, for example, a software called Sneek, which promises “human contact for remote teams.” It’s a group conference call that is always on by default and can take photographs of users upwards of once every minute. Yikes. Now, Sneek representatives insist that the software wasn’t intended for “spying,” but that’s no guarantee for how some employers will utilize it.

Even if Sneek isn’t explicitly designed for monitoring employees, though, there are plenty of applications that have been created for that purpose. TeamViewer, for example, gives employers a real-time glimpse into what’s happening on employees’ monitors, and it’s just one of many applications designed to provide real-time updates on potential productivity – or lack thereof.

Of course, this sort of questionable violation of privacy is insane by any standards, but the whole thing is made more ridiculous by this entirely unprecedented pandemic situation. Not only are we all dealing with the stress of an overarching pandemic, but there’s been a lot of major adjustments to how life works now. With both schools and work pivoting to remote access, families are being cooped up together. On the flip side, others who relied on the office as a way to connect to the world are now completely isolated as quarantine continues for many parts of the United States.

The point is, now, more than ever before, is a time to cut employees some slack. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of complaints about the rise of coercive surveillance, but the more pressing matter at hand is that things are not normal. Our routines have been upended, collective stresses have increased, and there’s no definite end in sight. The last thing anyone needs is to worry about getting in trouble for something like not promptly replying to a random check-up email.

Employees are humans, not machines, and we’re all going through a hard time right now. A bit of kindness can go a long way.

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

Real Estate Technology

This tab manager uses AI to organize and focus your web browsing

(TECHNOLOGY) Tabby isn’t the first tab manager we’ve seen, but it is one of the cooler ones. Who wouldn’t want AI to help you organize web browsing?

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Logo for Tabby, a new AI-based tab manager

At one time or another, we have all been a tab hoarder. They start adding up when we are doing research, online shopping, and managing work projects. No matter what it is, we have all let tabs pile up like a stack of dirty dishes. However, several tab manager solutions can help clean up that clutter.

OneTab converts all your tabs into lists that you can later restore individually or all at once. TooManyTabs lets you preview the tabs so you can quickly find what you are looking for. Google Tabs lets you group and color code the tabs for better organization. And now Tabby, an AI-based browser assistant, manages the tabs automatically for you so you are more productive and focused.

“We built it to help everyone navigate on their browser without feeling additional fatigue due to an excess of tabs,” said Merlin Laffitte, one of Tabby’s makers. Because of more online meetings due to the pandemic, Laffitte said that he, along with his colleagues, found it difficult to focus because of the clutter created by the open tabs.

Being in a handful of online meetings myself, I know what he is talking about. Too many open tabs can be distracting and time-consuming. I have heard many people say, “I have the document pulled up.” Then, they can’t find it because it is lost among the ten, twenty, or thirty tabs they have open.

Tabby attempts to solve the pain of tab hoarding by removing unnecessary tabs without a user having to click on anything. In doing so, it makes the browser “focus-friendly.” The way the AI-based plugin works is that it takes into consideration these three main KPIs:

  • The time spent on the tab.
  • The last time you viewed the tab.
  • The frequency of viewing.

Based on these interactions, Tabby scores each tab by relevance, and makes its decision on which tab to close. Whenever a tab is removed from your browser view, Tabby will send you a notification. On the tool’s homepage, you can find the removed tabs and choose whether you would like to restore one. From there, you can also set your preferences to customize Tabby’s behavior. As you continue using it, Tabby will adapt to your habits and learn when to remove a tab when it is not being used.

Tabby is “meant to help you declutter your browser view by removing unnecessary tabs.” Currently, the product has a 5/5 review on Product Hunt, and users seem to like it. With only 25 reviews as of this writing, Tabby is still in its infancy. It’ll be interesting to see how well it does among other tab manager tools as it gains more users.

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Real Estate Technology

This law-tech tool helps tenants navigate eviction notices

(TECHNOLOGY) Law-tech tool Hello Landlord helps struggling tenants meet the eviction moratorium’s rules, but it’s greatest benefit may lie in communication.

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Man seated in trunk of car, head in hands as he considers eviction. New tools may help.

For tenants behind on rent during the pandemic, being shielded from eviction for nonpayment requires strictly following rules in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium that began September 4 and runs through the end of 2020.

Now the makers of website Hello Landlord, which helps tenants give notices to their landlords, have updated their free tool to meet the CDC requirements.

At HelloLandlord.org, tenants submit their information and answer a series of questions, including their landlord’s name and how much money they owe. The site automatically generates a customized letter to the landlord that outlines the tenant’s circumstances and includes a promise to pay the back rent. Tenants also get a declaration document that follows the moratorium order.

In the declaration, tenants must swear they:

  • Earn no more than $99,000 annually (or $198,000 jointly).
  • Can’t pay their rent because of loss of work or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  • Have done their best to get available housing assistance;
  • Would become homeless or have to move into a home with many people, potentially spreading the COVID-19 virus;
  • Will try to make timely partial payments.

No documentation is required, and there are no official forms.

If renters don’t qualify for protection under the new order, the site will create a letter that asks the landlord for flexibility with making rent payments.

Relationships between landlords and renters often start going south because of communication issues. That’s something Hello Landlord’s letters might head off by helping tenants communicate effectively. The letters meet the legal requirements but also sound, well, human, despite being automated. The language is informal, even conciliatory. The tenant empathizes with the landlord – acknowledging that this time is financially hard on them, too – and pledges to work together.

Some sample language: “Although the CDC’s Order may prevent my eviction, I want you to know that I am willing to work with you moving forward during this challenging time.”

Hello Landlord debuted in 2019 and was originally created by SixFifty, a software subsidiary of technology law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. They collaborated with LawX, the legal design lab at Brigham Young University’s Law School, and the Innovation for Justice (i4J) Program at University of Arizona College of Law to research causes of and solutions to the eviction crisis.

A second tool, HelloLender.org, helps homeowners create letters to their mortgage lenders asking for accommodation in payments under the CARES Act stimulus program.

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Real Estate Technology

Beef up your security against COVID with this new environmental sensor suite

(TECH NEWS) This new security sensor can help protect your company from COVID-19 and monitor the overall health of your building.

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Office setting, with spaced employees for security against COVID.

Verkada, the cloud-based physical security company, is modernizing the world of enterprise building security by enabling customers to proactively respond to COVID-19 in the office.

In June, Verkada introduced its COVID-19 Response Suite. Part of the this release included People Heatmaps. This new feature allows organizations to “identify areas that are prone to overcrowding, and find ways to disperse traffic”. In other words, it helps ensure employees are practicing social-distancing.

This week, Verkada announced the release of its new environmental sensor product line, and its product, SV11. This all-in-one environmental sensor monitors changes that are happening in your physical space. The product is made from photochemically engineered stainless steel mesh that filters out large particles. The integrated sensors measure air quality, temperature, humidity, motion, and noise. Then, all the data is reported back to users for regular monitoring and analysis.

“The SV11 sensor is a cloud-based sensor that seamlessly integrates with the Verkada ecosystem of products,” said Jeff Chase, a product marketing manager for Verkada, in a recent video. “The SV11 can be used across all indoor environments and can meet the needs for a wide range of use cases, including simple remote monitoring of facilities.”

In the security system’s web-based command platform, users can see all the sensors, and can quickly scan real-time data for each location. Live footage and current readings are easy to view. Custom thresholds can be set for each sensor so a user can receive alerts as they happen. This is helpful so you can know when a server room is getting too warm, or when the TVOC (total volatile organic compounds) level is too high.

“Our customers are responsible for the systems that keep facilities online, and our mission is to give those administrators the best possible tools to do their jobs,” said Filip Kaliszan, CEO and co-founder of Verkada. “Whether it be monitoring the status of a server room, the temperature of a patient room in a hospital, or the air quality of a school, the SV11 gives facilities and staff unprecedented visibility and control over the sites they’re responsible for keeping safe and secure.”

With more companies bringing their workforce back into the office, Verkada’s security system can give them visibility on what’s going on at work. And with the valuable information rendered by the sensors, they can gain insights into what they can do to keep their employees safe.

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