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Google’s creepy new patent to watch your every move at home

(TECHNOLOGY) This new patent confirms that Google’s technology is as creepy as you suspected…

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As if we needed another reason to squirm, it’s been revealed that Google has just applied for patents on devices that would place sensors and cameras in every room of your home. Why? To watch and analyze your every move, of course! EWW.

Some of you out there with the tape over your laptop cameras might be going, “Duh, dummy. I told you so,” but for the others of you who have welcomed smart home devices into your humble abodes, well, we’re telling you now. You probably won’t listen because even your toddler’s addicted to making demands of the Alexa and Siri, but better late than never?

So here’s the skinny:

Using the excuse of “all the better to send you targeted ads, my dear” Google has filed a patent that would allow the company to mount sensors and cameras in our homes which would be attached to smart devices we already use.

The patent states that Google can “use smart-devices to monitor activities within a smart-device environment, report on these activities, and/or provide smart-device control based upon these activities.”

For example, if you’re wandering around your house wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt, the sensors could capture this image and report it back to Google who would then start sending you targeted ads for the upcoming final season.

No, Google isn’t reading your mind, they’re reading your shirt because they can see you and now they know you’re amped to see who wins and more susceptible to ads.

If this doesn’t creep you out, it should because it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Google can also hear you – your conversations of an intimate nature, your crying jags, your fits of laughter. All of it. And what do they do with it? They sell your information to the highest bidder.

What’s more, the information they gather is for Google to use however they see fit and if you’re wondering “how the hell is this legal?” wonder no further, it is. There are no laws keeping them from peeping.

And just how are they planning on doing this, you ask? Well, the patent was awarded to the development team associated with Nest thermostats. So, maybe you want to rethink that smart thermostat and cool and heat your house the old-fashioned way.

Look, we’ve already given up our privacy. Facebook and Instagram track our every move, Alexa is listening to us, and way too many people in tech have tape over their laptop cameras for us to be surprised by this overture. As sure as winter, it was coming.

However, we may balk and say, “Well, this is a bridge too far!” and it is, but it’s too late. We did this to ourselves when we unwittingly invited them into our homes. Did you really think these corporations had your best interests in mind? 

Remember, if the product is free, you are the product. 

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Meg Furey-Marquess is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. She has covered tech for The Metro Silicon Valley and The Bold Italic. She was named one of the Top 39 Writers on Medium in 2016.

Real Estate Technology

Hackers target associations – how to protect your brokerage, yourself

(TECHNOLOGY) Hackers are increasingly targeting associations, and while they set their own policies to protect themselves, here’s how to do the same for you and your company.

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It all seemed so routine. For officials of both the Henderson (TX) and Boulder Valley(CO) public school districts, the email that they received from an existing construction vendor asking them to update their automated payments to new bank information was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary.

Only when vendors began to inquire about the status of payments that the districts had sent did the districts come to realize that the routine change had made themselves the victims of a scam known as a BEC, or a Business Email Compromise.

In each case, the losses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before being discovered. Henderson ISD lost approximately $610,000 to the hackers and Boulder Valley Public Schools lost approximately $870,000. The fiscal hit was accompanied by reviews of and changes to their operating procedures to ensure that such a loss wouldn’t happen again in the future.

While the districts tied their losses to public transparency, with information about the vendors and the scope of work that each was involved with available on their websites, government officials said that such schemes are typically quite sophisticated and ongoing long before any request for money, in order to establish a level of trust with their victims.

Secret Service Agent Bill Mack, speaking to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, noted that “[w]e’ve seen an uptick in the number of cases…Contact is often made long before the request for money. Criminals will use a compromised network to gather information about the target. Then, appearing to be a legitimate representative of the vendor, they will often request a simple change in account numbers.

With FBI estimates as to the annual cost of cybercrime reaching over $2 billion dollars annually, and those losses only partially recovered through either the efforts of law enforcement or insurance, it’s important to recognize the fact that as scammers and hackers expand beyond the tired trope of the 419/Nigerian Prince, they’re now targeting new avenues, such as governmental entities and private associations (perhaps even your local real estate board/association).

While professional associations have been the targets of hackers since at least 2010, according to Ed Schipul, they’re coming under increasing levels of attack.

As a professional member of an organization, we depend on their advice, counsel, and information about upcoming trends and events. We rely on the communication that we receive from them to be timely, accurate, and most importantly, not be harmful to us, professionally or personally.

Assuming that the associations themselves are taking steps to protect their cybersecurity, how do we, as members protect ourselves from hackers?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has tips on staying safe from hackers in an ever-connected world:

• Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.
• Only open emails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
• Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
• Verify the validity of a suspicious-looking email or a pop-up box before providing personal information.
• Don’t immediately open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited or suspicious-looking emails.
• Install good anti-virus software that periodically runs to search for and remove malware.
• Be diligent about using spam (junk mail) filters provided by your email provider.
• Don’t visit untrusted websites and don’t believe everything you read.
• Criminals might create fake websites and pop-ups with enticing messages intended to draw you in and download malware.

In the case of officials at the districts, one measure that was implemented in each is worth remembering in a click-and-send era; they promised to have their respective staffs pick up the phone and call the vendor when any type of banking information was requested, to verify the request before providing information.

When dealing with our associations, if we receive an email or other outreach that seems out of character for them, it’s a good reminder to call and ask them if they’d intended to send it out before we take electronic action.

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Real Estate Technology

By now, all brokerages should be using Click-To-Call tech

Click-to-call tech is not just a sales tool, but an expectation of consumers, leading to a much healthier pipeline.

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Consumers are doing more and more online these days – but that doesn’t mean that the era of the phone call has ended. In fact, research is confirming that, when people are shopping or looking for a service, they often combine mobile web searching with a phone call to the business. Users first research the products online on their mobile device, then call the business to get more details or make the purchase.

That is why having a click-to-call option on your mobile website or app is more important than ever.

Invoca reports that 45 percent of all calls to businesses are inspired by a mobile search, compared to just 9 percent of phone calls prompted by a desktop search.

A study in the UK found that 94 percent of customers expect that your site will have a call-to-click option, and we would suggest the findings would be similar in America.

redfin-tap-for-help1

In a survey of 1500 mobile users, 42 percent of users reported that they had used click-to-call, usually because they simply wanted to speak to a real person. Needing a fast answer to a question, or wanting more information than was listed on the website were two other oft-cited motivations for using click-to-call.

And these calls aren’t just casual chats – more often than not, they are inquiries that lead to sales. Click-to-call phone calls last an average of six minutes, with a high rate of sales conversion.

Mobile phone call conversation rates are four times higher than desktop. Take pause to think about that.

While the benefits of having a click-to-call option are obvious, it’s also important to note that not having click-to-call could actually hurt your business.

The study found that customers are more likely to trust a business when they list a phone number; a business with an unlisted phone number makes customers suspicious and unlikely to buy. The aforementioned UK study found that about a third of customers will actually be frustrated, annoyed, or disappointed if you don’t have click-to-call.

With an estimated $1.94 trillion in sales coming from click-to-calls by 2019, there’s really not excuse not to have it.

This story was first published in 2016.

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Real Estate Technology

This tool tells you if it’s worth installing solar panels on a specific property

(TECH NEWS) Solar panels can improve the value of some homes, but Realtors should be equipped to know that not all properties can even get the appropriate amount of sunlight.

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As a Realtor, you are tasked with both creating a positive customer service experience AND continuing to be innovative. While one aspect relies on continuity, the other is adaptation-based; therefore, balancing the two can be a steep challenge. Staying ahead of the competition requires you to develop revolutionary techniques and pitches in both fields. For this reason, you should consider adding potential for sustainability in the form of solar panels to your repertoire.

Google Maps instated a service called Project Sunroof that allows you to see exactly which houses, neighborhoods, and general properties are solar panel compatible. Additionally, the function lets you see approximately how many hours of useable sunlight you will have per year, as well as how many square feet are available for customization.

Quick video demo of Project Sunroof:

Solar panels still belong to a medium of sustainable energy that is shrouded in mystery (if not shadow). Terrestrial use is tentative, at best; however, a combination of increased awareness regarding climate change and a common desire to save money makes the notion of domestic solar panels an easy pitch for the right realtor.

There is a definitive market for sustainable living, but it tends to be cliquish and exclusive. Energy snobs can end up settling for the ideal home in a less-than-ideal location, simply because these dwellings are relatively few and far between. Solar panel installation could be the olive branch that bridges the gap between clean energy and optimal living.

In the interest of catering to clientele, you might use Google Maps’ solar panel feature to persuade them of the aforementioned gap. Showing them the possibilities for customization could be a huge benefit to you and your client alike; your properties see growth, and your clients are satisfied.

You can also look at potential ways to collaborate with the companies providing the panel services, thereby opening up ways to monetize the experience. Be sure to point out that the initial cost, while large (around $20,000 for installation), is generally offset by the end result: huge savings in energy expenses.

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