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Should HUD allow facial recognition use in public housing?

(TECH) The Department of Housing and Development allows public housing authorities to use facial recognition technology on tenants totally unchecked.

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facial recognition

Would you feel comfortable if someone was monitoring you, your family, and your neighbors in your neighborhood through facial recognition? What if there was no way to know what information they were collecting, or how it would be used?

If your answers to those questions were “no” and “hell no” respectively, then listen to this:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development does not keep track of how facial recognition tech is used in public housing. Like, at all. Nor have they researched how facial recognition is used, or instituted policies to control its usage.

HUD leaves that responsibility to the individual authorities that oversee housing programs.

Complexes that put up facial recognition cameras have been met with protests, but tenants don’t have widespread federal protections to back them up – yet.

Facial recognition is an exploding and lucrative industry that is completely fraught with controversies and concerns. Here’s the biggest ethical elephant in the room – the current industry offerings still consistently struggle to correctly identify the faces of folks who are not white men. Black women are often the hardest for facial recognition software to identify, and while accuracy among transgender individuals has not been widely studied, one can speculate that it would be pretty poor too.

This bears a philosophical resemblance to putting police and metal detectors in underfunded public schools, a practice that a growing number of experts say is actively destructive to students. It invites problems with the law where there would otherwise be none, leaving permanent barriers in the lives of ordinary people.

Criminal allegations, even false or trivial ones, can carry dire consequences for individuals and families in public housing. One could face civil asset forfeiture or eviction, or be cut off from other government benefits and relief programs in the future, to list a few. These are already statistically bigger problems in the lives of non-white non-men, so facial recognition is well-positioned to exacerbate existing inequality.

This story is just one of the latest examples of the recklessness that follows facial recognition, as well as those who supposedly regulate it, at every turn. For instance, Clearview AI is a new facial search engine that scrapes all publicly available image data for faces, including photos others may have taken and posted without your knowledge. One by one, Clearview builds up vast image repositories that can go back for years, and then makes those repositories available to be searched by law enforcement. The company has been accused of ending “privacy as we know it.”

These products, while undoubtedly impressive, have a high potential for misuse. Living in public housing is not a crime, and performing intimate surveillance on innocent people against their will is highly unethical. Everyone deserves a say in what goes on where we live, regardless of what we’ve got in the bank.

HUD has no excuse, and they should have taken decisive action long ago. But hey, late would be better than never.

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

Real Estate Technology

How to spot cyberbullying, sexual harassment within a remote team

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) With more people working remotely, cyberbullying may rear its ugly head. Here’s what to look out for and how to handle the problem.

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cyberbullying

Cyberbullying doesn’t occur only between children. Adults are often the perpetrators. A study published in 2017 found that 80% of the respondents had been a victim of cyberbullying in the previous 6 months. Many other studies have confirmed that cyberbullying is a problem in the workplace.

Suzanne Lucas, EvilHRLady.org, reminds us that cyberbullying and sexual harassment can still be a problem when we’re working at home. Don’t think because your staff isn’t within physical proximation of each other that they are all suddenly angels. Employers should be on alert for bad behavior through remote channels.

What is cyberbullying?

Bullying behavior presents itself in many forms, from sarcasm, the invisible treatment, deliberate sabotage and physical assault. Cyberbullying occurs when these behaviors are done over electronic devices.

A cyberbully might purposefully delete a person from an email list, then follow up with that person. Sext messages sent between employees. “Accidentally on purpose” not wearing pants during a video-conference, then getting up so that everyone can see you. Trolling a colleague’s social media to post mean or destructive comments. One of the biggest problems with bullying is that it can be difficult to recognize, because it takes so many different forms.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to know whether it was a one-time slip-up or a deliberate action. Generally speaking, if it’s a pattern of behavior, it’s bullying.

Steps to take to reduce the risk of cyberbullying

Lucas recommends that employers take complaints of cyberbullying seriously. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employers could be held responsible for employees who cyberbully. Employers have a legal responsibility to address cyberbullying.

Lucus suggests:

  • A dress code for video-conferencing to prevent “accidental” excuses.
  • A reminder to everyone that their camera is on when using video.
  • Don’t make employees leave their camera on when working at home unless in a conference.
  • Have permissions set high to prevent camera-sharing.

Employees may need to be reminded of what is acceptable and what isn’t. If your organization doesn’t have policies in place about responding to bullying, you need to get on the ball. While people are working from home, it can be good to have a training on recognizing bullying behavior, on- or off-line.

COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s life, but it can’t be used to excuse bad behavior. You can’t wait to deal with complaints of harassment.

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Real Estate Technology

Seeking accessibility options? Google Maps can help you find them

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Google Maps makes it easier to see which locations are wheelchair-accessible. Accessibility Is now marked easily as an icon next to the name of locations.

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If you are one of the 13.7% of adults in the US who have a disability which makes it difficult to walk or climb stairs, it is now easier to find out accessibility details of businesses or other destinations using the Google Maps app.

Though the feature was previously available, it required users to seek it out separately for each destination in the “About” section of the app. The new “Accessible Places” feature rolled out on Global Accessibility Awareness Day marks destinations that have wheelchair-accessible entrances with a prominently displayed icon, and information about the availability of accessible seating, parking, and restrooms.

Though accessibility features are often initiated through work and advocacy to help people with disabilities, it is something that even those without mobility challenges often seek out, and from which they can benefit. For example, if a person is pushing around a stroller with a 30-pound toddler inside; they might want to know the accessibility details when planning their outings to know where they will or will not encounter an accessible entrance. This is also a helpful tool for those planning for groups with varying levels of mobility.

Right now the Google Maps app has wheelchair accessibility information for more than 15 million places around the world, according to the Google produced blog The Keyword. This number is continuously increasing as volunteers and business owners add updates.

If you run a business with accessible entrances, seating, parking, or restrooms, you might want to give the feature a try, and make sure that all of the efforts you have put into making your location accessible are noted accurately. If you have updates to add, you can do so here. Google reports that 120 million Local Guides have already shared accessibility information from around the world for this feature.

To enable this update on the Google Maps iOS or Android app, go to “Settings”, select “Accessibility,” and turn on “Accessible Places.”

google maps settings

The rollout of this feature started with the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom; with Google claiming support for more countries is on the way. According to The Wheelchair Foundation there is a global population of over 130 million people who use wheelchairs. This user-friendly feature has a large potential audience to benefit from having accessibility information at their fingertips.

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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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