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FCC rule change should make you want to stop text messaging

(TECHNOLOGY) The rules have changed when it comes to text messaging and your privacy is now at risk – time to reconsider your habits.

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Most of us take for granted that we can send and receive text messages with whomever we want, and that these messages are private and secure. But a new rule change prompted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gives your wireless company the right to monitor and even block your text messages.

The rule change is the result of an FCC vote that took place at the end of the year, which reclassified SMS and MMS text messages as “information services” instead of “telecommunication services,” and thus, subject to different rules under the Communications Act.

This change is comparable to the FCC’s earlier reclassification of broadband internet providers as Title I information services, a change that stripped the FCC of its ability to provide oversight to ensure net neutrality.

And indeed, this latest rule-change has brought up similar concerns over neutrality, privacy, and the downside of giving corporations unchecked power over our communications and access to information.

The FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, are celebrating the change as a positive step towards reducing SPAM and robotexting.

Pai told CNET, “we shouldn’t allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services.”

When the FCC reclassified broadband carriers, critics argued that this threatened net neutrality by giving ISPs the ability to block content and create paid “fast lanes.”

These concerns are echoed in regards to the text messaging rule change.

In a letter to Pai ahead of the vote, Democratic senators wrote that wireless carriers would be able to force customers “to pay for more expensive short code system or enterprise text messaging to reach their audience.” Democrats also say that the rule change gives wireless providers the power to curb free speech by censoring or blocking “legal text messages if they believe that the content is controversial.” For example, in 2007, Verizon blocked NARAL Pro Choice America from sending messages to its supporters.

As only three percent of text messages are classified as SPAM, critics of the rule change feel that the sacrificing free speech and messaging neutrality for the sake of reducing unwanted messages is too high a price to pay.

Senator Markey of Massachussetts condemned the decision, saying that the FCC was failing in its “obligation to promote competition and freedom of speech over telecommunication networks.”

Iphone users texting one another using iMessage will be unaffected, as iMessage does not use SMS or MMS.

All other text messages are potentially subject to the rule change. Gizmodo recommends using the Signal app, which encrypts messages and isn’t subject to the same rules as wireless providers.

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Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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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Solar panels roof

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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Real Estate Technology

Five inexpensive VPN options to keep you all sorts of secure

(TECHNOLOGY) If you work on public internet or are just looking to beef up your internet security VPNs could be your answer. Here are five worth looking into.

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We must speak, as we so often do, of l33t h4x0rz.

Let’s get blunt. We have reached the point in the evolution of technology where access to your personal data is equivalent to access to everything you own. Data security breach, which involves fewer twentysomethings with improbable hair and more Russian state actors than 90s movies led me to believe, can be the end of a business, especially a small one.

Frustratingly, the mainstream market hasn’t really produced perfect solutions for that. At present, you really have two options.

Option one, you roll with AppleFacebookGoogleSoft. Different companies, same model: hand your data to a giant organization with an affirmative interest in keeping it confidential. That can work! It can also, y’know, not. A lot.

Option two, full infogeek. Pull together All The Information and put it behind tight security you control. We’re big fans of this. On the other hand, we’re geeks. Doing this successfully requires knowledge, specialty tools and changes in behavior that may not be practical for you.

Ain’t exactly optimal, those options. So for the love of the white hat, what’s to do? Where’s the middle ground between “put it in a big sack and hand it to HugeCorpCo” and “lock every 0 and 1 in a painstakingly handcrafted box?”

Meet your friend, the VPN. Virtual private networks aren’t just the irritating things you have to sign into before another constructive day on the cube farm. For any entrepreneur or freelancer who isn’t into a rad Linux solution, a VPN is a straight-up necessity. They’re how you Internet without people keeping logs (your ISP does), tracking your activity (everybody does), or carrying off your innocent data to the dark web or the Kremlin.

Better yet? There are lots of good ones that are inexpensive, reliable, and only a Google away. Here’s five. Unranked, because every VPN is a beautiful snowflake.

IPVanish wins at efficiency. They own 100 percent of their resources, rather than outsourcing any work to third parties. That means high speed and optimal security, since their commitment to keeping zero information on their clients can’t be undercut by nosy contractors.

NordVPN has tech wizardry going for it, with double encryption and even an optional kill switch that automatically disconnects you from the Internet if anything goes amiss with the VPN. Nord also wins at most devices per subscription, and will happily wrap up to 6 of your robots in the warm embrace of infosec.

Private Internet Access, in addition to winning the Most Straightforwardly Named Product Ever award I just made up, is great for power users, with unlimited bandwidth and a subscription allowing up to 5 devices. It’s also super simple, designed to run in the background while you go about your digital day, so for folks who aren’t looking for bundled apps or a shiny interface, this is your guy.

PureVPN gets compatibility cred, since it’s usable across Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows and even provides proxy workarounds for Chrome and Firefox. It also has a frankly enormous server network, which is good news for speed freaks.

TunnelBear, in addition to being adorable, is extremely user friendly. It’s kind of the anti-PIA, with a rich interface and lots of shiny features. Those features include neat security tricks like Intellibear, allowing users to selectively VPN into particular sites, and Vigilant Mode, which makes like Nord and blocks Internet traffic in case of outages.

Snowflake jokes aside, the list really isn’t ranked, and for reason. Your VPN will be your gateway to the Internet. What works for you is totally contingent on what you do and what you need. There are only two definitive rules.

One, never free. A free trial is fine. “Free VPN” is online shorthand for “place all your information in this bucket, which I will then steal, seal and sell to the Internet’s many, many buyers of evil buckets of data.”

Two, it’s a numbers game. There are countless choices for VPNs on the market. The entries on our list offer substantially similar services to dozens of others. What makes our 5 special?

Twelve bucks. The maximum cost of each of the 5 VPNs above is less than twelve dollars per month. Most cost less: spring for a subscription and you can get the average cost down to 2 or 3 dollars monthly. But month to month, no obligation, even the most expensive entry on the list – that’s a tie between NordVPN and PureVPN – costs you less than twelve dollars a month.

Beat that for peace of mind.

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