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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.

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

Value privacy? DuckDuckGo is the answer to breaking up with Google

(TECHNOLOGY) DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t listen to home recordings, sell you stuff, or track your every movement. They just provide search results.

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DuckDuckGo search engine

A recent Wired editorial caught our eye, urging folks to consider using DuckDuckGo instead of Google. As someone who does use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, it made me smile.

In the modern world of telecommunications, the only real currency is trust. When you buy an iPhone or an Android, you’re not really buying a set of features. You’re buying assurance that the cell phone company you’ve chosen isn’t going to screw you over too badly. You have a device in your pocket that tracks you, everywhere you go.

Even when you have location services off, your smartphone knows where you are through a combination of the Wi-Fi networks nearby and your phone’s motion sensor. Here’s an article from nearly a decade ago talking about how this process is 90% accurate. How much better do you reckon it’s gotten since then?

The thing is, Apple and Google both kinda suck at the privacy thing. Here’s an article about Siri recordings being made when Siri isn’t meant to be turned on, and the quality assurance contractors who then have to listen to people having sex. (Apple is ending the contractor program, after a public outcry.) Here’s an article about a big ol’ leak of Google Home recordings, many of which were made without the user activating Google Home. Here’s an article about Amazon leaking 1,700 audio recordings from someone’s Alexa to a complete stranger!

So your phone companies don’t really protect you that well. Apps take advantage of this too. If you still have the FB app, you should probably delete it! Here’s a story about a psychiatrist realizing that Facebook was suggesting that her patients add each other!

So privacy matters, and Google sucks at it. Google is also a HUGE business. It’s an enormous company that wields so much influence on ours lives that there is an entire industry now called “search engine optimization” dedicated to unraveling its whims.

And what whims! One major update a few weeks ago caused a 30-40% drop in traffic for some websites. These updates are pretty opaque, and a whole constellation of websites has arisen to help the search engine optimization workers (or SEOs, for short) untangle what those updates mean, and why their traffic has suddenly gone down.

And at this point, Google only kinda wants to serve you results. Mostly they wanna serve you ads, and highly-optimized shopping results. One of the big problems facing SEO workers right now is that you can bust your ass to get a company to the front page of results, and it may not matter if you don’t crack the top 3. Because people do most of their Internetting on their phones now, and ads take up most of the screen space when someone Googles.

So Google isn’t great at privacy AND their priorities are skewed. But this is an article about DuckDuckGo, right? And we’ve barely covered it! So let’s talk about that a little.

DuckDuckGo doesn’t save your searches. It forgets everything you search. And you know what? That feels incredible. There are drawbacks. When I type the letter L into DuckDuckGo, it doesn’t immediately suggest “Leonard Bernstein shirtless” like Google does. But the ten seconds it takes to type that out is worth the knowledge that my data isn’t being stored by my search engine.

And yes, Google pours a ton of money and attention into their algorithms, and they’ve got a years-long head start on DuckDuckGo. But usually, DuckDuckGo still manages to get me exactly what I want. Sometimes, it’s even better at giving me what I want. Because it’s not serving me ads, or trying to second-guess me. It just…gives me the thing I asked for.

There are still some instances that send me to Google. If I’m looking for a specific image or gif, for instance. Or if I’m looking for a certain news story. And there are certain niche searches where Google’s experience is necessary. But for the vast majority of what I need, DuckDuckGo is there, serving up only what I want and protecting my privacy while it does. And it feels GREAT.

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Real Estate Technology

20 of the best free professional tools for your business

(TECHNOLOGY) Running a small business is a ton of work and you need all the help you can get. Here are 20 free tools that help make it a little easier.

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When running your business, big or small, you’re only as good as what’s in your arsenal. This applies to your ability to be creative and think on your feet, as well as to having tangible tools at your disposal.

Below, we’ve outlined 20 of the top free tools that are designed to help grow your business – let us know in the comments what you love or what you’d add!

  1. Google Analytics – this is a definite need. With the world continuing to grow more and more digital, it’s necessary to know how your business is operating in the online realm. Google Analytics provides data about your small business, including traffic to your site and clicks on links. It gives you an idea of who is visiting and when, allows you to track your goals, and generate audience reports. Google also offers virtual classes that teach you how to master the platform.
  2. Hotjar – want to understand exactly how visitors are using your site without getting lost in the shuffle of numbers and data? Hotjar is where it’s at. You can see a user’s behavior and their exact process of perusing the site. There are also tools like feedback polls that allow your audience to interact with you when using your site.
  3. Canva – this is one of the best visual tools to create graphics for your company, both to print for physical display and to use on social media. The platform is easy-to-use and allows for a myriad of sizing options, backgrounds, and stock images.
  4. ProProfs Help Desk – this is a ticketing system that allows your visitors to contact customer service and start a thread of communication; all while keeping everything ticketed and organized. This also allows for shared inboxes, ticket resolution via chat, and ticket reduction up to 80 percent with knowledge base.
  5. JungleScout – this is your best friend when it comes to learning to sell on Amazon. Regardless of where you are in your seller journey, this tool will help you maximize your skillset.
  6. Kickstarter – crowd sourcing for your business without giving away the equity. This lets you recruit micro-investors and donors for your new business venture.
  7. MailChimp – This is an all-in-one tool that is necessary for all small business users. According to their website, “Bring your audience data, marketing channels, and insights together so you can reach your goals faster. With Mailchimp, you can promote your business across email, social, landing pages, shoppable landing pages, postcards, and more — all from a single platform.”
  8. Shopify – this platform has helped over one million businesses around the world and is continuing to help small businesses thrive. Shopify allows users to create and design an ecommerce website that is backed by helpful tools that help discover new customers, drive sales, and manage your business’s day-to-day operations.
  9. Buffer – provides simple social media tools that receive authentic engagement. Tell the story of your brand while growing your audience. The platform includes publishing, analytics, and engagement.
  10. Qualaroo – this is a customer and user feedback software that states its value as ten times higher than email surveys. It comes with what you need for useful feedback, including AI-powered analytics and reports.
  11. Zapier – a platform to connect your apps and automate workflow. Zapier moves information automatically between your web applications, allowing for more focus on the most important work.
  12. Doodle – a scheduling platform that allows meetings to be booked faster and smarter. No more need for an hour of back-and-forth emailing in order to nail down a meeting time.
  13. Docracy – a home for contracts and other legal documents, created by the community that uses them. The idea is to make these common documents easily available for everyone.
  14. Slack – the ideal way to communicate with your team and keep everyone on the same page at all times. This is a central communication hub where you and your team will stay in the loop, ask questions, and share updates.
  15. GoDaddy Website Builder – this is an extremely user-friendly tool that allows you to build websites that looks as though you paid someone hundreds to build it for you. There’s many options for customization, and they have the tools that help your site look great on both desktop and mobile.
  16. ToDoIst – For many, it’s impossible to stay organized without use of a to do list. With this tool, you (and your team!) can stay organized with the most important tasks and priorities.
  17. Grammarly – When writing copy for your business’s brand, it is important to have as many eyes read through it as possible for any errors. Grammarly is a tool where you can plug your copy in and it will automatically find and highlight any grammar errors or typos. You can never be too careful!
  18. AdobeSign – Formerly known as EchoSign, this tool allows for paperless signatures that help make signing contracts and agreements as easy as the swipe of a finger.
  19. Sumo – a platform filled with tools to help you grow your website. It’s a free email capturing tool that takes only seconds for sign up.
  20. Pixabay – We don’t always have the time or the money to take photos to go along with our website copy and social media posts. Pixabay helps alleviate that need with free stock images that will help your message pop.

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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 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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