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The new Amazon Echo is straight out of Y2K

(TECHNOLOGY) Amazon’s latest version of the Echo boasts a new feature that is sure t bring up flashbacks to the early 2000s.

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New old tech

The future! Eternal, shiny and chrome. We all know what it will look like, right? A little bit of immersive VR, a splash of zero UI, maybe a tiny bit of artificially intelligent robot conquest.

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And… this thing, apparently.

Echo

That there is a recently leaked new look for Amazon’s Echo, and it may just be the future home of Alexa, the House Bezos entry in the apparently mandatory Charming If Subtly Creepy Female Sounding Virtual Assistant Contest, alongside Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s… Google Assistant.

Google is not so much with the naming of things other than Google. Except Alphabet, I suppose.

As linked, ink has already been spilled over the seriously retro form factor of the screen-enabled Echo, but… seriously, that is a retro form factor. I mean, integral speaker? I’m pretty sure I saw Ally McBeal answer a phone call on one of those, no doubt in a charmingly flustered fashion.

I’m going to swim against the already-forming current, however: I like it.

Obviously I’m 90s enough to make Ally McBeal references and use all the letters in the word “obviously,” but my fondness for the device goes beyond the fact that modern world frightens and angers me.

Remember setting up Bluetooth for the first time? Or a wireless peripheral? Because I’ll bet a shiny quarter a fair number of y’all had to use a wired device in the process.

I know I did.

That’s the unavoidable curse of new interfaces and connection protocols: if they don’t work, by definition you can’t ask them what their problem is, because you need it to work before you can ask.

Looming over the otherwise utterly welcome shift to voice-controlled zero UI is the prospect of the most severe case of Can’t Talk To The Thing ever. This time, if the cheerful Dalek of your choice turns blue and falls over – and it is a universal truth that everything, everything eventually turns blue and falls over, it’s the Tao of Tech – you literally won’t be able to talk to it.

It’ll be straight up “I can’t do that, Dave,” and nobody wants HAL in their house, even if he’s just queueing up Netflix reruns.

What about redundancy?

By all appearances, this is a touchscreen interface stuffed in a very large, very grey box. Touching Alexa might be a plus (that sounded less creepy in my head) but how is that functionality not duplicated by your phone?

My thing with that is… ever lose your phone?

The whole point of zero UI is that it runs everything. Techie types have been saying for decades that personal tech is eventually going to come down to two things, the thing you have in your house and the thing you carry around. Make the one depend on the other and the next time you leave your phone on the bus, when you get home, your house won’t work. Undesirable.

But look at this guy

It really, obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s a beast. You’d need worshippers with ropes and a bunch of log rollers. It’s gonna hang in your house, shining the time, hanging on to your IMs and absolutely, positively guaranteeing you can talk to all the tech that runs your life.

It might just be, in this one case, the way forward is taking a step back.

#Echo

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

How to delete your digital footprint instead of just whining about it

(TECH NEWS) Instead of whining about wanting to delete your Facebook or Google data, why not actually delete it? A new site makes it all possible.

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In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data grab and the resulting suspicions surrounding targeted advertising, more and more people are beginning to appreciate the idea of deleting their digital footprints from the Internet – but where does one even begin?

Fortunately, Deletist has more than one answer for you.

Decent, comprehensive, non-biased information can be difficult to find, especially when it comes to something so nuanced as removing your data from the Internet. Deletist provides such information for common social platforms including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Google, with updated instructions coming for WhatsApp ASAP.

Once on the website, all you need to do is click at the top of the page the app icon for the service for which you want to delete your information. Doing this loads up a set of instructions not only for deleting your account, but also for downloading a copy of your data and erasing as much of your digital fingerprint as is currently possible.

Having this kind of information available is refreshing in and of itself, but the level of detail behind the instruction is especially invigorating given the breadth of the demographic that’s most likely interested in deleting themselves off the Internet. Too often, tech tutorials are geared toward people who need less instruction than suggestion while sometimes the non-tech crowd struggle to decipher the meaning of phrases “hamburger” and “drop-down icon” in context.

The site’s creator makes being a “deletist” accessible and easy for everyone.

One point that is brought up on the instruction page for Facebook is something that is especially important for those not in the know: if you use your Facebook (or Google, or LinkedIn, etc.) account to sign up for a service such as Spotify, wiping the list of linked apps and then deleting your account will make recovery for the service impossible.

For this reason, finding a way to move your service’s contact information from using Facebook (or the like) to using an email address is a good idea.

And, if you do delete Google and its related products, a word of advice: don’t switch to Yahoo.

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Real Estate Technology

Smart homes spy on you, here’s how to spy back

(TECHNOLOGY) Wow surprise, smart homes spy on you constantly. Here’s why it matters, and how to spy back.

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We’ve long talked about the risks and rewards of technology, especially IoT devices in the home. For every cool gadget, there’s a chance your information will get hacked or tracked.

Last year, Congress thought it would be fun to give Internet Service Providers (ISPs) power to spy on customer internet usage data and sell it. Which means your ISP can see all the data from your smart devices and profit from selling you out to third parties.

Some folks at Gizmodo decided to conduct an experiment to see how much data can be tracked from smart homes.

Back in December, Gizmodo senior reporter Kashmir Hill set up just about every smart device imaginable in her apartment including an Amazon Echo, smart TV, smart lights, toothbrushes, baby monitor, and even a mattress.

Hill’s colleague Surya Mattu, Gizmodo data reporter, configured a router to track the device’s network activity and give the duo the same view as Hill’s ISP.

They found that since the router’s installation in early December 2017, there was not a single day without activity from the router.

At least once a day, at least one of the smart devices sent data packets to the ISP, manufacturer, or third parties. If Hill told the living room to turn on the lights, Phillips got alerted. If the family watched something on Hulu, the smart TV sent information to data brokers.

Every action could be (and in most cases was) tracked and recorded, creating a vast data set about Hill’s daily routines and schedules.

Routine tracking may seem mundane since right now most of the data isn’t being used, just monitored and recorded. However, this data may have more impact in the future.

We already have car insurance companies that offer discounts for safe driving if you use their driving monitors. Cybersecurity expert David Choffnes points out we’re not too far from a world where smart toothbrushes may connect to dental insurance rates and discounts. We’ve explored how smart watches and even browser history could impact your health insurance rates and insurability. Right now it’s all theoretical, but the bones are there to create a tech-inspired Frankenstein.

Plus, it’s inherently creepy to think that an ISP could deduce your family’s schedule based on use of smart devices.

So how can you spy back to see what kind of data is being reported?

Well, for starters you’ll need to have some computer knowledge. Or a pal who is willing to help you out in your endeavor to be a smart home spy.

For the Gizmodo experiment, Mattu built a customized router using a Raspberry Pi 3, which is a tiny computer you can custom program. If you want to replicate their test, these run around $35 for a single board.

Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi 3 comes with built in wifi hardware so it should be fairly easy to configure it as a router if you already know how to use one.

Once connected to the internet and set up as a wifi router, you’ll add the script to monitor network traffic. For this part, you need an understanding of Git and Github.

Next, set up a server so you can store traffic. Mattu and Hill used Amazon Web Services, but you can use your own server if you want. They also crafted a front-end interface to analyze the data.

Note the times when you connect and use the devices for easier analysis. If you want more details about setting up your very own smart home data traffic monitoring router, check out their article.

Some of the information collected from the devices may seem trivial. After all, what does it really matter if Philips knows what time you get up in the morning? Hill noted the data being sent is “basic, boring, information, but revealing information about how we live our life.”

This data could start to matter if companies and ISPs use your information control how you use their devices and how products are sold to you.

TV watching data is already being sold to data brokers. It’s just a matter of time before your sleep score from a smart mattress gets reported to your health insurance to determine coverage or something equally Big Brother-like.

Smart homes are predicted to be a $27 billion market by 2021, with an unprecedented number of new devices in our homes. Before rushing out to get the latest smart device, make sure you’re fully aware of what data you may be inadvertently sharing with companies.

Check out different products’ privacy policies before buying to make sure you’re cool with what information the device will be sending. And if you don’t want your ISP to know how often you make lattes, maybe opt for a coffee maker that isn’t wifi-enabled.

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Real Estate Technology

New startup makes rent count toward tenants’ credit

(REAL ESTATE TECH) This startup gives property owners an advantage while improving the renter economy and making rent count toward credit.

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keyo tenant credit

Although property management tools for landlords are well established (think Yardi or RealPage), a new startup is taking a residential approach to property management. Keyo offers renters a seamless way to engage with tenants to provide rent payments, maintenance requests, and building announcements. Before the lease is signed, Keyo can handle tenant applications, free background checks, and digital contract management.

Keyo is renter focused, from the marketing (encouraging tenants to push for it) to the focus on appealing to the new modern renter. From the ability to set up “Scouts” who show units for you (and make money on the side to show the unit and expedite the process), to the fact that renters could apply for an apartment and never pay a single application fee for multiple units – which is also a cost that you the landlord doesn’t have to pass onto them.

The vision is to make the renting economy more accessible, friendlier, and less complicated for tenants.

The best feature by far?

Rent payments made through Keyo are reported to credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion– which rewards tenants by improving their credit.

(FYI: Renters have less opportunity to improve their credit unlike many mortgage holders.)

Keyo also allows ACH payments for rent – (and as a millennial who resents checks, this is AWESOME), helping individuals pay their rent on time. Maintenance requests are easy and transparent as well.

Keyo makes its money from landlords who pay it to help them fill units, and it provides some key marketing features, including search optimization, analytics on marketing, and all those paperwork management (which means you don’t’ have to pass that cost along to the tenant, which can make investment property owners more competitive). The pricing works out to $5.00 monthly per unit, and each new tenant that is delivered by Keyo costs the landlord one month’s rent. This could be less expensive than the cost of a broker’s standard charge in your region.

Keyo is focused primarily on Brooklyn, but is looking to expand to larger markets. The true test of its quality will be how it translates outside of the wild west of NYC. While being feature-packed, compared to some property management systems like Yardi, this seems a fair bit sparse, but likely is lower overhead.

This is a modern, simple, resident driven platform that could help investment property owners to be more competitive and improve the renter economy.

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