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Here’s what Facebook knows about you

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Ask privacy advocate and Facebook critic Mark Weinstein what kind of information the social media giant has on its users and he responds with a blunt, one-word answer: “Everything.”

That may be somewhat hyperbolic, but it’s certainly fair to say Facebook holds a lot personal material. That data collection, and the sharing of it with other firms, continues to be controversial.  

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Facebook gave some companies more extensive access to users’ personal data than it has previously revealed, letting them read private messages or see the names of friends without consent. One of those companies, the story alleged, was the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Royal Bank of Canada disputed the report and the suggestion that it ever had the ability to view users’ private messages.

The Royal Bank of Canada disputed the report and the suggestion that it ever had the ability to view users’ private messages. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Facebook disputed the allegations that it gave some companies carte blanche to access user data. In a statement to CBC News, Facebook said its corporate partners “don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do.”

Still, the New York Times report raises questions about what information, exactly, Facebook has about you.

Here are some answers to basic questions about what information the California-based social media giant retains:

Ok, so as a Facebook user, I get that it records my basic profile information and Facebook activity. But what exactly does that include?

It includes quite a bit. At the very least, Facebook has access to the information that you provided to them directly, including profile information, email address, friends and contacts

But it’s more than that. Facebook itself includes details of their collection policies on their help centre page under the heading: What categories of my Facebook data are available to me? This includes:

  • Dates, times and titles of ads clicked.
  • All of the apps you have added.
  • A history of the conversations you’ve had on Facebook Chat.
  • Email addresses added to your account (even those you may have removed).
  • Events you’ve joined or been invited to.
  • IP address, dates and times associated with logins to your Facebook account

Can I find out what information Facebook has on me?

Yes. On Facebook, you can download a copy of the data the company holds about you. Users can save the archived information to their computer on a zip file, including material “about you,” calls and messages, likes and reactions, payment history, search history, your places and ad interests.

Is that all they’ve got?

No. Ashkan Soltani, a technologist specializing in privacy, security, and behavioural economics, said Facebook also has information about your behaviour or “passive activity.” This includes how long you look at something online, whether you hover on a video and what ads you look at.

Logging on to Facebook will allow the company to know your location. If you have a Facebook mobile app installed, the company knows your GPS coordinates and what you are visiting.

“So when you walk into the coffee store, when you walk into a stadium, that information will go to Facebook and Facebook will know that you’re attending something or you’re buying coffee,” Soltani said.

How about my activity off Facebook?

They know that too. 

“They know a lot of what you do around the rest of the internet by way of third party tracking networks,” said Bennett Cyphers, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based digital rights group.

If you’re accessing the internet on a browser or mobile device you have used before to log into Facebook, the company can link that to your actual account. They do this by using an invisible “pixel” — essentially a piece of code that Facebook convinces web site owners to install on their pages. That pixel allows Facebook to know if a Facebook user has visited that site.

So if you’re not a Facebook user, Facebook has no information about you, right?

Wrong. Facebook maintains what have been referred to as shadow accounts. This is information that Facebook has been able to collect through the friends of a non-Facebook user, if those friends use the social media service.

Facebook can glean information about you, even if you’re not a Facebook user. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

For example, if a friend, who is on Facebook, adds you to their address book, uploads your photo or tags you, that information will be made available to Facebook. Similarly, if your Facebook friend calls or messages you, their activity log including your information will be available to Facebook.

“If or when you do sign up for the first time to Facebook, they can link the data they already have about you to you and populate your account,” Cyphers said.

Soltani said Facebook can also track a non Facebook user’s browser uniquely, through those pixels. “And that information helps them build a general profile about what people like,” he said.

With files from The Associated Press

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Real Estate

Window repair or replacement is the responsibility of the condo corporation

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If the windows in your condo are hazy, drafty, or have rotting frames, it’s an indicator that they need repairs or outright replacement.

However, under the Condominium Act, it is the responsibility of the condo’s board to carry out such changes as a replaced window is a common element.

“Under the Condominium Act, a declaration may alter the maintenance or repair obligations of unit owners and the corporation but cannot make unit owners responsible for repairs to the common elements,” said Gerry Hyman is a former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute and contributor for the Star.

“A declaration for a high-rise condominium invariably provides that the unit boundary is the interior surface of windows. That means that the entire window — whether it is a single pane or a double pane — is a common element. Necessary repairs or replacement of a broken pane is the obligation of the corporation.”

According to Consumer Reports, selecting an installing windows replacement can be very overwhelming for homeowners. Therefore, if you aren’t covered by your condo’s corporation, it would be necessary to hire professional hands.

Wood, vinyl and composite windows need to be tested on how they can withstand various natural elements. For wind resistance, a window can be very tight when it’s warm but get quite cold too—especially when it begins to leak a lot.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line remains that replacement windows can save you heating and cooling costs, but it’s best not to expect drastic savings.

Additionally, while getting a new window might help you save on your electric and gas bills, due to their expensive cost, it may take a long time to offset their cost.

Mid-last-year, the government withdraw a $377 million Green Ontario program that provided subsidy on windows to installers and repairers. Window companies had to install energy-efficient windows in order to qualify for the government subsidy that pays for up to $500 of a $1,000 to $1,500 window.

Due to the largely generous subsidies from the government under the Green Ontario program, a lot of window dealers were fully booked for months—even after the program had ended.

“We’re fine with the program ending, we just need more time to satisfy consumers,” said Jason Neal, the executive director of the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada, the industry group representing window dealers in a report.

According to Neal, the Progressive Conservatives acted hastily, making massive changes with no prior notice.

“No notification was given to us by anyone,” he said, noting he learned about the change through one of his dealers.

“It’s created a ripple effect.If they had just given us notice we would have pushed that down the line from the manufacturer right into the dealer right down to the consumer.”

Neal noted that he wasn’t particularly sad to see the Green Ontario program end, as it was “the worst rebate program in the history of the window industry.”

“It’s been horrible,” he said. “$500 a window has created such hysteria.”

However, despite the program ending about a year ago, numerous homeowners have been contacting window dealers consistently with concerns that they might not be able to afford replacement windows without the government’s subsidy.

“I understand their concern,” said window dealer Chris George. “I would suggest they reach out to their local representative of the government in their riding and let them know about their concerns.”

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7 Vancouver Real Estate Buying Tips

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The real estate market in Vancouver is turning around for good for everyone looking to purchase a home.

Previously soaring prices are now beginning to ease up, making it a perfect time for buyers—with real estate agents already getting ready for a very busy spring and summer season.

However, before splashing cash on a new property, there are some very important tips you need to know to ensure you make the most of the buyer’s market.

Here are some few expert tips that would guide you when purchasing a home in the sometimes frustration Vancouver seller’s market.

  1. Get adequate financing

It is very important that before you make the move to purchase a property, you put into careful consideration your credit score.

Normally, home buyers with lower scores use the secondary mortgage market to finance their purchase, as they’re more likely to pay a higher interest rate.However, it is advisable to get loan approval long before purchasing the house. This way, you are fully aware of how much you are able to spend—but never be tempted to borrow the maximum amount of money available.

“What’s your mortgage payment that you’re comfortable with? And take into the fact the taxes you’re going to have to pay, if it’s a strata – what the maintenance fees are, if it’s a home what type of maintenance are you going to have to pay in the future?” said Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver in a report.

Always be careful of the type of loan you secure and ensure that you can comfortably afford it over a long period of time.

  1. Get a real estate agent

Buying a property without professional help is a very risky move and can be likened to choosing to represent yourself in court without a lawyer. While you might trust your negotiation skills, only realtors are permitted to present offers directly.

Therefore, it is necessary to get a professional real estate agent in the area to represent you. So, screen a few agents and select the best one who has in-depth knowledge of the markets and has a great reputation.

“They’re there to protect you. They’re there to walk you through each step of the process,” Moore said.

  1. Sign up for automated alerts

Most—if not all—realtors have access to the Vancouver real estate board’s database which is updated approximately two days before the public MLS website.

Therefore, you can request from your realtor to sign you up for automatic real-time alerts of all new listings. Doing this gives you an edge as you’re among the very first to know about new properties.

  1. Do a thorough inspection

After receiving an alert for a new listing, it is necessary to push almost immediately for an inspection from your realtor. In this current market, buyers now have time to make an inspection.

Making a quick inspection eliminates any surprises—as there could be major maintenance or repair issues that could spring up. Therefore, you can now table your offer based on the outcome of the inspection, with clauses about claiming your damage deposit back if everything isn’t as was advertised.

Additionally, if you notice that renovations were done, you need to be sure that it was permitted work and carried out appropriately. Failing to do this would ultimately lead to further cost down the line and simultaneously affect the resale value.

  1. Have a back-up plan

There’s always the possibility that everything may not go as smoothly as you’d want. From the inspection being a failureto the property not living up to your expectations—or not being able to agree on the closing date that matches with your needs.

However, a professional real estate agent will definitely help you get past all of these things. If you plan on selling the property as you buy, you can table that and make it part of the deal.

“You’ve got an option, especially in a buyer’s market: you can put in an offer subject to selling your place. So maybe you want to have a place lined up,” Moore added.

Additionally, building contingencies into your buying plan is necessary. Things such as unexpected delays in closing the deal, closing cost and moving costs that could result in added living expenses if that’s your permanent home.

  1. Don’t fall for the buyer frenzy

The Vancouver market buying frenzy that caused a serious climb in the prices a couple of years ago has ended. Thus, it is important not to get caught up in bidding wars with properties that have been deliberately under-priced—with the hope of initiating multiple offers.

“Some of the sellers have been on the market for over a year and they’re eager to sell. So what I’m saying to consumers is: you have a lot of choices, you’re in the driver’s seat, let’s go out and take a look at what’s available,” said Moore.

  1. Never be wary of multiple offers

When purchasing a property, don’t be afraid of multiple offers as you have the same opportunity as anybody else.

Typically, there are just a few offers below the asking price: a couple priced fully, and two or three above the asking price—depending on how close the fair market value is from the asking price.

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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