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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

Montreal real-estate prices climbing much faster than Toronto or Vancouver: study

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MONTREAL — The cost of housing per square foot has skyrocketed in Montreal while other cities saw little change over the last year, according to a new national survey.

The study found that condominium prices in downtown Montreal are up 13.5 per cent from last year to, on average, $805 per square foot.

That’s not as high as other cities, but it’s catching up — and Montreal’s rate of growth is outpacing other major Canadian cities.

Toronto’s condo prices grew to $1083 per square foot, an increase of just under 10 per cent, according to the study. In Vancouver, where you can find some of Canada’s most expensive condo prices, rates are down 4 per cent to $1192 per square foot.

To make the comparisons, Canadian real estate giant Century 21 collected data from real estate boards across the country to calculate the home costs per square foot.

“It’s important to compare apple to apples,” said Todd Shyiak, the company’s vice president of operations.

Montreal’s rise was even more explosive for detached homes and townhouses.

Detached houses in Montreal’s downtown and southwest rose to $958 per square foot, 40 per cent up from last year.

“It’s wild,” said Century 21 broker Angela Langtry. She says the pandemic raised demand.

“People had a lot of time to figure out they don’t like the home they’re in,” she said. “They all want pools.”

There was a big spike in sales, she noted, following a pause in brokerage during the spring, at the peak of the pandemic.

Experts say the pandemic will push people into the suburbs as they search for affordable housing and home office space.

“A huge portion of our society’s housing needs changed overnight,” said Shyiak. People “no longer need to be 10 minutes from the office.”

He says that could mean less demand for condos in the future. “People want their own front door,” he said.

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Real Estate

Carttera buys prime downtown Montreal development site

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Carttera has acquired a prime downtown Montreal site at 1455 De La Montagne St. which will mark its third development on the thoroughfare.

“We think it’s probably one of the best, if not the best, locations in the whole city,” Carttera founding partner Jim Tadeson told RENX. “We’ve had great success on De La Montagne.”

The two earlier projects are: L’Avenue, a building with 393 residential units, 84,000 square feet of office space and 34,000 square feet of retail that was developed with Broccolini and occupied in 2017; and Arbora Residences, a two-phase development with 434 rental and condominium units in three buildings being built in partnership with Oxford Properties.

Thursday’s latest acquisition, for $48.5 million from 630745 Ontario, is a 31,750-square-foot surface parking lot with flexible mixed-use zoning on the corner of De La Montagne and De Maisonneuve Boulevard West.

The site is near the Vogue Hotel Montreal Downtown, the new Four Seasons Hotel Montreal and high-end retail.

“It’s zoned for up to 203,000 square feet of density, which we’re going to take advantage of,” said Tadeson. “Our vision for the site is a condominium project with some retail.”

Since there is no demolition required and no heritage issues to contend with, Toronto-based Carttera plans to move ahead quickly with the luxury project.

It’s in the concept design phase and Tadeson said it could take six months or more before it’s prepared to make a submission to the city.

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Real Estate

Montreal Has the Hottest Real Estate Market in Canada Right Now

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If you thought Toronto’s real estate market was on fire, it’s time for a second take, because the market in Montreal is the hottest in all of Canada right now.

A newly-released annual report from CENTURY 21 Canada reveals that, following an early-spring decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales numbers are bouncing back and house prices across the country are maintaining their strength. The study compared the price per square foot of properties sold between January 1 and June 30 of this year, compared to the same period last year.

In Toronto and Vancouver, unsurprisingly, prices remain high. But while regions across the country are seeing varied stories when it comes to their housing market fluctuations, Montreal stands out — there, prices have increased dramatically since 2019. While the numbers remain lower than Toronto and Vancouver, that housing market is proving to be the country’s strongest right now.

In Quebec’s largest city, prices have increased significantly since last year, particularly in the downtown detached house and townhouse markets. For example, the price of a detached house in Montreal’s downtown and southwest rose 42.14% to $958 per square foot, while townhouses went up 44% to $768, and condos, 13.55% to $805. Comparatively, in Toronto and Vancouver, prices saw more modest increases or, in some cases, even declines.

“Even though real estate in Quebec was not considered an essential service, we have seen strong demand and a jump in prices in 2020,” said Mohamad Al-Hajj, owner of CENTURY 21 Immo-Plus in Montreal.

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