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Why it is important to outsmart the smart devices

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Nova Scotia’s information and privacy commissioner says it is important for people to pay attention to the privacy settings on their smart devices.

Catherine Tully says people don’t take the time to figure out exactly what information is being recorded and monitored.

Devices such as Google Home, the Amazon Echo smart speakers and smart watches all have privacy risks, she said.

“It’s interesting how much a device like this and the companies behind them can learn about us, from our conversations, our habits, that’s why they’re making them,” said Tully. “[It is] because they can learn this about us and then sell it as important personal information, mainly for marketing.”

Catherine Tully is Nova Scotia’s information and privacy commissioner. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

People need to know exactly what they’re giving away when they turn on any of these electronics, said Tully.

They have to read their gadget’s terms and conditions, along with its privacy policy. 

Then people need to adjust their privacy settings to make sure they’re only handing over information they are prepared to allow. She said this is especially true with smart speakers, which can record conversations.

“We have lots of conversations in our home and lots of them can be highly confidential, embarrassing, maybe details of financial transactions or health,” said Tully. “Or perhaps you’re engaged in activity that you don’t really want to have recorded and now it’s been transmitted.”

Google Home is another popular smart speaker. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

But it can be hard to know exactly what a device’s terms of use or privacy policy are in the first place. 

Tully said some companies policies are difficult to find and either contain mountains of information full of legal jargon or there is single page of information trying to condense the essentials.

“Neither one is good,” she said. “The short one doesn’t tell you the details and in the long one, it’s too hard to find the details.”

Google and Amazon say that their smart speaker systems are secure. 

Both companies refused to do an interview with CBC News. But they did provide some information on their respective devices. 

Tully made a Christmas list and checked it twice. Numerous smart devices made her naughty list. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

In an email, a spokesperson for Google said that Google Home employs advanced security techniques that are employed in consumer electronics to protect code and content.

The device also only stores voice-based questions after a user says the activation phrase “OK Google”

Google said users can see all the data that’s collected and stored from their interactions with the smart speaker in the My Activity tool, and they can delete any of it at any time.

The company also said that it does not sell people’s personal data nor does it sell user data to third-party groups or corporations.

Amazon sent along the following statement via email:

“At Amazon, customer trust is of the utmost importance. That’s why we’ve built multiple layers of privacy protections into our Echo devices, including the ability to see and delete voice recordings, clear visual indications for when the device is streaming audio to the cloud, and a microphone off button that electrically disconnects them.”

The appkettle connects to Wi-Fi and allows the owner to monitor water levels in the kettle from a smart phone. The kettle sells for about $220. (myappkettle.com)

Other smart devices, such as smart kettles, can pose another kind of security risk, according to Tully. She said objects like smart kettles are often the weak link in a home’s Wi-Fi system.

Most people don’t change the default username and password on kettles and items like it.

Those default passwords are available on the internet and people can use them to access the kettle. From there, they can gain access to the Wi-Fi network that connects it.

Once in the system, a person might be able to monitor all the traffic on a person’s Wi-Fi, including their financial transactions, the movies they rent and personal communications, said Tully.

“It’s not that I want to discourage people from using new technology and embracing it and using it in the way it’s intended,” she said.

“What I want to encourage is thoughtful use. You have to take responsibility for your own privacy and your family’s privacy and that takes some work.”

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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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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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