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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

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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