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Computer scientist David Magerman wants to build a more ethical internet

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Multi-millionaire computer scientist David Magerman believes he has met the enemy, and it is us.

Maybe not exactly the flesh-and-blood us, but certainly our cyberselves — the unwitting employees of Facebook and Twitter who absently click great gobs of our personal information into the maw of social media, allowing a handful of internet titans to put it to work and make more money than God.

For one thing, Magerman resents that people on his payroll spend some of their workday on social media doing things that benefit the bottom lines at Facebook and Twitter.

They’re “moonlighting,” he says, “and I’m paying them.”

But most worrisome to him is that people don’t seem to understand the value of the personal information they give up as they surf the web, and how it is being used to shape their world and bend their preferences —  including their political preferences.

“We’re spending our productive time helping Facebook and Twitter be valuable,” he says. And if we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing, how can we choose whether we want to do it?

Rather than just patch the holes in the internet with quickly obsolescent security products, Magerman imagines a whole new layer to cyberspace — a renovation with more privacy, data protection, encryption and transparency.

Important to him in all of this is a question that has nagged him since the election of Donald Trump: What role in his win was played by the data we unconsciously surrender in the deeply flawed cyberspace we wander through every day?

Many observers believe sophisticated online data mining helped Donald Trump become U.S. president in 2016. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

Magerman gained momentary fame a couple of years ago as an outspoken critic of Trump — and of his own boss, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. Mercer was a pioneer in the use of data for investing, and was an owner of the now-defunct data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, which some believe had a significant role in electing Trump in 2016.

All of that has ultimately driven Magerman to a new purpose in life: To try to strangle the golden goose of the internet economy — data collection — and replace it with something more socially useful and less profit-driven.

He’s looking for ideas and, if no one else will, he’ll put some of his own money into them.

A better internet

Magerman worked at Mercer’s hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, for a couple of decades, using his computer science background to help make a fortune for himself, for Mercer and for the business.

Even then, Magerman was conscious of how little social benefit came from his work. He saw Renaissance Technologies as “a place that uses really bright people, who could do a lot of great things in the world — and simply has them sit at their desks and make money from money.” And yet, he was one of those people.

But it was over Trump that Magerman had a tabloid-worthy falling out with Mercer, Trump’s most influential backer.  

Magerman argued with Mercer about all of that—specifically about race politics — and was fired. He filed a wrongful dismissal suit with sensational allegations of racism against Mercer that lit up the normally prosaic business press, which had previously reported with envy and awe on the rise of Mercer’s company to the pinnacle of the hedge fund world.

Robert Mercer is the enigmatic co-owner of Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that is widely thought to have had a large role in Trump’s election win. (Oliver Contreras/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Eventually, the suit was settled. Magerman says he got everything he wanted, but he didn’t go back to work. He continued to nurture his bitterness about the 2016 election and a suspicion that Facebook and Cambridge Analytica had somehow helped usher Trump into the White House.

How much data analytics really had to do with the outcome in 2016 we might never know. But it added to Magerman’s discomfort with the downside of the internet.

“We are creating social and emotional and psychological cancer for society through how technology is infiltrating and being adopted,” he says, echoing the comparison that others have noted between Facebook and the big cigarette companies of the last century.

So, how to change that?

Creating a new ‘layer’

Magerman’s first foray in the battle was to get behind the Freedom From Facebook campaign, which is trying to persuade regulators to rein in the company and break it up. He was the original donor to the cause last fall with a gift of $400,000.

But breaking up Facebook doesn’t guarantee something more socially responsible will slide into its place.

That’s where his new partnership with venture capitalists comes in. Last fall, Magerman joined Differential Ventures to work with a couple of angel investors, Nick Adams and Alex Katz. They both have experience seeding start-ups, with an interest in big data and its impacts.

Having made a great deal of money working for Mercer’s hedge fund, Magerman is now looking for ways to create a less profit-driven internet. (Jason Burles/CBC)

It’s Magerman’s hope that they can begin to imagine a new kind of  internet, one built to be safe and secure, where a constrained Facebook and Twitter would be worth just a fraction of what they are today — valued by what they actually do for their customers, not what their customers’ personal information does for them.  

“I’m talking about creating that layer,” he says, “where everything is encrypted and every single communication in that environment has an identity associated with it — meaning a human being.” (Magerman concedes there is a need for some anonymous space to protect dissidents in repressive countries.)

Imagine a Twitter without anonymous trolls and bots, or a Facebook that didn’t presume to curate your life — or even a cyberspace safe for children.

Less profit-driven

The problem investors normally have with something like that sounds like a punchline.

“They don’t see how to monetize it,” says Magerman, “and I think there is truth in that.”

But actually, that’s the point. Part of the way many internet-based companies have become so fantastically successful is through their indifference to social responsibility. A company that profits by treating its customers as though they’re merely data-generating employees is not a socially responsible business model for the internet — it’s a parasite.

In the world according to Magerman, a company like Facebook would have to be content with being a $10-billion company, not a $500-billion company.

Therein lies the real obstacle. The first steps toward a new kind of internet will require government intervention, says Magerman. And, since it’s ultimately about taking power from the powerful, there will be resistance to that.

Lots of it, and well-funded — through all those profits earned by social media giants thanks to you and the personal data you’ve given up without so much as a whimper.

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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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Real Estate

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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Real Estate

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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