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How smart technology gets you to continue paying long after point of sale





A common criticism of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant is that they are always on, always listening, and always connected to the internet. It’s the only way they work.

For consumers who are rightfully skeptical of how tech companies big and small are collecting, analyzing, and making money off their data — even in anonymized form — the sudden proliferation of these always-connected smart devices is concerning. But there’s a reason that everything from televisions to cars are suddenly getting smarter.

For consumers wondering why it might feel increasingly harder to buy something dumb or disconnected, the reason is partly technical. Some of the products users enjoy today wouldn’t be possible — or, as good — without a connection to the internet.

But it’s also about money. With product margins thinner than ever, more companies are either re-building their old hardware businesses around online subscriptions, or monetizing data from people who are using their products for free.

In other words: giving every dishwasher, thermostat, and SUV an internet connection is one way for companies to keep making money after someone buys their product — whether through regular subscriptions, data collection, or some combination of the two.

As long as people believe they’re getting value — say, the convenience that smart speakers promise — they’re more willing to accept this new reality, according to Adam Wright, a senior analyst at the market research firm IDC who focuses on connected devices for consumers.

“People are increasingly becoming more comfortable with relinquishing a certain degree of privacy in favour of cheaper devices, cheaper services, better services, personalization, recommendations, things like that,” said Wright.

While it’s unlikely that every toaster or doorknob will eventually be smart, given the opportunity to make more money, it’s not hard to understand why companies are giving so many previously dumb products a tiny computer brain and an IP.

Knowledge in the cloud

Smart speakers and virtual assistants are a good example of this dichotomy in action.

Anytime you ask Google Assistant to set a timer, or Amazon Alexa to play one of your favourite songs, a recording of your voice is transmitted to a server in the cloud. The recording is analyzed to determine out what you said, and the assistant figures out how to respond.

It’s technically possible to build a voice assistant that is able to recognize your voice and respond to basic queries offline — or, at the very least, without sending your recordings to a server in the cloud. But Allan Black, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute, said it’s harder to offer a cutting-edge experience this way.

Some smart appliance makers will share information about how you use their products with third party businesses, who might then send you offers for things like detergent. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

For one, a connected voice assistant has access to all of the latest news, sports, weather, and other frequently updated information that would be impractical to store offline.

Recordings from millions of users of all different ages, genders, languages, and dialects can be used to make the voice recognition more accurate than from one person’s data alone. And all that data can help the assistant’s maintainers identify popular questions that haven’t been answered yet — or personalize answers to particular users.

Black acknowledged the “non-trivial privacy issue” of sending everyone’s data to the cloud. But “it would be much harder to get that benefit of these improvements if you only have it local and it’s never shared,” he explained.

Of course, doing all that work in the cloud doesn’t just make the experience better for users. It also gives the likes of Amazon and Google valuable insight into their users’ preferences and behaviours — data that can be monetized one way or another. Other companies have realized this, too.

Recurring revenue

U.S. manufacturer Vizio sells inexpensive televisions. How does it afford to do this? By sharing information about how people use their TVs — and what they watch — with other companies, essentially subsidizing the product’s cost.

“It’s not just about data collection,” said the company’s chief technology officer, Bill Baxter, in an interview with The Verge earlier this month. “It’s about post-purchase monetization of the TV.”

Most people don’t upgrade their TVs very often — Baxter said the average lifetime of a Vizio TV is 6.9 years — and Vizio only makes a slim margin on each sale. But those TVs keep getting new features and updates for free. So (opt-in) data collection is one way for Vizio to keep generating revenue in lieu of new sales.

“Margins are getting thinner and thinner, and they have been for a long time. And that’s applicable to, obviously, auto manufacturers, TV manufacturers, and everything in between,” said Wright.

“They don’t make a lot of money off the devices, so they rely on volume and other ways to make their money.”

U.S. TV maker Vizio sells inexpensive products. To make more money, it also collects and sells anonymized data on how people use their TVs and what they watch. Users have to opt-in first, however. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

Already, car companies are collecting data on people’s driving behaviour and location in order to send them special offers and discounts — a market worth up to $750 billion US by 2030, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article citing McKinsey & Co. data.

Similarly, appliance maker Whirlpool said in its privacy policy that the company “may send you a notification when your Smart Appliance needs to be replenished with a refill or replacement item and offer to direct you to a third-party business partner from which you can purchase that item.”

Subscriptions are another way companies continue to profit from sales of smart technologies. Wright points to camera companies that now make money selling photo storage in the cloud, and wireless router companies that sell protection against threats like malware — both subscription based, of course.

Increasingly, buying a product seems to come with an ongoing relationship with that product’s manufacturer  — one that sometimes turns our data exhaust into a product of its own — but none of this seems to have phased consumers much, according to Wright.

“Consumers are sort of like frogs in the boiling pot, right?” said Wright. “It’s amazing what we increasingly find comfortable when the initial shock has worn off.”


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Ottawa sets monthly record for total COVID-19 cases with 99 new cases on Friday





Sixteen days into October, Ottawa has already set the record for most cases of COVID-19 in a single month.

Ottawa Public Health reported 99 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa today, and three more deaths linked to novel coronavirus.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health had reported 108 new cases of COVID-19, but there is sometimes a lag in COVID-19 case reporting between Ontario and Ottawa Public Health. On Wednesday, Ontario reported 39 new cases in Ottawa, while Ottawa Public Health reported 45 new cases.

There have been 1,511 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa in October, surpassing the September record of 1,413 new cases.

Since the first case of COVID-19 on March 11, there have been 5,908 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, including 301 deaths.

Across Ontario, there are 712 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Health Minister Christine Elliott reported 213 new cases in Toronto, 135 in Peel Region and 62 in York Region.


One more person was admitted to an Ottawa hospital with COVID-19 related illnesses on Friday.

Ottawa Public Health reports 47 people are currently in hospital with COVID-19, including eight in the intensive care unit.


The number of active cases of COVID-19 increased on Friday.

There are 792 active cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, up from 777 active cases on Thursday.

A total of 4,806 people have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19.

The number of active cases is the number of total laboratory-confirmed cases minus the numbers of resolved cases and deaths. A case is considered resolved 14 days after known symptom onset or positive test result.

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Ottawa mayor rejects possible return of Ottawa-Gatineau border checkpoints, ‘I really don’t think they work’





Mayor Jim Watson does not want to see police checkpoints return to the five interprovincial crossings between Ottawa and Gatineau, saying “I really don’t think they work.”

Earlier this week, Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin told the Ottawa Citizen that police checkpoints could return to the Ottawa-Gatineau border at “any time,” with the final decision in the hands of the Quebec Government. Earlier this month, Dr. Brigitte Pinard of the Centre Integre de sante et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais said border checkpoints were “possible,” adding “right now, our message is to limit large gatherings.”

When asked by CTV Morning Live host Leslie Roberts about the possibility of police checkpoints returning to the Ontario-Quebec border, Watson said he did not think they worked back in the spring.

“There were so many gaps when the police were not there, and people just figured out I’ll go at an earlier time or a later time. We saw police officers sticking their heads in the car with no masks, so that was not healthy for those individuals,” said Watson Friday morning.

“It’s a costly expense when our police are stretched already to the limit trying to do the work, to have them set up at five different bridge points potentially 24 hours a day would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars every month and I think the money is better spent.”

On April 1, Gatineau Police and the Surete du Quebec set up checkpoints along the Ottawa-Gatineau border to limit non-essential trips into Gatineau. Gatineau Police estimated the random police checkpoints between April 1 and May 17 cost the service more than $400,000.

Mayor Watson tells CTV Morning Live that the Quebec Government’s decision to move Gatineau into the “red zone” two days after Ontario moved Ottawa to a modified Stage 2 should help.

“We are a close relationship and when things happen in Gatineau there’s often a trickle effect over here and I think the fact that we’re both in the red zone, and Quebec of course is the worst hit province, at least levels the playing field for our restaurants and bars,” said Watson.

“I think in the past what had happened was our restaurants and bars would close and then the ones in Gatineau would stay open, and then people from Ottawa would go over there irresponsibly, in my opinion, and then come back potentially with the virus and spread it here.”

While border checkpoints would limit the non-essential travel across the Ottawa-Gatineau border, Watson says that’s not the way to beat COVID-19.

“The message is very clear, stick to your household. This is not the time to have an AirBNB party or a keg party in your backyard, or have 20 people or 30 people in for an engagement party. I know a lot of these get-togethers are important socially for people and emotionally, but we have to ask people to be reasonable and responsible, and this is not the year to do those kinds of things.”

Roberts asked the mayor if he would have a conversation about border checkpoints with Gatineau’s mayor.

“I had it the first go-around, but at the end of the day I also respect their jurisdiction and their autonomy. It is the province that would have to impose that, not the municipality,” said Watson.

“From our perspective, we don’t think it’s an effective use of resources. We want to continue to get the message across that we can win this battle against COVID-19 if we socially distance, we wear a mask, we actually follow the simple rules that are put forward.”

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Ottawa woman breaks 14-day quarantine rule to work at long-term care home: police





OTTAWA — A 53-year-old Ottawa woman is facing charges under the federal Quarantine Act after Ottawa police say she failed to self-isolate for 14 days after travelling abroad and returned to work at a long-term care home.

Ottawa Police say information was received indicating that an Ottawa woman had travelled abroad. She returned to Canada on Sept. 26, so she was required under federal law to quarantine for 14 days, until Oct. 9

“The woman decided not to respect this order and went to work on Sept. 30 at a long-term health facility in Ottawa,” police said in a news release. “When management was apprised of the situation, she was immediately sent home. The facility immediately activated mitigating self-isolation and cleaning protocols and informed all persons that had been in contact with the subject.”

Police say none of the residents of the long-term care facility have tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of the woman attending work.

Ottawa police say this is the first person they have charged under the Quarantine Act during the pandemic.

The woman is charged with failing to comply with entry condition under section 58 of the Quarantine Act and cause risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm under section 67 of the Quarantine Act.

The maximum penalty for causing risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm is a $1 million fine and three years in prison. For failing to self-isolate for 14 days, she faces a $750,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Police did not release the name of the woman, nor where she worked. The woman is due in court on Nov. 24.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s office issued a statement following the announcement of the charges.

“Mayor Watson was disturbed to learn about the alleged carelessness of the individual in question. This type of reckless behaviour could have harmed their colleagues, and more importantly, the residents of the long term care home. We must all do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

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