Chris Griffith: Internet real estate data theft

CHRIS GRIFFITH

In the last decade, shopping for real estate has been revolutionized. At the fingertips of most consumers are the listings of most homes in Southwest Florida or anywhere in the world for that matter.

There are a series of events that occur when real estate gets listed. A good portion of it revolves around listing the property on the Internet and syndicating the data to portals that consumers use to gather their information.

Some of these times the sites are IDX, which stands for “Internet Data Exchange.” You may have seen it also called Broker Reciprocity. It means that the brokerages are cooperating to display each others listings on other websites, usually with some form of eyestrain print, recognition to the listing brokerage.

Some of the time, the sites are syndication partners and highly popular sites like Zillow, Trulia and a couple of dozen of other up and coming platforms. The fact of the matter is that once the listing is uploaded to the Internet, it can literally be in dozens of places with a click of the mouse. It’s not “Duke thesis” viral, but it does spread fast.

As with anything, with the good comes the bad. It’s not just the syndication partners that will host the information. Once in a while a “scraper site” will gather (steal) information and bits of the listing or a blog post about it, especially if it has valuable or popular key words in the text.

The purpose of a scraper site is to gather and display data which will attract web searchers and then the site hopes to earn revenue from ad campaigns on the web page.

This is the data the brokerages and agents usually do not have control of. It’s a form of electronic plagiarism for money. These spammy sites are frowned upon and often illegal but they’re kind of like that “putting a note in someone’s mailbox without a stamp” kind of illegal. Nobody is generally standing around with a set of cuffs policing the web.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, a consumer has since purchased the property and finds it listed for sale somewhere in the great blue yonder. There’s a scrap of data clinging to it with a link (to me) or an agent name, who they subsequently contact to demand retraction of the listing and justice for their pain and suffering.

Having searched front, back and sideways trying to find a glimpse of whatever is “out there” about this property, it was never found again.

The irony is that the original owners of the property and their team of lawyers were so difficult to work with we’d parted ways some time ago. I thought we’d gained as much distance between us as possible. Spammy McSpamster, whether he’s an enterprising teen in Tulsa or a professional spammer in Bangalore, fixed that.

So, here’s the long and the short of finding things on the web about real estate whether you’re a buyer, seller, property owner or prior owner. If you find something you have problems with or even a home that you need to get more information about, copy the URL of the website you’ve found it to accompany your request. Just because it was on the web doesn’t mean the agent put it there or has access to that particular website.

The web is a pretty big hay stack. If the agent can’t find it then they can’t help get it corrected or removed, either.

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Chris Griffith is a real estate agent at Downing-Frye Realty Inc. in Bonita Springs. If you have a question about local real estate or Bonita Springs, e-mail her at chris@LifeInBonitaSprings.com.

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