SAN DIEGO -- The National Association of Realtors' board of directors adopted a new policy Monday making it clear that real estate brokers can allow search engines like Google to index property listings displayed on their Web sites under data-sharing agreements with other brokers.
NAR's board of directors approved several changes to the association's Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy as it wrapped up the group's annual meeting in San Diego.
The changes included the deletion of language that previously obligated real estate brokers participating in a multiple listing service (MLS) to employ "reasonable efforts" to protect listings from "scraping," or unauthorized duplication by third-party Web sites.
New language prohibits MLS participants from using listing data for any purpose other than display on their Web sites, but clarifies that they don't have to protect listings from legitimate search engines like Google, which collect information from Web sites and store it in internal databases to make searches faster and more relevant.
The IDX policy, which dates to 2005, sparked a controversy in March when NAR staff issued an interpretation that equated search-engine indexing with scraping.
Citing NAR's interpretation of the policy, the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors ordered real estate agent Paula Henry and her broker, Mike Taylor, to prevent other Web sites or search engines "from scraping or reproducing" MIBOR IDX listings.
Critics said search engines should be allowed to index brokers' IDX sites that are authorized to post MLS listing data because it helps them show up higher in search-engine rankings (see story).
Web sites can be coded to make it easier or harder for search engines to find listings, and Henry, like many brokers, displayed listings on a site optimized for search-engine indexing.
The challenge for NAR's MLS policy committee was to draft rules that could be used to prevent unauthorized data scraping by third-party sites while still allowing indexing by search engines like Google.
The IDX Policy -- Multiple Listing Policy Statement 7.58 -- was amended to delete the following sentence: "Participants must protect IDX information from misappropriation by employing reasonable efforts to monitor and prevent 'scraping' or other unauthorized accessing, reproduction or use of the MLS database."
In addition, a new sentence was added to the IDX policy: "MLS participants may not use IDX-provided listings for any purpose other than display on their Web sites. This does not require participants to prevent indexing of IDX listings by recognized search engines."
The IDX policy was also amended to allow sellers to request that IDX Web sites disable features such as automated valuations or third-party comments associated with their listing, or hyperlinks to automated valuations or comments on other sites.
IDX sites are free to notify users when such features are disabled at the request of the seller.
Other changes to the IDX policy included cutting the maximum permissible time between downloading and refreshing MLS data from seven days to three. ...CONTINUED