National Association of Realtors technologists are making progress in developing a new tool that can automatically test compliance with multiple listing services’ online data sharing and display policies.

PolicyPage – a sort of software-based RoboCop for MLS Internet Data Exchange (IDX) compliance – is designed to automatically scan MLS members’ Web sites for key features that indicate whether members are playing by the rules. IDX is a standard that allows real estate brokers to share and display other brokers’ property listings online.

PolicyPage developers are also planning to launch related technology that scans non-member sites to test for unauthorized use of MLS information.

Keeping up with compliance problems with property listings display can be costly and time consuming for MLSs. The PolicyPage technology aims to eliminate the need for a manual review of Web sites for compliance.

Mark Lesswing, vice president to the Center for Realtor Technology, which churns out high-tech tools for Realtors, said he expects the product to be popular among Realtor-operated MLSs. The technology center will demo PolicyPage at a National Association of Realtors conference next week in San Francisco. The product was earlier demonstrated during a Realtor conference in May.

Compliance problems with MLS data sharing and display rules are typically reported by MLS members, Lesswing said, and he said MLSs haven’t developed their own automated technology systems to combat violations of MLS data rules. “Most people thought it would be nearly impossible to do,” he said.

“We’re just trying to cut time here,” Lesswing said. “We’d hate to see technology people relegated to a screen. There is lots of interest from MLSs and we believe it will be a value-added service because it reduces the pressure to grow staff.”

The Realtor technology group last year rolled out NoScrape and reCaptcha, which were designed to prevent the piracy of online property listings information through an automated technique known as “screen-scraping.”

The Realtor technology team saw some beneficial applications for screen-scraping technology. “You could scrape for good reasons,” Lesswing said.

The PolicyPage tool, which is expected to formally launch in January, sniffs the underlying computer code at Web sites for telltale signs of MLS rule violations. For example, the program searches through text for signs of password authentication, proper disclosures disclaimers, copyright references, and proper Web site links, Lesswing said.

A more comprehensive version, expected in spring 2006, will be able to examine the appearance of actual MLS data on member Web sites, he said. And by fall 2006 the technology center expects to release another feature, a computerized “spider” that automatically walks the Web in search of unauthorized use of MLS data by non-members.

PolicyPage can be customized to account for local MLS rules and state-level rules. Lesswing said the product is in beta testing now, and he hopes to establish a pilot program for MLSs that want to test out the product. MLS staff can enter a list of member Web sites to scan for rules compliance, and Lesswing said the tool takes about 1.5 seconds to review a single Web site.

Brian N. Larson, a lawyer who represents Realtor associations and affiliated MLSs, said the PolicyPage effort is “an introductory point to start tackling a problem. It’s not the solution. This is the first step.” Larson said he is aware of some MLSs that use technology to validate data quality or that employ staff to check for members’ compliance with online listing rules, though he isn’t aware of MLSs that are using automated programs to check for violations of MLS data rules.

From what he has seen, most MLS data violations appear to be inadvertent slips by MLS members, Larson said, while a substantial share appear to be intentional. Larson said he supports stiff penalties for violations of online listings policies, and he expects that some MLS rule violators will think twice once automated scans are established.

But there will be those who will look for ways around the new technology, he said. “Anytime you use technology as a way of preventing misconduct, the people committing the misconduct are going to look for ways around the technology.

“It’s always going to be an arms race,” he added.


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