In May of 2006, the National Association of Realtors changed the concept of listing “data” to listing “content” to encompass one of the many changes to our real estate world because our listings now include virtual tours, audio, graphics, photos, images and video. 

I recently saw an e-mail that included two streaming videos — one with a real estate professional talking to the e-mail recipient and at the same time pointing to the video to the right saying “in essence” click here to see a virtual tour of the property.

In May of 2006, the National Association of Realtors changed the concept of listing “data” to listing “content” to encompass one of the many changes to our real estate world because our listings now include virtual tours, audio, graphics, photos, images and video. 

I recently saw an e-mail that included two streaming videos — one with a real estate professional talking to the e-mail recipient and at the same time pointing to the video to the right saying “in essence” click here to see a virtual tour of the property. I think this is a great marketing tool and feel it really shows how the real estate industry is integrating all this technology into its business.

I am a fan of most of these technology changes. But while I think they are important to the industry’s evolution, the use and integration of this technology into our businesses may be fraught with pitfalls for unwary brokers and agents.

As a real estate information professional for more than 20 years, I know the value of information. And that intangible piece of information — the fact that “a property is for sale” — is a desirable nugget of data to many companies, both legitimate and not. Since brokers invest much time and money into obtaining listings and need to get them in front of consumers quickly, they should not ignore or lose track of how their technology partners or vendors use their information.

Why? Mostly because of the “interlopers” — those folks who take listings and make businesses of their own and then make brokers and agents pay for it, thinking they’re really getting something because of a wider audience for the properties. These companies are profiting from the industry’s data. I hear brokers and agents all the time wondering what this has to do with them.

I am not saying this is a bad thing. I am all for making money. And I am not saying brokers and agents have to go into this business or adopt these business models. I am just saying the industry should understand and realize that there is value in property listing content other than the sole focus of buying and selling real estate. 

This is the Information Age. Think about ChoicePoint, think about laptops of the VA and think about bank security breaches. Think about all those people looking for your information. It is not just identity thieves who know the value of information. There are some unscrupulous data brokers who create spiders and bots to come and steal the data from broker Web sites for their own purposes.

Even some legitimate data brokers misperceive the new business imperatives of privacy and information security. They think this is about keeping listing content and other information secret and away from others. The keeping it “secret” is a wrong perception. Why would we want to do this with listings or other content when we really want to get it out to the world?

Instead, let’s talk about acceptable, proper use of listing and other information, like determining who has access to it and what they can do with it. It’s a great way to apply the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have done to you. As consumers, I am sure you would want to know who had information about you and what they were doing with it. Consumers are very uncomfortable with personal information being used inappropriately.

“Privacy” really means the “appropriate use of information,” which is defined by law, public sensitivity (one’s expectation of privacy) and context. “Security,” on the other hand, is the “protection of the information” as defined by who has access, what information is most sensitive, and who can manipulate the data (think technology and think policies and procedures including MLS rules and regulations).

Having read many contracts with technology partners and vendors, I’ve noticed that many of them say in legalese that everything we learn about you, your business, your clients, your prospects is ours, and we get to do anything we want to do with it. Wake up everyone!This information is an important business asset not to be just thought of as listing or client or prospect management data. Think of all the information included in our transaction management platforms. Do brokers know if technology partners are properly taking care of that data?

More folks in the broker community have to understand the value of their information and understand there are many in our industry who are working in a positive direction to incorporate new business models, new technology into our industry and are changing many of the old concepts — this is a good thing, but licensing information is a concept brokers need to adopt and an important business tool. If they do not care, so it is. If they do, I suggest brokers pay attention to the contracts entered into with technology partners. Data is money!

Here’s a bit of advice I would give to industry professionals:

Brokers: Carefully review your technology partners’ or vendors’ end-user license or marketing agreements, pay attention to what they say they will do for and to you and double-check their privacy policies.

Technology partners and vendors: Make sure your business model complies with the MLS rules and regulations, and state and federal privacy and information security laws.

MLSs: Check to make sure your vendor licensing agreements are in place. Make sure existing content licenses are consistent with your rules. And educate your members.

Are we all applying the Golden Rule of content?

Darity Wesley is CEO and legal counsel for Privacy Solutions Inc., a San Diego-based consulting firm. You can reach her at (619) 670-9462 or Darity@privacygurus.com.

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