Technology

Former Zillow exec stands by ‘whistleblower’ letter

Move and Zillow each allege the other is guilty of scraping its website

Former Zillow employee Chris Crocker said he stands by an anonymous letter he sent to realtor.com operator Move Inc. alleging Zillow steals data from agent websites and scrapes from realtor.com.

Crocker’s identity as the whistleblower was revealed last week. In an April 20 legal filing made public today (see it embedded below), Crocker said that as Zillow’s vice president of strategic partnerships he became aware of allegations Move lodged against the company and Zillow execs Errol Samuelson and Curt Beardsley, who are former Move employees, in a lawsuit.

Chris Crocker

Chris Crocker

In the filing, Crocker said he “observed conduct and actions on the parts of Mr. Samuelson and Mr. Beardsley as Zillow officers and employees that I believed was unlawful and violated a [preliminary injunction] order that had been entered against Mr. Samuelson.”

“Each and every statement in the letter I sent … [is] true and correct to the best of my knowledge, and each is based upon personal observation and experiences,” Crocker added.

In an emailed statement, Zillow said, “We have taken appropriate legal action to address this situation based on the facts. We will not be commenting any further on this matter.”

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Crocker and Move declined to comment for this story. Both Samuelson and Beardsley have filed declarations denying allegations against them.

The letter, which has been partially redacted by the court at Zillow’s request, claimed “Zillow illegally uses the realtor.com website to benchmark their listing count and figure out what listings are missing. They also illegally access IDX listing data from the Diverse Solutions subcompany (stolen from agent websites) to compare against data scraped from realtor.com.”

Move has filed a motion to unseal the redacted portions of the letter.

The letter also alleged:

  • The Zillow sales team scrapes customer lists from realtor.com to target potential advertisers.
  • Zillow is running secret programs called “LSS” and “LSSv2″ around listing quality.
  • Samuelson was working while under a preliminary injunction, contrary to Zillow’s claims.
  • Beardsley stole multiple listing service contact, listing and other databases from Move (his former employer), keeps them in the cloud and uses them in his work at Zillow.

Zillow has maintained that the letter contains many inaccuracies and has filed a motion to strike the letter. Crocker said he did not reveal any trade secrets in the letter, as alleged by Zillow.

“The letter does not contain information or describe a method or process that derives independent economic value from not being generally known and readily ascertainable by others who might economically benefit from the information’s disclosure,” he said.

Crocker said he did not disclose this information as a “disgruntled” or “bitter” employee as Zillow has claimed.

“I did so confidentially because I wanted to avoid and was worried about retribution and retaliation from Zillow for disclosing the activities I had witnessed,” he said.

He “asked that [the letter] be destroyed because I was concerned about retaliation from Zillow and that being labeled publicly as a ‘whistleblower’ would harm my future employment prospects,” he added.

Crocker said he did not ask or suggest the letter be made public or confer in advance with anyone affiliated with the parties in the lawsuit, including their lawyers. He has now retained his own lawyer.

In separate filings, Zillow and Move have each alleged the other is guilty of scraping its website. Move surfaced letters from 2008 in which Move accused Zillow of scraping realtor.com, and Zillow blamed the incident on a single employee “acting far beyond the scope of his authority.”

More recently, Zillow said that earlier this month it had identified an IP address that is registered to Move-owned Top Producer, also a plaintiff in this case, that was “repeatedly accessing the Zillow.com website and running an automated program in a pattern matching an automated scraping program.”

“The Zillow.com content that was accessed included search results covering every state, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. Indeed, the intrusiveness of the application was such that it was averaging approximately 36,000 data requests to the Zillow.com website each day,” said Zillow Chief Technology Officer David Beitel said in an April 17 filing (see below).

While the company promptly blocked that IP address, “it is a relatively simple matter for a party interested in connecting to the site to do so through a different IP address,” Beitel said.

Chris Crocker declaration in Zillow Group/Move Inc. suit

David Beitel declaration in Zillow Group/Move Inc. lawsuit

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

This story has been updated to note that Samuelson and Beardsley have filed declarations denying the allegations against them and to provide links to those filings.