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Zillow accused of ‘bugging’ homebuyer visits to its website

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The lawsuit, one of several filed this month against the real estate search portal on similar grounds, argues that Zillow is breaking the law by recording how consumers interact with its websites.

A new class action lawsuit accuses Zillow of digitally “watching over the shoulder” of people who visit its website, and argues that the company violates wiretapping laws.

Two consumers, Natalie Perkins and Kenneth Hassan, filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Washington, where Zillow is headquartered. The complaint alleges that Zillow deploys computer code that allows it to record a consumer’s interaction with its website and then create a video reconstruction of those interactions. This amounts to an “invasion of the privacy rights of website visitors” and violates a Washington wiretapping law, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also claims that recording consumers’ online interactions “results in the electronic equivalent of ‘looking over the shoulder’ of each visitor to Zillow’s website for the duration of their interaction with the website. “. Elsewhere in the complaint, he describes the “session replay code” used to record consumer activity as being deployed “undercover.”

“Although session replay code is used by websites for legitimate purposes, it goes far beyond normal website analysis when it comes to collecting the actual content of communications between visitors. of the website and the websites,” the lawsuit alleges.

Asked about the lawsuit, a Zillow spokesperson told Inman that the company “takes the privacy and security of user information very seriously.”

“We are transparent with our users through our privacy policy,” the spokesperson added, “which explains the types of information we collect when they use our apps and websites. lawsuit that was recently filed and we are currently reviewing it.”

The lawsuit also names Microsoft as a defendant. Indeed, according to the lawsuit, Zillow contracts with the computer giant and other vendors to embed code that records consumer engagement with the website.

Later, the lawsuit also claims that users have an expectation of privacy. However, Session Replay Code can track “all mouse movements, clicks, scrolls, zooms, window resizes, keystrokes, text input, and many other forms of navigation and interaction of a user on the website”.

While consumer privacy is a major concern of the lawsuit, it also suggests that deploying code to log consumer interactions with a website may expose people to the possibility of identity theft.

Although the lawsuit is new, the issues it focuses on have recently been raised in a number of other cases – all of which hint at a latent philosophical conflict over the nature of the internet and e-commerce. Earlier this month, for example, a man named Jamie Huber sued Zillow in federal court in Pennsylvania for using proofreading code technology. The case closely resembles Washington’s new lawsuit and focuses on alleged violations of wiretapping laws.

Huber also sued hardware retailer Lowe’s and travel giant Expedia over the same things, saying use of the replay code — and the e-commerce questions it raises — are widespread and not limited to Zillow alone.

But there are even more lawsuits than that.

Also earlier this month, another man, Ryan Margulis, sued Zillow in federal court in Illinois for using session replay technology. And at the same time, another person, Ashley Popa, sued Zillow in Pennsylvania for the same thing.

Many of the lawsuits are handled by the same teams of lawyers.

The deluge of cases hints at just how important internet user data has become for large enterprises, as well as the evolution of data collection. Indeed, even as it accuses Zillow of privacy violations, Washington’s latest lawsuit acknowledges that customer data “is critically important to the success of a business.”

Most consumers probably have a basic understanding that their data is collected from websites; people who Googled a new pair of shoes and then discovered that every ad they see now features those same shoes learned about real-time data collection. But these lawsuits nonetheless argue that consumers are wary of the use of their data and unaware that their entire interactions with a site can be recorded and re-enacted in video.

Ultimately, the various lawsuits call for jury trials.

It remains to be seen how they might pan out, whether they might end in settlements, and whether they might succeed in somehow reducing the use of session replay technology. But if any or all of the combinations prevail, they could ultimately reshape how big tech companies gauge their audience’s engagement with their products.

Read the latest case complaint here:

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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