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Scraping real estate listing data is a red herring controversy

When analyzing the issues in protecting real estate listing data, many people are looking at it from an outdated angle, as listing data becoming a commodity actually makes Realtors more valuable to consumers.

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The red herring of protecting listing data

A recent blog post on the Realtor.com lockbox blog starts out with the rather definitive and provocative statement:

“Listing data.
It’s valuable, it’s important, and it’s something that a lot of folks are trying VERY hard to steal and misuse.”

So, I figured it would only be fair to start my editorial with something equally provocative:

“Listing data.
It’s so common online that it’s a commodity of far less value than you’ve been led to believe.”

Before the comments fill up with angry missives, I want to be clear that I don’t condone scraping, I think it’s unprofessional and undignified, and I fully support Realtor.com’s efforts to prevent it. But I also don’t lose any sleep over it, and here’s why I think it’s a red herring.

Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us. Perhaps you saw a name and number on a lawn sign, or a friend suggested their agent, or you just walked into a real estate office and chatted with the available floor agent.

In an era where all of the information we once so closely guarded is now available for anyone online 2/47 without having to talk to a Realtor, it’s easy to feel irrelevant. Our value hasn’t gone away, and I’d say our value has actually increased because of the incredible amount of data now available online. Where is the value in a Realtor?

The modern value of a Realtor

First: Making all of the data make sense
We can make sense of all of that data and put it in a meaningful context in a way that makes it easy for a particular client to understand. For an agent that actively tours in their market and engages daily with buyers, sellers, lenders, appraisers, and other real estate professionals it’s so easy that we sometimes don’t realize how valuable it is to take a huge amount of data and distill it to the relevant, essential and important information. This isn’t meant to sound patronizing to home buyers and sellers. They aren’t babies who need to be gently spoon-fed an easy to digest puree of real estate information. But home buyers and sellers have jobs, lives, families, children, pets, travel plans and hobbies – and they can’t put all of those things on pause to buy or sell a home.

Second: Real Estate will always be about People
It’s about people buying and selling homes. Yes, square footage matters. Yes, location matters. Yes, bedrooms, bathrooms, school-districts and plenty of other data points factor into the decision. Research1 has shown that the greater number of data points involved, the worse our conscious minds are at making the decision. It’s the ability to trust your gut, and have someone that you trust – an expert – to cross-check that feeling by being able to turn and say “I can’t put my finger on it, but I really think I like this home. What do you think?” Moments like that are when real estate is more about the people involved than the home itself. While I might ask Siri where to help me hide a dead body (just for fun and games, I assure you), I can’t envision the day when people are comfortable asking her if they should buy this home or that home. There are too many intangibles for a computer program to ever capture the quirky, bizarre, hard-to-describe but important details in buying a home.

Third: Websites only capture the easy data
Beds, bath, Square Feet, Date of Construction, Schools, etc. Those are the easy fields to capture, display, sort, and generally manipulate. But what about those items that are highly subjective, periodic or otherwise hard to easily classify and assign a value to? What’s light and airy to you may be a cave to me. What about the house next to the high school field used for band practice late into the evenings – but only during certain months of the year? Can you imagine the number of data fields it would take to capture every possible aspect of a home throughout a year? And if you can, see point two above.

Fourth: Negotiating and Navigating Escrow
Ever gone white water rafting without a guide? If you have, and you’re still alive to tell the tale, then you are both insane and lucky. It’s common sense to hire a guide when you are negotiating and navigating wilderness that is unknown to you – particularly when your day job involves sitting in a cubicle and wearing stylish shoes. Plunging into the river called escrow without a Real Estate agent to smartly negotiate and navigate on your behalf is inviting disaster. Real estate is filled with wildly unpredictable animals, well-camouflaged dead-ends, and false mirages – the cost of a simple mistake can be far greater than it originally appears. Just like the wilderness!

Realtors are more valuable when listing data is a commodity

So if Realtors are more valuable when listing data becomes a commodity, why the concern with scraping?

One: it makes it easy to misrepresent who the listing agent for a property is. If you are going to display my listing on your website (and depending on who you are, I might or might not be okay with that), at a minimum, I want credit as the listing agent. Not because I want to represent both sides of the transaction (double-popping/agent level dual agency) but because I worked hard to get that listing and my reputation online is incredibly valuable to my business.

Two: Accuracy. If I had a dollar for every phone call I got from clients looking on Trulia, Redfin, or Zillow asking about listings that are advertised as available but really aren’t available, I’d have a Benjamin and a few extra Lincolns in my wallet. And these are from some of the big players that work hard at keeping their data up-to-date.

Three: I’d prefer to make money from my hard work, thanks very much. Plenty of sites using scraped or syndicated data have business models that don’t rely at all on selling houses. Trulia, Zillow and even Realtor.com (and these aren’t even the scrapers) are in the advertising business, making money by selling advertisting on their sites regardless of if a particular home sells or not. They aren’t interested in selling homes, they are interested in generating page views and click-throughs. But to generate those page views, they need your listing data. Which they get without ever offering me or my broker a few dollars…

The continuing evolution

Listing data is on the internet, and it’s not going anywhere. How and where it is displayed, how it is protected (or not protected), and who controls it will continue to change and evolve. Realtor.com wants you to know they are obsessed with defeating the scrapers. But like I said, I think it’s a red herring and pretty far down on my list of concerns. What about you?

1 Research about decision making

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Benn Rosales

    April 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Epic, just epic.

  2. Jeff Brown

    April 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Hey Matt — “Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us.”

    Change that to, “Coke used to be very successful cuz they kept their formula very well guarded. Since they gave it away, they’ve become less than a shadow of what they were.”

    Coke knows that giving away their only possession of any value would be, um, less than intelligent. I understand where you’re coming from, Matt. But this discussion and all that flows from it, is akin to talkin’ about how to get along without all the gold we used to have before publishing our vault’s combination.

    It begins with a false premise: That the public has a right to the only thing we had of value. How’s that been workin’ out for us lately? Nobody wants to address that question, cuz they realize the horse is outa the barn, making the discussion a complete waste of productive time.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      Jeff,

      Coke is carbonated water, sugar, and a few other chemicals thrown together. Those are all commodity items. The magic in Coke (if you think there is any) is how they take a few commodity ingredients and turn them into massive profits and brand loyalty.

      I think the same argument applies to successful Realtors. They take a few commodity items – listing information and customer service for example – and spin them into their secret sauce that wins them business and clients.

      The only thing that came close to killing Coke was when Coke got mighty arrogant and insular and decided they knew what would make for a better tasting Coke than the general public.

      • Jeff Brown

        April 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

        Much appreciated. I understand now.

  3. Russ Bergeron

    April 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    It is not so much about protecting the data itself but protecting the copyright to the data. If you don’t enforce it, the copyright does not exist. The question I would ask is – should any 3rd party be allowed to use copyrighted material (raw materials) to start a for-profit business at the expense of the owner of those raw materials?

    I am starting a subscription based blog. Below is my first article. What do you think?
    ———————————————
    The red herring of protecting listing data

    A recent blog post on the Realtor.com lockbox blog starts out with the rather definitive and provocative statement:

    “Listing data.
    It’s valuable, it’s important, and it’s something that a lot of folks are trying VERY hard to steal and misuse.”
    So, I figured it would only be fair to start my editorial with something equally provocative:

    “Listing data.
    It’s so common online that it’s a commodity of far less value than you’ve been led to believe.”
    Before the comments fill up with angry missives, I want to be clear that I don’t condone scraping, I think it’s unprofessional and undignified, and I fully support Realtor.com’s efforts to prevent it. But I also don’t lose any sleep over it, and here’s why I think it’s a red herring.

    Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us. Perhaps you saw a name and number on a lawn sign, or a friend suggested their agent, or you just walked into a real estate office and chatted with the available floor agent.

    In an era where all of the information we once so closely guarded is now available for anyone online 2/47 without having to talk to a Realtor, it’s easy to feel irrelevant. Our value hasn’t gone away, and I’d say our value has actually increased because of the incredible amount of data now available online. Where is the value in a Realtor?

    The modern value of a Realtor

    First: Making all of the data make sense
    We can make sense of all of that data and put it in a meaningful context in a way that makes it easy for a particular client to understand. For an agent that actively tours in their market and engages daily with buyers, sellers, lenders, appraisers, and other real estate professionals it’s so easy that we sometimes don’t realize how valuable it is to take a huge amount of data and distill it to the relevant, essential and important information. This isn’t meant to sound patronizing to home buyers and sellers. They aren’t babies who need to be gently spoon-fed an easy to digest puree of real estate information. But home buyers and sellers have jobs, lives, families, children, pets, travel plans and hobbies – and they can’t put all of those things on pause to buy or sell a home.

    Second: Real Estate will always be about People
    It’s about people buying and selling homes. Yes, square footage matters. Yes, location matters. Yes, bedrooms, bathrooms, school-districts and plenty of other data points factor into the decision. Research1 has shown that the greater number of data points involved, the worse our conscious minds are at making the decision. It’s the ability to trust your gut, and have someone that you trust – an expert – to cross-check that feeling by being able to turn and say “I can’t put my finger on it, but I really think I like this home. What do you think?” Moments like that are when real estate is more about the people involved than the home itself. While I might ask Siri where to help me hide a dead body (just for fun and games, I assure you), I can’t envision the day when people are comfortable asking her if they should buy this home or that home. There are too many intangibles for a computer program to ever capture the quirky, bizarre, hard-to-describe but important details in buying a home.

    Third: Websites only capture the easy data
    Beds, bath, Square Feet, Date of Construction, Schools, etc. Those are the easy fields to capture, display, sort, and generally manipulate. But what about those items that are highly subjective, periodic or otherwise hard to easily classify and assign a value to? What’s light and airy to you may be a cave to me. What about the house next to the high school field used for band practice late into the evenings – but only during certain months of the year? Can you imagine the number of data fields it would take to capture every possible aspect of a home throughout a year? And if you can, see point two above.

    Fourth: Negotiating and Navigating Escrow
    Ever gone white water rafting without a guide? If you have, and you’re still alive to tell the tale, then you are both insane and lucky. It’s common sense to hire a guide when you are negotiating and navigating wilderness that is unknown to you – particularly when your day job involves sitting in a cubicle and wearing stylish shoes. Plunging into the river called escrow without a Real Estate agent to smartly negotiate and navigate on your behalf is inviting disaster. Real estate is filled with wildly unpredictable animals, well-camouflaged dead-ends, and false mirages – the cost of a simple mistake can be far greater than it originally appears. Just like the wilderness!

    Realtors are more valuable when listing data is a commodity

    So if Realtors are more valuable when listing data becomes a commodity, why the concern with scraping?

    One: it makes it easy to misrepresent who the listing agent for a property is. If you are going to display my listing on your website (and depending on who you are, I might or might not be okay with that), at a minimum, I want credit as the listing agent. Not because I want to represent both sides of the transaction (double-popping/agent level dual agency) but because I worked hard to get that listing and my reputation online is incredibly valuable to my business.

    Two: Accuracy. If I had a dollar for every phone call I got from clients looking on Trulia, Redfin, or Zillow asking about listings that are advertised as available but really aren’t available, I’d have a Benjamin and a few extra Lincolns in my wallet. And these are from some of the big players that work hard at keeping their data up-to-date.

    Three: I’d prefer to make money from my hard work, thanks very much. Plenty of sites using scraped or syndicated data have business models that don’t rely at all on selling houses. Trulia, Zillow and even Realtor.com (and these aren’t even the scrapers) are in the advertising business, making money by selling advertisting on their sites regardless of if a particular home sells or not. They aren’t interested in selling homes, they are interested in generating page views and click-throughs. But to generate those page views, they need your listing data. Which they get without ever offering me or my broker a few dollars…

    The continuing evolution

    Listing data is on the internet, and it’s not going anywhere. How and where it is displayed, how it is protected (or not protected), and who controls it will continue to change and evolve. Realtor.com wants you to know they are obsessed with defeating the scrapers. But like I said, I think it’s a red herring and pretty far down on my list of concerns. What about you?

    • Benn Rosales

      April 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Russ! Benn here, so glad to see you – your point is well taken, but I’ll be honest, Matts points are also well taken. As he mentions, protecting copyrights as well as trademarks are important, but what I got out of this was something so much more – a Realtor brilliantly defining how powerful it is to be a Realtor in 2012 regardless of data hijacking, right?

      I’d go a step further however with his assertions of Realtor value proposition – I sort of get the feeling non-Realtors, namely a simple licensee can use R/T/Z or any number of sources to actually provide some semblance of representation in a neighborhood these days. It’s all out there for a well farmed licensee w/o the R the do what Matt so artfully describes as value. This service will in time get better as aggregators get better, and why can’t they use the new tools Zillow provides to disintermediate the associations right on out of the drivers seat. ahhhhhh Zillow CRM? Zillow IDX? etc…

      They don’t and aren’t a broker, they’re defining a new way. Matt’s points only makes this more evident.

      • Benn Rosales

        April 23, 2012 at 6:41 pm

        If it’s not the agenda, then they’re missing a huge opportunity – not that I support it, I’m just sayin.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      Russ,

      As I mentioned at the beginning of my article, I’m not condoning scraping. As to your question about “should any 3rd party be allowed to use copyrighted material (raw materials) to start a for-profit business at the expense of the owner of those raw materials?”

      From the agent level perspective I’d say that to a degree, sites like Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com do exactly that. They are all in the business of selling advertising packages – primarily to real estate agents, and while Move.Com might profit from allowing Zillow to use their data, it doesn’t trickle down to an individual agent.

      That said, I also couldn’t tell you the intricacies of who owns the data about my listing once I enter it into the MLS. From a quick google of your name, it sounds like you have a fair amount of experience in this area and I’d love to hear more from your perspective.

      I’d also be really curious to hear your opinion and thoughts on IDX. When I display another agent’s listing on my website and a buyer contacts me, have I profited at the expense of the owner of that listing data (the listing agent)?

      Cheers,
      Matt

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      Russ,

      Isn’t Google’s entire business model predicated around indexing (scraping, to some degree) other people’s data, selling advertising around it and making a fortune? The value isn’t the data, in google’s case it is helping people find the data. And no, Google doesn’t represent other people’s data as belonging to them, but they’d be out of business without it.

      – Matt

  4. Roland Estrada

    April 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I’d like to bring up a possible scraping issue not of MLS data but of Realtor email addresses for spamming purposes. I’ll tell you why I think one or all three associations are at the core of Realtor spam.

    In 2007, I switched email providers from Earthlink to a .mac account. After a couple of months I thought I should update my association info – NAR, CAR and OCAR. Up to the point where I updated my email info with the associations, I had zero spam of any kind. Roughly two days after I updated my email info, I started getting real estate related spam. I was suspicious of course.

    I set up and alias address with Gmail and resubmitted that new email address to the three associations. Sure enough, within a couple of submitting the new email address I started getting real estate spam. All three associations deny selling our email addresses. Either someone on the inside is selling them or they are being scraped. It’s a pretty crappy situation when we can’t trust our associations to keep email info secure.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Roland,

      While I have nothing to base it on other than personal experience, I’d say that’s scraping and not your association selling your data. That said, I’ve never actually bothered to ask my association what our privacy policy is with regards to member data.

      But spam still sucks!

  5. Matt Thomson

    April 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I think the biggest element here is that Realtor’s value has changed. That’s okay. The sad thing is few Realtors have changed with it, or understand or are willing to admit their value has changed.
    I’ve made a really nice living the past 4 years, while many former top producing agents in our community have left the business, redefining value.
    A community blog offering tons of information about the community folks are buying into. I have dozens of out of state clients…I do face time chat or send videos of homes to them, so they don’t have to keep flying out here and can see more than just what is online.
    We still have value, we just need to define what it is.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm

      Matt,

      I totally agree with you! Our value has changed, and I’m okay with it.

      I’d be curious to hear how you define your value – unless, of course, that’s your secret recipe for success, in which case you should keep it in the vault 😉

      Cheers,
      Matt

      • Matt Thomson

        April 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm

        I promote my value as having extensive knowledge about the community.
        I know the real estate market #’s intently. I know the absorption rate and DOM of each price range. I know who the builders are of which homes.
        I have spent time getting to know administrators and personnel in each school, including the private schools. I engage in Chamber activities and attend a weekly Public Affairs forum.
        I know the City planner, the county commissioner, the superintendent of schools, the chief of police and the fire commissioner.
        There’s not many questions about our area that I can’t answer, from the schools and parks to where to get a hair cut and who to call to remodel your house.
        Finding homes is something I do, but something my clients can do just as well on my site or any number of other sites.
        Really truly knowing this community is something my buyers need and my sellers appreciate as I can market their home around the perks of the community as well as the home.

  6. Matt Cohen

    April 24, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Funny how it’s obvious that scraping is a problem for emails (for a commenter) but scraping of listings, which can result in the same harassment of consumers (especially when listing address is mashed up with a telephone directory) is a ‘red herring’.

  7. Frank LL0SA- broker FranklyRealty.com

    April 24, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Redfin? You sure? You lumped them in with the likes of Trulia and Zillow.

    While I agree that Zillow can have weeks or months old data that causes problems and confusion for the consumer, are you sure Redfin has the same issues? They have a direct IDX feed from the MLS and a kick ass site. Never heard of one complaint about them having outdated info.

    Frank
    broker
    FranklyRealty.com
    FranklyMLS.com

  8. Bryan

    May 14, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    First, I must correct a horribly silly mistake one commenter made: Copyright does NOT have to be defended to be retained. This is a very common belief that betrays total ignorance of intellectual property law. Trademark has to be actively defended, COPYRIGHT DOES NOT. Likewise, copyright does NOT cover information or methods. It covers the SPECIFIC PRESENTATION of the information. A "copyrighted" listing is not the number of beds, baths, square footage, acres, etc. It's not subject to copyright. It's how that information is displayed that falls under copyright. Photos, of course, do fall under copyright, even if they are in digital format.

    Second, when I have done housing searches purely for myself, I have resorted to crude scraping. I can then use the data amassed to pare down the selection based on criteria that are derived from the scrape but are too tedious to go through on a listing-by-listing basis (yes, the search tools on the sites are too crude and primitive for me).

    Then, once I've pared that down, what have I done? That is where the Realtor comes in. When it comes time to take a look at specific properties, I find an agent willing to represent me as a buyer. Any Realtor who viciously clings to listing data as if it were life-blood a secret that must be kept to stay in business is nobody I would trust to do business with in the 21st century. They provide ZERO added value by being listing gatekeepers. However, there is still a lot of added value a good Realtor can provide a prospective buyer without being a listing gatekeeper.

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Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

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Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

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Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

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VPN

Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

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