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Federal Trade Commission Watching Your Privacy




FTC to Refocus Privacy Efforts

So I’ve notice a good deal of discussion here on Agent Genius related to privacy. I thought I’d devote this post to how policymakers in Washington, particularly the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are viewing the topic and how the agency is starting to think about future regulation in the area.

I attended what is to be the first of three privacy workshops held by the FTC on December 7. The workshop brought together FTC staff, academics, consumer advocates and industry representatives to discuss whether new regulations are necessary and if so, what they might look like.

Chairman Jon Leibowitz opened the event by stating that “We are at another watershed moment in privacy, and the time is right for the commission to take a broader look at privacy.” He announced that the FTC “will pay increased attention to online privacy concerns over the next six months.”

What was clear from the workshop is that the FTC is no longer satisfied with the current privacy protection paradigm of notice and choice. In other words, under current law, as long as you disclose your privacy practices in a policy on your website, and stick to them, generally, anything goes.

Consumer Protection Leads FTC’s New Direction

The FTC is headed in a new direction and consumer protection is the name of the game. During the course of the day-long workshop FTC staff repeatedly stated that consumers don’t read or understand privacy policies so new methods of disclosure are needed to ensure that consume privacy is protected.

Commission staff suggested broadening the traditional definition of personally identifiable information or PII. This is the threshold definition for determining which information will be protected. Today it generally consists of names and account numbers. The suggestion was that a new broader definition of PII should include any information that can be aggregated from different sources to identify an individual.

Other ideas to improve consumers’ understanding of how their data is used include just- in- time privacy notices— disclosures made at the point of data collection, layered privacy notices that would start with short, high level disclosures then drill down to more detailed disclosure if a consumer wished to learn more and the concept of a standardized privacy policy akin to a nutrition label on food packaging.

Finally, the Commission identified emerging technologies that will come under increasing scrutiny for privacy related issues in the months and years ahead as cloud computing, mobile or location specific applications and social media networks.

So What Does this Mean for Real Estate Professionals?

So what does this all mean for real estate professionals? As with many things here in Washington, it’s unclear at the moment. What I can say is that new and additional privacy regulations are on the horizon. It is not a matter of if but of when. Now is a good time to think about your data collection practices, review your privacy policy…and most of all comment here and let me know how these suggested changes would affect your business so we can work together to provide useful feedback to policymakers.

Melanie is the Senior Technology Policy Representative at the National Association of Realtors. That means she lobbies Congress and Federal Agencies on technology policy issues of importance to the real estate industry. In her pre-NAR life Melanie has been a practicing attorney and a software start-up executive. Like any native Californian, Melanie loves good wine and bountiful farmers markets.

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  1. Ken Brand

    January 10, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Wow. I’ll be looking forward to you updates. Thanks.

  2. Ken Brand

    January 10, 2010 at 9:03 am

    you = your. Wish comments let you go back in and edit. Cheers.

  3. Joe Loomer

    January 10, 2010 at 9:13 am

    I’ll be looking for updates too, Melanie – thanks for the info!

    This has such broad implications it’s almost incomprehensible. Everything from tagging client’s houses in Facebook pics to ensuring your own database is protected.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  4. Melanie Wyne

    January 10, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Joe–you are spot on. This has the potential to have broad impact in an area where many in real estate have not paid attention for a long time.

    Data security is a slightly different but related topic and Washington is poised to take action there too. Its really important for businesses to protect PII. The FTC has good, easy to digest information on the topic here

  5. Benn Rosales

    January 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Melanie, I think where real estate agents are going to be the most challenged is quantified messaging as email. What I mean by that is agents are required in most cases to document in one place and store all electronic communications (quantified today email). Texting, Facebook messaging, Tweets, Direct Messages, Blog comments, etc, what would fall into that, and the challenge of collecting it all into one place boggles the mind- the problem is, you can’t ignore it because for our protection and you want it to qualify as email, but what makes sense?

    Also, how does one protect who their consumers are if our ‘friends’ can be seen by anyone?

    What constitutes the line in marketing to the consumer and permission to do so?

    Are social networks going to fall into the same category of the telephone? DNC protections and all?

    These are just a few things I can see as challenges.

  6. Craig J Frooninckx

    January 10, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    For a long time, privacy hasn’t been looked at in Real Estate and that day is fast approching where that will have to be corrected. Too many agents don’t understand what data should be protected and how to protect it. The consumer is only trusting us to secure their documents. More training in this area will be a good idea.

  7. Melanie Wyne

    January 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Interesting questions–As usual, you are thinking a few steps ahead. Most of the proposals currently on the table deal with PII stored by the business–i.e. on a laptop or on a server the business has under its control– (and some proposals for that matter deal with hard copy PII.)

    Facebook,Twitter and other social media messages are technically controlled by Facebook and Twitter so, at the moment I don’t see much risk of rules implicating Realtors unless of course they are harvesting that data and keeping stored in a database.

    It makes good sense for Realtors to think strategically about what Personally Identifiable Information they collect and store, and only keep that information that is critical to doing business.

  8. Melanie Wyne

    January 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm


    I agree. Training is critical as, the best privacy policy in the world doesn’t amount to much if your employees don’t follow it. The FTC link I posted in the earlier comment is a good place to start. NAR is working on additional resources too–I’ll keep you posted.

  9. Melanie Wyne

    January 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Hey Benn,

    You were more prescient than I realized. Just found this on the Twitter. Looks like the FTC will hold another workshop this month on privacy implications of the cloud, mobile and social networking. I’ll be there, tweeting oh..and summarizing for the AG tribe.

    • Benn Rosales

      January 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      If only my crystal ball would give me lottery numbers! Thanks, Melanie! Looking forward to the play by plays- one thing I have to say about the FTC is how they’re going about all of this, it’s a government agency that’s actually doing more listening and engaging rather than shoving policy or intimidating rhetoric down anyone’s throats. They’ve really been hands on, and I think it’s commendable.

  10. Melanie Wyne

    January 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    In Today’s NYT more from the FTC in a story titled “Has the Internet Gone Beyond Privacy Policies?”

    Its worth a read.

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Austin tops the list of best places to buy a home

When looking to buy a home, taking the long view is important before making such a huge investment – where are the best places to make that commitment?



Looking at the bigger picture

(REALUOSO.COM) – Let us first express that although we are completely biased about Texas (we’re headquartered here, I personally grew up here), the data is not – Texas is the best. That’s a scientific fact. There’s a running joke in Austin that if there is a list of “best places to [anything],” we’re on it, and the joke causes eye rolls instead of humility (we’re sore winners and sore losers in this town).

That said, dug into the data and determined that the top 12 places to buy a home are currently Texas and North Carolina (and Portland, I guess you’re okay too or whatever).

They examined the nerdiest of numbers from the compound annual growth rate in inflation-adjusted GDP to cost premium, affordability, taxes, job growth, and housing availability.

“Buying a house is a big decision and a big commitment,” the company notes. “Although U.S. home prices have risen in the long term, the last decade has shown that path is sometimes full of twists, turns, dizzying heights and steep, abrupt falls. Today, home prices are stabilizing and increasing in most areas of the U.S.”

Click here to continue reading the list of the 12 best places to buy a home…

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Housing News

Average age of houses on the rise, so is it now better or worse to buy new?

With aging housing in America, are first-time buyers better off buying new or existing homes? The average age of a home is rising, as is the price of new housing, so a shift could be upon us.



aging housing inventory

aging housing inventory

The average home age is higher than ever

(REALUOSO.COM) – In a survey from the Department of Housing and Urban Development American Housing Survey (AHS), the median age of homes in the United States was 35 years old. In Texas, homes are a bit younger with the median age between 19 – 29 years. The northeast has the oldest homes, with the median age between 50 – 61 years. In 1985, the median age of a home was only 23 years.

With more houses around 40 years old, the National Association of Realtors asserts that homeowners will have to undertake remodeling and renovation projects before selling unless the home is sold as-is, in which case the buyer will be responsible to update their new residence. Even homeowners who aren’t selling will need to consider remodeling for structural and aesthetic reasons.

Prices of new homes on the rise

Newer homes cost more than they used to. The price differential between new homes and older homes has increased from 10 percent traditionally to around 37 percent in 2014. This is due to rising construction costs, scarcity of lots, and a low inventory of new homes that doesn’t meet the demand.

Click here to continue reading this story…

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Housing News

Are Realtors the real loser in the fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?

The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.



zillow move

zillow move

Why Realtors are vulnerable to these rapid changes

(REALUOSO.COM) – Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub,, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.

Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.

So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.

1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues

It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.

Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.

2. Two major media brands emerge

Last fall, the News Corp. acquisition of Move, Inc. was given the green light by the feds, and this month, Zillow finalized their acquisition of Trulia.

…Click here to continue reading this story…

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