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Zillow may be on its way to becoming a patent troll

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Zillow was granted yet ANOTHER pretty vague new utility patent last month, which leaves us wondering: what are they planning?

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We’ve got our eyes on you, Zillow.

The real estate listing website has been nabbing utility patents left and right. Their most recent one, awarded last month, is for the “automated control of image acquisition via use of acquisition device sensors.”

Basically, they claim to have invented a technique for automatically mapping a space in 3D using imaging sensors in real time, all controlled by an app on a phone or another device. This technology might even have applications like quickly building virtual reality environments using real life references. While Zillow filed for this patent in late 2018, it could prove to be a useful tool for them to have in their back pocket during the COVID age.

But looking at the whole picture, Zillow must be gearing up for something major. They’ve had 17 successful patents in the last ten years, all for inventions that seem a bit extraneous for the humble real estate listing page. Either they’re planning to start punching above their weight very soon, or they’re just well on their way to patent trolling with the best of them.

Quick refresh: A patent troll is a company that secures patents they do not need or use with the primary goal of suing “competitors” that unknowingly reproduce their copyrighted works. This behavior effectively creates a minefield for small businesses that are engaging in good faith product development.

As an aside, Zillow is currently involved in a drawn out drama where accusations of trolling have abounded in both directions. IBM recently filed a lawsuit in response to seven of Zillow’s patents, claiming that they are the original inventors and that Zillow has cost them billions of dollars in losses (note that this is small potatoes for IBM. They have over 110,000 patents, and the US Patent and Trademark Office has given them more patents than they’ve given to any other company in the world). Clearly, they see Zillow as an important rival to keep in check.

However you look at it, the takeaway here is clear: Don’t underestimate Zillow. Even though they’re not an IBM-sized giant right now, they’re still making serious moves with serious implications.

Desmond Meagley is an award-winning writer, graphic artist and cultural commentator in D.C. A proud YR Media alumn, Desmond's writing and illustrations have been featured in the SF Chronicle, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, The Daily Cal, and NPR among others. In their spare time, Desmond enjoys vegetarian cooking and vigorous bike rides.

Real Estate Technology

How to spot cyberbullying, sexual harassment within a remote team

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) With more people working remotely, cyberbullying may rear its ugly head. Here’s what to look out for and how to handle the problem.

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cyberbullying

Cyberbullying doesn’t occur only between children. Adults are often the perpetrators. A study published in 2017 found that 80% of the respondents had been a victim of cyberbullying in the previous 6 months. Many other studies have confirmed that cyberbullying is a problem in the workplace.

Suzanne Lucas, EvilHRLady.org, reminds us that cyberbullying and sexual harassment can still be a problem when we’re working at home. Don’t think because your staff isn’t within physical proximation of each other that they are all suddenly angels. Employers should be on alert for bad behavior through remote channels.

What is cyberbullying?

Bullying behavior presents itself in many forms, from sarcasm, the invisible treatment, deliberate sabotage and physical assault. Cyberbullying occurs when these behaviors are done over electronic devices.

A cyberbully might purposefully delete a person from an email list, then follow up with that person. Sext messages sent between employees. “Accidentally on purpose” not wearing pants during a video-conference, then getting up so that everyone can see you. Trolling a colleague’s social media to post mean or destructive comments. One of the biggest problems with bullying is that it can be difficult to recognize, because it takes so many different forms.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to know whether it was a one-time slip-up or a deliberate action. Generally speaking, if it’s a pattern of behavior, it’s bullying.

Steps to take to reduce the risk of cyberbullying

Lucas recommends that employers take complaints of cyberbullying seriously. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employers could be held responsible for employees who cyberbully. Employers have a legal responsibility to address cyberbullying.

Lucus suggests:

  • A dress code for video-conferencing to prevent “accidental” excuses.
  • A reminder to everyone that their camera is on when using video.
  • Don’t make employees leave their camera on when working at home unless in a conference.
  • Have permissions set high to prevent camera-sharing.

Employees may need to be reminded of what is acceptable and what isn’t. If your organization doesn’t have policies in place about responding to bullying, you need to get on the ball. While people are working from home, it can be good to have a training on recognizing bullying behavior, on- or off-line.

COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s life, but it can’t be used to excuse bad behavior. You can’t wait to deal with complaints of harassment.

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Real Estate Technology

Seeking accessibility options? Google Maps can help you find them

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Google Maps makes it easier to see which locations are wheelchair-accessible. Accessibility Is now marked easily as an icon next to the name of locations.

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If you are one of the 13.7% of adults in the US who have a disability which makes it difficult to walk or climb stairs, it is now easier to find out accessibility details of businesses or other destinations using the Google Maps app.

Though the feature was previously available, it required users to seek it out separately for each destination in the “About” section of the app. The new “Accessible Places” feature rolled out on Global Accessibility Awareness Day marks destinations that have wheelchair-accessible entrances with a prominently displayed icon, and information about the availability of accessible seating, parking, and restrooms.

Though accessibility features are often initiated through work and advocacy to help people with disabilities, it is something that even those without mobility challenges often seek out, and from which they can benefit. For example, if a person is pushing around a stroller with a 30-pound toddler inside; they might want to know the accessibility details when planning their outings to know where they will or will not encounter an accessible entrance. This is also a helpful tool for those planning for groups with varying levels of mobility.

Right now the Google Maps app has wheelchair accessibility information for more than 15 million places around the world, according to the Google produced blog The Keyword. This number is continuously increasing as volunteers and business owners add updates.

If you run a business with accessible entrances, seating, parking, or restrooms, you might want to give the feature a try, and make sure that all of the efforts you have put into making your location accessible are noted accurately. If you have updates to add, you can do so here. Google reports that 120 million Local Guides have already shared accessibility information from around the world for this feature.

To enable this update on the Google Maps iOS or Android app, go to “Settings”, select “Accessibility,” and turn on “Accessible Places.”

google maps settings

The rollout of this feature started with the United States, Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom; with Google claiming support for more countries is on the way. According to The Wheelchair Foundation there is a global population of over 130 million people who use wheelchairs. This user-friendly feature has a large potential audience to benefit from having accessibility information at their fingertips.

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Real Estate Technology

The real reasons we’re all obsessed with spy machines (I mean smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: Despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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