What Zillow’s $60 Million Lawsuit Means For Listing Properties Online

Commercializing the internet was a game changer right from the first day.

Several different industries and niches across the world have benefitted a lot from that, and based on current stats, the internet is just getting started.

Notably, the real estate industry has benefitted billions of dollars from leads and sales generated via the World Wide Web.

For instance, the internet has made house hunting absolutely easier. You can view the interior and exterior features of a home across the continent without leaving the warmth of your bed.

With the help of virtual staging techs, videos, drones, social media, virtual reality, FaceTime and Skype tours, drone technology, several different mobile apps, and other newly introduced techs, real estate is one of the leading industries that is making the most of technological advancements!

Now all you need is a smart device to connect to the internet and you can chat or make a video call to your real estate agent while viewing properties that tick the boxes on your checklist.   

Better still, many property listing websites like Zillow provides other key information and research-based data that makes it easier and faster for prospective buyers to make a decision.

Useful data such as crime rates, school districts, commute time, public transportation, home values, and several other key metrics are provided alongside Escrow – and now buying a home seems to be faster than ever.

The Fall?

The internet has a loophole!

There are many people on the internet who are constantly looking for how to take advantage of whatever loophole and backdoors they can find to gain unauthorized access to websites and servers.

This means companies have to spend a lot on website security. Yet, there’s no 100% security guaranteed. Ask Yahoo!

And eventually, when everything seems fine, one of such people seeking unauthorized access, or perhaps a group of people working under one umbrella, found a loophole and actually found a way into Zillow’s website via a backdoor.

Now Zillow has a $60 million lawsuit to deal with after this unauthorized people successfully gained unauthorized access to a listing on their site in February 2019 and alter it with false data.   

Why Were They Seeking Unauthorized Access Into Zillow’s Site?

Seeking unauthorized access into a large website is relatively expensive and often time-consuming!

Sometimes, it takes an entire government just to gain one unauthorized access into a website or its servers, like in the case of Sony and North Korea.

So what were the unauthorized people looking for on Zillow?

Money? Blackmail? A competitive edge? Information? Or they were just testing new software to find out if it works or not? I don’t think so!

Expectedly, they targeted a large money listing – a $150 million listing in Bel Air, California.

Since fake news seems to be a hot topic these days, they decided to post fake data about the property, using a Chinese internet protocol address, according to reports in this Washington Post’s article.

The fake data they posted include mentioning that the home has been sold several times for amounts that are not up to the asking price and in tens of millions of dollars.

The unauthorized people didn’t stop there. They published more false data which indicated that the Bel Air home was once sold for $110, million, $90.5 million and $94.3 million.

Not forgetting why they attacked Zillow in the first place, they posted a false notice of an open house for the home which is abnormal for a luxury property at such amount.

The home, which is a new edifice, sits on a 38,000-square-foot mansion, and boasts of a view over the Pacific Ocean.

The eye-catchy property also boasts of:

  • 21 bathrooms
  • 12 bedrooms
  • Five bars
  • Wine cellars
  • Three kitchens
  • An infinity pool
  • Tennis courts  
  • A bowling alley

The Lawsuit

To register their grievance, the seller of the multimillion-dollar home, a limited liability company managed by Bruce Makowsky, had to file a complaint about how the fake information has affected the sales of the property by blackmailing its listing price.

The complaint indicated that the people who gained unauthorized access successfully outsmarted Zillow’s security questions to have access to the listing and then manipulated it as they want.

According to the plaintiff, Zillow failed to address multiple requests made by the seller’s attorney for a period of one week to block the unauthorized people from accessing the listing.

Here’s The Most Controversial Part of The Suit:

The plaintiff claimed that Zillow lacked the proper security to stop people seeking unauthorized access from accessing its systems to post fake information about listings.

This is a very tough claim because Zillow has been in business for a while now and have helped millions of people to list, buy and sell properties across the United States and beyond without any indication that their listings were manipulated by unauthorized people.

It is hard to tell if Zillow unintentionally let down their security guard, giving the unauthorized people unintended access to listings or if those people now have a better and improved method of gaining unauthorized access into websites via a back door.

However, Zillow disclosed that they are currently working on updating their verification system – the one that allows owners access to their listing’s page on the site, according to Zillow’s spokesperson.

A Wake-Up Call

Typically, many people who seek unauthorized access to websites are known for targeting tech companies and financial institutions.

But the Zillow’s incident is a wake-up call for real estate companies especially listing sites and other related platforms.

Real estate websites should be more concerned about their cybersecurity more than ever. They shouldn’t wait until one or more unauthorized persons find a backdoor into their site or servers before updating their cybersecurity systems.

Since real estate transactions often involve hundreds of thousands of dollars and run into millions, odds are this unauthorized people may see them as an easier target compared to financial institutions and tech companies.

If for whatever reason, the public lose faith in listing websites and other related platforms like mobile apps, it might take several years to win back such high level of confidence that is currently bestowed on listing websites.

So while Zillow awaits the outcome of its $60 million lawsuit others should learn from the incident and start building a stronger cybersecurity system rather than wait to find out if Zillow will win or lose.

Regardless of the outcome of the suit, there’s no possibility that these people seeking unauthorized access won’t try again and again!

Williams Oleije

Williams Oleije

Williams Oleije is an Inbound Marketer, and a pop culture enthusiast. He's an avid researcher about how digital media is transforming marketing in several industries.

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