Home.co.uk under fire in property scraping spat
Home.co.uk is under fire from Castle Property Services for allegedly mis-marketing its properties.
Speaking exclusively to The Negotiator, Duncan Pate, managing director of the Surrey-based agency, claims that the site has advertised his property as reduced stock a long time after the reduction has been made.
He says: “We could potentially be in trouble under the Property Misdescriptions Act because it is unreasonable to suggest that a reduction has been made several weeks after it has actually been applied.”
Pate says he fears that users of home.co.uk may be misled to believe that there has been more than one reduction on a property.
Home.co.uk sources properties via a process called scraping, which effectively involves the use of specifically designed software to extract content from third party websites. Many sites use scraping as a means to boost their site content and traffic, with a number offering an opt out clause for advertisers preferring not to have their products marketed by third parties.
Pate claims that home.co.uk is refusing to stop marketing his stock in spite of repeated requests to do so. He adds that requests made to Rightmove and Zoopla to prevent home.co.uk from scraping his stock from their sites have been granted. FindaProperty.co.uk confirms that it has also contacted home.co.uk in accordance with Pate’s request.
Doug Shephard, director of home.co.uk, says: “We operate a property search engine. We are not a traditional portal, and just like Google and Yahoo, we systematically index UK properties for sale listed across on the web.
“We work hard to ensure that only the most accurate property information is indexed.”
He adds: “Estate agents are about as likely to want their property listings to be removed from our site as they would want to be removed from the Google search index or any other search engine that delivers clients to their businesses.”
However, he adds that the site has received a handful of such requests from agents over the last couple of years.
In a letter from Shephard to Pate seen by The Negotiator, Shephard states: “The basic position is that once information is published on the internet it is available to be linked to, in the same way that the general public are allowed to use the public highway, unless it is limited by intellectual property rights or via a contract.
“It seems that you somehow feel that you have a right to ‘cancel the upload’, which has something of the language of contract law about it. There is no contract between yourselves and HomeCo to cancel and therefore this terminology is not appropriate under the circumstances.”
Keith Arrowsmith, a partner in the IT team at law firm Sprecher Grier Halberstam, says that the legalities of scraping are work in progress, but believes agents wanting to legally pursue sites for marketing their properties against their wishes may do so on the grounds of an infringement of their trademark.
He urges agents to review the terms of the portals with which they market their properties to ensure they are upheld with third parties.
He adds: “Agents should also upload new terms and conditions, or review existing ones, on their own websites to ensure that users do not go beyond the scope of permitted use.”
This is the second case of unauthorised scraping discovered by The Negotiator. PropertyIndex.com came under fire in April for striking a deal with auction giant eBay, which involved the marketing of agents’ stock without their knowledge.
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