Are some companies and individuals using your listings data without your consent? Are they getting this data from public Web sites? Even your own personal Web site? If so, they are “scraping” your listings. This practice is at best unscrupulous, and at worst illegal.
“Scraping” is actually a technical term. It’s used to describe the automated gathering of data from public Web sites. Programs are written that systematically surf Web sites and return data. This is exactly how spammers get so many email addresses.
It’s not hard to write a program to surf a Web site and gather listings - or any data for that matter. This is the potential downside of placing large amounts of information on public Web sites. It’s great for the public, but also great for bottom feeders looking to make money illegitimately.
On the other hand, when you authorize your listings to appear on a Web site, or in any communications medium - according to the guidelines of your MLS - this is not scraping. This is what is known as advertising. Be it on a Web page, or a page of a newspaper or magazine, displaying listings properly is part of the legitimate marketing practices of Realtors.
Lots of Web sites want your listings - because listings drive traffic. Before authorizing your listings to appear on any Web site, make sure they will be displayed according to the guidelines of your MLS.
How can you locate unauthorized use of your listings on the Web? While not foolproof, try this: In the short description of a property, include a unique combination of words or numbers. Here's an example:
“…three years old, upgraded carpet, ceramic tile, large eat-in kitchen with center island, beautiful oak cabinets, family room with fireplace…*Ref#AB234908*”
I don’t believe searching for the MLS# will be very effective. This is often not displayed. But a short property description is almost always included. Insert your “Scrape Detector” there.
If you do see your listings appearing on a Web site without your consent, you should contact the Web site operator, and find out where they got their data. Ask your MLS if they have an agreement with the Web site. Chances are, if they don’t have an agreement with your MLS, they could be using your listings to their advantage, and not yours.