Lawsuit accuses Zillow and Microsoft of wiretapping

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Two visitors to Zillow’s website filed a class action lawsuit alleging the Seattle-based company was illegal and, without their consent, wiretapped them online.

Why is this important: The claim is one of a handful of recent lawsuits alleging companies violate people’s privacy rights by recording customer interactions on their websites.

  • How cases are resolved could have big implications for how companies track people’s web activity – and what steps they need to take to obtain someone’s consent before doing so.

Driving the news: The class action lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Western Washington, alleges that Zillow tracks users’ web activity in a manner that amounts to illegal wiretapping.

  • The claim alleges that Zillow, the online real estate marketplace, uses a third-party tool from Microsoft to track mouse movements, keystrokes and other actions of visitors on Zillow’s website.
  • Microsoft — which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit — then creates a video replay of the visitor’s entire website session, which is provided to Zillow for analysis, the lawsuit says.
  • The result is “the electronic equivalent of ‘looking over the shoulder’ of every visitor to Zillow’s website,” according to the complaint.
  • Such “conduct is highly offensive and reprehensible to a reasonable person and constitutes a gross violation of social norms that underpin the right to privacy,” the complaint states.

The other side: A spokesperson for Zillow said the company is reviewing the lawsuit and “takes the privacy and security of user information very seriously.”

  • “We are transparent with our users through our Privacy Policy, which explains to users the types of information we collect when they use our apps and websites,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to Axios.

What to watch: A Microsoft spokesperson said the company is “investigating this closely,” but did not comment further.

To note : In Pennsylvania, three similar lawsuits were recently filed against Zillow, Lowe’s and Expedia.

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