A new class action lawsuit—one of several filed this month—accuses Zillow of violating consumer privacy. According to the complaint, Zillow uses Session Replay code to record every user interaction with the website. These actions also violate Washington wiretapping laws.
The lawsuit filed on Monday also names Microsoft as a defendant. Zillow contracts with Microsoft to embed the code used to record consumer engagement with their website.
This is not the first case of its kind. And if Zillow loses this fight, the outcome could reshape how large tech companies collect user data and gauge consumer interaction with their brand.
PRIVACY AND ID FRAUD CONCERNS
Natalie Perkins and Kenneth Hassan filed the suit in federal court in Washington, alleging that Zillow uses computer code to record a consumer’s every interaction on their website and create video reconstructions of those interactions.
They argue that this violates the privacy rights of Zillow website visitors and a Washington wiretapping law.
Like others before it, the lawsuit claims users expect privacy when they visit the website. It also suggests Zillow’s code could expose website visitors to the possibility of identity theft.
SESSION REPLAY CODE
The complaint describes the “Session Replay Code” used by Zillow to record consumer activity on their website and to create a video reconstruction.
According to the plaintiffs, that code is being deployed “clandestinely” to track and record “all mouse movements, clicks, scrolls, zooms, window resizes, keystrokes, text entry, and numerous other forms of a user’s navigation and interaction through the website.”
While the use of Session Replay code can be legitimate, the lawsuit accuses Zillow of taking its use beyond standard website analytics by collecting the actual contents of every interaction between the Zillow website and its visitors.
A Zillow spokesperson responded to Inman’s questions by saying the company “takes the privacy and security of users’ information very seriously.”
They’re aware of the lawsuit and are currently reviewing it.
NOT THE FIRST CASE OF ITS KIND
Though this particular lawsuit is new, it’s not the first of its kind, and it’s unlikely to be the last for Zillow or other large companies that track and record user activity.
The issue being raised is central to several other lawsuits filed—all of which hint at a growing conflict over the nature of the internet, consumer privacy, and electronic commerce.
Earlier this month, another lawsuit, filed by a man named Jamie Huber, targeted the same replay code technology. Like the new Washington suit, Huber’s case focuses on alleged violations of wiretapping laws.
Huber has also sued other companies—Lowe’s and Expedia—for the same violations, raising bigger questions about e-commerce and consumer privacy.
Another man, Ryan Margulis, also sued Zillow earlier this month in Illinois federal court for the same thing. Ashley Popa did the same in Pennsylvania. Several of these lawsuits are being handled by the same legal team.
These cases reveal how important user data collection has become for large companies like Zillow—along with how much data collection has evolved. Even the new lawsuit acknowledges that consumer data is vital to a business’s success.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN?
Whatever happens with these cases, the outcome is likely to be newsworthy. It could end in settlements. Or the courts could rule in Zillow’s favor with some mild conditions.
But if the plaintiffs somehow limit the use of session replay technology, it’ll be interesting to see how Zillow and other large businesses will react.
In the meantime, consumers who visit the Zillow website can use an “incognito” window on their browser to at least mask their identities while searching for homes.