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The Zillow.com persecution: Why it matters to all of us

Jay Thompson, The Phoenix Real Estate Guy, clued me in to an email he got yesterday, which I was supposed to get as well. Mine didn’t come because the email address was wrong. Jay deals with the substance of the email in the post linked above, but here’s the meat of the matter:

Why are Jay and I, and other principled Realtors, rising to Zillow.com’s defense in response to the attempts at persecution of the net-based real-estate start-up by the Arizona Board of Appraisal?

I speak only for myself, but I can always speak at length about the positions I take. First, it’s important to understand what this is not about, in my opinion:

  • It’s not about Zillow.com.
  • It’s not about real estate.
  • It’s not about appraisals.
  • It’s not about job-protection, although this seems to me to be the objective behind the persecution.
  • It’s not even about Arizona.

I think what is really going on here is the first campaign in a long war to determine whether internet-based commerce will be suffered to grow as it has until now, without restrictions or impediments. Or: Whether the combined forces of power-mad “statesmen,” progress-hating “progressives” and hand-out-hungry “businesses” will be able to break the net to the saddle they have strapped onto every other enterprise in America.

In a sense, I’m not defending Zillow.com’s business, I’m defending my own. I’m about principle before everything, so that doesn’t matter to me, although I do admire the necessary integrity of rectitude: The moral is the practical. But this is so much larger than Zillow that the instant matter blends into the background.

Many of the pioneers of internet technology are hard-line Capitalists, stout defenders of the idea of free enterprise. That’s not universal, but there is also a very strong gut-level libertarianism among entrepreneurs generally.

In fact, the internet has grown so quickly, and so unpredictably, that the reactionary forces determined to tax, regulate or forbid everything have been stymied. A few very far-sighted people have successfully argued against regulating the net, and, meanwhile, the would-be arbiters-of-everything have been held in check by their own monolithic ignorance of technology. People who see the net as “a series of tubes” are not fit even to talk about technology, much less regulate it.

Like the East Valley Tribune, I see this as a free speech issue: Zillow.com and other Realty.bots certainly have every right to express opinions and publish facts about houses without pleading to the state for a license.

But, larger than that, this is about the war that will be waged by those reactionary forces determined to tax, regulate and forbid everything in their foolish and ultimately futile quest to reduce the universe to a comfortable lie they can affect to understand.

And even larger than that, the internet may be the last, best hope for the triumph of Capitalism in America. As we are paying attention, we watch, agog, as miraculous technologies are brought forward every day. I think it is a criminal obscenity to push innocent people around at gunpoint, in advance, in punishment for the injuries they might cause. But which one of us wants to claim to be wise enough to guess what wealth, what wonder we might destroy in the name of throwing a saddle on the untamable human mind?

I don’t like Zillow.com’s Zestimates, this with a certain notoriety. But, for now, you can run Zestimates at BloodhoundBlog. I had my son Cameron build a little PHP program to tap Zillow’s API, putting it in our sidebar. If Zillow.com is in violation of the law, so am I. If you want to add this code to your weblog or web site, this should work fine:

[?PHP include("http://www.bloodhoundrealty.com/BloodhoundBlog/zest.php"); ?]

Turn the square brackets into angle brackets. The code won’t work in the Mac’s Safari web browser, but, of course, neither will Zillow.com.

I guess it really comes down to who you trust more. I am in league with the Greeks. I believe in the fundamental goodness of inventors and entrepreneurs, and I believe even more fervently in the naked, grasping evil of people who attempt to push innocents around at gunpoint. I regard it as a signal tribute to the propaganda skills of the anti-Capitalists that it is even necessary to raise these issues, that it is not obvious to everyone that people who just want to sell you stuff — or give it to you for free — are not a peril to your life, but massively-armed megalomaniacs most certainly are.

But there it is: I am not defending Zillow.com against the Arizona Board of Appraisal. I am defending the ideas that make the truly human life possible at all. The matter at hand is just a skirmish in a long, long war, a war as old as the Greeks themselves. But what we do about this particular conflict may determine what we do the next time something like this comes up, and the next time, and the next. If we’re not willing to stand for principle now, how much less stout will our resolve be when next it is challenged?

I am nobody’s friend in taking this issue back to its root premises. Many of us would rather walk around in a pleasant fog, convinced, by not having thought about it, that nothing means much of anything. Bad news. Everything means something, usually something very important. And everybody’s gotta take a side…
 
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  • 7 comments

    7 Comments so far

    1. [...] The Zillow.com persecution: Why it matters to all of us [...]

    2. Dave Barnes April 29th, 2007 7:54 pm

      Greg,

      Zillow is so worthless that I can not get excited about the issue in the same manner as you.

      For example, the Zestimate for my daughter’s doctor is 3.1M$ and I know that it would sell for $7M+ tomorrow.
      Useless.

      ,dave

    3. Jay Thompson April 29th, 2007 10:47 pm

      Dave wrote: “Zillow is so worthless that I can not get excited about the issue in the same manner as you.”

      Dave – I have to ask, did you READ Greg’s post? It’s not about how accurate Zillow is. It’s the PRINCIPAL behind what is going on. Accurate or not, I have a fundamental problem with the state spending my money on such frivolous matters as this. The crap they are attempting to pull practically smacks of either state sponsored censorship or an outright attempt to squelch a free capital society.

      If they succeed in this, what is next?

    4. Teri Lussier April 30th, 2007 6:00 am

      As I’ve been watching this go down from my little brick ranch in Ohio I’ve been increasingly horrified, thinking the same thing: This is precedent setting behavior. If Zillow goes, everything, EVERYTHING goes with it. It’s not just Zillow, and it won’t stop at Zillow. It’s about life for those of us working now and our babies and their babies. That is certainly worth a fight.

    5. [...] Now I often get the occasional email or comment from a raving fan. More often than that I get an email or comment from a raving nut case. But I don't think JB is a nut case. I think JB is simply confused, and perhaps ignorant of Zillow, AVMs in general and certainly my opinion of both. I can't speak for Greg Swann — who also was intended to receive this email –  though I suspect he'd say roughly what I'm about to, perhaps with some Latin thrown in the mix. (Updated: See Greg's take here.) [...]

    6. Overlawyered May 1st, 2007 6:27 am

      Arizona regulators vs. Zillow.com, cont’d…

      As we noted Apr. 16, the Arizona State Board of Appraisal has sent a letter to Zillow.com demanding that it cease and desist from offering its free online estimates of property values in the state,……

    7. [...] impacting ‘Zestimates’” Inman News, May 1). More: Greg Swann, BloodhoundBlog, Apr. 29 and other posts; Jonathan Lansner, “Arizona has a Zillow problem”, Orange County [...]