A virtual viewings platform has warned that the industry faces a major privacy headache after the BBC’s revelations that a virtual tour uploaded to Rightmove by a Dartmoor estate agency included unblurred pictures of private financial documents belonging to the owner.
This included a dividend cheque and an insurance policy document, along with other material identity thieves could easily use such as family photographs.
Fowlers, based in Chagford (pictured), has apologised and told the BBC that the usual blurring of photographs and other material clearly visible in the tour had ‘slipped past’ both its staff and the owner. It has since withdrawn all its 3D tours to check them before they go live again.
But virtual tours now present a major headache for both estate agents and the platforms that upload and host them, which in this case was Matterport, because of their high resolution.
A competitor virtual tours provider, Pupil, says the problem for the virtual tours industry is that there are no agreed quality or privacy control measures for suppliers and agents to adhere to.
The platform launched a year ago and says it has completed 100,000 tours so far.
But it claims that because agents are required to ‘capture’ the property themselves and then the information is processed, published and hosted by the hardware manufacturer, this leaves a big hole in the process – as Fowlers has discovered.
“The duty of care to consumers is lost in this process, raising a growing safeguarding issue in the residential market as more viewings take place online,” says Pupil’s spokesperson Harry Turner (pictured).
“This risks customer reputations, highly personal consumer data leaks and an erosion of trust in the residential property market.”
Pupil says it has a dedicated digital quality control team that checks tours before they are published which is tasked with blurring out sensitive content.
This includes a bewildering array of potential bloopers including door numbers, car registration number-plates, personal documents, any reference to names of occupants, personal photographs and even items picked up in reflections.
“We are acutely aware of the risks, and we believe [this kind of best practice] needs to become a more widespread to keep consumers’ identities and personal details private.”