The Dangers Of Mobile Code
(As it relates to Pennsylvania Real Estate Law)

by D. Brouse, D. Brouse, Dr. S. Mukherjee, M. Hammel, T. Brouse, M. Beaudry and Rev. LeRoy Montana
1994-2001

Purpose

The purpose of this case study is to examine the costs and benefits of pushing mobile code onto real estate consumers' web browsers.

Mobile Code = "any code that executes on the client... in this case the machine the webbrowser is running on." (S. Mukherjee, 2000) Examples of mobile code include Java, Java Script, Active-x, Flash, Shockwave and similar computer programs.

Background Information

The advent of the world wide web, and its acceptance by consumers, has brought about many changes. In fact, the economic impact has been severe and sweeping when viewed from either an international or regional perspective. The name we are giving this field of study is E-conomics .

This case study will use a specific regional example. Since the real estate industry is one of the most affected sectors of the United States economy, a Philadelphia area real estate company has been selected as the topic for the case study. (Besides the technology industry, the other leading indicator industries include auto, travel, financial services and real estate.)

Choice & Action

How does a company weigh ethical decisions against monetary gain in an unexplored economic system? There has been much debate over these issues. And, this case study is yet further evidence of the need for continuing consumer education.

Unfortunately, much of the debate has not taken into account the real world. In many of the chat rooms, newsgroups and traditional trade journals they attempt to tackle the issues we are about to explore. However, the discussions on "choice" seldom take into account the need for real "action." Our case studies in this arena usually come about in the reverse order -- first, we are forced to take action by a commercial entity. Then, we must make choices based on our moral code. More often than not, there is no government organization to turn to for answers. There is no legal or taxation roadmap. Over the years, we have contacted many branches of federal and local government, including: the IRS (United States Internal Revenue Service), PA Dept. Of Treasury, U.S. Dept. Of State, U.S Dept. Of Justice, FTC (Federal Trade Commission), FEC (Federal Election Commission), SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission), PA Dept. Of Labor, and the Pennsylvania Department Of State Real Estate Commission.

Digital Pioneers

In late 1994, a world wide web business model was conceived and went on to be become known as Philanet.com. Philanet.com is a regional internet portal for business, educational and religious web content. One of the business categories is real estate.

Since that time, the website has gone on to become one of the most visited real estate sites in the world. The results from one recent analysis showed our experiment garnered more traffic than Microsoft's Home Advisor and Realtor.com... combined. Because of the complexity of the topic and the size of the financial transactions (over $1,000,000,000.00 USD), we were forced to take action and help develop an objective standard for real estate websites. After all, how could we knowingly link to a real estate website that we thought may violate a consumer's privacy and/or security?

Standards & Practices

The non-business entity, Membrane Domain (Membrane.com), is comprised of volunteers from many different disciplines, including: real estate brokers, real estate agents, doctors, lawyers, computer programmers and webmasters. The Membrane Domain is assisting Philanet.com in the process of establishing standards & practices for real estate websites.

The two most significant policies to be adopted by Philanet.com are:

  1. Websites should use "pull" and not "push" technologies. (An example of a "push" technology is a website that automatically delivers Java to your personal computer just by viewing the webpage.)
  2. A webmaster must be able to verify that his client based computer programs (including Java, Java Script, Macromedia's Flash, and Microsoft's Active-x) have not been covertly altered.

Unless these two concerns have been addressed, the Philanet.com real estate website directory will not link.

Why?

During the years of research, we came across many real estate companies that were employing questionable website techniques -- everything from surreptitiously collecting visitors' email addresses to determining a visitor's place of employment through weblog analysis.

Since the Membrane Domain advised us that such practices may be in opposition to the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission's mission statement, we declined to do business with those companies. To this day, and until such time as a court rules otherwise, we will try to protect consumers from undue danger.

The Costs & Benefits of Pushing Mobile Code onto Real Estate Consumers' Web Browsers

... to be continued.

Internet Security