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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Local home photos cause privacy stir

    Tucson houses will be on “”candid camera”” over the next few months while a company gathers pictures of over 200,000 houses in Tucson, some located near the UA.

    The project, which has been criticized by some as an invasion of privacy, will use the photographs to produce home appraisals.

    The Zaio Corporation, which was originally based in Calgary, Canada, and now has U.S. headquarters in Scottsdale is compiling pictures from cities across the nation in a drive to put every house in the nation online.

    “”There is a fundamental shift in how real estate information is being accessed,”” said Thomas Inserra, chief executive officer of Zaio.

    While other appraisal companies use satellite photos of houses, Zaio uses photographers to get the best picture possible of a house. Experts analyze the photos for appraisals, Inserra said.

    Though the corporation began taking photos in Tucson less than 30 days ago, residents are beginning to notice photographers in front of their houses and others are concerned with what this could mean for their property value.

    “”It’s these kinds of practices that eat away our consumer rights,”” said Carlos Gallego, an assistant professor in the English department and new homeowner.

    Zaio is appraising houses in more than 170 U.S. cities and plans to take pictures of about 210,000 houses in Tucson.

    “”The ultimate goal is to photograph and appraise every house in the United States over the next five years,”” Inserra said.

    The order of the houses was chosen based on where the busiest loan markets were, or the places with high mortgage frequencies, he said.

    Gallego said he understands why photographing houses is a touchy issue, but the value of the information to businesses merits what could be construed as an invasion of privacy.

    “”I don’t like the idea of someone else having this information because it tends to tilt the dynamics of power in favor of the corporations,”” Gallego said. “”But it’s nothing new.””

    Members of city government are receiving calls on legal issues of the project in reference to privacy rights, but it is not a city project, said city attorney Mike Rankin.

    “”There is no law that I’m aware of that they’re in violation of,”” Rankin said.

    Photographers do need to stay on public streets or sidewalks when taking pictures, he said.

    “”If they were peering over people’s backyards, that would violate privacy laws,”” Rankin said.

    Rankin sent out a memo to the mayor and council last week about the number of calls he has received about the matter in efforts to notify them about the corporation.

    “”This is a for-profit venture and it has nothing to do with the city,”” Rankin said.

    It takes Zaio photographers about 30 days to shoot 10,000 houses, and the corporation hopes to be finished with Tucson in six to 12 months, Inserra said.

    Zaio’s database will help companies quickly access a consumer’s credit report.

    For example, a person who is facing foreclosures needs to meet certain deadlines. Zaio’s appraisals can help that person meet a deadline.

    The information is primarily made available to banks and mortgage companies, Inserra said.

    Homeowners who do not want their appraisal to appear online can visit the Web site and have the photograph of their home removed.

    “”There is no legal requirement that we do this,”” Inserra said.

    Despite the controversy, this type of service seems to be gaining popularity.

    The company’s value has increased about 600 percent since it activated the service in August 2006, Inserra said.

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