Zillow Suspends My Account Because I Added “+Zillow” To My E-mail Address

As a way of tracking possible spam and simply keeping one’s inbox organized, a small but growing number of people are adding “+” terms onto their e-mail addresses when they register with websites. But one Consumerist reader says that when he tried to use this technique to keep track of e-mails related to his Zillow.com account, that account was suspended for violating the company’s trademark.

Miles tells Consumerist that when he signed up with the real estate listings site, he added the term “+zillow” between his e-mail user ID and the “@” sign. Doing so would allow him to set up a rule that would tag or filter all e-mails coming to that address.

It’s becoming a more common practice as consumers use it, especially with e-commerce sites, to prioritize and sort their incoming messages.

But to Zillow, it’s a trademark violation, one that resulted in Miles’ account being suspended.

A rep for the site confirmed to Consumerist that this is indeed company policy:

Trademarks are used to designate the origin of products and/or services. Using a Zillow trademark as part of a Zillow user’s account name has the potential to mislead or confuse other users into thinking that the user is affiliated with or endorsed by Zillow. In order to maintain one’s trademark rights, a trademark registrant must exercise control to ensure that its mark is used only to designate the origin of the products and/or services that it was registered to identify.

When we pointed out that the “+zillow” would not appear in the user name on the site, the rep replied:

We have no way of knowing how someone will use the email address that they use to sign up for a Zillow account. A real estate agent could distribute it widely as their professional email (which has happened) or a non-agent user could use it solely for receiving emails from Zillow. This is not within our control. What is within our control is whether we allow someone to use the Zillow trademark on the Zillow website in a way that is not specifically designating Zillow products and/or services. Not permitting such use is Zillow’s right and responsibility as a trademark registrant.

As for Miles, he tells Consumerist he’s not terribly worked up about it because he can easily just sign up again with a different e-mail, “but it’s a dumb corporate policy to treat people like this.”

To avoid falling into the same trap, we suggest people use something other than the site’s name when adding the “+” term. So instead of using “+zillow,” use “+realty” or some other indicator that will make it easy for you to figure out which site that e-mail is related to.

Comments

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  1. MickeyMoo says:

    I genuinely like how the Zillow rep responded: direct, to the point, unapologetic – definitely a step up from the standard corporate spokesweasel speak.

    • CTrees says:

      Agreed. Zillow’s policy may be annoying, but it’s completely legitimate, and politely stating the reasons why, while remaining unyeilding? Fantastic.

  2. citking says:

    Zillow almost cost me several percentage points on a re-fi. When we applied the appraiser based a “best guess” off of Zillow.com and Zillow, come to find out, never really updates their land value records in our part of the country. Hence, on first glance, my house seemed to be worth $25,000 less that it really was.

    Thankfully the appraiser was of the well-rounded sort and used other comparisons to value the property where it should have been value and based off of things like tax records, neighborhood sales, etc. Zillow, on the other hand appears to just “make up” numbers and sticks by them. It’s true – on their site it even says that you cannot make them change what they think your house is valued at.

    After that I never visited their scammy, ne’er-updated site again.

    • notserpmh says:

      What in the world kind of appraiser would base their appraisal on Zillow? That is crazy. I know you usually don’t get to pick the appraiser (the title or mortgage company does) but that guy is terrible. Zillow’s values are often off or out of date and don’t take a lot of other factors into consideration since they are based only on public records and calculations.

    • iesika says:

      I use Zillow as part of my work, but I always take last years tax assessment value as the current estimated value of the house. It’s just easier to get it on Zillow than by other means.

  3. MutantMonkey says:

    On a similar note, I notice an increasing number of sites are not allowing me to use my “name”.spam@gmail.com account.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      When you SIGN UP FOR A FUCKING WEBSITE, they AREN’T SENDING YOU ANY FUCKING SPAM.

      Stop MARKING IT AS SPAM. Stop FLAGGING IT AS SPAM. Stop REPORTING IT AS SPAM.

      I’ve lost a SHITLOAD of opportunities over the years because dicks like you keep marking perfectly legitimate email as “spam,” causing Google to block entire domains.

      Spam is UNSOLICITED. COMMERCIAL. EMAIL. If it isn’t UNSOLICITED because you SIGNED UP FOR A FUCKING WEBSITE THAT YOU KNEW WOULD SEND YOU EMAIL.

      • Bladerunner says:

        “Opportunities”?

        • dwtomek says:

          His business correspondence with a nigerian prince was once interrupted by the replies eventually being (erroneously) flagged as spam. He was THIS close to locking in that mutlimillion dollar transaction.

      • CrazyEyed says:

        God I hope you were being as sarcastic as Monkey was.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I flagged your comment. I don’t know if it violates any Consumerist commenting codes, but it was just stupidly annoying.

      • Quixiotic... Yea it's a typo (╯°□°)╯彡┻━┻ says:

        That reply right there, would make me never even give any site you use a visit.

      • GarretN says:

        I think you’re missing the point of this tactic entirely. The send-to address has pretty much nothing to do with your complaint.

        This tactic is meant to identify companies that are being “bad” — selling emails outside of the agreement, refusing to remove from lists, and the like. It’s a tactic meant to help the consumer identify the source.

        If say, I signed up with “user+company@domain.com”, their company promises not to share the information with anyone, and a week later my inbox is flooded with emails from various businesses I don’t recognize — I can see immediately that if they were sent to “user+company@domain.com” I know which business I need to have a talk with, and I’m able to _filter_ (which is NOT THE SAME AS MARK AS SPAM) all emails tied to that business relationship without having to change email addresses.

        It’s a variation of the same tactic some people use with mailing addresses, and using the additional address line to help identify the source.

      • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

        That’s funny, because when I give a website an email address, and uncheck the “I want your newsletter” and uncheck the “I want you to share sales with me” and pretty much every sort of contact-me-permission … they still send me messages.

        While it’s true, people SHOULD unsubscribe, some “shady” organizations make that deliberately difficult.

      • We Have a Piper Down says:

        Jesus Christ. Cool it, hot sauce. Too many websites these days sell addresses to third parties and THAT is spam. But anything from you would be marked as spam automatically because you are a dick.

      • Republicrat says:

        Have you ever considered seeking out anger management? Every post you make on here is very angry and confrontational. That can’t possibly be good for your health. You’re going to be one of those guys who has a heart attack at an early age.

      • MutantMonkey says:

        Wow, I struck a nerve with that one. I use that account for random BS sites that I have little to no interest in receiving emails from, but insist on having a valid email address for so that I can log in.

        Emails that come to that account are not automatically marked as spam and as far as I can tell, Google is not handling the emails as spam.

        That said, when I am forced to sign up for a site to gain access to restricted content, a site that I do not want emails from, those emails are spam. Any email I get that I do not want is spam. They may not be trying to sell be Viagra on the cheap, but they are still wasting my time with crap emails that I cannot opt out of.

        This is doubly so for those sites that resell their account email addresses to marketing companies.

        Try not to take it so personally. Maybe you are one of the few sites that isn’t shady with email addresses, but I am not going to change my method because there is one good egg.

      • dvdcowboy says:

        Maybe a new line of work outside of Internet Marketing is worth a try.

      • who? says:

        Stop forcing me to give an email address, when all I want is to read a single fscking article from your fscking site, and I won’t mark your spam as spam.

        And if I do sign up for your site, respect the fscking checkbox that says I don’t want any fscking spam from you. Yes, I’m looking at you, LinkedIn…

      • icerabbit says:

        Did you forget to take your medication for a few days?

      • Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

        Thank you. You win the internet today, sir.

      • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

        No no. I told you the Xanax is in the GREEN bottle.

      • kenj0418 says:

        I flagged this post as spam.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      “yourname”@spamavert.com Ticket gator, any site forcing me to create an account to view content, Sears, etc. all get sent to this read-only account.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      There’s a really cool chrome plugin for trashmail.net :)

  4. Mark702 says:

    Or just use +zilow instead. Only one L instead of two. Get creative, its not difficult to work around this issue.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      It wouldn’t work. They are saying that using that email gives the impression that the person is working with the company. It’s like when people would try to get away with “T0Sxxxxx” screen names on AOL to fool people into thinking that they were with AOL TOS department.

    • Cacao says:

      +wolliz. (See what I did there?)

  5. Kryndis says:

    The Zillow guy still doesn’t get it. Miles doesn’t actually have that email address. The only place it will ever be seen is by the mail servers.

    Now, if he goes out and takes out ads with Miles.theZillownator@gmail.com listed in them, then by all means, shut him down. But this is silly and betrays an ignorance of technology, not a logical policy.

    • Costner says:

      The point they were making is that people can add +zillow to any email address and they could print up business cards with that shown. It doesn’t matter if it is “real” or not… because the people who see it won’t know that.

      Although Zillow can’t prevent someone from doing this, they can draft a policy in order to attempt to prevent it, and they surely don’t have to knowingly allow it when people register on their site.. Can’t really fault them for that one.

      • Kryndis says:

        No, this is pure nonsense. If I make the email address kryndislovespepsi@gmail.com, I haven’t violated Pepsi’s trademark. If I start handing out business cards or putting it on ads, then maybe so, but not before that. Even then it’s not an open and shut case, depending on my specific use, for the same reason “companyxsucks.com” websites aren’t trademark infringement.

        • Costner says:

          I’m guessing a gaggle of lawyers can debate what is and is not trademark infringement, but that is really a separate issue. Their policy is their policy – it doesn’t have to mirror what actually constitutes trademark infringement, but rather if it is something they feel could in any way harm their trademark, they have the right to act up on it.

          This is sort of a non-story – because Zillow sets their own policies and can enforce them however they choose provided they don’t violate existing laws (which this does not).

        • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

          You don’t get it. By adding the name of their company to his email, it gives the impression that he may work/represent the company. In fact, the rep says that when it’s written:

          “Using a Zillow trademark as part of a Zillow user’s account name has the potential to mislead or confuse other users into thinking that the user is affiliated with or endorsed by Zillow.

          Many websites will display a user’s email if you want to send them a private message or in their public profile. So having that be part of the email could be easily confused as someone being a part of that company. Your example of “lovespepsi” wouldn’t give most people the impression you work for the company.

      • Timbojones says:

        People can add +zillow to their email address on their business cards without registering that +zillow address on zillow itself. This policy does nothing to protect zillow, it just annoys users like me that give a different email address to every online entity so we can track those who sell our information.

        Bad form, Zillow. Bad policy, bad justification, bad form.

  6. Republicrat says:

    I think we should all sign up for Zillow with +zillow or +zillowsucks in our email addresses just to piss off the dumb corporatetards who don’t understand how the Internet works. Imagine several hundred new account registrations that are supposedly violating their precious trademark.

    • n0th1ng says:

      No you are immature and retarded. You don’t understand their policy so you come up with stupid shit. They don’t want anyone using their trademarked name in their email address. Period. They don’t want people especially real estate agents using email addresses that might confuse people into thinking they work for Zillow. They are just protecting their brand and reputation.

      • Timbojones says:

        Nothing stops anyone from handing out business cards that say SusanBRealtor+zillow@scott.com, including this policy. Zillow does not show your email address to other users, they show your screen name.

        This policy does exactly nothing to stop people from infringing Zillow’s trademark, and is stupid.

      • jeadly says:

        Um, you’re infringing Monster’s trademark more than using the word Zillow in an email address would.

  7. tinyhands says:

    This is what guerrillamail.com is for.

  8. Cosmo_Kramer says:

    Well this is a non-story if I’ve ever seen one. Zillow did nothing unreasonable here.

  9. sparc says:

    sounds retarded. Why not just force the account to change the email address at the next login?

  10. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Consumerist just used “zillow” multiple times and will likely not receive a cease and desist order. So why can’t this person use the word itself in the e-mail?

  11. ZachPA says:

    And what about folks whose last name might be Zillow? There are 7 billion people in the world, 305 million of them in the US. Certainly there must be someone out there with the last name of Zillow. Not possible? There are people with the last name of Schmuck, Putz, Butt and any number of other funny terms, so why not Zillow? Idiotic company.

  12. dangermike says:

    I can’t really fault zillow on this one. There are enough people who are not so well versed in technological matters that they would understand that the +zillow doesn’t signify an official tie to the company.

    Adding a code to the email address is reasonable measure to take for spam control. The short and long of it is, don’t use an unencoded string for the site’s name. Maybe do +wolliz. Or +zil. Or +dbnuiwebubrwe.

    Also, when using the + codes, use the codes for whitelisting rather than blacklisting. Some spammers actually know what they’re doing and will remove anything between the + and @.

    • Timbojones says:

      People aren’t going to use their +zillow address outside the zillow site if they’re using the + syntax to filter and track email. If they are going to use their +zillow outside the zillow site to impersonate a official zillow rep, they aren’t going to use it on the site. Zillow doesn’t show other users your email address. This policy is pointless if this PR rep is telling the truth about their motivation.

  13. blinky says:

    “To avoid falling into the same trap, we suggest people use something other than the site’s name when adding the “+” term. So instead of using “+zillow,” use “+realty” or some other indicator that will make it easy for you to figure out which site that e-mail is related to.”

    Or you could go to redfin.

  14. evilpete says:

    Zillow is an idiot

    I’ve been using + in my email for tivo , Amazon etc. for over a decade and a half ( or how ever long that company has been around ).

    The only problems I have had are from badly coded web sites that assume a “+” space in form data and site that move to Microsoft back ends and assume “+” is an invalid character in email addresses.

  15. Gorbachev says:

    The best advice is to not use Zillow to begin with. Its valuations are so unreliable they’re of no use whatsoever.

    You can search for the real estate sale data in other sites, incl. the city/county/state official sites, for the same data, so nobody actually needs Zillow.

  16. Dan T. says:

    Since I own domain names hosted with my web hosting service, I can create unlimited email addresses in them, and have done a whole series of them with numbers in them that I can use for signing up for stuff where I want to trace where spam came from.

  17. Lyn Torden says:

    I could use +zillow and (maybe) violate the trademark without using it at Zillow. But there is certainly no point in using THAT email address with others. The Zillow rep is just a stupid person who makes up excuses to cover up for a corporate policy created by a stupid CEO who doesn’t understand trademark law. When someone uses a trademark to reference the trademark owner, and not in a way to attract business to themselves, that it is perfectly valid public use of the mark. And when using that mark to communicate with that company only, there is no indication whatsoever that a violation has taken place.

    What would this stupid company do if a customer had an actual name or valid nickname that was “Zillow”? Wanna bet they would act stupidly?

  18. Lyn Torden says:

    Using the +name trick to track spammers only had limited use. The spammers now know to remove the +name part (trivial programming) and spam you without the tracking info. So that game is over.

    What is needed is a mail server or mail provider that lets you generate new email addresses on the fly through their website or a smartphone app. When you are in need of giving an email address to some signup, get a fresh new one for them, and save (on the same site or in the same app) the name of who it is given to. Then when mail comes in, it can have the name of who it was given to attached so you can see who is spamming or who sold it to spammers or who ran their web server insecurely and allow spammers to come grab the data.

    Software development needed for the above feature.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Half of this is really easy.

      If you have your own domain, just enable a catch-all account. You can make up random stuff on the spot and it will go to the catch-all account, but have the appropriate “to” address included.

      I don’t really need the other half (keeping track of who I gave it to) since I can make up new addresses as I’m standing at the checkout. If my catch-all account has email addressed to “4thNationalBank@MyDomain.com”, I’ll have a pretty good idea who gave out the address.

  19. madcatcasey says:

    So what if someone’s last name is Zillow? Now they can’t use it in their email address or they’ll be sued?

  20. Greyhound says:

    I have my own domain so all emails forward to one account. In this case I’d use zillow@mydomain. want me using zillow, I guess they don’t want me using their site. It’s just an email account.

    • longfeltwant says:

      I came here to say this. This is called a “catch all” email account. On my domain, any email to any address at that domain routes to me. When I sign up for something that I think might be shady, I use a new email specific to that circumstance. It’s very convenient, but it costs ten bucks per year to own a domain plus you have to be savvy enough to set it up with Google Apps (which is easy, but my mom couldn’t do it).

  21. Abradax says:

    No spin, no backpedal, no apology.
    Simple, professional explaination.

    Agree or not with your policy, bravo Zillow.

  22. RevancheRM says:

    It doesn’t work the way you think it does.

    The email server -sight unseen by any person- will send the email to the address before the + sign. For example, if I have Revanche@gmail.com as my address and I sign up for an account on Zillow with the email address Revanche+zillow@gmail.com, it wil come directly to Revanche@gmail.com (not to the non-existant Revanche+zillow@gmail.com). In other words, the servers ignore everything from the + sign to the @ sign (but retain it).

    So, when I see who they sent the email to, I see it came from Zillow, since they are the only ones I used with that additive to my address. The only way any human -other than me- would see it is if some one at Zillow were reviewing the logs or they [i]sold[/i] my address to some one in violation of the application agreement.

    /Revanche@gmail.com is not my address
    //not implying Zillow sells addresses

    • tomz17 says:

      … right… but this system is so absurdly easy to defeat it only gives fools comfort. The *FIRST* thing big bad spammer will do when they buy / steal the e-mail list is strip everything after the + leaving your bare e-mail. It will take literally 30 seconds of thought to write down the necessary regular expression.

  23. scrooks says:

    Funny, I have a zillow account with an email address of e+zillow.com@… and my account still works fine.