Like all MLSes, Hawaii Information Service takes data licenses seriously. Aside from the natural investigation of reported violations, they wanted to find a way to crawl the Internet to find additional abuses of their data license agreements. After an unproductive

effort to find a commercial solution to meet their needs, Hawaii Information Systems partnered with Falcon Technologies to build one.

Now, the two cooperating companies formed a new startup called Black Sand Labs to deliver the service to other MLSs fighting the compliance battle.

The new product is called APHIS – which may sound like a crawling insect, but was born of an acronym: Automatic Photo Identification System. Clever name. WAV Group partner Victor Lund was provided with an overview of APHIS, and here is what we learned.

APHIS has a few main components: Agreements, Signatures, Crawlers, and Domains.

Agreements — The Agreements section is precisely what you would expect. You load all of your data license agreements along with their inception and expiration date. This allows MLSs to rely on online document management rather than a filing cabinet for agreements. Here you would also stipulate the type of agreement, like IDX, VOW, or other types. This section also tracks the URL that is specified in the Data License agreement for display of license data. These URLs form a whitelist that allows the sites with a data license agreement to be ignored by the compliance staff.

Signatures – I would have preferred that they called this section of the product

Fingerprints. One of the primary parts of the APHIS service is generating a signature (or taking a fingerprint of sorts) of every photo on every listing. This component of the tool allows the MLS to monitor the process of generating these signatures for MLS photos, creating daily reports that provide the assurance that photos are successfully processed each day.

Crawlers – This is the other primary part of APHIS. They send software programs called crawlers out into the web to look for matching photos. They ignore the whitelisted sites that have a data license agreement in most cases. The Crawlers can search in two ways.

1. Keyword – The MLS compliance staff can put in keywords like ‘Hawaii Luxury homes’. The crawlers will then search the top 20 sites that appear on Google for those terms and search for license violations (ignoring sites on the whitelist).

2. Domain – If you suspect that a website may be displaying listings without a license, the MLS compliance officer can enter the URL of a site to be crawled for fingerprints.

The system can also conduct searches by MLS numbers and addresses.

Domains — The Domains tab displays the list of websites that are found displaying photos that match the signature of a photo from the MLS. These are the potential license violators. APHIS not only displays the websites that may be in violation, but can also provide the compliance officer with a means of tracking communications with the domain owner. It keeps a record of the violator’s status (these can be customized), domain name, WhoIs Record, and tracks all communications with that domain owner. For example, if they were sent a cease and desist letter, or a data license agreement.

APHIS is a very interesting new product. Geeks like me can come up with a few hundred features that would make the product better, but what they offer today is a very exciting beginning toward an ever-evolving product to manage MLS data abuses online. Kudos to Metrolist in Sacramento, who are among the first MLSes working with Black Sand Labs to refine the product.

For information about APHIS, you can email

WAV Group is not affiliated with these companies or this product in any way.