In news that will have portals across Spain on high alert, the city council of Barcelona has fined Spanish market-leading portal idealista €90,000 for publishing a rental listing with a comment that the council found to be discriminatory. In issuing the fine, the council considered the company to be an agency, something vehemently disputed by idealista in their own coverage of the incident.
The listing in question was requesting that potential tenants be Spanish and was seen by over 600 idealista users from the date of its publication in the summer of 2019. Despite the popularity of the listing, it was not flagged by any users in idealista’s system and, according to idealista, they only found out about the listing and the fine by reading about it in the local press without any prior request to take down the listing.
Idealista spokesperson, Fernando Encinar was scathing in his assessment of the situation and of how the portal has been targeted by Mayor Ada Colau:
“Ada Colau’s team has instigated a smear campaign against idealista… The role of idealista as a platform and how this unfortunate case has been used to make very serious accusations of racism and xenophobia is obvious.”
Encinar went on to say that idealista believes that this will not be the last time that the Barcelona city council try to do something similar and that the portal company would fight against the “unjust campaign”. The statement went on to express its rejection and revulsion against any type of discrimination and its commitment to inclusion and equality.
Interestingly, the legal basis for the fine rests on the definition of idealista as an agency that receives remuneration for putting advertisers in contact with users. This is understandably a bone of contention for idealista which claims that as a mere advertiser it does not have any role in any final monetary transaction between advertiser and house hunter.
Two questions arise from this situation for property portals to bear in mind:
Whether or not a portal’s agent customers view it as an entity blurring the lines between an advertising platform and a competing intermediary in property transactions is one thing but if the law sees portals as intermediaries this could mean more legal considerations for portals.
The advert in question did not contain any standalone offensive words and as such was very unlikely to be flagged by any automated detection system, nor was it flagged by users on the portal via idealista’s user reporting system. At no point was any complaint received by the company until the reception of a fine. How do portal companies guard against this type of incident?