Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff on tech’s naiveté toward evil, and how scandals are a wake-up moment

Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff offered his take on tech’s troubles of late during an appearance at the Code Conference on Wednesday.

Speaking to CNBC, Rascoff called it a bit of a “wake-up moment” for tech, as he discussed election hacking and data and privacy scandals, namely at Facebook, and whether government regulation or self-policing by tech companies would provide an adequate remedy.

“I think what I have seen is tech realizing there’s just too much naiveté in product design,” Rascoff said. “The boundless optimism of entrepreneurs has made people not realize how these things can be used for evil. We obviously saw it with Facebook where it was hacked for the elections. Think early Uber, it was launched without rider protections. Early Airbnb launched without guest protections. Even now these scooters that are taking over the West Coast, it never occurred to anyone that bad guys might cut the brakes on them. And now they’re redesigning all these scooters to make sure that the brake wire is inside the metal casing. Tech needs to realize that there are bad people out there and they use these platforms for bad things.”

While he thinks some regulation may be warranted, Rascoff said a more important adjustment is one that will occur among the employs and executives at companies that have been impacted. And at Facebook he believes they’ve gotten the message.

“I really think that the cultural shift that they talked about yesterday is real,” Rascoff said. “I mean, you can see it in Sheryl [Sandberg’s] eyes and hear it in the — I mean, the Facebook executives that I talked to really have taken to heart, they feel the guilt. They feel that their platform was used in a way that it was not designed for. And they are throwing resources and intellect at the problem.”

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Zillow is throwing resources and intellect at its own platform, but not to ward off evil. The company’s launch of Zillow Instant Offers was another topic of discussion for Rascoff and CNBC. The CEO called buying and selling homes a “business extension” for the Seattle-based real estate media company.

“We think of it like Netflix moving into originals,” Rascoff said. “It leverages our data advantage. We know what houses people want to buy and sell. We are now buying houses in Phoenix and Las Vegas and selling them within a couple weeks.”

By stepping in and alleviating the angst, work and stress of selling a home, Zillow is just providing another service in an economy that thrives on such on-demand offerings, Rascoff reasoned.

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