What does my landlord own? has been shut down...

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On the 29th of June, sunset_flowers was told by the Deputy Privacy Commissioner (Liz MacPherson) that she believes our search tool, What does my landlord own? (WDMLO), is in breach of the Privacy Act. However, because the supposed breaches mentioned are caused by the very premise of our search tool, and limitations in the ownership data we use, there is no way for us to address these “problems” without taking down the website or shifting its focus away from empowering tenants. Additionally, the decision impacts our access to ownership information supplied by Land Information New Zealand. So, in effect, the Deputy Commissioner has decided to shut down WDMLO.

This decision was entirely at the Deputy Commissioner's discretion, and was based on her subjective interpretation of the Privacy Act. It is clear to us that the Deputy Commissioner's opinion has been shaped by pressure from landlords & property developers. Additionally, the Deputy Commissioner has made multiple inaccurate statements and frivolous claims in the lead-up to her decision. This raises serious questions about the values of the Deputy Commissioner and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner as a whole.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Aotearoa continue to live in cold, damp, mouldy, and otherwise unhealthy rentals, having a real impact on their health and wellbeing. At the same time, the average rental price is at a record-breaking high, sucking up the money of vulnerable people while the cost of living rises. So, it has never been more important that we hold the people who benefit from these conditions accountable. Since successive governments have done little to help, we started WDMLO as a tool to help renters, journalists, and activists demand better and improve their immediate conditions. The Deputy Commissioner's decision shows an obvious contempt for these conditions.

The people behind sunset_flowers are ourselves renters, spending a considerable portion of our low income on rent. As such, we don't have the means to defend ourselves against the legal repercussions that might come with running WDMLO following the Deputy Commissioner's decision. So, as of today, we have taken the website down.

We urge the Deputy Commissioner, the Commissioner, and other relevant decision makers to repeal this decision. However, we're also prepared for them to stand by their decision, so we've made the software behind WDMLO open source in the hope that others will setup similar search tools. We will also be considering other paths forward in the coming weeks, so that the thousands of people who use our search tool every week can, eventually, continue to do so.

In the meantime, we encourage our users to check out Terranet, a website which provides a similar service to WDMLO. Because Terranet is marketed at property owners, not at tenants, it hasn't received the same scrutiny as our tool. This too raises questions about who's interests the DPC is acting in.

If you have any skills/resources that might help us fight this decision, please get in touch via our email. If you do set up a similar search tool, let us know, and we'll link to it from our website.

[email protected]

The DPC's decision was influenced by landlords

The DPC has said that the OPC has “received numerous complaints from members of the public” regarding WDMLO, and has implied throughout our correspondence that this concern from the public is the driving force behind their scrutiny into our search tool. However, the complaints we receive at sunset_flowers come disproportionately (>90%) from landlords. Therefore, assuming the complaints we receive are representative of the complaints received by the OPC, then the “members of the public” they claim to be acting in the interest of are almost entirely landlords.

Additionally, we believe the OPC has received complaints from a self-described government lobbyist, a former president of the Wellington Property Investors Association, a high-profile journalist, and other landlords who have a disproportionate amount of influence.

In a hilarious attempt at appearing neutral, the DPC has frequently compared WDMLO to the “Bad Tenants” Facebook group that made the news last year, even citing a Human Rights Tribunal case about it in defence of their arguments.

Frivolous requests for information

The DPC has made numerous frivolous requests for information from us. Most notably, the DPC has made an ironically privacy-invading request for the names, contact details, and proof of ID for every member of sunset_flowers. Additionally, they have requested: