eBay’s New Contact Policy Draws Mixed Reaction

The recent policy change by eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) that will give the auction giant more control over online contacts between eBay users was greeted with both optimism and anger in the Web auction community.

Earlier this week, eBay announced that any users not involved in a particular auction would only be able to contact each other by sending messages through the eBay system.

eBay said the change, which is set to take effect in the middle of February, comes in response to community concerns about the harvesting of e-mail addresses from its system, apractice also known as “data mining.” Often, after e-mail addresses are lifted from the eBay system, the auction users are sent spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mails by software pirates and other non-eBay sellers.

“It’s a very good first start,” Peter Beruk, vice president in charge of anti-piracy for the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), told the E-Commerce Times on Thursday. However, Beruk added that he was “a little hesitant about the ultimate success of the measure.”

eBay’s announcement said that “Spam-related issues are a top cause of customer complaints and we are dedicated to fixing the problem. In addition, these changes will give us the opportunity to inform you about eBay’s policy regarding offers to buy and sell outside of eBay based on information obtained from eBay listings or bidding activity.”

Fighting Pirates

Last week, the SIIA took action against two software pirates who allegedly used data mining to ferret out the names of eBay users who had bid on software being sold at auction. Once the pirates had harvested the names, they contacted the bidders to offer them discount prices on the same software.

Under eBay’s new policy, sellers will still be able to obtain the e-mail addresses of bidders on their auctions, and winning bidders will be able to contact sellers directly. However, all other contact will have to be sent via eBay’s new “Contact an eBay Member” feature.

As another precaution, eBay users are also being discouraged from using their e-mail addresses as their eBay identification.

Still Shilling

Beruk is concerned that under the new policy, it would be possible for a software pirate to set up a fake auction at eBay solely for the purpose of obtaining e-mail addresses. Once the phony auctioneers obtained the e-mail addresses, they would be able to send bidders solicitations for pirated software.

Rosalinda Baldwin, editor of the Auction Guild, told the E- Commerce Times that the new policy might also make harder for buyers to detect shill bidding, which occurs when sellers conspire to artificially inflate auction prices.

“Since eBay benefits financially in the short term by shilling, as it brings higher prices, and therefore higher final value fees, this is a win-win situation for eBay,” she said.

Protecting eBay

Critics of the new policy believe the only entity it will protect is eBay, with Baldwin saying that “the only protection it might provide [users] is from bottom feeders.”

However, Baldwin believes that eBay’s move is “absolutely” just another attempt by eBay to crack down on offline sales between members. In December, the auction powerhouse announced it would begin enforcing a ban on offline deals between members.

“The only purpose of such a move would be to try to control all communications between users, to prevent users from buying and selling off eBay,” Baldwin said.

She added, “The problem is that they want to control all sales, as if they had an exclusive agent agreement with every person — buyer or seller — who ever used their site.”

A Matter of Trust

Although eBay contends that, in compliance with its privacy policy, it will not store or read messages sent through its “Contact an eBay Member” feature, some auction users believe otherwise.

“I trust eBay to do whatever they can to make the most money in the shortest time,” Baldwin said. “Anything that allows them to do that, they will do. I expect them to use this system to maximize their profits, without any respect to privacy, First Amendment rights, spam restriction, or anything else.”

However, others believe the new policy will help auction sellers.

“This will allow the sellers who actually spend money to list items a fighting chance at a sale,” one AuctionWatch message poster wrote. “This is a positive change for honest sellers.”

End of Harvest?

Anecdotal evidence from the AuctionWatch message board would seem to support the theory that the change will cut down on data harvesting.

One user said that within minutes of placing a bid on a copy of Adobe Acrobat, he received his first spam offering to sell him a “backup” copy of the software for US$20.

Over the course of the next 10 days, the user reported receiving more than 50 e-mails, “offering me every kind of illegal, bootlegged and pirated software you could imagine.”


  • Ebay is letting car wholesalers unload cars to the retailer. Wholesalers do not have a retailers licence. They have descriptions like “see any imperfections in the pictures” if you ask for information the wholesaler does not respond. Ebay makes it hard to let them know what’s going on and when you alert them you get no response. Ebay does have control over letting car wholesalers sell retail – they just can not do this – it’s the law. Ebay needs to keep it clean. Also they are asking for money before you pick up the car and state the deposit is not refundable. Maybe the MVD needs to pay them a call.

    • The problem is that eBay was first, and happened to get the user base first. Unfortunately for us, it is also the slowest, ugliest, most poorly-managed company/site. There are countless other sites out there that do the job better, but alas, have no users.

  • Speaking as a “pioneer” of eBay auctions, both buying and

    selling since 1997, I would like to say that I think

    that eBay has taken a giant step backwards. I’m not

    quite sure what this agenda is about, I only know that

    when I was a frequent seller, it was a piece of cake

    to list an auction. I haven’t sold anything on eBay

    for a year or so, but have purchased several items as

    recently as last week. Thank God the purchase procedure

    hasn’t changed as much as the selling! My God! I tried

    to list some collectible golf clubs yesterday and I

    felt like I was going thru the Inquisition! I have

    never answered so many questions for anything in my

    55 years on this planet. Then, after over 2 hours of

    slogging thru the ordeal of listing the items, I was

    informed by eBay that my account was inactive and I was

    to reactivate and relist. Now, why in Hell didn’t they

    tell me that before I spent all that time filling in

    their blanks that never existed before? Boo, Hiss,

    and Nix to Ebay for yours truly. I’ll take my stuff to

    the local flea market like the old days!

    Disgusted and Forgotten,


    [email protected]

  • After I list an item on eBay and I have a reserve on it and it does not reach its reserve, I then relist the item. It does not reach its reserve again, I then contact the high bidder and ask if he or she would like to purchase the item for the AM ount of their bid. I have fulfilled my contract with eBay, where do they get off telling me I can not offer the item at that point to the high bidder. It is not my fault that eBay’s system was not capable of getting the true value of the item.

    It is just a ploy to get every dime they can get their hands on. I hope someone comes along that is not so greedy and starts an auction site that will compete with eBay.

  • WHY DOESN”T EBAY HAVE A 1800 number to call them? THEY ARE SOOOOOOO SLOW TO RESPOND TO EMAILS. I’ve Emailed them 7 times in the past 1 week and not 1 respond from them. I think they have one of the worst service ever. Any can help me out with a contact number? Thank You!


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