eBay Reduces Bidding Transparency in Phish Fight
By Ina Steiner
In an announcement titled, "Safeguarding Member IDs on eBay Motors," Senior Vice President of eBay Global Trust & Safety Rob Chesnut told users that eBay will be changing the way bidding information appears on eBay Motors. The move reduces the transparency of bidding activity for shoppers on the auto site in an effort to fight scammers who employ spoof phishing techniques. eBay may roll out the change to eBay.com next year.
Beginning early this month on eBay Motors in the U.S., eBay will hide the User IDs of bidders on listings with a high bid of $200 or greater. Sellers will be able to view all bidders' User IDs, but no other member will, and bidders will not know whom they are bidding against.
Chesnut said in his statement that the change is an attempt to fight the "bad guys" who try to exploit eBay members. "The User IDs of members - plus their member information such as feedback and previous bidding and/or buying activity - have always been freely available to anyone visiting the site. Unfortunately - while bid history and contact information about trading colleagues are helpful when evaluating a transaction, and provide a level of trust within the transaction - bad guys can use this information for potentially harmful purposes," including sending unwanted commercial spam, spoof emails, and fake Second Chance Offer (SCO) emails. He continued, "...it's time to take stronger measures to ensure our members can continue to feel safe when they transact on eBay."
The Safeguarding Member IDs project works by replacing member User IDs with aliases - such as Bidder 1, Bidder 2 and Bidder 3 - on the bid history page for each listing in the order of their bids placed.
For each bidder involved in a listing, eBay will display the number of bids in unique categories that they've placed, a range that their feedback score falls within (i.e. 10-49, for instance), their percentage of positive feedback, their length of time as an eBay member, and the number of bids they've placed on the item. At the end of a listing, the winning bidder's User ID will be displayed on the Item page.
Over time, eBay has limited communication to members involved in transactions with each other and, in 2003, it eliminated the public display of email addresses from the site. Members have greeted these initiatives with some skepticism.
Regarding Wednesday's announcement, users posting on eBay discussion boards were concerned about the consequences of reduced transparency, believing it would be easier for sellers to "shill bid" on their own listings. One user said, "Of course eBay will be seeing this as a win, win situation as they will in fact reduce the amount of fraudulent auctions as well as the embarrassing need to send so many "not enough evidence" form letters." He was referring to letters eBay sends to members who report shill-bidding activity that say eBay has not found enough evidence of shill bidding to suspend the seller.
Shill bidding, a practice prohibited by eBay, is employed by some sellers to generate interest in their auctions and drive up bidding. It is also used by fraudsters to bid up prices while at the same time lend an air of credibility to scam listings (http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/seller-shill-bidding.html).
The question arises whether shoppers may be inhibited from bidding on an auction without being able to see whom they are bidding against. eBay did not return a phone call seeking comment by press time. Some users on the eBay discussion board devoted to bidding indicated they would cease bidding on auctions once bidding reached $200. "Let's hope they stop the implementation when it decreases sales, annoys people and encourages scamming and shilling."
One of the problems eBay says the new policy is targeting is fake Second Chance Offer (SCO) emails. eBay introduced SCO as a way for sellers to offer non-winning bidders an additional item they may have available, but phishers have used fake Second Chance Offers to scam bidders through targeted phishing emails (http://pages.ebay.com/help/buy/personal-offer.html).
The new policy will soon launch on eBay Motors, where Chesnut said the rates of member-reported spoof and fake Second Chance Offers have been higher than in other categories. eBay could implement the Safeguarding Member IDs project on eBay.com in early 2007.
Chesnut acknowledged the controversy the move was likely to spark, stating that the project "has been intensely debated internally."
Edited on 11/3/06 at 7:12 am.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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