Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sun Nov 4 2012 13:28:09

Is eBay's New Email Monitoring Tool Creepy or Social?

By: Ina Steiner

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eBay is testing a new tool called "Stuff by eBay" that scans users' emails (past emails and ongoing) and compiles a list of all the items they've ever purchased, wherever they purchased them. The tool was developed by a group of eBay developers based in Tel Aviv.

Yes, eBay has its own development team charged with creating innovative products in the area of social commerce - a different approach than in the past when it relied on third-party developers to create tools for buyers and sellers. The eBay Israel Social Center (ISC) was created when eBay acquired "The Gifts Project" last year and is a self-contained, off-platform unit run as much like a startup as is possible for a unit owned and funded by a corporation.

Ziv Meltzer created the Stuff by eBay tool, which "scans email receipts that merchants send you after you make a purchase." It notes that "other emails will not be scanned."



The Stuff by eBay webpage doesn't make clear its value proposition. A hint is provided for those who choose to provide feedback - the feedback form asks, "How useful is this page in helping you organize your online purchases and help you determine what you could sell?"

One reader who received an email for Stuff by eBay was turned off by the message, "Hi, we're from eBay ... and WE are WATCHING."

He wrote, "Perhaps someone can think of a single legitimate reason for this - for even deeper thinkers; why would eBay expect being monitored would build customer loyalty? Notice that to accomplish this eBay is scanning emails ... sound familiar? Stunning, even by eBay standards."

However, in tiny print on the homepage, you can find FAQs that make it clearer why someone might want to sign on - "Imagine a world where you can find all your receipts, return policies and all other relevant product information neatly organized on a purchase timeline." Users can also share their purchase information with friends on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter; users can save money "by following our price drop notifications"; and users can "even sell old stuff on eBay in one click."

The tool currently supports Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and iCloud and explains, "If you have shopped in the past using other accounts, you can always forward the receipts to alternative email addresses and we will be able to scan the receipts."

The tool is powered by Slice, which is a free service that organizes everything a user has purchased online from Amazon, eBay, Apple, Groupon, LivingSocial and other retailers. Slice explains the benefits of its service: "You do the shopping, and we'll take care of the rest - from tracking packages, to giving you all the info you need to facilitate a return."

Wouldn't people feel more comfortable using Slice.com directly if they wanted to aggregate all their online purchases? And would creating such a list really tempt you to sell your old stuff on eBay, even if you could do so in one click? Overall, this tool might creep people out more than inspire them to sell on eBay. Especially if eBay is choosing to go with the message, WE are WATCHING.

You can read the Terms of Service for Stuff by eBay on this page. Let us know if you think people will agree to let eBay scan their emails.




Comments (21) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

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by: BetterThingsToDo This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 4 14:33:45 2012

No worse than the big brother On Star

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by: tc This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 4 17:01:59 2012

Why is Ebay all of a sudden creating applications so they can scan all of your emails? This is the second one. The first one I know about was not too long ago when they were wanting to sync the Ebay message system with your email. That one smelled. After looking at the TOS on this one... it smells REALLY REALLY BAD.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Sun Nov 4 17:47:58 2012

The thought that someone is watching brings out the devil in me!

I once had a part time job where the employer filmed the tiny work area. (This was NOT a cash handling scenario). Knowing I was on camera while doing what amounted to clerical work gave me urges to scratch my butt or pick my nose for the camera. Didn't act on the urge, but it sure crossed my mind every time I saw that little camera lens.

Same could happen with email monitoring. Is there a written equivalent of butt scratching?

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by: trickstunt This user has validated their user name.

Sun Nov 4 18:10:23 2012

Creepy isn't a strong enough term. How does feeding personal  communications to a dishonest greedy corporation count as  being "social"?

Maybe they can find a way to streamline or merge that with ebay in home pickup? That way they can peep in your windows, follow you as you shop and monitor your other activities too.

But really, a quick run through of the TOS makes it look like they plan on sticking it to participants.

Are there any other companies who would try to sucker you into letting them read your emails or is this a first?

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This user has validated their user name. by: permacrisis

Sun Nov 4 18:58:02 2012

When these idiots were doing 60 billion in GMV they had access to all the data in the freakin' world. They sent it all to /dev/null because it didn't have dollar signs in it. They blew it.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Sun Nov 4 22:34:43 2012

Yeah, right.... The idiot MBA's at eBay actually believe that I would let them scan all my email?

If they will scan looking for one type of email, who is naive enough to believe they will not retain data from every email they scan?

I do not trust eBay motives, methods or how eBay will use the information now or in the future.

I find it telling that the MBA's at eBay will authorize expenditures to develop programs like this while at the same time they sit by and ignore the fact that basic everyday systems on eBay are subject to all too frequent "glitches".

eBay needs to get it's existing code straightened out and functioning properly on a day in day out basis, not invent more ways to snoop and collect data on their users.


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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 00:01:18 2012

First ebay wanted to BE Amazon

Now they want to BE Google

Am I the ONLY one freaked out daily when I see the latest Google "ads" on any page I use inc my gmail account with things "linked" to stuff I have been looking at;  writing about or--worse---something some one ELSE WROTE TO ME that Google has scanned and posted STUFF for me to look at on MY pages?

Yeah I KNOW---I could give up the Net entirely and go live on a desert island.  

But---I don't really WANT to. I WOULD like to NOT have to be forced to see ads for drunk lawyers just because some one might have asked me if I like some sort of wine.  Or the endless medical entries if you say--I have a cold.    

Freaks me out now.

And it is going to freak me out even MORE with the unscrupulous and evil management at ebay getting THEIR fingers in MY pie.

What say they already are doing this.  And they see that you DARED to give out your email--something I do often in fractured form---as it is just soooo much EASIER for me to answer questions and send pics that way.  How BADLY will I be punished?   And---  Will I suddenly start getting "You might also like...."   and "Others who bought this WIDGET bought these items...."  On my ebay home page or gmail?????   Really?   THAT LONG you say?  Probably go there tomorrow and find something of the sort.

Freakin invasion of privacy

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This user has validated their user name. by: Bijoux Dragon
Web Site

Mon Nov 5 00:11:38 2012

My feelings sit omewhere between "oh no you don't" and "Oh HELL no you don't"

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by: cayenna This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 01:46:49 2012

Notice how eBay's encouraging new apps to take over functions for sellers, such as refunds for one example; (which by the way will not provide the tracking info for you to follow your item that you paid for to return.) Now this re the emails which is clearly to keep people from mentioning things related to sales outside of eBay. I feel eBay is so untrustworthy already, why would I want them to have any more info than they already have? Information is power. I don't like to be forced into doing things to give my info. no matter how small it is. I am not even consenting to this and they are opting to just have access to my info and an option to just take my correspondence if they want... What happened to confidentiality and rights to my security. Who’s to say they could not manipulate correspondence for their benefit if needed? Where is the confidentiality rights for the seller whether it’s eBay’s platform or not? I no longer believe they have anyone to answer to, that they can get away with and do anything they want to. I think this is much bigger than we think. I believe this is invasion of privacy. I don’t recall being asked to opt in for something like this either so that I have an option of whether I want to keep selling on eBay... I take my privacy seriously, especially online no matter who I am going through because humans make mistakes. What are they doing collecting info? Do we know what they are doing with our information? Can we trust what they are telling us they are doing with it? We don’t want the Government violating our privacy by going through our emails etc why are we letting eBay? What the heck is this? It’s not like I have major info going through my eBay emails but I like to think there’s some kind of seller/customer confidentiality, and I feel my customer would feel the same way.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Mon Nov 5 07:44:21 2012

Paranoid personality disorder is a mental disorder characterized by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and a generalized mistrust of others.

Ebay management have it bad.  I think a team from Vienna needs to come do a case study.

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by: wallflower This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 09:08:21 2012

How long do people keep email receipts anyway? I don't keep them for long. Most of my purchase records are there on Amazon for me to look at whenever I want.

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by: Patricia This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 10:35:15 2012

Ebay is very busy with weedy little things that do not help the bottom line...sales for us, revenue for them.  They lost sight of that years ago when Donahoe took over.  Since then they are all too willing to bend over backwards for their diamond sellers and pummel the small sellers because its just not working out!  This is yet exercise in futility that really helps nobody....its time that could be spent fixing the site and money that could have been spent on advertising...something Ebay considers unnecessary ;-) Its futile to ask them to stop the nonsense....they are totally dedicated to controlling everything...whether its to their benefit or not!

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by: SleepyTime This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 12:13:44 2012

I hope when they look at my receipts they will notice that everything I'm buying nowadays is from Amazon....Take a hint Ebay!

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This user has validated their user name. by: permacrisis

Mon Nov 5 13:39:30 2012

I vote for creepy. Here's what the dufkin (Thank you, Nan) blog had to say, which should have you don your Depends before reading it:

"one specific revision... specifically resulted in the recording of customer service phone calls (not just for “quality assurance purpose”) as most do...
Consider this as a possibility – the text conversion of your phone call where you may have insulted a customer service agent could possibly impact where your product lands in the search results.  Most would think this is a stretch conclusion, but after examining the data for the past month, I believe any and all user ebay id user data to be fair game."

Wow- just wow.

I'll take dribbling sales, and put up with the occasional Bonanza bungle, ANY day.

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by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 17:25:08 2012

I find it intrusive, but I anticipated this when eBay unequivocally took ownership of buyer/seller communications. The fair usage of ''data mining'' will be settled in the courts, but by then, eBay will have alienated its buyers and sellers alike beyond repair.  

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by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 17:34:03 2012

PS the ''WE''RE WATCHING YOU'' in email is really just to reinforce that sellers do not cheat eBay out of ANY possible fee. ''If I bought this item directly from you, could you come down on the price?''--that kind of thing. But if they really had any knowledge of the sellers  who do it, they would have closed their account(s). That is probably the direction the bulk of their systems development is heading--spying, nickeling, and diming. If you violate our policy, goodbye. I have a grade for ''Policy Compliance'' on my dashboard, so I know they really, really care. :)

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by: Winkle Me Evilbay This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 18:04:22 2012

After reading the TOS and seeing terms that grant Slice a POWER OF ATTORNEY to act on my behalf with third party merchants ..


I have to ask WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY PUTTING IN THE WATER AT EBAY??!!


They are not a social company, never will be. And the terms of service for this are beyond scary. I think they used former soviet union residents to do the programming.


HELL NO! Not something I would ever use. (which is what my children say about Ebay).

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by: MADandCracked This user has validated their user name.

Mon Nov 5 20:03:51 2012

Exactly my thoughts SleepyTime! I only shop on Amazon now and on Yardsellr occasionally.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Nov 6 08:10:43 2012

If they are going to spy, I wish they'd come down hard on all of these buyers who email sellers with low-ball offers when the seller doesn't even have a "best offer" on the item they are selling.  The number of these low-ball offer emails has increased exponentially, and the time it takes to respond to them and reject the offers is time that we could be using to actually list and ship items.  Of course I blame the sellers who don't have "best offers" on their items who cave in to these buyer demands.  

Hey eBay, isn't that a revenue loss for you?   Nickels and dimes flying out the window.  LOL

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by: Will This user has validated their user name.

Tue Nov 6 10:51:45 2012

lol there are other ways eBay could cater to buyers. Surely, they have past buyer data for members. eBay could use that data and send out suggestions.

Also, one could simply click on the link to the Stuff page, see a list of categories and then enter in some products they are searching for. Wait a minute, isn't this already what Best Match is supposed to be?

If eBay is having to resort to scanning emails for past purchases (yah right, sure they are lol), then the whole Best Match campaign is one big failure.

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