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What are the Ebay Seller Tool Websites Really Doing with Buyer Information?

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Are Some Ebay Sellers Using Fourth-Party "Seller-Tool" Websites to Do End-runs Around Ebay's Policies Against Spam and Information Harvesting, and Profiting as a Result?

March 17, 2008

The crux of the matter is that Ebay buyers are being ordered by sellers and Ebay itself into following through with entering private information into the unverified web sites of fourth parties who are seemingly ungoverned by Ebay's security policies. Buyers are unaware until too late that they are agreeing to share information -- some of it private -- on strange websites. Nobody seems to know what is being done with the customer information as some of these unregulated web sites publish no information security policy. Ebay seemingly does not vouch for anything that happens on these unregulated web sites, just their own website. Yet, Ebay is ordering buyers to follow through with sellers' demands to enter information into these fourth-party unregulated web sites. If the buyer is too afraid to enter his information into the unknown website, Ebay's choice is to suspend the buyer's Ebay account, apparently. Could spam and other information abuse be coming from ungoverned, unpolicied websites being employed by Ebay sellers? I do not know, for nobody has audited them it seems, not the sellers, not the buyers, not even Ebay. One can only guess what the ungoverned are apt to do with their information assets when there is zero transparency and zero policy to constrain their behavior.

If you are an Ebay user, were you ever dealt an unpleasant suprise when you were asked (or required) by a seller to provide your private phone number and other personal information, some of which are above and beyond what is required by Ebay or Paypal, in order to complete a purchase you had made on Ebay? Were you left wondering uncomfortably for what possible purpose your extra personal information would be used for by that web site or seller? Is entering your private information into a little-known third-party web site -- actually more accurately described as a fourth-party web site, as it is a web site which intercedes in the Ebay transaction between the buyer, the seller, and the Ebay website (in which I will include PayPay since it is a property of Ebay) -- something which makes you a little worried?

Was the fourth-party web site's information privacy policy statement provided to you only after you had committed to the purchase, or maybe you were provided with no information privacy policy statement at all?

While there are undoubtedly other profitability benefits for sellers, is it possible that fourth-party "ebay seller systems" are being used for the additional purpose of harvesting excessive and apparently valuable private information about the buyers, beyond what is permitted on Ebay's website?

Is it possible that the prices of the items being sold by such Ebay sellers, are being subsidized by the value of the private information they collect from the buyers, private information which may in turn be potentially traded with unknown parties?

Are you comfortable trading your private information, in addition to your money, when it was not revealed that your private data was also maybe going to be the coin of your trade, until well after you had placed a bid?

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Are you comfortable typing in your private information to a fourth-party web site, of which you have little or no knowledge?

These questions started to run through my mind one day a week ago, after I had purchased a movie DVD on Ebay. I 'won' the 'benefit' of being allowed to buy the DVD from the seller. I clicked the Pay Now button on Ebay, at which point I was redirected to another web site which I am not familiar with. What I saw on the seller's fourth-party website, was that the site required me to type in a lot of private information. The web form at this fourth party site wanted data which I have not given out to other sellers on ebay before, such as my home phone number and other private data which had proven unnecessary for other previous purchases and sales at Ebay. I am both a seller on ebay, as well as a buyer, and as a seller I have never needed any of a buyer's private information beyond what Ebay and Paypal themselves have already provided to the seller. Furthermore this site's information privacy policy link existed, but strangely enough, there was no page there: Clicking the link merely redirected my browser to the home page of the site. That did it for me -- I began to think twice about typing in all my private information into that fishy -- or shall I call it phishy fourth-party website.

I wonder how valuable the additional private information of a buyer really is. Could the private information be valuable enough for such fourth-party websites, to resell? I do not know about these fourth-party "seller tool" systems. What I do know is, some of the "seller tool" systems appear to be absent any sort of clear, uniform and before-the-purchase customer information privacy policy. For all I know my private information as a buyer would soon be resold to internet spammers, sourcing from the buyer databases of these fourth-party web systems.

Then I used Google and it turned up something interesting. I gleaned some idea about the spirit of Ebay's anti-spam, anti-private-information-selling policy from a document hosted by the New Zealand government:

"As an overview, eBay does not rent or sell any personal information about its users to any

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third party, nor does it authorize users to make use of eBay features to send spam. See Privacy

Policy, Use of Email Tools, at . These

policies help to ensure that users' personal information is not subject to data mining for the

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WARNING: If anybody thinks software and music and movies are the only things protected to the fullest extent of the law, check this: This citizen is protected by domestic law, international treaties, and constitutions. This citizen, and all (more...)

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