Sunday, September 18, 2005

eBay: home of the brave, land of the scared?

Jeneane Sessum laments the good old days of eBay, and points out systematic and organised spamming of participants:

Today, eBay is a mess.

Spammers have infiltrated every mechanism and intersection point between buyer and seller. I’m not talking about the spam that everyone gets—whether you buy or sell on eBay or not—but instead the very specific event-driven spam that plagues and puzzles participants to the point of driving me off eBay until they get a handle on what matters.

For instance, soon after an item sells, sellers are inundated with “fake” users claiming to have been the high bidder, threatening to call the police if the item doesn’t arrive immediately, or pretending to have contacted you by accident in their attempt to reach a seller of a similar item. Everywhere someone is daring you to email them.


What was once an elegantly simple and vibrant marketplace is now a littered parking lot.
This is alarming, but not altogether surprising. Wherever there’s an open system on the web, it’ll be gamed by the inquisitive, playful, enterprising, or nefarious.

But you don’t need to be an active eBay participant to spot the litter in the parking lot. The spam we all get is indication enough that it’s not a neighbourhood for the unwary. The sheer determined volume of phishing emails I get, every day, trying to con me into giving up my passwords to fake sites, is a huge disincentive for me ever to join eBay or PayPal. If it looks and smells that bad from the outside, I wonder, is it really worth the risk and hassle to be inside? To say nothing of the extra work: if I joined eBay, would I then have to read all those dodgy emails to determine if any of them were genuine?

Jeneane paints a picture of eBay in decay, its fabric undermined by legions of scammers and by automation technologies which favour bulk and commercial sellers over everyday individuals. I’m not sure that’s entirely true; eBay obviously works well for many millions of its customers. But in a landscape littered with spams and scams, is eBay an inviting, or exciting, prospect for new customers any more?

(And does the litter-in-the-parking-lot effect extend further? Maybe so: the phishing spams I receive frequently target the big national banks, occasionally target the larger regional banks, but never seem to target any of the small local banks. Security through obscurity, maybe. But relative freedom from the attention of scammers does make banking with a local organisation a more attractive proposition.)

[Update: more thoughts from Jeneane.]

Categories: Spam


I'm registered at eBay and at PayPal and find it relatively easy to determine if the mail is real or not. eBay never emails me. If I get a PayPal e-mail, I just log into the site as usual without clicking on the link. However, fake e-mails are easy to detect: they are badly written, are short and ask for my information. PayPal never does that. What we're seeing is a lack of boundaries due to a fascination with freedom. It's a process of discovery. I feel confident that one day we will have worked it all out so that the web can be as crime free as "real" life.