Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A letter to the EFF about eBay.


My name is Philip Smith.

I'm sure you get lots of inquiries concerning pissed off eBayers, but I feel I have a unique enough situation with details that merits the attention of the EFF.

To give a bit of background, I have previously worked with the EFF concerning my blogger rights case - Bidzirk vs Smith. This precedent setting trial, in which I ended up defending Pro Se paved the way for bloggers as journalists - finally giving bloggers a federal district ruling granting Lanham Act protection to internet journalists concerning copyright, defamation, and invasion of privacy. It also set precedent for attaching assets via plaintiff lis pendens claims.

I have been an eBay seller for 11 years. eBay has become 90% of my monthly income. I have taken considerable pride in my eBay sales over the years. I ship fast, I provide unparalleled support, and I charge reasonable competitive prices.

As you may know, eBay recently revamped their entire structure. Sellers were not given a choice as to accept these new terms of service and the changes were not integrated slowly or with any consideration to "long time, in good standing" sellers. eBay has not implemented key parts of this system; so right now everything is totally imbalanced.

The main changes were:

1) Sellers can no longer leave negative feedback. This leads to a misrepresentation of a buyer as there are bad buyers out there. Allowing their feedback to be artificially positive is like allowing a known felon to buy a gun. This also promotes fraud - as his been the case with me. In the case referenced above that I won for blogger rights - I have found the owner of the business to be a very vindictive person. I believe I will be able to prove that he (or an accomplice) has interfered with my eBay sales on an ongoing basis since early 2006.

a) No one can dispute feedback any more. eBay has told me that they no longer use Squaretrade to dispute negative feedback. They also do not allow dialogue to remove it. I have mailed both electronically and by usps certified mail that the case as described above may be a factor in my complaints. This information has fallen on a deaf ear - only receiving canned responses that just provide link to policy.

This is an actual set of emails containing my requests of eBay for dispute over feedback that ultimately led to me being suspended.

Thank you for writing eBay in regard to Feedback Abuse

Thanks for trying to leave more accurate feedback for this member.
However, members can't edit or remove feedback comments once they've
been posted.

I've reviewed the comment and I see that it doesn't meet our criteria
for removal. We'll remove feedback only if it's abusive or meets
specific requirements of our removal policy.

At this point, I recommend that you leave a follow-up comment to your
feedback so that you can explain the situation. This way, other eBay
members will be able to understand exactly what happened.

Here's how to post a follow-up comment:

1. Click the "Site Map" link at the top of most eBay pages.
2. Click the "Follow Up to Feedback You Left for Others" link. You may
be asked to sign in.
3. Find the feedback you left and select the "Follow up" button.
4. Type in your comment and select the "Leave Follow-up Comment" button.

To clarify our policy, sellers are no longer able to leave either
negative or neutral Feedback for buyers, regardless of how the
transaction transpired. As such, by leaving a Positive Feedback
containing negative comments, sellers attempt to undermine the new
Feedback policies, and this is considered a violation.

I realize that it can be very frustrating being unable to leave Feedback
for a transaction, but we strongly suggest that in order to abide by
eBay's policies, you only leave appropriate Positive Feedback for buyers
who deserve positive Feedback.

We feel that filing appropriate unpaid item disputes and reporting any
possible violation to eBay is the best way to warn other sellers because
if the buyer continues this behavior they will eventually become
suspended and any negative or neutral Feedback they left will be
removed. Also with the new buyer requirements sellers can be protected
better from buyers who violate eBay policy.

-- Related Links --

Feedback Abuse:
Feedback Withdrawal and Removal:

Thank you for your time.


eBay Customer Support

Original Message Follows:

I have NOT expressed anything about defamation ... EBAY policy is to
remove feedback if the poster has improper contact information ... Had
I had this information, I would have been able to communicate with the
buyer and therefore avoid the negative. Also, upon posting a negative
I must check that I have communicated with my seller... thus buyer
checked that box and made NO attempt to communicate with me.

On Sep 5, 2008, at 8:26 PM, eBay Customer Support


Dear Philip,

Thank you for writing eBay in regard to the feedback that you have
received from whitneybk0xi6.

I understand your concern about remarks posted to the site, but The
Forum and Discussion Boards are places where members express their
opinions freely. We don't censor opinions or investigate remarks for
accuracy. We only remove comments that violate our Feedback Abuse

The forum and boards are all governed by a federal law known as the
Communications Decency Act. Under that law, we're not legally
responsible for remarks posted to our site, even if those remarks are
- Related Links --
Feedback Abuse:
Discussion Boards Usage:

I understand your frustration regarding this matter and apologize for
the inconvenience it caused you.


eBay Customer Support

Dear Philip,

Thank you for writing eBay in regard to your Feedback concerns.

Please rest assured we have in fact verified the other member's contact
information. We can remove feedback if it's abusive or meets any of the
conditions of our withdrawal and removal policy. As stated prior, we've
reviewed the feedback you asked about and, unfortunately, it doesn't
meet these requirements.

-- Related Links --

Feedback Abuse:
Feedback Withdrawal and Removal:

Thank you for your time.


eBay Trust & Safety

If I follow this link ( as suggested by these emails that detail what feedback will be removed ...

Here is the policy:

A member provided eBay with an email address that is invalid and could not be contacted at the time of the transaction.

b) Sellers pay fees based on a new "Detailed Seller Ratings" system- this, is in my mind, ok - but only if eBay tabulates these ratings correctly. eBay has stated that my detailed seller rating and my feedback percentage found at: 

are to low to sell on eBay. My detailed seller ratings remain unchanged averaging 4.7. My feedback is higher than the majority of sellers.

How my shipping charges rating could be anything less than a 5.0 is very strange. I have not charged for shipping in over 2 years. What could be anything but perfect about FREE SHIPPING?

ALL of my items ship for free or nominally internationally as well - the international charge is listed IN MY AUCTIONS. This charge is generally a $6 extra charge and international postage for my items usually runs $9.35. This means I'm applying a $3.35 CREDIT to international buyers.

The detailed seller rating also does not tally up to the number of feedbacks I have received; which coincidentally is not being tabulated properly either.

As you can see, I have only 160 Detailed seller ratings, but 274 positive feedback remarks. One is required to leave at least ONE detailed seller rating ... how is it possible that I have such an imbalance in detailed seller ratings vs feedback comments?

Before the detailed seller rating was in effect it was hard to quantify how a negative rating could impact you as a seller and how much money it would cost. Now, it's easy to tell - bad buyers are PURPOSELY rating EVERY PART of the transaction poor even if they paid for standard shipping and received an item overnight - they are leaving a 1 star rating for "shipping time". This misrepresentation by vindictive eBayers is completely unfair, especially if the seller has NO WAY whatsoever to correct the rating.

Furthermore, eBay isn't counting the full total NUMBER of feedbacks to figure out the rating. See how in the picture above I have 274 positives - but when figuring my total feedback the SAME PAGE shows 256 feedbacks? The 12 month totals between these two figures is inaccurate, eBay refuses to fix it, and suspends my account because I am below 99%. If the proper figure were included, I would be at 99% - and NOT suspended. Besides this fact - my powerseller status AND the fee rates I pay to eBay are base on these numbers. It has to be purposeful so as to obtain higher fees - the internet is littered with this same complaint - and not just by ranters - by intelligent thinkers who have figured this discrepancy out, notified eBay, and heard no response.

c) eBay is allowing certain sellers to pay no or low eBay fees as incentives to sell on eBay.

BUY.COM is my best example. They are offering NO price benefit to eBay buyers. They are selling items on eBay for the same price as they are on their website.

From Slashdot:

eBay's recent deal with appears to be seriously irritating its veteran individual sellers. The deal allows and other large fixed-price retailers to list millions of items on eBay without paying listing fees, and appears to be the direction that eBay will follow in the future. Understandably, individual sellers are outraged. 'I've paid eBay many hundreds of thousands in fees over the past several years and believed them when they talked about a level playing field. And they just plain and simple are going back on their word.'[said one seller]

I've noticed BUY.COM's listings for a Hawking Brand Mac compatible wireless adapter. They offer it for the same price on their website as they do on eBay. They offer no discounts on items. It ends up essentially just being a FREE shill advertisement for things on BUY.COM. Why would I buy on eBay when I can get the same thing for 10-20% less if I use a discount on BUY.COM? What if I wanted to sell this same adapter? I have looked into becoming an authorized Hawking reseller - how could I compete against someone who is getting to list for free who most likely was able to ink a better reseller deal with the manufacturer?

BUY.COM adapter

Same adapter, same price on eBay

I noticed this because I recently got an inventory of these items in myself and wanted to sell them on eBay - instead these items are listed by the dozens almost every day - and BUY.COM is paying less for them I'm sure AND WITH NO eBay cost attached to them. How is this possibly fair to me?

d) This is a charity auction for a "Spiderman 4 Experience"

I take great exception to this (even if for a charity) - I am not allowed to sell anything that cannot be delivered / completed within 30 days according to the eBay rules regarding "presale auctions".

eBay permits Pre-sale listings only on a limited basis. The seller must guarantee that the item will be available for shipping within 30 days from the date of purchase (i.e., the day the listing ends or the date the item is purchased from a store front listing). The seller must also clearly indicate within the listing the fact that the item is a pre-sale item with a delivery date that indicates the item will be shipped by the 30th day from the end date of the listing. Additionally, this text must be no less than the default font size of the eBay Sell-Your-Item form. Currently, the default font size is HTML font size 3.


eBay, at its discretion, for special promotional events, may approve an actual manufacturer of an item (like the game publisher in the examples above) to sell an item outside of the 30-day pre-sale guideline as long as the actual manufacturer is supplying the actual item for sale. These exceptions will be made for certain promotions and must be approved prior to listing items for sale on eBay that fit the exception above.

It is not even certain if there will be a Spiderman 4, it's not certain if filming will begin within a year, it's not certain if it will have to be a reboot or recast because of current actors unwilling to participate based on a script. The biggest exception is - the prize cannot be delivered for at least one year - possibly more. If shooting began now - the movie couldn't come out until summer 2010.

It's not fair that eBay is making these deals with "big causes & big companies" that are not just exceptions to policy but extreme exceptions to their policies.

e) eBay is now only allowing Paypal & merchant credit cards that have to be approved and the merchant must pay an access fee to a service called Propay. There is no excuse whatsoever for eBay to only accept Paypal. I understand restricting some services, but Google's checkout is FAR more secure and easier for me to use than Paypal. Plus a problem with Google checkout does not cause a disaster with my eBay account, nor can eBay freeze my funds.

f) For the duration of my suspension (because I received 3 negatives within a 1 month period) ALL of my funds at Paypal have been placed on hold for 30 days. This has left me with zero income. I am unable to pay my mortgage, my child's lunch money, my electric bill, etc etc. This is incredibly obtuse of eBay to do this. Not only am I in need of the money but I have no money to refund customers if they asked for a refund - thus possibly resulting in more negative feedback.

g) eBay recently ended this auction (below) of mine saying it was NOT an Apple adapter - even though in my description I make it VERY clear that it is not Apple's adapter. I have been selling this adapter for 5 years at the rate of about 25 a month with this same basic description. I use the "Apple" as an identifier not a brand. But I understood their point somewhat. This said, I had a separate problem a month earlier where I asked eBay to remove a copycat auction. This auction used this exact same title, worded the EXACT same way, in the exact same order; using my picture and my description. They were even including a copy of my instructions and my CD that I have worked nearly 5 years on honing. They refused to remove it, saying it did not violate their "copyright policy". Again, I understood why they removed mine, but they should apply this rule to the copycat as well. That auction remaining in the system was hurting my sales - I am the EXCLUSIVE eBay seller of the item.

Apple Mac USB To Ethernet Adapter iMac iBook eMac Mini
Powerbook G3 G4 MacBook Pro Air Save motherboard repair Item number: 320280005944

I realize this message was long and very detailed. I hope you read it, understand it, and want to take action over it.

It is insane to suggest I sell some where else or not sell on eBay at all. eBay is a public forum. I am not breaking any law and no one is complaining to local authorities or to the feds regarding my sales. I have tried every other means I possibly can - none have the exposure, acceptance, and ease of use as eBay does. By all other mediums - even if I offer my items for HALF the price; I sell maybe 5% of what I sell on eBay in just 1 month.

eBay must be put back into the hands of the eBayer - not the buyer, not the seller - but the internet customer. They are destroying the fun experience that they were a part of creating 12 years ago.


Paul Douglas said...

Holy cow, it's worse than I thought. What do eBay think they're playing at?

FYT said...

JensonB ...

It's even worse ... that was just the teaser to hopefully get some contact.

By the way ... I realized after rereading it that I posted my draft and not the actual letter I sent them.

I mailed this complaint earlier this morning by snail mail.

Anonymous said...

I loved your blog! eBAY'S Rules are unfair. I have noticed one other thing since the change....very slow payments! Good luck!

FYT said...


Thank you for contacting the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I am not an attorney and I cannot give you legal advice, but I can point you to resources that you may find helpful. We are familiar with the recent changes to eBay's policies and either there is no cause for legal action or that legal action not not fall within our tightly prescribed digital civil liberties mandate. eBay is not legally obliged to allow sellers to leave negative feedback and it is allowed to grant incentives to certain sellers if it so chooses. If you feel that this is a consumer issue, you may wish to contact Public Citizen, an organization with a strong consumer-rights focus. You may also wish to speak out about these changes in eBay's policies. Lastly, you may consider voting with your feet and leaving eBay. Companies rarely cling to policies if those policies are costing them customers.

I'm sorry that we have not been able to be more helpful, but we are tracking this situation and if some aspect of it falls within our area of expertise, we will be happy to address it.


Eva Galperin

The Electronic Frontier Foundation