Ah, Ebay. Love or hate it, it's managed to become a part of our
culture in just a few short years. Leno jokes about it, last week's
Futurama joked about it, and everyone from elementary school kids to
grandparents know all about it.
They announced two new policy changes at Ebay in the last couple weeks that
I thought I'd mention here, since they could have significant impact on some
folks. First up is a change to their policy on 'hate propaganda'.
Here's the text:
"It has long been eBay's policy to disallow the sale of items that
promote hatred, violence or racism. As the eBay community expands to include
many nations, it is important that our policy regarding these items be
consistent throughout our global marketplace.
Early last year, eBay implemented a policy prohibiting the listing of items
that promote or glorify hatred, violence or racial intolerance, or that
promote organizations with such views. Until now, certain items pertaining
to these organizations were allowed if they could be considered
"historical objects", i.e. were at least 50 years old.
We are now broadening our prohibition to include more items, regardless of
age. In addition, the current guidelines for items associated with notorious
murderers are also being strengthened. This includes prohibiting personal
belongings, letters and artwork created by such individuals, as well as
novelty items bearing their names and images.
Examples of items that will generally be removed under the expanded
**Items that bear symbols of the Nazis and the Nazi SS, including authentic
German WWII memorabilia;
**Items that bear symbols of the KKK or other hate groups;
**Crime scene photographs;
**Morgue and autopsy photographs;
**Letters and artwork from notorious murderers;
**T-shirts bearing the likeness of a notorious murderer;
**Copies of hate/racism/violence propaganda materials;
**Electric chairs and related capital punishment items.
Examples of items that may generally be listed include:
**German coins and stamps from the 1930s and 1940s, regardless of markings;
**German WWII memorabilia that doesn't bear Nazi or SS markings;
**Most historical books and movies about WWII or Nazi Germany, even if Nazi
symbols appear on the item;
**War documentaries or documentary photos portraying victims of war or
**Items of historical importance associated with acts of violence against
The new guidelines will take effect on May 17, 2001. At that point, all
listings that include the prohibited items listed above may be ended.
We hope that these guidelines will make eBay a more comfortable and
welcoming place for all members of our global community."
Some folks see this as improper on Ebay's part, but Ebay is a business,
and they have to have policies that they feel comfortable with. And as
a business, it's not their responsibility to be a conduit for hate
groups. Beyond the business aspect, there are their own personal
feelings and ethics, and if that is the real reason they are doing this, then they should
be commended. It may hurt them in the long run, but sometimes doing
something you feel is right does.
Of course, this all could just be them trying their best not to piss anyone
off. If that's the case, they better give up now, because in a global,
well connected marketplace, you'll always find someone to piss off.
I mention this change not for the political ramifications, but because it
will have an effect on action figure collectors. Since anything with
Nazi symbols is on the black list, realistic 1/6th scale figures and
vehicles like those from Dragon will be, uh, verboten. I doubt that
will have much of a negative impact on Ebay, but it could effect the sales
of someone like Dragon, since they aren't a huge company. Only time
The second change effects the sellers of items. Plenty of sellers
include a link in their postings to their on line store or personal web page
with their other items for sale. Ebay decided to stop allowing this:
"The intent of the View Item page has always been to describe a
specific item listed for sale. eBay has inconsistently enforced this policy
over the past few years. This inconsistency has lead to confusion among our
users regarding the purpose of the View Item page. And it has led to the
mistaken impression for many users who close transactions outside of the
eBay platform that they were still covered by our policies and trust and safety
In an effort to bring our policy and enforcement into alignment, beginning
May 31, 2001 we will:
1. Clarify and consistently enforce the View Item page links policy;
2. Permit only links to eBay or Half.com listings and links to third party
credits from the View Item page;
3. Modify the policy and allow users to link off their About Me page to
their homepage or storefront.
These changes apply to all items listed on eBay including our International
sites, eBay Motors and eBay Premier.
We recognize that these changes may directly impact some of our sellers. It
is important to recall, however, that the intent of the View Item page is
not to advertise other products or businesses, but to describe the specific
item listed. By focussing on the item listed, the View Item page provides
sellers a space to engage and inform buyers about that item. It also clearly
denotes that the item is on eBay and that the buyer will have access to all
the services eBay offers, such as feedback and insurance.
The place to inform the community about other aspects of a user's business
or interests is through the About Me page, the free space we provide all of
By working together, eBay and our sellers have created a robust marketplace.
Sellers that attempt to divert buyers off eBay potentially decrease the
value of the marketplace to the entire community. We believe that by
clarifying and enforcing this policy we will strengthen the marketplace for
Here we have an excellent example of marketing hooey. First they claim
that links from an item to another web page have given their users the false
sense of security in any additional transactions. That's an utter load
of bullshit. I have no doubt that there are people stupid enough to
get confused. But anyone that has ever had a problem with a buyer or
seller on Ebay knows that there is little security in the first place. Buying or
selling something on their site is certainly no guarantee.
They finally get to the heart of the matter by the end of the
document. "Decrease the value of the marketplace" simply
means we don't like people getting free advertising to sell other items that
they should be paying us to list.
And at one level, they are absolutely right. Why should they provide
the seller with a free link to another site to sell dozens of more items?
But leaving it there ignores the most important thing Ebay has - their
relationship to their sellers.
When Ebay went public, analysts poo-pooed them. Why? Because
anyone can enter the on-line auction market with little investment up front.
With such a small barrier to entry, anyone could come along and beat them
That ignored the fact that Ebay had all the sellers though. If all
the sellers are there, then all the buyers come. And if all the buyers
come, the sellers don't leave. That has made Ebay the dominant force
in the on-line world that it is.
Taking away this form of free advertising for their sellers will cause them
to lose some. It will piss off even more. And this type of
behavior will open that door another small fraction for some other auction
site to come in and steal market share. Open that door enough, and
Ebay could find itself in trouble.
What I don't understand is why they went about this in such a all-or-nothing
manner. By not allowing the seller to use links, they aren't going to
force that seller to list 10 times the number of items. Rather than
disallow any link, why not charge a nominal fee for the link - say a buck?
It's a happy medium, giving sellers the opportunity to still use listings as
an advertisement for their own sites, generating more revenue for Ebay (much
more than this new policy) and not alienating their sellers entirely.
Businesses don't always make good decisions. Group think, deadline
pressures, unrealistic expectations, and just good old emotion often get in
their way. I think this is one of those situations where they acted
without putting enough thought into the process and what they really wanted.
Ah, but then what the hell do I know. Drop me a line
about either new change, and let me know what you think.