If you’re just now tuning into this, before you get started, you should see how this entire sordid affair began. Sorry for the long read, but this is a lengthy and scandalous saga, with more chapters likely to be written. For the primers, start here, and see this collection of all the pertinent links, read and absorb them all to fully comprehend the background and enormity of this situation.
Shill Bidding is a Crime
Starting with what is regarded as the very first ever case of ebay shill bidding prosecution, which involved author Kenneth Walton, of FAKE: Forgery, Lies, & eBay fame, shill bidding on ebaY has been a crime. A federal crime. Mr Walton was convicted, sentenced, and served his time. He then went on the write his blockbuster.
With the very most recent cases in the news, we see that shill bidding is a Federal Offense:
Online and live auctions of sports memorabilia and other collectibles conducted during the 2000s by the former Mastro Auctions, which was based in suburban Chicago, routinely defrauded customers, according to a federal indictment unsealed today. William Mastro, who owned the former business that once billed itself as the “world’s leading sports and Americana auction house,” together with Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos, both former executives of Mastro Auctions, were indicted on fraud charges for allegedly rigging auctions through a series of deceptive practices, including so-called “shill-bidding,” designed to inflate prices paid by bidders and to protect the interests of consignors and sellers at the expense of unwitting bidders.
There has also been similar cases and convictions in the United Kingdom recently.
Indeed, shill bidding (as well as across the gamut of issues) has been an area marked by failure, complacency, complicity, and willful ignorance on the part of ebaY since the earliest days of my ebay/paypal centricritical activities. This from the outrageous ebaY fail episode of bidancient AKA Eftis Paraskevaides Affair:
“He claimed eBay would never follow up a complaint against him for shill bidding because he generated about £15,000 a month in commission for the company. “Are they going to ban somebody who’s making them the best part of 15 grand a month? No,” he said.”
I made three points back then and I was spot on.
1.) The problem of shill bidding on ebay was, is and will become even more rampant.
2.) Ebay does not have/has not had, a system in place to deal with the problem of shill bidding, even when the community could police IT.
3.) The new SMI policy is a farce.
Shortly thereafter, ebay enacted the Shilling Made Invisible aka masked bidder IDs policy.
As history, and Philip Cohen will tell you, the policy did more to enable shill bidding to prosper than it ever helped protect anyone from phishing, account take-overs or fake second chance offers
With a secret, fly-by-night policy change, ebaY defied common sense, tradition, widely accepted belief, common law of every civilized nation on earth, (that we know of) and also superseded and shizzledropped on federal law by making shill bidding legal in the United States, (and only the USA – LoLz!). They seem to have given special consideration to consignment shops and businesses with employees. They also seemed to have helped certain TV reality fashion show star types and cable networks to possibly avoid scandal as well. Ahem!
The changes, which encompassed both the ebay shill bidding policy and tutorial, were very sloppily executed within the ebaY site, leaving huge contradictions scattered about the site, and had very conspicuous timing, relative to the current events of the time. If you read the primer postings you’ll understand completely. Even Helen Keller could have detected shill bidding, except I believe she would have been afraid to tell anyone, lest her hands be cut off.
They didn’t ‘relax’ the policy; They disemboweled it. It’s nothing but a hollowed out carcass now. I can still smell the rotting cyber-entrails they tossed aside and quickly ran away from.
While I see that the issue has finally gotten some much needed attention at both ecommercebytes and the consumerist, I feel the bigger picture isn’t sinking in. Consumerist, who ran a poll with their post, missed the mark somewhat, omitting any mention of the secret, unannounced nature and scandalous circumstances surrounding: eg; no mentions of consignment shops, employees, dubious timing of the change, and the complete secrecy/lack of any announcement.
Ecommercebytes requested comment from ebaY as to the very unusual nature of the changes. To date, I don’t see any update posted there or statement to the community on ebay’s all too often unused announcement boards.
Give careful consideration to this Blekko search screencap image from this post. It more-less cuts to the quick. Note that date which it was captured on (June 6, 2012). That search was for the exact (partial) verbiage of the shill bidding policy before it was altered.
However, when you clicked through you went to the new policy page. (also evident by the date) That policy /page was changed within one blekko crawl/cache cycle, since it showed the former language. Ebay can tell us exactly when it was changed though, if they so desire. And why wouldn’t they? They believe that an open and honest environment blah blah zzzzzzzz…
I’m left wondering if the current ebay spokesperson will give a statement as to how it is that suddenly shill bidding is legal and acceptable on their site? Has there been some unannounced change in the law? Or is this yet another fine example of ebay’s special powers? How is it suddenly acceptable under ebaY rules whereas a crime in the rest of the known universe?
Am I the only one curious for answers to big glaring questions as to *when* (exactly) and *why* (specifically) the policy was changed?
Was it the result of some super-secret ‘project”? A “glitch”? A user survey? A study? For safety of members? In order to keep up with “Industry Standards”? Or by some committee? Or by managerial/executive order? Was Ophiuchus rising in conjunction with the 13th House of Uranus?
If this was a planned change, why all the mismatched, conflicting pages? Even after all this time has gone by? Is that really how a “World Class” multi-billion dollar corporation on the cutting edge of IT operates?
Surely there must be some explanation which neither conflicts with the laws of the land, all common reason, as well as ebaY’s hitherto repeated, staunch, and widespread adherence to the notion that “Shill bidding is a crime.”?
Even to this day we find highly contradictory statements regarding the legality of shill bidding Vs stated policies upon the site. All over the site in places other than the readily apparent, poorly and haphazardly hacked policy and tutorial pages, such as the Rules for Sellers Overview, and Shill Bidding community workshops.
Does that really look like it was a planned change? Does that look like a major change which was done completely impromptu? Was it “fixed on the fly”?
Of course there is still the burning question of why there was no announcement? That is another thing people deserve to hear explanation of.
This is no small change. Major policy changes call for major explanations presented in a timely and highly visible fashion.
Why is the policy change bad?
First off, and most obviously, it fully disregards every definition found for shill bidding, including those found within their very own site. Second and just as obvious, buyers/bidders will get cheated. Besides the obviously sleazy circumstances surrounding and most likely precipitating the change, quite simply, ebaY does not have a system to deal with any such change. That would require software and/or other methods of gauging or judging human nature and intent, where it intersects with Murphy’s Laws and any (infinite) number of other unknown variables. If they can’t even get the various policy /tutorial pages all straight, how can they ever make a super-duper “sophisticated proactive system” shill bidding mind reading bot?
Furthermore, they have other policies in place which would aid the shill bidding. ei; the ability to have as many accounts as one pleases, lack of any real identity verification at the gate, and of course the “Shilling Made Invisible” policy. These factors are joined by outside forces or situations which are already a great hazard on the site such as the rapidly expanding underground market in fake or stealth accounts.
Those whom cannot remember the past…
This change will harm the entire community/website. Ebay has done more hacking than thy realize. With one fell swoop they’ve destroyed trust in a way which cannot ever be restored.
Ebay members are notorious for gaming the system. They will game this in ways which are not foreseeable, and some which are. When ebay sponsors free listing days, users will be able to fill the listings with purely fake merchandise to drive up prices artificially with fake bidders and winners, thereby skewing and artificially inflating prices of the markets for widgets x, y and z
There is now a niche created for commercial shill bidding services. Which were, not surprisingly, called illegal by an attorney and ebaY expert when interviewed, as well as advised against using by an ebaY PR spokesperson when uncovered.
People will also need to get busy updating their “get rich quick with ebay”, how to make money in your pajamas on ebay, ebay dropshipping ebooks, sniper bidding tutorials, education specialist courses or ebaY University courses to make sure they stay on the cutting edge of ebaY’s finely tuned and exciting new dynamic ecosystem.
I’m sure I’m overlooking lots of ways this will be harmful. The detriments are only limited by the ingenuity of the scammers, and whatever else ebaY management may come up with to enhance this further.
Now, the sad reality is that ebay/paypal feels and acts as if they’re above all laws. Not just legally, they would even seem to believe they’re above the laws of physics, math, and even gravity as this and other cockamamie policy changes illustrate.
Just the same, if you seek to force meaningful change upon them, use whatever resources are available. Don’t overlook the FTC as a place to file complaints over this major, shady policy transmogrification. Recently I’ve even seen advice to contact your elected legislators and other officials since the misbehavior is so far out of control. Certainly the States Atty Generals of any state may be interested in this development as well.
Likewise, be sure to spread word-of-mouth where ever and however you can.
I also wonder if ebaY competitors will have a field day with this news? There’s no telling what sort of creative exploitation of this development could have negative impact upon the online auction Ogre.
Best thing to do perhaps, as I have called for since the very beginning of my involvement into ebaY criticism, is simply never, ever use ebaY or paypal. After all, how can you really trust these people?