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Shill Bidding on eBay: a Case Study

For eBay “watchers”, a detailed case study of the crime of “shill” bidding and the abuse of eBay’s proxy bidding system—all exacerbated by eBay’s introduction of “hidden bidders”—plus a detailed general criticism of eBay’s “clunky” auction platform, and policies, at

A synopsis thereof:

 very little of the auction system security, that eBay claims to offer buyers, exists in fact;

 contrary to their claims, it can be demonstrated that eBay has no “proactive” nor “sophisticated” system in place for the detection of undisclosed vendor (“shill”) bidding, and indeed eBay does nothing about such criminal activity except as a reaction to a user’s report of such, and even then eBay’s ultimate response will be unconvincing;

 eBay has no effective matter-of-course verification of users: unscrupulous users can apparently have as many user IDs as they may have email addresses;

 many of eBay’s “rules”, concerning the retraction of bids, cancellation of auctions, etc, are nominal only and are no bar to the machinations of the unscrupulous seller;

 as a result, eBay’s “proxy” bidding system is so open to abuse by such unscrupulous sellers that to use it, as eBay intends it to be used, can be an invitation to pay the maximum you have indicated you are prepared to pay;

 by the lack of any effectual system to proactively detect shill bidding, eBay has ever effectively, and knowingly, “aided and abetted” unscrupulous shill-bidding sellers to defraud naïve buyers; by so doing, eBay benefits from a higher “final valuation fee”;

 the masking of bidding IDs with non-unique, absolutely anonymous aliases serves no purpose other than to further obscure all but the most blatant of shill bidding, and defeats any attempt at programmatic analysis of individual bidding patterns to expose such activity;

 the quarterly changing of even these non-unique, absolutely anonymous, bidding aliases serves absolutely no other purpose than to stop even experienced eBay users from attempting to manually track suspicious bidding activity over time;

 the anonymous, individual bidder Bid History Details pages, supposedly supplied to offset the absolute masking of bidding IDs, although better than nothing, will usually present an ambiguous view and, in such circumstances, are of little value;

 anyone naïve enough to make other than a last-moment “snipe” bid on a seller-elected “private” auction (ie, “User ID kept private”), on the balance of probability, is going to be defrauded—and eBay knows it;

 when suspected fraud is reported, and is found by eBay to be proved to their satisfaction, eBay will conceal that fact from the victim of the fraud; this then is the concealing of a crime after the fact—surely, a crime in itself;

 eBay will never acknowledge to a victim that a fraud has been perpetrated, nor indeed will eBay acknowledge that such fraud is even a problem on eBay auctions; eBay therefore sees no reason to provide any mechanism to aid in the recovery of any monies so defrauded;

 if eBay did have any proactive and truly sophisticated system in place for the detection and control of shill bidding, we would not now be having this debate;

 for those buyers (and honest sellers) who embrace eBay believing that eBay acts as an “honest broker” between buyer and seller, I can only say that you may as well believe that there are fairies at the bottom of your garden too; and

 the most disgraceful aspect of this matter is that we all would, quite rightly, be upset if our local auctioneer, from whom we were buying, was found to be facilitating and concealing such criminal activity—and here is eBay, knowingly, doing just that to the whole world!

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