RealTime IT News

eBay Takes Some Heat on Privacy Policy

Online privacy advocate Junkbusters.com has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate auction giant eBay Inc.'s recent changes to its privacy policy for possible "unfair or deceptive trade practices."

Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, said in an open letter to Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, that eBay's privacy policy "is a repulsive confection of excessively broad disclaimers of liability coated in marketing sugar that deceitfully attempts to disguise the awfulness of its position."

More specifically, the privacy group objects to language in a new section entitled "Conflict of Terms" near the end of the policy.

There, it states that: "If there is a conflict between the terms and conditions in this privacy policy and other privacy representations that may appear on our site (e.g. privacy tools, easy to read summaries, charts and P3P statements), you agree that the terms and conditions of this privacy policy shall control."

Catlett in the letter accused eBay of "providing a misleadingly rosy picture" of the company's practices in other, more prominent places on the site, while explicitly repudiating those representations elsewhere.

In an e-mail exchange, Catlett told InternetNews.com that "eBay seems to believe they own their users ... whatever their motivation, their attempts to get more latitude to do whatever they want to their users are unconscionable and clearly violate consumer protection laws."

When asked about Catlett's charges of impropriety on the part of the auction giant, EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove told InternetNews.com: "Mr. Catlett's comments notwithstanding, eBay does not provide, sell, rent, share or in any other way disclose personally identifiable information to third parties."

eBay announced the changes to its privacy policy and user agreement on Monday and said the changes take effect March 19 for people registering with the site after that date, and on April 19 for those already registered.

The changes are part of an annual review of the company's user agreement and privacy policy, Pursglove said.

eBay took some heat last year about this time after an apparent change of heart on its opt-in newsletter policy.