Etsy Sort Of Listens To Internet, Changes Privacy Defaults

Whimsy emporium Etsy finally sort of listened to its sellers, customers, and the entire Internet this afternoon when they changed a controversial feature that users claimed was a privacy breach. Users’ feedback history on the site is now private, and they can change those settings to become less private. Why did this matter?

(We initially reported that Etsy had turned off all of the controversial features, but have now verified that they have not. Users are still searchable by e-mail address, and real names are still part of Etsy profiles and indexed by search engines.)

Let’s pretend that Tax Cat sells erotic oil paintings of American CEOs on Etsy, and I bought one from her late last year, before the privacy settings changed. We were both happy with the transaction, and left each other positive feedback, as Etsy users are encouraged to do. A description of the item that sold and an the image of it would be in both of our feedback profiles permanently.

If I used the same e-mail address for my Etsy account that I use for personal correspondence and job-hunting, anyone with an Etsy account using the “find friends” feature can find this profile information and a list of every item that I had bought and left feedback on.

If I had entered my real name on my Etsy profile, as 25% of site users do, there’s another problem: Etsy has high search engine rankings, for many users, their Etsy profile was coming up as the #4 or #5 Google result for their name.

In a blog post this afternoon, the company’s CEO and press manager posted a FAQ of sorts to clarify the situation. Here’s an excerpt:

Were there changes to Etsy that made my purchases public?

No. The issue here is our Feedback system, which has not changed in six years. We do not directly publish your purchases on Etsy. However, when a seller leaves feedback for an item you bought, or you leave feedback for an item you purchased, we would link to the item. Our Feedback system has always worked this way; our original thinking was that it’s important to know more about the transaction, to better establish trust in the marketplace.

We added the option to enter your real name when registering. Right next to this text field, it says: “Your full name will appear on your public profile. This is optional.” Some people enter their name, some don’t. As of right now, 25% of people (including us) have entered their real name.

It is the confluence of these two things that led us to this position: if you enter your real name, purchase an item, and the seller leaves feedback for this item, this purchase will be publicly visible via our Feedback system. Search engines index our site, which means this data can turn up there, too. It’s been this way since October.

Users aren’t buying it. A forum thread on the subject is 48 pages long as of this writing, and users are criticizing Etsy’s response today, which they say solved the wrong problem and causes problems for sellers. One poster distilled the issues nicely:

So instead of taking responsibility, you’re blaming it on the sellers who leave feedback? Wasn’t it Etsy who made it possible for that to happen by designing a flawed system?

Can you explain why you say no change made purchases public, but then go on to explain how the real name change made it possible to find out a user’s purchase history, albeit indirectly?

Why are comments for that article closed?

Why do you say the changes are made based on user input when most of the reaction to the feedback change has been negative?

Why will the feedback be opt-in, when things which people really want to be opt-in remains unchanged?

Why do you say you notify people of changes via e-mail when most of the time, the changes are only posted on the forums, which the minority sees?

Why are you breaking feedback to fix a separate issue which can be fixed without changing the way feedback works?

Do you realize the harm that this could do to both buyers and sellers since sellers can no longer leave public feedback for buyers?

And what about the sign-in form which is still unclear about people’s names being made public once they fill it in? It’s still broken.

(Full disclosure: I’m an Etsy seller in my free time away from Consumerist.)

Rethinking Feedback [Etsy Blog]

You Want Your Real Name Associated With Your Etsy Purchase History, Right?

Sellers Growing Increasingly Unhappy With Lack Of Professionalism At Etsy

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