back to article eBay UK pimps users' privacy for targeted ads

eBay users in the UK will start seeing adverts targeting them based on the kind of items they view and bid for while browsing the online tat-house. And if they don't want their info being used to target ads, their only option seems to be to leave the online marketplace altogether, according to an email announcing the changes …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Turned it off okay for me

    I think the accept or bugger off bit is left over from copy and paste legalese and means that if you don't want to be with ebay because they do this then leave now.

  2. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Down

    Not the same as Phorm

    There is a *very* big differences between what eBay is doing and what Phorm are trying to do. If you don't like what eBay are doing, don't use eBay. If you don't like what Phorm are up to, you have to change your ISP. Big difference.

    eBay spy on what you are doing on eBay. Phorm spy on everything you do and every site you visit. Big difference.

    What eBay are doing is legal. What Phorm want to do is illegal. Big difference.

    eBay will only have data about activity on their own website. Phorm will be able to spy on other eCommerce sites. Big difference.

  3. Booty Inspector

    Bring it on...

    ...I use Firefox with the fantastic AdBlock Plus extension.

    No online ads for me, targeted or otherwise.

    Mines the one with no logos, labels, branding or any other kind of advertising on.

  4. Ian

    This seems to be on as well, under "Site Preferences" -> "Advertising Preferences". Seem to be able to opt-out...

  5. John Bayly

    Not really comparable to Phorm

    You're not paying eBay anything, unless you're selling, unlike my ISP which I pay for the privilege of internet access.

    Also, Phorm appeared to be based on a user's cookies, which tend (not always) to be for a user's account. I certainly don't share my eBay login details.

    Before I get flamed, I don't think it's a good idea and I've all but given up on eBay

  6. Gavin Peake

    "Note: It may take up to 10 days to process changes to these preferences"

    Nice little entry at the bottom of the Advertising Preferences screen...

    Note: It may take up to 10 days to process changes to these preferences

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Not the same as Phorm

    Changing ISP is probably easier than finding another online auction site with as many users as ebay. ISPs have the right to modify traffic on their own network as much as ebay have to modify adverts on their sites.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    ebay - worst company on the net?

    i was an occasional user of ebay up until about 2 years ago when i ran into a few problems with dodgy sellers. essentially i was left with loads of bad feedback from scammers after previously having a perfect feedback rating. attempting to resolve these issues showed me just how bad ebay's customer services is.

    it's a classic example of what happens when a huge company has a complete monopoly. there are no comparable alternatives to ebay so they know everyone will use them and they don't need to provide good customer services as they already have the whole market. So what if I've stopped using them because of their lack of customer services? they've still got a billion other users. of which only the few that do encounter problems will realise there is nothing they can do since they're staring up at a massive, faceless, windowless, doorless multi-national and stop using the service.

    Of course they don't just leave it at that, now they're keen to make even more money through personal information hawking, forcing people to use paypal etc.

    i can't say i really miss ebay however. now i just give my stuff to friends that need it and charity shops should no-one want it... isn't this what we should be doing anyway?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ EC

    Beat me to it.

    This is not describing a Phormalike. Though

    "...we may also use information from other companies..."

    sounds like their partners might be sharing information they probably shouldn't be about you and your eBay persona.

  10. Chris

    Agreed with Eponymous Cowherd

    eBay can do what they like with my eBay data. Amazon have been customising their ads towards me for years.

    Phorm goes outside that domain, which is the difference.

  11. Steve Pettifer

    Nto strictly accurate

    It was me that actually tipped them off about this yesterday and sent them the email text. However, I turned it off OK and at no point did it ever seem to be an 'opt-in of bugger off' scheme. My point was more that this change was quietly announced at the end of an email which eBay knew only too well almost no one would bother to read (few people ever read a terms of service change announcement) and since it was opt-out, it meant they would be able to harvest a lot of data before people realised they were doing so, thus making a load of cash for themselves.

    There's no doubting that eBay probably fulfilled all their legal obligations to tell users (i don't believe it is stipulated quite how and since the email will have gone to every user they're probably covered) so it's not like the Phorm fiasco, but it is another bit of evidence to suggest that they really don't care about pissing off their users.


    And where was the Bootnote on the story thanking me for the tip off?? Tsk, some people ;-)

  12. Tim
    Thumb Down

    does this mean we get cheaper rates?

    given they can charge more for targetted ads? will the average punter see any return, or will they still take listing fee, picture fee, design fee, final valuation fee, paypal fee.....which ends up being about 20%.

  13. David Shepherd


    Sounds more like they've changed the T&C to include target ads that you can opt-out of. Thus if you have a principled objection to them introducing this as opt-out then you'd not want to accept the new T&Cs and thus would have to go ... however, if you merely find this irritating and want to immediately opt-out of it then you can do this and implicitly accept the new T&Cs by not leaving

  14. Stephen Melrose

    Twisting of Words

    Seems to me El-Reg is twisting words a bit there.

    Just because you accept doesn't mean you have to have ads. You can then turn them off.

  15. Tetsugaku-San

    Hmm it seems the same to me...

    ... but that may have something to do with Add Block Pro being installed on my FF3 - nevermind ebay, better luck next time.

    The sooner someone moves in to replace these clowns the better, ebay started with the little people selling 2nd hand, and there they should have stayed.

  16. john oates

    missing Bootnote

    Apologies Steve - should have credited you and the other people who sent us the email - thank you to all of you...


  17. Gordon Pryra

    Not the same as Phorm

    E-bay never paid the right bribes (hence their hassel in Aus)

    Phorm did, hence the Police, The ICO and the Home office all allowing them to do whatever they want, fuck the law

  18. Gary Owen

    @Eponymous Cowherd

    You book into a Travel Lodge - you accept their terms and conditions just as you do with eBay. Have a lie down on your bed, become bored then decide as you're own you may as well crack one off and throw yourself around the room in a self induced masturbatory solo orgy.

    Next morning, not realising you had been legally spied upon all the time you wake up and outside your door along with your complimentary copy of the Times is a plethora of leaflets from local sleaze merchants offering allsorts of self gratifying tat from Big Ones Monthly to a small sample of Jackoff lube and a tenner off voucher for a Big Boy vacuum pump- same principal as eBays new T&C's. Big difference!

  19. Steve Pettifer
    Black Helicopters


    Was just kidding old boy. It was just nice to see it brought to peoples attention.

    I take someones point about Amazon having been doing it for ages but that doesn't make it any more acceptable to be sneaky about it. I don't like ads but can live with them as a nescesary evil (and anyway, Opera does a damn good job of blocking them!), I just object to them not being clear and up front about quite an important change to T's & C's.

    And before anyone says it, I don't consider a legalese type emil to be clear and up front.

  20. Eponymous Cowherd

    @Garry Owen

    You *know* what eBay are doing. By your analogy you would also *know* what the hotel do. If you stay in a hotel that you *know* spies on your bedroom activities then you can't complain about it, can you.

    If eBay introduced this without making it public then your analogy would hold some credibility, as it is, its just a pointless rant.

    What eBay are doing is pretty nasty, but Phorm is several orders of magnitude worse. Using your analogy Phorm is like someone spying on your wank-fest irrespective of what hotel you are in and without that hotel's knowledge.

    @AC ***"ISPs have the right to modify traffic on their own network as much as ebay have to modify adverts on their sites."***

    No, they *absolutely* do *not* have that right. Tampering with private communications is *illegal*.

  21. Anthony

    Well they've not thrown me off the site (yet)

    After reading the article I thought I'd update my ebay preferences, so i disabled the AdChoice settings but haven't received any threats to close my account.

    Have to wait and see...

  22. Andrew

    re: missing Bootnote

    Whoa! If ever there was a backhanded compliment, that one has got to be it!

    "credit to you and all the other people who also sent the email - see, you're not that special after all"

  23. Steven


    Thanks for the heads up El Reg! Never got any email about this (just checked my email history). It would seem eBay decided they's opt me in without asking (there's a suprise)!

    Opted out now, hate people doing what they like with my details in the name of 'advertising'. I use ad block anyway, but still prefer god only knows who not having my details. Thanks.

  24. Ash
    Thumb Down

    AdBlock and Targetted Advertising

    You think AdBlock will help?

    AdBlock will stop you seeing the targetted adverts; A definate boon, but not the main issue.

    The problem is eBay tracking your usage, making money from it by selling the data to Targetted Advertising companies, and not passing on benefits to the customer in the form of reduced costs. There's privacy concerns too.

    I've not bought anything of worth over eBay in over a year; This won't affect me in the least, but i'll still close the eBay and PayPal accounts out of principle.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Not many of you have actually read the opt-out bit have you?

    If you "opt out" of the AdChoice scheme, you still get ads, they're just not tailored to your viewing habits.

    Makes little difference to me, it's just Ebay making (even) more money out of us, directly or otherwise. Hard to believe they need to - it's not as if using Ebay is cheap now, is it? :)

  26. Mark
    Paris Hilton


    They complain that we block their adverts but deny any other way of opting out from their "service" (well, it feels like getting screwed).

  27. Dave Bell

    No sign yet

    No email here.

    I wonder if buying the slide rule did it?

  28. A. Lewis
    Paris Hilton

    I don't get everyone's problem with targeted ads.

    The ads are going to be there anyway (unless you use adblock, but that's another debate I've seen on this and many other sites) so why not at least make them relevant?

    I'd rather see ads for computer bits than for "Dr Wanklesteen's home acupuncture course", "holidays in far flung Engfeh" or something else that wouldn't interest me.

    Paris - because her ads target anybody.

  29. Someone

    I was about to spit bricks, but then…

    I too got the email yesterday, for each of my eBay accounts. They were sent by emarsys eMarketing Systems AG and completely ignored my eBay accounts’ text-only Preferred Email Format setting. This helped to get them labelled as spam and meant I could have missed them. This was not a good start.

    I was about to get really annoyed. But, when I logged into my accounts to turn off this new data pimping setting, I found, to my surprise, both of the new options were already set to ‘No’. The default state for me, at least, was opted out. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve got none of the Promotions and Surveys subscriptions ticked on the Notification Preferences page, but I was pleasantly surprised that eBay hadn’t opted me in by default.

  30. Eponymous Cowherd
    Paris Hilton

    Re:I don't get everyone's problem with targeted ads.

    Its not the ads that are the problem, its the way you are 'profiled' in order to determine which ads to show you.

    It amounts to spying.

    eBay spy on you when you are on eBay. This is not so very different to the way Tesco spy on you when you use a 'club card'. Fairly seedy, but legal and above board.

    Phorm spy on you wherever you go on the 'web'. Any web site, any time. Its like Tesco seeing what you are buying, not only in Tesco, but in Sainsbury, Somerfield, Co-Op, Morrisons, PC World, Boots and (if you are Garry Owen) as you are buying your Big-Boy vacuum pump from your local sex shop. Extremely seedy, probably illegal, and anything *but* above board.

    Paris, 'cos she doesn't mind showing off her private bits, either.

  31. Elmer Phud
    IT Angle

    Adverts for what?

    Considering I use my e-bay account for all sorts of rubbish that is often not intended for me it will be interesting to see if the ads are targetted at my purchasing data or browsing data as they are very different.

  32. alistair millington
    Thumb Up

    ebay are pants anyway

    After removing the sellers feedback option the sales of people I know are rife with time wasters that no one can identify to warn others, and so I know people closing shops all over the place.

    then a few weeks ago I got an email from paypal saying shop with confidence that negative feedback can't be lodged by sellers.

    I can't believe they put positive spin on annoying all their sellers. So this new piece of information comes as little shock from the ebay brown shirts.

    Though I got the email telling me of the changes, I didn't read it thoroughly. Cheers for the info on this.

  33. g e

    Just been to my account

    Turned it all off..

    Less than impressed I was opted in by default.

    If you have an ebay account then you are also opted in too unless you changed your settings. It's in the 'Site Preferences' link under my ebay (I think, closed the ebay window now lol)

  34. Martin

    So how does this work then?

    'Use my information to show me relevant eBay ads on other sites'

    is one of the options you can untick

    I suspect I am being thick here but how do they know its me on other sites?

  35. RW

    @ Ash

    "i'll still close the eBay and PayPal accounts out of principle."

    Better to just leave them there and clutter up Ebay's system with dead accounts. If necessary, alter your personal details, but leave the accounts open.

    @ Somebody

    "sent by emarsys eMarketing Systems AG and completely ignored my eBay accounts’ text-only Preferred Email Format setting. This helped to get them labelled as spam."

    Some doofus at Ebay is clueless about spam and doesn't realize that when they send email from a domain no one's ever heard of and which isn't clearly related to Ebay, it *will* be viewed as probable spam and is very likely to be deleted unread. After receiving an email via and spending significant time trying to figure out if it was spam or not, I sent back a reply pointing this out, but in true Ebay fashion, my email to the "Reply to" address bounced.

    All in all, it looks to me like Ebay has, perhaps unwittingly, altered their business model in the interests of increasing revenue (aka unrestrained greed), with the side effect of alienating many buyers and sellers, and thereby narrowing their customer base. Modern business management techniques continue to amaze me.

    By sedulously blocking any feedback, they aggravate the situation and are now the subject of considerable ill-will across the world. If you hold stock in Ebay, perhaps a letter to the CEO asking why they are pissing away the value of the brand might be in order. CEOs hate getting letters from shareholders.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Steve Pettifer

    We're sending someone around to straighten out your accounts.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    The Phorm vs. eBay comparison...

    ... is very simple:

    Phorm are intercepting private communications between two parties. That is illegal, unless both parties consent.

    Whereas when you're on eBay, eBay *are* one of the two parties involved in the communication. They are not intercepting anything, they are just /remembering/ what *you* deliberately and intentionally communicated to *them* and keeping notes of it for future reference.

    In other words, the comparison is simple: there's no comparison.

  38. My Opinion

    So they can't be stopped whatever you do!

    "If you opt out of AdChoice, you'll still see ads, they just won't be tailored to your interests."

    Great! (NOT!)

  39. Mark Allen
    Black Helicopters

    EBay Adverts

    @"I use Firefox with the fantastic AdBlock Plus extension."

    Errr... that ain't the point. They still know what you are up to, and they are still passing your details around people. Like you, I block the adverts from appearing - but I still don't want these odd companies building profiles on me. :)

    @Steve Pettifer... what's that saying? "Great Minds Think Alike, and Fools Rarely Differ". Like you, I also emailed this one in to the news desk on Tuesday and had a natter with John. And had exactly the same point as you - the sneaky hidden way this was presented. I remember ticking boxes when FIRST signing up to EBay to say "No, I don't want your marketing rubbish or anyone elses". So why they changing this without asking me?

    (ROFL @ Steve... you ARE a clone of me... you are even using Opera. Comedy is that my Opera is doing so well at blocking ads, that I cannot read articles like this with the word "advertising" in the URL!! hehe)

  40. Anonymous Coward

    Pointless turning it off?

    Is turning it off in the preferences a little useless?

    From their email: "You'll notice a new preference now available in My eBay named AdChoice - that lets you tell us whether you want us to use the information we have about you to customize the ads you see."

    So they'll still collect/store information, and presumably still sell it on, they just won't target relevant ads at you.

    If they'll collect the data regardless, you may as well leave it switched on surely? Better to receive ads that may be slightly useful than not at all?

    On another note.. I've ABP installed too, but I've started adding exceptions for websites I regularly visit.. One example being the Register.. At the end of the day, these sites only survive through advertising. All well and good browsing the web ad-free, but how much of a web would be left without adverting funded sites?

    God knows I don't want to start making micropayments for every piece of content I view online :-\

  41. Snail
    Gates Halo

    Wheres the alternative

    I used to be a regular of ebay, but its turned rubbish. I've even had my paypal account hacked, and paypal were completely disinterested.

    The recent changes in fees, feedback policys, mandating paypal, now this, its just pants.

    I want to see one of the big players come up with a good alternative. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, someone must be able to see what a good business model ebay has, and how they could steal a slice of the pie.

    I've had to stop using ebay, as its just a big con now.

    Bills got plenty of time on his hands now, maybe he can help

  42. Mark

    Re: Pointless turning it off

    "All well and good browsing the web ad-free, but how much of a web would be left without adverting funded sites?"

    Well, the way they make the adverts means that we don't have much of a web WITH advertising funded sites (see the change of tomshardware that now has a 20-page view to sell 20 pages of ads).

  43. Ian Chard


    "I want to see one of the big players come up with a good alternative. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo [...]"

    Remember Yahoo! Auctions? It was much better than eBay, until they sold out to, ahem, eBay.

  44. Bob Clements

    There is an alternative . . .

    I too used to use ebay but about two years ago started looking for alternatives.

    I found and now use Yes they are smaller and don't get the volume of traffic BUT my sales are now pretty much what they used to be on what they call evilbay or the dark side on SA.

    If you buy or sell collectables then take a look - they are the official online auction partner to the Football League, loads of cricket and rugby clubs, the British Odrnance Collectors Assc, Compact Collectors Club and loads more.

    The best bits? No listing fees, no image fees, no fees at all other than a very reasonable 3% end of sale fee. No stupid feedback rules, no ridiculous payment rules, no advertising (not even a standard banner ad), customer service you wouldn't believe and much more.

  45. Concerned Silver badge

    The Right Way

    eBay should be congratulated: this is the right way to handle targetting advertising, completely unlike Phorm.

    1) If I am going to receive advertising on eBay, it may as well be targetted instead of random

    2) If I do not want targetted advertising for any reason I can opt out

    3) Most important of all, this is not snooping on my private communications like Phorm, it is limited to making use of what I view and buy on eBay

    The only things missing which I would like to see would be an assurance that eBay do not send personally identifiable data to the third party ad selection engine they use, and a notification of who that is.

  46. Dave Bell

    A well-hidden opt-out.

    The whole thing is feeling a bit shabby now. eBay, surely, depends on customers trusting them, and the way this turns out ot have been hidden is getting into real shoot-yourself-in-the-foot territory.

    The AdChoice notification is hidden towards the end of an email, whish is set to display in a smaller-than-default font.

    And when you try to find AdChoice in the My eBay part of the eBay site, they don't use the word. You only see it after you click on the "edit" link for Advertising Preferences on the Site Preferences page.

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