Trouble Thinking

March 15, 2011

Etsy Privacy Concern Update: Etsypocalypse

Filed under: News, The Internet — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 4:34 pm

Update: So a lot of the sites that reported on this issue are basically calling it solved. Etsy admins have made buyer feedback private, solving the privacy problem. There are a couple of issues with that. First of all, that doesn’t really alter the basic indecency of their making all this shit opt-out instead of opt-in. That was an insulting violation of trust, and a blatant attempt to sneak some shit under the radar because they weren’t certain it would fly if they informed everyone. Second of all, some sellers I’ve spoken to say this fix makes feedback basically useless, as it’s now completely unaccountable and therefore pretty exploitable. Though honestly I don’t know much about the seller end of things. They said it sucked like eBay now, if that helps. Third, this doesn’t really do anything about the release of the real names of anyone who signed up with their actual name. The thing is, the real fix would be pretty simple: don’t try to be facebook, and ditch the real names being public. People can put their real name in their handle if they want.

There’s also the fact that this change came only after disgruntled Etsy users fled to other forums to complain, and drummed up dozens of articles on the subject. Doesn’t really inspire the sort of trust they seem to be asking people to give them.


To sum up: Etsy is a site where people buy and sell artwork/random crap. They recently decided the way to riches was becoming a shitty low-rent version of Facebook, getting people to use real names if at all possible, encouraging that you join “circles” with friends and buyers and sellers and whatnot. Then, they decided to finally pull the switch and make usernames and other information easily searchable with a feature called “people search”. Now, if you gave your real name to Etsy at any point ever, your likes and dislikes and feedback and basically everything tied to your Etsy account can be searched for on Google. Even if you didn’t bother giving your real name, if you gave your real email address people can now find you and link it with say, Linkedin, Facebook, whatever. Essentially, if you signed up with Etsy without your spam account and a fake name, now you’re paying for it.

And it’s opt-out! Which means that by default, if you have ever purchased anything on Etsy or sold anything on Etsy, no matter when you did it, your information is now startlingly public. They make the argument that because they emailed all their members (though it isn’t clear they even did that as many people report not getting one), they should be in the clear. However, they only emailed people about slight updates to the privacy policy in January, and told them that changes coming down the line were something they’d have to watch for on the forums when they were asked what exactly was happening in February. In fact, here’s the exact email:


We recently launched a new feature, Circles, that lets you connect with other people on Etsy. When you add someone to your Etsy circle, you can follow along with their favorites in your activity feed. It’s illuminating!

Right now it’s hard to find people you know on Etsy, and that’s sad. Well, we’re changing that. We’re making it easy to connect your email address book to Etsy, so we can find people you know who are also members.

(If you don’t want people you know to be able to find you, you will be able easily to opt out through your account privacy settings.)

We’re letting you know about this in advance, and will be launching this feature in mid-February.

We have also revised our Privacy Policy in anticipation of this feature. You can review our Privacy Policy here:

If you have any questions or comments, please visit to get in touch.

You’re receiving this email because you registered on with this email address.

The Etsy Team

This is a service-related message from Etsy’s headquarters are located at 55 Washington Street, Suite 512, Brooklyn, NY, USA, 11201

They emailed a ton of people (me included) at old addresses that aren’t being checked anymore. It’s the halfest of ass-coverings possible, and speaks to a pretty immense lack of basic ability to understand that other humans are actually there and not just ticks on a balance sheet.

I find it interesting to contrast the experience of one of the sellers with the creeping privacy issues with the PR from Etsy on one of the comment threads. Basically, the seller describes privacy issues that began with Etsy encouraging people to fill in and display their real name to create a “community”, and ended with them doing this silly opt-out BS. They hated it because it got in the way of actually selling things, and came at the expense of other features that would have been more useful to develop.

The PR guy said:

We encourage the use of your real name and the sharing of your purchases and favorites because Etsy is a handmade marketplace where people connect and exchange. Part of being “handmade” is knowing who you’re connecting with — who you’re buying from, and who’s buying from you. Real people buy from other real people on Etsy. It’s different than buying from a retail site, and the rules followed by traditional retail sites do not always apply. We actually want to change how commerce works, and provide a platform for more meaningful and mindful transactions. You can call us hippies if you want, but we’re not nefarious and we’re not violating the trust of our members.

That’s some high-quality BS. Basically “we want to exploit your relationships like Facebook does”.

Since then, a few things have happened:

Etsy has decided to make feedback from sellers about buyers invisible. It in no way addresses the People Search privacy concerns, and makes Etsy a less useful place for sellers as they can no longer figure out whether or not a buyer is trustworthy. They also announced plans to address privacy concerns in the near future. Not like, rolling back the service that no one wants and everyone is a bit creeped out by, but something. Soon, too! They promise not more than days and days after the damage has been done.

Also, lot of sites that aren’t kickin’ rad members of the new media elite finally got around to reporting on this.

For more see:

Ars Technica, one of the first big sites to pick up the story. Also has some interesting stuff in the comments section, as we see the first attempts at damage control by Etsy president Rob Kalin

BoingBoing, Blog of note, has a short blurb that mostly references the Ars posting, but also fields some comments from Rob and disgruntled Ex Etsy users.

Consumerist, big-time consumer info blog, was understandably piqued by the news.

Forbes, big-time actual for real business news thing, giving a pretty reasoned and well investigated take from the perspective of possible business ramifications. Interestingly, according to the article “An FTC decision from an incident at Gateway Computers in 2004 specifies that companies must get opt-in consent from users before making a material change to privacy policies. An email sent out notifying customers of a change likely doesn’t count.” That’s really sensible! I wonder if anyone has ever actually been made aware of this fact.

MSNBC, third-place but still pretty serious giant news organization, even got in on the story!

Regretsy is just kind of funny, if occasionally NSFW.

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