Ebay is a phenomenon. Over the years in the wake of the dot.com meltdown, ebay has sustained itself as a popular and powerful player. In fact, as an online business, it is one of the few major forces that actually make a profit. This is all the more remarkable, since at present the overall economic outlook in the United States is relatively grim. Why, then is ebay such a force in the world of the internet? What makes it special from other internet players, traditional auctions and related businesses?
The following is an exploration into what ebay "is", revealing pointers at what makes it such a success. The research is broken down into four main components: starting off with a thorough investigation of what makes ebay a business enterprise followed by aspects of ebay as an online community. This leads into the "psychology" of ebay, which then ties into questions raised by security & information gathering processes - is ebay actually an Orwellian nightmare?
Compared with other online businesses ebay is relatively safe. This is not an opinion, but a fact. All the data that is gathered on users before they register as seller/bidder maintains that a user is traceable, and she or he is actually the person involved in a commercial transaction. The credit card features, bidbay, paypal and other options. These are safe, given the personalized access key that always needs to be verified by entering a password. However, as soon as it comes to personally dealing with a buyer/seller, for example when a money order is to be sent via "snail mail", there is potential for abuse.
Yes, ebay has a lot of helpful hints and do nots for this process, but who can guarantee that one entity does not hand over an email address to a mass spam direct marketing firm. Also, the level of trust is very high, since a lot of personal and highly sensitive personal data travels back and forth between seller/buyer. Using the money order process, this information can include: name, address, phone #, email, and what bank this person uses. Given the assumption of honesty and trust, this works out just fine, but what if...? On this note Berlind at ZDNet maintains:
eBay's transgression is slightly worse than Yahoo's in that the information must be supplied a second time even though the user is engaged primarily in the same basic task--the auction process. Even if you're already logged in, you have to re-enter your ID and password to contact another eBay user. The page where this information is requested does not offer the option to provide this information securely (as eBay's main log-in page does). (1)
Significantly, Berlind probes the “worst-case” scenario:
In my tests, I decoded my own PC's packets as I logged in securely to both eBay and Yahoo, and then accessed the features I suspected were transmitting my personal information in clear text. Sure enough, there they were--my user IDs and passwords as clear as day. Even worse, in both cases, they not only appeared one after the other, but they were also clearly identified with labels like "userid=" and "password=". It was like a giant road sign saying, "David Berlind's Passwords: This Way." (2)