In an attempt to make their site more social (Facebook style), Etsy, the Brooklyn based startup online retailer of crafts and handmade products, recently released a social networking tool called People Search to help buyers and sellers become friends(?).
With this new People Search tool, we’re expanding on the search tool that’s available in Your Circle and making it available across the whole site. Now you can search through ALL Etsy members and filter by Sellers or Non-Sellers. You even have the option to add someone to your Circle right then and there! People Search will be replacing Sellers Search in the site header search dropdown.
We’re carrying over all of the privacy settings from Sellers Search so you can still hide your real name from search in your Profile.
Not bad. But the site forgot to notify its users about the changes in the privacy settings, which now defaults to revealing your name, items that you’ve purchased or made favorite, and any other personal information. People purchasing items off of Etsy remained unaware of their information suddenly becoming public.
Now the whole Internet knows you bought this coffee cup holder.
While users may not have entered their real names upon registration, they are still searchable by user names and, better yet, purchase histories are starting to show up in Google results for their names. And no one told buyers that all their purchases were now public and indexable by Search Engines.
An article by Jane Little over at Arstechnica.com points out that:
Even if users haven’t entered their full names, their profiles are still searchable by username. Even better, people’s Etsy profiles and their purchase histories (via the feedback they leave) are beginning to show up under Google results for their names. Even if the buyer didn’t leave feedback, a seller could leave feedback for the buyer and still expose what that person purchased.
Here’s Etsy’s apology(? or its best explanation about the issue):
Yesterday and today there have been several articles reporting that purchases on Etsy are public. The articles have led to concerns by members of our community.
We want to apologize. We also want to set the record straight about how our product works and about changes we made today in response to your feedback.
Are my purchases on Etsy public?
No. As of right now, all your purchases on Etsy are private.
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.
If nothing has recently changed, what’s going on?
There is a lot of misinformation being spread right now. One blog post even has the outlandish title “Etsy Makes All Of Its Users’ Activity Public.” This is simply untrue. On Etsy, private conversations, financial information, billing data — all are now and have always been strictly private.
There was an article published on ArsTechnica that made clear how direct the connection was between using your real name on Etsy, buying an item and receiving public feedback for that item. The reaction to this article has made us realize that we need to change the way our Feedback system works, and this is what we’ve already done today.
Why make any changes to the Feedback system?
The article and response highlighted for us how we’ve outgrown our current Feedback system. It dates back to a time when payment for items was sent after completing the checkout process on Etsy. This meant that sellers needed to know how trustworthy their buyer was. We now require payment prior to completing checkout, so this issue has basically gone away.
We believe that markets are conversations. We want people to discuss what they purchase, although this will often mean discussing it in private. As such, we have removed the link from a piece of feedback (which is public) to the item that was purchased (which is now private).
What is Etsy’s view on privacy?
We take privacy very seriously. We work with TRUSTe and audit our privacy policies regularly, notifying all members via email any time a substantive change is made.
In the future, we may provide an option to share individual purchases publicly at the time of purchase. This will be completely opt-in and on a purchase-by-purchase basis.
We are deeply sorry for any confusion and will work hard to regain your trust.
We have been working quickly to make changes based on your input and opinions. We will continue to work on this, for what’s really needed is a rethinking of our entire Feedback system. In the meantime, all purchases are private, and feedback doesn’t link to items.
If you have any more questions or concerns, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or convo us directly on Etsy.
Rob (CEO) and Adam (COO)
Seems like a lot of skirting around the real issue here. Etsy Exposes Buyers Activity Online. Period.