eBay Town Hall Shows More Contempt for Users & More Illegal Activity by Executives
After listening to the Town Hall, you might initially think that the "big" story is eBay's refusal to answer the "tough" questions and that the Town Hall is nothing more than an eBay propaganda show. You would be partially correct. The big story however is that the show was a representative depiction of the company at the current time. It was a colorful affair with lots of big hitters, recorded in a conference room with executives and members of VOICES present to represent the "community," but the Town Hall exposed the core of eBay under all of the glitz and organization - and revealed what many of us already knew...that current management is incompetent, untruthful, hypocritical, and unprepared and that their policies are unproven, unfounded and probably unlawful. If you didn't catch any of that when listening, get comfortable and I'll explain.
When the Town Hall started I got on my cell and called the TH line. I got through to the call screener immediately. She asked me my name and hometown. I told her my name, Josh, and gave her my hometown. She did not ask for eBay ID. She asked me if I had a question for the TH. I said, "Yes, can you tell me why posts are being removed from the Town Hall question thread on the discussion boards and why is eBay censoring members who do not violate policy." She told me to hold while she put the question through. After a short while, she returned and said, "they're not going to answer that question." When asked why, she declined to comment and suggested that I post it to the discussion board thread.....which is all fine and dandy, except that I've received a 30 day sanction from eBay moderators for posing questions that did not violate policy, but rather ones that eBay simply did not like having on the forum for the whole world to see.
The TH started off with a question about the new SYI form that will replace the previous SYI2.0 at the beginning of May. The panel of eBay executives and employees were unable to answer the question or diagnose the issue with the buggy new form. A cynic like myself wonders why tens of millions of dollars worth of brains could not answer this question only 30-some-odd days before everyone is forced to use the new SYI form. (time approx. 15:20)
(Time 40:34) A voices member asks how eBay decides what programs and policies to implement. He was told that members are "invited" in to new programs (such as the new SYI form). Which is a blatant lie. Over the past 6 months I've been "invited" to several new programs for testing. My "invitation" was waking up in the morning and noticing that eBay had changed something, such as the SYI form, search results, headers etc. with no forewarning and absolutely no option. Apparently eBay confuses the word "invite" with the word "subpoena." eBay also alluded to smaller items being tested by a 1% sample of users. Then if the buyers and sellers like the new function they move to implement the changes. Problem is though, how does eBay find out if buyers and sellers like the new function? I've noticed changes in some of my basic functions and was never asked to provide eBay with feedback. It should also be said that I've seen these changes in passing on several of my posting and/or inactive ID's (I currently have upwards of 25). So does eBay try to ensure that the 1% test group for any given product is actually an active member? It would seem that, no, they have not.
(Time 43:40) Someone asked why sellers have to pay Paypal fees on shipping costs. The question seemed like a rhetorical question to me, and was answered much that I guessed it would be. However, the telling part of the question is how the panel joked about the question and how condescending their tone was towards the question.
(Time 49:20) A caller asked another question about the glitchy new SYI form, and why the HTML when posted to the new form makes custom tables and templates go kaflooey. First Griff acts if the caller is just too stupid to know where to paste the HTML, despite the caller mentioning that he is a regular sellers. Then Jim Ambach goes into a monologue about parsing and some style tags not working properly. Griff asks Jim if there is any special tag that screws up the look. Ambach says to stick to basic HTML and you should be fine.....which of course is no comfort to anyone using basic HTML and still having the problem.
The next question was about excessive shipping and why reported auctions with ~$15 shipping for a 4 ounce item were not getting pulled from eBay. Cobb of course had no idea and said he'd look into it. This was not a tough question, nor was it a question about a touchy subject - just a basic "how comes" question. The question makes one wonder what Cobb actually does all day to deserve the tens of millions of dollars in salary and stock incentives and bonuses. The question is posed on a daily basis on the eBay community forums. Cobb in a previous radio show said that management does read the forums for feedback and suggestions. If so, why wasn't this issue resolved? It is probably one of the top three recurring questions across the boards, and it is asked by both buyers and sellers.
After hearing the HTML question, I once again called the Town Hall line. I got through to the call screener pretty quickly and she once again asked my name and hometown. This time rather than using my middle name like I always do, I used my first name, Clinton. I was also honest about my hometown (wouldn't want to try to sneak something by eBay by lying after publicly admonishing them for their lies). She asked my question, and I told her that I actually had an answer to a previous question that the panel got wrong and really didn't know the solution to. She put me on hold and came back shortly and said that they would take my comment.
(Time 59:40) I got through to the panel and Griff put me on the air and said my name and hometown. (keep in mind that I had already called from the same number and asked a question that the panel refused to address).
ME: As far as the new SYI form, the reason it screws up the tables is because the sellers need to optimize their whitespace and remove all the whitespace so that it pastes the HTML all as one block.
GRIFF: Oh I see and I think I understand what you are saying..... ....And it has worked for you by removing all the white space?
ME: Yeah, and any WYSIWYG editor will do it for you if you go to the code and right click on the code and optimize the whitespace.
AMBACH: Is this caller looking for a job.
BILL: yeah Ambach, because we'd hire Clinton.
AMBACH: We certainly will.
GRIFF: So Clinton stay on the line and we'll be talking to you afterwards. That's a wonderful example of how this community helps each other, we really appreciate it.
ME: Can I ask another question?
GRIFF: Oh please, in fact you've earned it, go ahead.
ME: How many posts were pulled from the discussion forum and why?
GRIFF: About which particular issue?
ME: For one the Auction For America in 2001 where eBay said they hoped to profit and break even with the Auction for America after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
I was then cut off and Rachel Makool started on some damage control BS about "tough questions." Keep in mind that there were over 500 questions posed on the TH question thread of the community discussion forums and up until the start of the program (a fair estimate would be) 98% of them were "tough" - tough in that they were questions about eBay's lies, deceit, profiteering, hypocrisy, glitches, scams, hackers, hijackings, poor eBay management, incompetent executives...etc. Many of the posted questions were removed. Firemeg (my eBay posting ID) had at least 6 posts removed and received a 30 day suspension for asking questions that apparently eBay interpreted as "disruptive" while breaking no actual policy in the process. How many posts were pulled in total is anyone's guess, but I'll bet eBay is the only one that knows the exact number.
I find it disturbing that a group of executives and employees with yearly compensation into the tens of millions of dollars with access to high tech equipment could not prevent the outspoken webmaster for one of the most eBay-management critical websites from not only getting through to the panel, but also (even with a full 30 second - I checked - time delay) could not prevent a "disruptive" or "tough" question from being asked. If eBay can't control the security to a silly little radio call-in show, how are we users supposed to believe that eBay can control the security of a multi-national website with hundreds of millions of users and tens of thousands of servers? We know that eBay has some major security issues, yet eBay denies any such issues (even after they are proven).
(Time 1:07:15) On January 17th eBay required all new sellers to accept Paypal and/or a merchant CC as a form of payment, why is this not being enforced. Here the panel admits that they had to do "some building." And Bill Cobb stupidly admits that he didn't know there was no method in place to keep new sellers from not using Paypal. HEY BILL! Wake Up! Tell Meg to get her own coffee and do something productive! Why is it that members of the community seem to know more about the happenings of the site that you do?
Someone grab a lawyer and take a look at this precedent. The executives at the TH basically stated that eBay instituted a policy that they had no way of enforcing. Which is exactly why eBay sued Australia's Big Day Out organizers (and won) just 3 1/2 months ago in a Federal court case. eBay was upset because the Big Day Out organizers were placing wording on their tickets that any ticket bought and resold on eBay would not be honored. They simply did not want eBay and others profiting from their event at the expense of concert goers who wanted to attend the even but could not get tickets. Big Day Out placed the wording on the tickets to attempt to keep scalpers from buying all the tickets. (Not a bad idea, if event organizers wanted the concert to be prohibitively expensive to some fans, they would have just made the tickets more expensive in the first place). The Federal judges found in eBay's favor in the case because Big Day Out organizers, Creative Festival Entertainment, had nothing in place that would actually prevent the scalping of tickets on eBay or anyway of knowing where the tickets had been purchased.
One judge in the case said that Creative "did not have reasonable grounds to make the representation that every ticket resold for profit would be cancelled." Therefore Creative and Big Day Out could not follow through on their own policy towards any concert goer who was suspected of purchasing a scalped ticket. Yet in the recent TH, Bill Cobb and other executives admit that eBay has absolutely no way of catching new users who do not offer Paypal or merchant CC as a form of payment. In fact, it seems the only way eBay is using to catch ANYONE violating this unenforceable policy is for fellow members to police the site and report other users who are in violation.
Why was a concert promoter sued by eBay for a policy that had nothing to do with eBay except that the company did not want eBay to be a beneficiary of their concert, yet eBay is doing the EXACT same thing with their new seller payment policy? It's been 2 1/2 months since the policy went into effect and still eBay has no way of enforcing their policy; in fact, eBay knew they had no way to enforce it when it was announced. This safe payment policy was actually enacted the day it was announced in a speech by Bill Cobb at an ecommerce convention. Whether Cobb knew about the lack of proper code and/or physical means to enforce the payment policy is moot. Fact is, eBay is in direct violation of the same reasoning that Creative Festival Entertainment used to prevent ticket scalping.
Class action anyone?
(Time 1:21:45) Is eBay considering removal of the new "hidden bidder policy?" This is a good question. It is hated by everyone that I've spoken to personally, and by buyers and sellers alike. The opponents to the Hidden Bidder Policy are very vocal and thousands of them have posted to the different community discussion forums on eBay, Pheebay and similar sites. The consensus of the community is that eBay users feel less safe with the Hidden Bidder Policy and many feel that shill bidding has increased since unscrupulous sellers now cannot be policed by fellow members.
Matt Halprin from Trust & Safety fielded this question. When he first answered, he acted like he didn't understand the question or even what the Hidden Bidder Policy was. Then by the grace of God, he realized (or pretended) that "Hidden Bidder Policy" was actually eBay's SMI policy. If you take the time to listen to the show, notice the tone of Halprin's voice. If Halprin honestly didn't know that millions of users worldwide are calling SMI the "Hidden Bidder Policy" he should be immediately fired for being so oblivious to the concerns of the community and being so out of touch with eBay users. If he did know the "slang" for SMI and was just being condescending, everyone should email him and let him know that you think he's an ass.
Halprin said that SMI has had no adverse affect on bidding. Well Matt, I have stopped bidding on items once they hit the $200 mark, as have many other buyers. Oh, and not all of us are as dumb as you'd hoped....we understand that you are correct when you say that the reports of shill bidding has gone down since the SMI was put in place. OF COURSE IT HAS! HOW CAN USERS REPORT WHAT THEY CANNOT SEE ANYMORE??? Halprin also said that nobody wanted to institute this policy...buyers didn't want it either, and neither did sellers...so why was it done? Bid shillers just love the SMI policy - they seem to be the only one.
At the end of the Town Hall, Griff and the other members of the panel all thanked Rachel Makool and one member even mentioned that she was the MVP. Why? Because she reacted to an embarrassing lapse with a BS answer. Why does eBay place such a high level of importance on damage control, company spin and public relations mending after the fact?
Before the TH began, the TH question thread was filled with angry questions and comments from experienced users including Powersellers, but virtually none of those questions were answered. While listening to the TH broadcast I kept refreshing the TH question thread to see how many questions were being pulled. Although it was hard to get an accurate count, there were definitely dozens of questions (posts) being removed as the TH was going on. One caller who was not put on the air asked why firemeg was sanctioned for asking tough questions, and others were simply hung up on when they asked questions that threatened to show eBay in a negative light. Callers who asked about Romanian hacker, Vladuz, were told that eBay had already addressed the issue in the press and that they would comment no further.
I recommend that everyone listen to the Town Hall from last Thursday. eBay provides three different methods for listening to the show depending on which media player you have on your computer. I've only scratched the surface of the asinine comments and answers that were given by the panel of eBay executives. While you listen, keep in mind that these are not low-level customer service reps who are stumbling through responses and unable to answer questions, but rather CEO's and vice presidents and high ranking employees and executives in eBay management. These people should be able to answer any question asked by an everyday eBay user without hesitation and without spin, but they could not. This TH could have been an opportunity for the panel to clear some things up and also to educate some users about the dangers of account hijackings and scams, but instead they used it as a PR show for eBay and an advertisement for eBay Live in Boston.