31 March 2009; revised 14 June 2009
Once again, proving beyond any doubt that—contrary to eBay’s claims—eBay does not have any proactive system in place for the detection of even such blatantly obvious and naïve shill bidding as the below quoted example (let alone the more sophisticated forms thereof that users have now got absolutely no chance of detecting) and, again, such examples can only reinforce the conclusion that, notwithstanding eBay’s statements about shill bidding being strictly prohibited, eBay is concerned about shill bidding only to the extent that they cannot deliberately obscure it totally without appearing to be even less principled than they already appear to be, that is, without going into negative values for the measurement of such matters.
Seller ID: salguerosartsngifts
Item Nr: 350181526972
Auction ended: 29 March 2009
The “bid history” details that suggest that this underbidder is a shill are:
Bids on this item: 34 [‘nibble’ bids to ascertain the genuine bidder’s proxy bid maximum]
Total bids: 190 [That’s a lot of ‘nibbling’]
Items bid on: 41 [And all from only one seller!]
Bid activity (%) with this seller: 100% [Maybe it’s a Wal-Mart outlet?]
(In anticipation of the data for this auction becoming no longer available, facsimile copies of the relevant “Bid History” pages are included below.)
So, in the preceding 30 days this underbidder made 190 bids on 41 items (of various types) all from the one seller only. Further, you may notice that this underbidder stopped his “nibble” bidding at the point when he equaled the maximum proxy bid value of the ultimate buyer (we know that because the genuine bidder’s bid did not automatically advance any further, and so the shill did not even need to withdraw an “overbid” to reinstate the genuine bidder as the winner).
The underbidder would also have understood that only one more incremental bid was required for him to win the item; but he did not make that one more bid. What then is the chance that this underbidder is not a most naïve and blatant shill bidder? Absolutely none!
And, what then about the many other items from this seller that this underbidder has placed multiple bids on but undoubtedly failed to win?
And, more importantly, what then about the little more sophisticated forms of shill bidding that, due to eBay’s application of “hidden bidders”, buyers have now got absolutely no chance of detecting?
In this particular instance the only genuine bidder’s bid was artificially increased from the starting price of $49.00 to the bidder’s final maximum proxy bid value of $205.00.
Let’s not bother asking eBay why they cannot programmatically detect such blatantly obvious shill bidding activity from such damning statistics because most of us already know that eBay is simply not concerned about shill bidding—it has, per se, no detrimental effect on eBay’s “bottom line”—at least not in the short term. The long term, surely, is another matter. One can only conclude that, so long as such abuse of the system is not noticed and reported by anyone, eBay sees no problem—for them that is! Of course, this is an unconscionable attitude: quite unbelievable—well, maybe not!
And, of course, the latest devious action by eBay, if you have not already noticed, is the periodic (quarterly?) changing of even these already masked bidding aliases! Some people naively believe eBay’s story that the reason that they introduced “hidden bidders” was to protect underbidders from fraudulent “second chance offers”. What purpose then does the periodic changing of these already masked bidding aliases serve? Absolutely no purpose, other than to make it even more difficult for genuine bidders to try to keep track of suspected shill bidders over time.
Users now have got a better chance of keeping track of a suspected shill bidder by their accompanying feedback count value rather than by the actual alias! With respect to enabling genuine bidders to protect themselves from shill bidders, the current periodically-dynamic alias (ie, “a***b”) is very little better than the original, outrageous, absolutely anonymous, dynamic alias (ie, “Bidder x”) that was previously in use (and is still in use in the UK).
I would not then be surprised if the next devious step by eBay in “solving the problem of shill bidding” was the removal of the bidder’s accompanying feedback count so that, in combination with the periodic changing of these masked aliases and the fact that these aliases are not even unique, it would then be effectively impossible for anyone to track a suspected shill bidder over any period of time.
Even now, the shill-bidding seller with a little more “grey matter” only needs to develop a few more shilling accounts (with his like-minded friends) and rotate them during the 30-Day Summary period and/or the period that the alias is static. And, of course, the use of a dial-up connection (where everyone using that ISP has the same IP address) or a broadband connection with a non-static IP address would help the shill avoid any post-auction detection by eBay’s primitive data matching.
And, now that the “winning” bidder has also been masked other users cannot easily warn an unsuspecting winning bidder that they have been taken to the cleaners. Although an experienced eBayer would undoubtedly notice and be concerned about the activity of the underbidder in this particular case, many unsuspecting buyers (including the winning bidder of this auction) may not realize that they are being defrauded. (And is it not then strange that, notwithstanding the reasons given by eBay for the masking of the “winning” bidder elsewhere, in the UK the “winning” bidder was not there similarly anonymised until six months later in May 2009? And what does that tell us about the genuineness of eBay’s given reasons?)
The 30-Day Summary on the “Bid History Details” page for this underbidder is now out of date, and the 90-day on-line data-display period for this auction is approaching, so I have included below JPG copies of the original Bid History pages.
Do have a look at the auction Bid History page, which displays one of the most blatant and naïve examples of “nibble” shill bidding that could possibly be observed, and then have a look at the “Bid History Detail” page for this underbidder whose masked alias was at the time “h***r (133)” but will be different in real time next month/quarter! (I’ve not been able to find an eBay announcement regarding the periodic changing of these already masked aliases, nor the reason therefor; the cycle of change appears to be three-monthly.)
You may also notice that this seller is still trading on eBay (albeit without any more blatantly obvious shill bidding from bidder “h***r”) and not even restricted to fixed-price selling. Let’s face it, eBay cannot afford to de-register all the shill bidders, as I suspect such an action would have a noticeable detrimental effect on their bottom line, and more importantly, those executive performance bonuses: you know, those “performance” bonuses that they aren’t presently getting, because they aren’t performing!
As a matter of interest, also copied below is the same “Bid History Details” page for this underbidder as it appears seven weeks later on 21 May; this is the “Bidder information” currently displayed for this bidder. Notice that all the 30-Day Summary and Bid History information that was previously so suggestive of shill bidding is no longer present. This shows how limited is the value of this information and how simple it is for an unscrupulous seller of any sophistication to manipulate same over a relatively short period of time.
eBay spends a great deal of effort in the media and elsewhere trying to convince users of the “security” of their system and that eBay is “a safe place to trade”. It would therefore be unfair to call anyone, who makes use of eBay’s “proxy” bidding system to early-on lodge a maximum value bid, a fool. I would simply say that, given that eBay’s proxy bidding system is so clearly open to abuse by shill-bidding sellers, you would have to be at least naïve to the ways of eBay to do so.
The outrageousness then of this situation is that if the genuine bidder does not look at the other bidders’ bid history pages and therefore is not made aware of (or, due to the sophistication of the shilling, cannot be made aware of) and does not report any suspicious activity (assuming one can find one’s way through the convoluted, maze-like process that one has to negotiate to make such a report), then eBay does nothing! That deserves to be repeated: eBay does nothing!
The human brain can easily ascertain—beyond any doubt—that the underbidder in this case is a shill (whether or not the winning bidder is also involved is another matter), and I appreciate that it is not simply a matter of a bit of “if, then” analysis of the auction data for eBay to produce an effective “shill probability” evaluation that could be applied to all bidders so that buyers could be more easily forewarned of any possible underlying untoward activity, but eBay has had many years to do something about this scourge on their system and, clearly, they have done nothing! They don’t, as a matter of course, even make a simple, pre-emptive IP address comparison between an auction’s seller and the bidders thereon.
For anyone that is interested there is a brief discussion on “Using Data Mining to Detect Fraud in Auctions” at http://www.tgc.com/dsstar/00/0627/101834.html . Clearly, this is the course that a principled organisation, the size of eBay, should be taking to detect and control the scourge of shill bidding, and it is a sad reflection on the business ethics of eBay that they appear totally disinterested in doing so …
Quote: “The large-scale nature of auction transactions can make it difficult to ferret out fraudulent practices using standard analytical methods. On eBay, bidding histories and user feedback records are not stored for long, … due to cost considerations and storage capacity limitations. It appears that whatever analysis eBay does conduct is on a limited data set and performed after the auction has been closed. A better approach would be to detect fraud dynamically (live) because sales need not be voided, and more data need not be stored if capacity and costs still remain an issue.”
Unfortunately, it appears that eBay is not prepared to concede that shill bidding is a problem at all, I presume because to do so (and to then allocate sufficient resources to the task of doing something effective about it) would undoubtedly detrimentally affect their “bottom line”. Why else is any mention of specific cases of shill bidding, removed so quickly from the eBay forums? Yes, I know, “privacy”. Even general discussions of shill bidding that expose eBay’s disingenuousness to the matter is usually promptly removed. The fact is, with the introduction of “hidden bidders,” sophisticated shills now have enough “privacy” to go about their work with absolutely no fear of detection.
In eBay’s “phony” war on shill bidding, eBay regularly reminds us that they have access to much more information (registrant information such as users’ unique static IDs, email addresses, IP addresses, credit card / bank account numbers, etc) than the genuine bidder can ever have access to. Indeed, eBay does have all the records necessary to detect with some certainty all but the most extremely sophisticated examples of such criminal activity; yet eBay deliberately chooses to do nothing proactively, and will only act after a user, on the basis of much more limited information, reports a suspicious pattern of bidding.
Clearly, this example shows that eBay does not have any truly “sophisticated” tools for the detection and control of shill bidding; it would appear that their only “tool” is some primitive post-auction data matching of records between seller and bidder(s), and then only if a user has first reported the matter. If there is no report or no matching data, and there won’t be if the shill-bidding seller is at all smart, then there is no problem …
And then, even when there is matching data, blatant offenders are given multiple thrashings with a feather (“because people are basically honest …”) before any serious, albeit temporary, sanction is applied. I suspect that “IDs” are permanently banned only when there is media coverage of such criminal activity, and it is criminal. Surely, this effective “aiding and abetting” of fraudsters by eBay is extremely unethical, if not also criminal.
The point then is not simply that a bidder should “bid only what he is prepared to pay” but never to “proxy” bid at all, and only bid your maximum bid at the latest practicable moment, for to do otherwise is simply an invitation to indeed pay the maximum that you have indicated that are prepared to pay. Of course, “sniping” defeats the concept of the open bidding process that one expects at an “auction” and turns it into the equivalent of a closed tender process. Then, some say that it is Captain Donahoe’s intention to kill off auctions in favour of fixed-price sales.
Bear in mind also that the reason given by eBay for the introduction of “hidden bidders” (to stop fraudulent “second chance offers”) was always patently disingenuous: the problem of fraudulent SCOs being targeted directly to underbidders was effectively stopped by eBay’s blocking of access to users’ direct email addresses. The conclusion then must be that “hidden bidders” never had any purpose other than to do what it does, in fact, do: obscure all but the most naïve of shill bidding, so that eBay can avoid having to waste any of their valuable resources doing anything effective about it. “Hidden bidders” has also stopped third-parties (eg, Goofbay) from providing sophisticated “shill probability” analysis services to eBay buyers, that is, a service that eBay itself should be providing to protect its consumers, but isn’t.
And, I am not interested in hearing about people who, even after access to users’ direct email addresses was blocked, were supposedly still being taken in by fraudulent SCOs being sent to them via the eBay messaging system. You would have to be a total idiot to be taken in by such a text message from another “registered” (ha, ha, ha) user who was identifiably not the seller, and such a user’s mental defect should not be eBay’s problem.
Then there is the nonsensical reason given for the subsequent anonymising of the “winning” bidder also. Once again, disingenuous. As eBay has blocked access to users’ direct email addresses, a winning bidder is no more likely to receive a scam eBay email targeted directly to them than is any other registered eBay user. Indeed, regardless, a winning bidder is still going to receive the same non-targeted scam eBay emails that even non-eBay users regularly receive.
Finally, don’t let me get started on that other outrageous eBay device, the seller-selected “User ID kept private”; what I describe as eBay’s “classic shill bidders’ tool”. If ever an instrument shouted “I am going to cheat you”, this is it, and eBay knows it …
eBay’s has ever had a disingenuous attitude to the crime of shill bidding, and eBay has either deliberately (or stupidly) exacerbated the situation with the introduction of “hidden bidders”, and undoubtedly this action will hurt both the honest sellers and eBay itself in the long term. Unfortunately, Captain Donahoe and his subordinate officers are apparently not smart enough to realize this. (My God, have any of these people ever bought or sold anything on eBay? Do they have any understanding of what eBay actually is?)
Then, eBay is still making a lot of money, very easily, too easily to be worried about their de facto facilitating of such petty fraud (and some not so petty, undoubtedly) on their users. But, the financial accounts of this large public company are now indicating that the chicken are starting to come home to roost, and the indications are that it is not the economic situation but the poor decisions of these unscrupulous and/or incompetent executives that is tipping this once-greater company down the toilet. Of course, the eBay shareholders have every right to allow this downward spiral to continue, but their company should not have the right to “aid and abet” the defrauding of we consumers on their way down the sewer.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), assuming that they actually read and understood the gist of my earlier submission to them on “hidden bidders”
has expressed the opinion[link thereto] that this patently devious eBay auction “operating structure” is not something that they are prepared to do anything about. So much for the protection of consumers from unscrupulous traders. And what about all the other consumer protection agencies throughout the rest of the world? Are they doing anything? Apparently not.
Regrettably, when you peel away all the eBay “spin”, eBay is exposed as a most unscrupulous, disingenuous and unprincipled organisation that is quite prepared to do absolutely anything to protect its “bottom line”, and to do absolutely nothing proactively to stop this, in effect, “aiding and abetting” of unscrupulous shill-bidding sellers to defraud consumers, because they are not prepared to waste any of their valuable resources to do so: quite unconscionable!
For people buying on eBay, eBay is definitely no longer “a safe and fun place to trade.” Not that it ever actually was that, but it’s simply much less safe now.
If you found this comment on eBay’s application of “hidden bidders” of interest, then you may also find of interest some of my other postings [link to index thereto] critical of eBay.
PS: A question I do have if anyone knows the answer: does a “mutually agreed” withdrawal of a bid show on a bidder’s statistics as a “Bid retraction”, or does this statistic only measure unilaterally retracted bids?
The Auction “Bid History”
The winner’s “Bid History Details”
The underbidder’s “Bid History Details”
The underbidder’s “Bid History Details” +50 days
A comment on the structure of the “Bid History” pages
Because of the anonymity of the information on bidders’ Bid History “Details” pages and, particularly, the “rolling” nature of a bidder’s 30-Day Summary and Bid History list, this information is of very little value: there is no way of knowing even if any of the auctions in the list are still current or have ended; only, apparently, that the bidder is/was winning an auction (the green numerals) at some stage; what purpose does that serve if you don’t know if the auction is current or not? And of what value is the “Last Bid” time, again, when you don’t know if the auction is current or not?
The sophisticated shill can very easily work around and develop covering bid histories for his shill IDs under such a scheme. All in all, a shambles that could only have been thought up by either a very disingenuous or very stupid person.
Now, if eBay had actually thought that this information was going to be of any real value and they really wanted to make it easier for buyers to detect suspicious patterns of bidding (which has to be doubtful), instead of burying this information multiple dialogue-page-steps deep where many won’t see it, they could have just as easily also included the most material of this bidder information on the primary “Bid History” page, and some of the same additional information for the current high bidder could have been included on the primary Item View page (although it is mostly going to be an underbidder who is going to be doing the shill work), eg:
But, as I have previously stated, the facts indicate that “hidden bidders” was most likely introduced primarily to obscure all but the most blatant of shill bidding, so I would not hold my breath waiting for anything logical to emerge. eBay management are presently too busy trying to figure out how they can make the “books” give the appearance that eBay is actually making progress; when, of course, most users know the very opposite is the case …
I always refer to eBay users as “users”, for to refer to them as “members”, as eBay does, is to imply that the organisation is run for some benefit of those “members”—it is not. No action taken (or not taken) by eBay management has anything to do with benefitting or protecting eBay users (buyers or sellers): eBay’s every action (or lack thereof) is purposed solely towards desperately attempting to improve the appearance of eBay’s bottom line by whatever means necessary—undoubtedly more to do with the protecting of executive performance bonuses (or jobs) than with any direct consideration for shareholders—and if at any time there appears to be some benefit to eBay “users”, that will be purely coincidental.
Clearly, the lunatics at eBay have taken over the asylum and are bent on burning it down.
“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.” ~ Albert Einstein.