eBay Changing E-Mail Policy to Help Prevent Spam

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Online auction site eBay said this week that it plans in mid-February to change its e-mail policy to help prevent spam and stop address harvesting.

The company would forward all e-mail sent to registered users, rather than allow them to contact each other directly.

The company said in a note to members that it will change the way its "Email Address Request" and "Ask Seller a Question" features work. As it works now, any registered user on the eBay service can access another registered users' e-mail address, even if they are not the buyer and seller. Under the new e-mail plan, registered users who want to contact another eBay member will have to fill out a "Contact an eBay Member" form and include their message on the form. eBay will then forward the message to the intended recipient.

"These changes will make it more difficult for e-mail address 'harvesters' to collect e-mail addresses on eBay," the company said in its note to members. "Spam-related issues are a top cause of customer complaints and we are dedicated to fixing the problem."

The company also suggested that registered users that use their e-mail address as their user ID should consider changing it to a nickname so third parties cannot get their e-mail address from the eBay site. Anyone who registers as a member after the new e-mail policy takes effect will not be allowed to use their e-mail address as their user ID.

"We believe that this is the right move as we have implemented internal tools along with enhancements to Bid History and Bidder Search to effectively address the concern (about spam)," eBay said.

The company opened a can of worms in late December when it warned 100,000 members that their preferences for using its service and opting out of promotional and other messages were to be reset, leading some to question the message's legitimacy and others to raise the issue of spam.

The reason for the message was to alert registered members that there was a bug in the company's registration software, said Henry Gomez, an eBay spokesman. The bug automatically set members opt-in preferences default to "no", effectively opting them out of receiving further messages -- promotional and otherwise -- from the company. Those defaults normally are automatically set to "yes," he said.

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