Ben Laurie blathering

Enigma and Privacy

As I’m sure you’ve seen from elsewhere, there’s an Enigma machine for sale on eBay. This is pretty cool, but what intrigues me more is the buying record of the first bidder.

Firstly, it’s fascinating because he seems to buy all sorts of strange stuff, from fantastically expensive damaged zoom lenses to 500 foot of bandsaw blade. And he never sells any of it. At least, not under that name.

But the other thing that interests me is the correctness of publishing the list of purchases. Certainly I find it very useful to help to establish the trustworthiness of a seller, but does that give me the right to see it? You could argue that the fact that they have a pseudonymous ID protects them – but it only takes one slip to blow that out of the water permanently.

And if its OK to show purchases (and sales), then why stop there? Why should I not be able to retrieve their entire bidding history? Or all their Paypal transactions?

My default answer to these questions is simple: no, its wrong to show any of this information. Unless you can anonymise it, don’t publish it. But eBay wouldn’t, I suspect, work unless this kind of stuff was available to buyers.

Its an interesting dilemma.

1 Comment

  1. The display of items won is because eBay’s feedback is itemized, per-transaction. I honestly have my doubts as to just how useful this is, though I did – once – manage to spot some people running a bidding-fraud deal on eBay, with six accounts who listed items, bid on each other’s items, and left feedback for each other – by looking at their feedback.

    eBay is hardly pseudonymous – win any auction, and you’ve got the seller’s name, address, and phone number – and they’ve got yours. Yes, there’s a small element of privacy, but if you know someone’s e-mail address, you can find their eBay account, if they have one.

    Personally, I don’t think I’d ever buy food on eBay. CDs, sure, comic books, maybe, but crackers? I dunno. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t buy “adult” crackers in a bricks-and-mortar store, so…

    Comment by Nemo — 30 Mar 2006 @ 2:39

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