ebay's Feedback Consipiracy

by Jennifer Golbeck

Ok. So perhaps this is not a conspiracy because it's out in the open, but ebay's role in keeping feedback ratings artificially high is something worth discussing.

My argument is not about retaliatory feedback, but let's discuss that briefly. Anyone who has used eBay much knows that feedback retaliation happens. You get treated badly, you leave feedback that says so, and the recipient leaves you bad feedback, sometimes even lying. This is a disincentive for leaving anything negative in the first place. eBay could take steps to make the system more fair, but they don't. In fact, they have an incentive to leave the system exactly like it is. Retaliation discourages people from leaving bad feedback, and less bad feedback makes the entire marketplace look more trustworthy.

But that could be a bit of me creating a conspiracy, and perhaps eBay has better intentions than the previous paragraph gives them credit for. I considered this a possibility until one of my most recent forays into the depths of their system.

I was sold a counterfeit item on eBay. I paid about $100 for it and when it arrived it was obviously fake. After the seller did not respond to my emails, I filed a claim with Papal (which is owned by eBay for those of you who are not familiar). They offer "seller protection" designed to make sure you don't get ripped off. Papal sent some messages back and forth and after about a month told me I would need to get the item appraised and send them evidence that it was counterfeit. This can cost hundreds of dollars, and discourages a cheated buyer from proceeding with the process, but let's allow that it is necessary. On principle, I continued and found someone to certify that I had received a fake. After more than two months of fighting, PayPal finally resolved the dispute on my behalf and sent me a refund. That is all well and good. However, what really got me was the email they sent notifying me of all this:

PayPal has received the item in dispute. A refund will be issued to your
PayPal account within 5 business days.

PayPal regrets any inconvenience you may have experienced.

This claim has been resolved amicably. Please consider this when leaving feedback for this seller.

Thank you for your cooperation.


Protection Services Department

"Amicably"? What was amicable about this claim? I spent a lot of money and effort trying to get a refund that the seller refused me for months. Why would PayPal tell me to consider this claim amicable when I leave feedback? Well, they have the same incentive as before. A marketplace with no negative feedback looks safer. But none of us want to participate in a system where a seller who regularly sends out counterfeit items is ranked highly, simply because eventually buyers can get their money back by the actions of a third party.

I do not hold out any hope that eBay, who is thriving, will correct their ways. I think it could eventually lead to a third party system (and several have popped up) for creating real and honest feedback about buyers and sellers. I would certainly use such a service - I might even pay for it - because I want to truly know how much to trust people I interact with. I don't want to be falsely reassured that everything will be ok, even though that seems to be the tactic eBay is betting on for continued success.


Ora Lassila
2007-11-01 14:42:13
As a frequent eBay user I can certainly agree with your observations, but exactly how would you eliminate the practice of "retaliatory" feedback?
Jen Golbeck
2007-11-01 15:15:58
Hi, Ora, You're right of course - how to properly set up a fair system is, in my opinion, a research level problem. There are people who have addressed it, but building a good system is challenging.

I think there are steps that ebay could take. It would require gathering statistics on retaliatory feedback, but my theory is that some cases of mutual negative feedback would be straightforward to classify.

Simon Hibbs
2007-11-01 16:11:30
I've never used eBay so maybe I'm naive. eBay must know which users bought from which other users. Surely only users who bought from another user can leave feedback about them, and only concerning specific transactions?
Jen Golbeck
2007-11-01 16:30:17
You are right, Simon. The feedback system lets buyer and seller leave feedback for one another on a given transaction. The problem is retaliation. If I leave negative feedback for the seller who sold me the fake item, they are likely to leave negative feedback for me - but I did nothing wrong! I paid quickly and rightfully requested a refund when I found out they sent me something different than they advertised. The seller can lie and say that I didn't pay on time or that I complained unjustly. That negative feedback they leave for me may make other people less likely to buy from me or sell to me, so I am disinclined to leave the rightful negative feedback for the bad seller in the first place. This is a very common tactic, and most people are extremely hesitant to leave negative feedback for this reason. Thus, ebay looks like a place where the vast majority of transactions are positive, when the reality is that the negative transactions happen and are just much less likely to be reported.
2007-11-01 16:49:21
The effect of bad feedback is disproportionately higher if you're a seller than if you're a buyer. On a personal level, you could maintain separate buying and selling accounts so that you're free to leave negative feedback without risking your selling reputation, but that doesn't help in the aggregate, since most people won't do that. Perhaps eBay could separate buying and selling feedback more prominently.
Jen Golbeck
2007-11-01 16:53:13
That's totally true about buying and selling and the effect of feedback (and I like your suggestion about separating them). However, my real issue is with ebay actively discouraging negative feedback when it is deserved, as in the case of the email they sent me. There is no excuse for calling a two month dispute an amicable resolution.
2007-11-01 20:19:38
You're so right.
I recently got a number of negatives from various bidders with no rating themselves, simply because they had not seen that we charged a modest packing/handling fee, they refused to pay and we filed a Non Paying Bidder (NPB) claim.
Then to add insult to injury, eBay suspended our selling privileges for 15 days "because of our feedback history".
Go figure.
2007-11-01 20:30:40
In the early days, when feedback just started, one could leave as many negatives as one wanted. One fellow gave me three revenge negatives for one transaction and as of today, they still count in my rating. And to make matters worse, the negative feedback did not have to be transaction related either. One fellow gave me a negative because I had filed a complaint about him with eBay. That one still counts too and yet I have never done a transaction with this person.
Rather then giving negative feedback and getting revenge negatives in return, I simply hope that the expression "what goes around comes around" holds true and leave it at that.
2007-11-02 17:16:44
I'm really glad to have stumbled across this thread, as this issue is something I've considered quite a bit. To date I've purchased probably 10 items over ebay, and I think maybe three of those were as described. I have never left negative feedback, or even neutral feedback, however, because of fear of retaliation. So I totally agree, the system itself fully assists those who misrepresent themselves or outright lie.

On the flip side, I've gotten a lot smarter over the years, and now I read every negative/neutral feedback, check the feedback of the people who left negative/neutral comments and scan the positives to see if any actually contain real information. Combining all those factors paints a far larger and more helpful picture. And whaddya know, I haven't been screwed by an ebayer since. Of course, I also haven't bid on an auction since.

Bob Rasmussen
2007-11-03 02:11:30
Dear Miss Golbeck:

I've been lucky as a buyer because I've only had to leave one negative feedback and there was no retaliation. Admittedly, most feedbacks I left were 4 or 5 stars. There are several reasons for this:

1) Most of my winning bids were low cost items, like books -- primarily chess and billiards books or literary biographies -- Out-of-print LPs and CDs, magazines, movie stills and posters, out-of-print VHS videos and kitchenware (e.g. Tupperware).

2) I usually contacted the seller to clarify any questions before bidding or purchasing. This was particularly helpful when bidding on used books to verify that they were graded according to professional bookseller standards. Not coincidentally, most of the used items I won, including LPs, were described accurately, and the new items I won from companies were always factory sealed.

3) With my check or money order I always wrote a letter listing the item I won, describing exactly how I wanted the item packed -- particularly important for paperback books which are easily damaged in the mail -- and lastly thanked the seller. Sellers almost always followed my instructions to a T. In other words, I took no chances. Interestingly, I even had a few sellers refund my money if the book was damaged or what I consider overgraded, which was rare to be sure. Some sellers even recommended I keep the book along with the refund. Of course, we are talking a total of $7 to $10, and that includes shipping.

4) Almost all my bidding took place from late 1999 to early 2003, before some of the real schmucks "discovered" eBay. Of course, I also bid in subject areas where one was less likely to be scammed because of the character of the seller as well as the low amounts involved. I would never bid on art works, antiques, or, not to put too fine a point on it, anything of real value unless I knew the seller.

5) I only gave 5 star feedbacks if the item was described thoroughly and accurately, packed as I requested, and sent media mail (for books) upon my request. You could tell that some buyers left very general, 5 star feedbacks out of courtesy or laziness. So long as the seller was alive and breathing he received 5 stars. Frankly, I never trusted feedbacks unless I read two or three pages of them and used a little common sense regarding the unsatisfied customers. Some buyers were well spoken and had a legitimate complaint, but others were just downright impatient, failed to read the item description correctly or failed to contact the seller by e-mail before leaving negative feedback. In other words, more than a few disgruntled buyers were injudicious.

Obviously, you had a legitimate complaint and the seller should have been bounced from eBay. Unfortunately, a seller has to ply his unscrupulous trade habitually to be bounced. And if they are bounced, some just sign up under a different user name.

Best to bid or buy items from large, legitimate sellers or ones you have experience with, particularly when it comes to valuable commodities.

Best regards,

2007-11-03 04:44:52

That pretty much sums it up for me. (Don't forget to hover over the image to see the title text.) I would rather see a graph of transaction activities than rely on people to objectively rate vendors. Quite simply, people lie. Public auctions and their resolution are a matter of public record, aren't they?

Ebay Sux
2007-11-03 06:12:32
I hate to say it, but the ONLY way to correct these problems is a class action suite. That really will not help anyone here - only putting money in the lawyer's pockets, but eBay is obviously not listening.

It can be proven in court that the system could allow for much fairer solutions: 'double blind' ratings so sellers do not know specific people rating them. The problem is that bad seller obviously know they are doing something wrong

2007-11-03 11:38:52
I agree with these criticisms. I believe that if you pay it is possible to get access to ebay statistics. Would it not be possible for some one like you to do an analysis of retaliatory feedback? Or do ebay explicitly stop this use of the data?
Jen Golbeck
2007-11-03 11:50:58
I have a general solution for retaliatory feedback that I'll post soon. My real issue, though, is that eBay is telling people NOT to leave bad feedback that is deserved. That strikes me as a more open and obvious (and thus offensive) effort to manipulate the appearance of safety in the marketplace than ignoring a problem and refusing to fix it.
Carla Schroder
2007-11-03 18:42:56
There is an inherent conflict of interest in Ebay owning PayPal, which makes these issues worse. Ebay simply refuses to allow any PayPal competitors on Ebay, such as Google Checkout,for totally bogus reasons:
"eBay will consider the following factors, among others, in making its determination:
Whether the payment model offers substantial financial, privacy and anti-fraud protection for buyers and sellers
Whether the payment service has a substantial historical track record of providing safe and reliable financial and/or banking related services"

Now who can claim that PayPal meets those criteria, and keep a straight face?

2007-11-07 07:24:16
Esta gente anda a enganar pessoas honestos por todo o mundo!
- eBay: Protege os vendedores desonestos, ocultando-lhe os feedbacks negativos e permitindo a continuidade desses ladrões noutros paises.
- Paypal: Trata-se de um engodo para as pessoas sérias que acreditando nas patranhas destes senhores(?) pensam que estão a fazer negócios seguros e protegidos por este gigante mas, quando precisam de accionar as supostas protecções logo se apercebem que estas servem os gatunos que operam na eBay e não os compradores vitimizados.
- eBay & PayPal: Pactuam com tudo o exposto porque têm o mesmo dono.

A minha opinião é que estas empresas deviam ser corridas da Europa e não utilizarem-se os velhos Europeus como vitimas dos gatunos que protegem.

eBay + PayPal = Fraude

Tim O'Brien
2007-11-07 12:03:56
Seems odd, but you might just be reacting to a poorly written automated email. You'd be happier if they wrote:

"[If] this claim [was] resolved amicably...."

Send in the feedback, see what they say. If they refused to change the word then I'd say there is a conspiracy.

2007-11-09 13:09:32
This is an interesting discussion. I would like to point out that Amazon takes a totally different approach to it's Marketplace feedback. AFAIK, there's (almost?) no retaliation there. As a buyer, I'm very happy with the usefulness of the feedback and treat it as extremely useful when deciding on a purchase. As a seller, although I once received an unfair negative feedback (delivery delayed by post office), I am allowed to post a rebuttal comment in the feedback, which is sufficient to handle such infrequent problems. For many reasons I use eBay (as a buyer or seller) only as a last resort. On the other hand, I use Amazon all the time, and their feedback system is one of the major reasons.
2007-11-12 12:48:20
Hello, I just stumbled onto your website looking for any outside help in trying to have a negative removed. This buyer who left me my 1st negative since I have been a member Since Jan of 06, now going on almost 2 years. I have worked really hard to maintain a positve score & making everyone who buys from me a terrific ebay experience. Yes, I finally ran into a person who was a total jerk. Purchasing from me, claiming that she did not get what the auction stated, I proved otherwise, she lost the paypal claim, and then can just lie on the feedback and then you can only follow up once. So the buyer has the last follow up & can make it even worse. All my customers know that I am a great seller and I am a great buyer too so it wont effect my business, but to have that ugly red blop on my score really sucks when it is purly malicious. Ebay should allow at least 4 to 5 follow-ups if necessary if they will not remove the feedback score. AND ebay should be responsible for removing negative comments when it is a provable situation. I have left 1 negative only in my 2 years for a seller who neglected to send me a book that I paid for & had proof that I did with my check that I got back from the bank cashed & stamped by the seller, not to mention they left feedback stating that they received my payment & I had to wait
& wait for a book & had very poor, non-responsive customer service from them. I was very patient, waited for a very long time before filing a dispute. That feedback is the kind that is warrented & needed to keep buyers & sellers safe & to hopefully improve buyers & sellers habits on ebay. I have had several
non-payers, I have had some bad ebay experiences, but use the feedback as positive as possible and do not leave a negative as a general rule. This person who has left me a negative has left at least 60 negatives, which clearly indicates a lack of character, or someone that is hard to get along with. I feel it is necessary now to cancel bids from people who have this habit. Some people look for negatives to use to their advantage & it really is not fair. I have emailed ebay 2 times now to dispute this, but we will have to see. If I get a court order, I can have it removed. I guess it will be whether or not I feel like going the distance to prove a point. Maybe if everyone did that, ebay would be able to re-arange or at least put some exceptions in negative feedback removal. I really dont think that most people would abuse that. I mean, if you are a good seller & buyer, and you follow through with what you intend, you will not have a bad experience. It is in the case of these nut cases who just are litterally un-educated and poor morals kind of people who should not be allowed to proceed in the manner that they do. I probably will go the distance with this. Ebay needs to upgrade the rules a bit & to be better advocates to the people who are soley responsible for ebay's success! Thanks so much for letting me VENT!!!!!! Have a Happy Holiday! Katie
2007-11-15 17:41:26
Dear Miss Golbeck:

Two more ways ebay prevents and eliminates negative feedback.

Recently I won two items from the same seller, paid for (paypal) and received the items. Then the seller started sending emails to me reminding me to pay for items. Phone calls and emails between us confirmed that I did in fact pay. Then came the notices from ebay that I was about to be given non paying strikes but by that time I was out of the country and did not have access to my records. I explained that to seller and ebay, but was given the strikes anyway. In addition, ebay took away my ability to give feedback, which of course would be negative. When I returned home I complained to ebay, and they took away the strikes, but would still not allow me to give feedback. I specifically asked that ebay give my feedback right back, and not allow seller to give me retaliation feedback, siting fairness. Ebay refused. Clearly ebay does not provide a level playing field between sellers and buyers.

There is a company called Squaretrade, and they "negotiate" to have negative feedback removed. You must respond to Squaretrade, or the negative is automatically removed. And they are relentless. Look through a big seller's feedback, and you'll see notes saying something like feedback retracted by mutual agreement.

I agree, ebay's feedback system is something of a sham, something to make us feel safe where safety doesn't exist.

2007-11-27 09:28:35
I had a worse problem. I ordered a tobacco pipe that turned out to be illegal drug paraphernalia. The photos were taken to hide the fact and the seller refused to comment on her page what it was made of by using statements.... "I'm not quite sure what it is made of." Yet this seller had a rating over 1200 against my measely 22 (now 21).

What the seller sent me was obviously a crack/hash/mj pipe. I could not legally send this item back through the mail. I contacted the proper authorities at the post office and they put me in contact with the postal inspectors regarding this issue but not before I tried to explain that she could not sell this item in the US and distribute it by mail.

She said she had sold hundred's of these items to "collectors" and only deadbeats like me complain. People like this couldn't run a business in the real world. Their attitude and deception would immediately expose them before money even changed hands.

She refused to admit any wrong doing and actually got quite irate. No return of evidence - no refund. The item would have cost more to return than what it was worth. I contacted both Ebay and Paypal who are still dragging their feet.

I went to the sellers page and commented on the item - not the seller - to explain it was drug paraphernalia. It did not meet Ebays definition of a pipe. It was made of acrylic with a brass cup in the base. Look it up yourself if you must.

Meanwhile, the seller takes my personal information from the dispute console and starts registering me on drug rehab sites (ID theft). At the same time she left libelous statements on my feedback page against me personally - outright lies. I have never violently threatened anyone. Anyway my 100% satisifaction rating is now trashed and Ebay won't doing anything about it withour a court order! How bogus!

I reported the ID theft incidents to Ebay - complete with the IP address and times of the webmasters that ran these sites. The originating IP was within 10 miles of her mailing address. I live about 1200 miles away. Coincidence - nay. The information she used was unique only to Ebay. All you get is form letters from Ebay support.

Ebay doesn't want anyone to report anything. They talk a good game but when it comes time to protect the "Ebay community" you'll find yourself standing alone with Ebay hiding behind its user agreements. They'll throw you to the wolves.

Illegal activity on Ebay? - report it to the government agencies and ignore reports to Ebay. Ebay doesn't really care. Ebay is unsafe. Reports to Ebay are a stall tactic for Ebay to cover its own behind - not to solve the propblem. I'm waiting on this psycho to show up on my door with a gun. She has my phone number and address and is certainly unstable.

What angers me the most are the cowardly people that leave neutral feedback when obviously the feedback should have been negative. I would have ran away immediately if I'd seen more of the neutral comments before buying. I was only looking for neagtive comments and I think Ebay has removed the option to only review negative and neutral comments. Coincidence?

Once again... this is Ebay's rigged system. Conform and you are rewarded - report that something is amiss and your are penalized.

OK... go away now... We are Ebay and you don't matter.

I'm taking my business elsewhere.

An Ebay feedback counterstrike would be great. Bid on everything and pay nothing. When everyone is uselessly trashing everyone else, the feedback will mean nothing.

2007-11-28 09:06:04
Same exact thing happened to me twice! One would think I'd learned the first time around. Sometimes legitimate people like to lay low hoping time will smooth over rough edges, in their favor. Then there are those who are just out to create problems...
Annette Hellingrath
2007-12-17 09:02:47
I believe that negative feedback complaints are never even looked at because it would be too expensive to hire people to do this. The standard form letter is all you are going to get. E-bay doesn't address any of your concerns, just takes you to the next step, which is to pay the $29.95 for help. It is all about money on e-bay. Nobody ever falls into their negative feedback removal requirements. I have had a negative feedback left that is an obvious lie. I have proof that it is a lie. E-bay has never asked to see my proof of a refund sent, or the tracking number of the item sent. I was threatened by this customer right away, that if I didn't refund his shipping cost that he would leave a negative feedback. (I was goint to be a few days late in sending his item because a shipment to us was damaged.) Hearing this the customer freaked so I sent a refund for the entire transaction to make him happy. All our ads clearly state that we do not send refunds but only replace damaged merchandise. Since this jerk was unreasonable and had already threatened me, I thought a refund was a good idea. It wasn't. The customer e-mailed me that he had not authorized me to send a refund and he wanted his item. So I sent the item and e-mailed the tracking number to the customer. He sent an e-mail back telling me that he was glad I had stopped making excuses and proptly filed a complaint with Paypal telling them I had not sent a refund or the item and then left the same info in my feedback. I complained to e-bay. E-bay did nothing to help me. E-bay never asked for proof of the treat, which they say they don't tollerate. I beg to differ. I was threatened and e-bay did nothing about it. I have a feedback that is a toal lie. E-bay did noting about it. If you have proof that an item had been sent after a refund was refused and the buyer leaves a feedback saying otherwise what's the problem? I would think that if I have proof that I sent a refund through Paypal to a customer on November 29th and he filed a complaint with Paypal on December 5th that I didn't. Why is Paypal not set up to take a look if a refund was sent? This could save a lot of time. All along, in all his e-mails this customer was abusive, he called me a liar in each one. He never believed I sent a refund or his item even when I sent him the proof. How can I defend myself against stupidity? E-bay should allow that not all customers are going to be all there or even reasonable, and go with the proof available only.
Mike Hnatt
2007-12-27 10:10:20
I too had the unforuntate experience of retalitory feedback. Here I am trying to help others and take the bullet. Here's my suggestion on how eBay should address this:
  • As someone else mentioned, have a double-blind ratings where sellers/buyers cannot see who left them the bad feedback (we could wait a few weeks to post it so it wouldn't be obvious).

  • Part of our selling fees would cover a "review board" that ALWAYS investigates negative feedbacks to determine if they are retalitory. And give way more room (say 500 characters) to leave negative feedback comments. Right now, you just have about 40 characters to say limited things.
Peter Muhr
2008-01-22 08:22:11
Dishonest Ebay sellers will wait to leave feedback until they receive feedback from their buyer. If that feedback is negative, the seller will simply leave a retaliatory feedback for the buyer & may even send an email threatening to do so should the buyer leave negative feedback in the first place. My experience is that Ebay will generally side with the seller in almost any dispute and the Ebay system is set up to reflect that. This usually results in a feedback standoff which results in no feedback being left either way. If this was somehow reflected in a seller's feedback, it would reveal much. It would also be fair not to publicly reveal feedback until both sides' feedback has been entered.
2008-02-04 12:33:34
Ok, so, we have all these examples on how buyers or sellers that are dishonest & use the feedback system maliciously. Including mine on November 12th. LOL! Now, when something is really truly provable, no questions asked on the situation, cut & dried, WHO can we go to to obtain a court order if someone was willing to go the distance to get that feedback removed? I mean, people have to be accountable. I went to ecommerce, my local county courthouse, I went to lawyers, I have been everywhere I can think of to try to get someone that knows who in the world can help get a court order. I have been laughed at even! Ebay gives you a list of who to contact...and guess what? No-one and I mean NO-ONE knows where to go...even at those locations that ebay recommends! So, if there is someone out there who can tell me or advise of an attorney, or a judge that wants to see the facts to give me a "court order" to have this feedback removed, because that is the only way it will be done, then please let me know! At this point, ebay has failed the honest consumer & really does not give a rip.
kees van sante
2008-03-11 08:42:59
This feedback, is that protected by any law.
I mean users get feedback from other users, eBay only provides you this option.

I see a lot of websites where you can import your eBay feedback.
Is this allowed or not?
I ask this because eBay have threatened me for court if i would use the option on my website.

2008-04-19 04:46:13
I had 2 non payers in a space of 4 weeks. Buyer no1. Wins the bid, then literally seconds after I get an email saying sorry I made a typo and meant to place a £75 bid rather than £85. So I called his bluff and offered it at the £75. He then demanded I prove the item worked before he would pay. That was enough for me. i left him negative, relisted the item and moved on. I recieved retaliatory feedback of course. Most people when it comes down to the crunch are grown up babies.
Buyer no2. Wins my item then demands he is allowed to pick it up. I explain Ive had one too many weird people picking items up and besides the item was listed with postage options only. He refused to pay unless pickup could be arranged. Even stating it in feedback after I left him neg and he retaliated. He also had 3 days to pose the question "If I win can I pick up".
Roll on to 19 positive transactions later. Out of the blue Ebay send me an email about unnaceptable recent negative comments and that my account will be suspended 30 days, if I dont improve the feedback, i.e mutual agree to remove neg comments for non payers the suspension will be indefinite.
What choice is that. Wheres the seller protection. thats an ultimatum to leave POS comments for 2 buyers who failed to honour a binding contract. Ebay make money off sellers yet choose to protect the buyer and punish the seller (the hand that feeds them) Nice!!!! Well thats good enough for me. They can stick the considerable amount of money they were earning from me where the sun doesnt shine. After 30 days Im closing the account. Its a shame they have no real competition because theyre feedback system sucks. Another company with a fair feedback system with people who look into case by case examples would bring ebays walls crashing round there ears. How hard can it be to institute a policy where non paying winning bidders can only leave feedback if they go through with the transaction. Im suspended for 30 days by 2 timewasters.
2008-06-13 22:19:44
This whole feedback change is bad, really bad, what ebay is trying to do along with Paypal is so Paypal can make extra money on the holds from interest, then for ebay to get rid off all the small to medium sellers ,and only keep the power sellers. I have seen so many videos on Youtube about the upset sellers........if Google starts an auction site tomorrow, that would the end of Ebay for sure................however, at the mean time, I using www.GeeeWhiz.com to keep myself away from the bad buyers.
2008-06-18 04:58:49
my counter to EBAY's policy