eBay To Let Governments Pull Down Listings Automatically; What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

from the have-you-seen-who-we've-elected-lately? dept

One common theme we’ve seen for ages in the various content moderation debates are that those who think that governments should be able to determine what content stays up and what content needs to come down don’t seem to recognize who various government leaders around the world are these days. Governments have an unfortunate track record of trying to pull down content that embarrasses themselves. And yet, for reasons unknown, eBay has decided that it is going to let government regulators automatically remove listings on the auction site.

This latest move, eBay said, was designed to speed up the removal of “illegal or unsafe items” without waiting for approval from the company.

Only selected, trusted authorities will have access to the new tools. But those that do will have “the ability to take down any listings from the marketplace themselves”, the company said.

More than 50 authorities around the world are already involved in the early stages of the project, it added.

Now, admittedly, removing products for sale may be a bit different than removing content. And, there are plenty of stories about “unsafe” or counterfeit goods listed on these sites (though, in the past we’ve noted how the moral panic stories about such listings tend to be massively exaggerated). It’s also not at all clear that government agencies are going to be able to properly recognize when a product is “unsafe” or “illegal.”

In the US, for example, we’ve certainly seen Homeland Security seize products claiming they were “unsafe” when they really just seemed to be… competitive with a bigger company’s offerings.

Similarly, giving anyone outside of the company direct control to pull down other people’s content has been fraught with problems. Over and over again we’ve seen such “trusted flagger” programs fail spectacularly, even with supposedly larger organizations that should know better.

And, of course, even when it comes to things like auctions, governments may have extremely different ideas of what counts as “unsafe” or “illegal” than the platforms do. It’s ancient history in internet time, but some of us still remember that France charged Yahoo’s then CEO as a war criminal because Yahoo’s own auction site in the early 2000s had some Nazi merchandise for sale. Yes, obviously in some countries Nazi paraphernalia is illegal to sell. But do we really think governments should be able to just reach into a platform, without review, without due process, and pull down those listings?

As Stanford’s Daphne Keller notes, this seems like we’re careening at high speed down the slippery slope towards governments directly deciding what remains up and what gets taken down, with little (or no!) consideration of the users’ own interests.

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Companies: ebay

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Comments on “eBay To Let Governments Pull Down Listings Automatically; What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

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Anon says:

Simple Solution

Simpler – if the concern is embarrassed governments doing censorship, then the article should remain up for sale but with a note and action "bidding/shipping has been disabled for the following countries:"

Should also list the reason provided by the country they are embargoed.

If anything, an item being embargoed by one country may boost sales in other countries.

Also remember Kinder surprises, little chocolate eggs with toys inside – banned by US customs because they could be a choking hazard, but widely available everywhere else in the world. Apparently children in the rest of the world know chocolate from plastic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Simple Solution

This is due to an old FDA rule from the days of fixing unregulated insanity. The problem is the bureaucracy is still stretching the rule to cover Kinder eggs even though the company has tried repeatedly to do things that would conform to expectations, only to be turned down yet again for approval.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Simple Solution

Apparently children in the rest of the world know chocolate from plastic.

That’s true of any child marketed product in the US. (Well, except maybe clothes. Those have to be several sizes larger than the rest of the world. :p )

Go look at a local toy aisle if you don’t believe me. Specifically look for packaging that seems like it may be sold in other countries. (Different languages on the box is a good indicator.) The age listing on them tends to be higher for US children compared to the rest of the world. Often by 3 to 5 years more.

The US tends to baby it’s population. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a 5 year old kid in the US can’t be expected to determine what isn’t food, or to clean up after themselves, or to be unable to read a single letter / number, or be able to count to ten. Etc. Other parents around the world would be horrified if their own children were in that condition at that age, but in the US it’s considered acceptable and common knowledge.

The one thing I worry about with arrangements like this is what is considered the lowest common denominator that all of these services will have to appease? If only "safe" products can be sold, I believe eBay will soon find itself unprofitable worldwide, and unable to roll back it’s new "tools" without vengeful companies using their government stooges to ensure eBay stays that way.

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Koby (profile) says:


As Stanford’s Daphne Keller notes, this seems like we’re careening at high speed down the slippery slope towards governments directly deciding what remains up and what gets taken down, with little (or no!) consideration of the users’ own interests.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Socialism is the unholy union between corporations and government.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Appropriated

"I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Socialism is the unholy union between corporations and government."

You were wrong then and you’re wrong now. Fascism is the definition of what you describe.

Socialism is the almost exact opposite. Not that I’m surprised to see you finding another topic to blither about in Newspeak.

Anonymous Coward says:

you can bet your ass that everything that bears the slightest resemblance to something to do with the entertainment industries will be down within seconds! if ebay is going to allow this, how long before the other sites like facebook, twitter, google etc will be forced to do the same? i’ll bet you a dime to a dollar that this is all at the insistence of the entertainment industries! they wont be satisfied til they’ve got complete control of the ‘net! mark my words, we’re gonna lose access to the best invention since the wheel, electricity and ready meals, all because those industries cant bear to compete with others, cant bear to lose a dime but mostly, cant bear to lose control! they want it all and to get that, we have to lose everything!

PaulT (profile) says:

I’ve had 2 items taken down from eBay over the years.

One was a DVD of Faces Of Death 2, which was the UK BBFC approved copy that I bought originally from Woolworths after it was finally approved after being banned for years (with numerous heavy cuts). They took the listing down, which I found ridiculous due to the source of the disc, but the reasoning they gave about the ToS violation was clear, even if stupid.

The second was when I was trying to sell the UK Arrow Video special edition of Necromantik, another notorious "nasty". This one was again a package I could obtain on Amazon or any physical store, but the cover art was explicit enough for them to quickly drop the listing.

This seems to be a similar situation – a fairly conservative corporate culture quickly cracking down on things they feel would be offensive to their customers. I don’t agree necessarily, but like all the section 230 conversations, I understand and it’s their right to do so even if it’s detrimental to their business. The government making the initial request and the company caving so quickly might be problematic, but I suspect there are many competitors who won’t cave as quickly, so they should be supported.

OGquaker says:

Re: Surprises all around

I have worked with the guys that did props and Makeup Effects for years, the monkey brains were stinky week-old cauliflower, the Islamic executioner was the owner of the company, an Italian/American, and still is. I bought at auction last year a full pallet of 24”x24”x12” steel-framed super-HEPA air filters manufactured in 2019, cataloged at ~$1,500 each, new in-the-unopened-box-sealed-in-plastic from Triumph, builder of 747 & 737s and put one box up on Ebay. Never happened, instantly i was told that the product was bootleg, a controlled product because of Covid, and never try again. Ebay has a dozen other listings for used or 20 year old 24”x24” HEPA filters, one asking $1,481.58

Federico (profile) says:

Reasons unknown

Reasons unknown, or quite well known. TERREG was approved and will become active in one year. Whatever any official in any EU member states bother to declare "terrorist content" will need to be removed within 1 h. So Europol and friends will gain a "delete" button on most of the web.

Of course authorities would never abuse this power to work around the pesky criteria of other processes for counterfeit items, copyright infringements and whatnot.

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