Privacy Changes Expose Etsy Users’ Penchant for Artisan Dildos [Updated]

By
Kalin, privacy's new redheaded stepchild.

Consumers' privacy woes are normally directed toward the Mark Zuckerbergs and Eric Schmidts of the world. But Rob Kalin, the founder of Brooklyn-based online marketplace Etsy, is about to find out what it feels like. Etsy, the crunchy, feel-good website more often associated with hand-knitted sweaters and Lloyd Blankfein tiki torches, stepped into a pile of bad PR with a recent unannounced change to its privacy policy. In order to make its service more social (and Facebook-like), Etsy exposed buyers' and sellers' real names, reviews, favorites, and shopping histories — a policy change users had to be aware of in order to opt out. That privacy change, in turn, caused members' shopping preferences and histories to be linked to their real name in Google searches.

This explains why we've been getting random notices about being added to a user's "circle." It also explains why some shoppers, like the woman whose sex-toy purchase now appears "right after her online resumes," are so up in arms. As ArsTechnica notes, critics of Etsy's new policy happen to have something in common: "a thing for searching for artisan dildos." Despite Google's and Facebook's PR disasters with this same kind of policy, it looks like Kalin chose to learn the hard way that forcing users to opt out might get you more initial sign-ups, but it could come at the expense of loyal dildo buyers.

Etsy's privacy Valdez: opt-out policy exposes users' real names and purchase histories [BoingBoing]

Update: Based on the public outcry, Etsy has decided to make all purchase and feedback on Etsy private by default. Kalin and his COO, Adam Freed, also clarified why some users' purchases ended up linked with their real names on Google searches. In a blog post, they wrote that no changes had been made to the privacy policy. Rather, the fault lies with an antiquated Feedback system where if you choose to enter your real name when registering, it appears on your public profile. And "when a seller leaves feedback for an item you bought, or you leave feedback for an item you purchased, we would link to the item."

It is the confluence of these two things that led us to this position: if you enter your real name, purchase an item, and the seller leaves feedback for this item, this purchase will be publicly visible via our Feedback system. Search engines index our site, which means this data can turn up there, too. It's been this way since October.

Now that the glitch has been resolved, rest assured your appreciation for the fine art of handblown glass dildos is once again a private matter.

Rethinking Feedback [Etsy]