eBay’s Not-So Happy New Year

eBaywent to bed on December 31st flush with holiday success, and woke up to a New Year full of snags.

Over the past several weeks,the auction giant suffered the longest outage in recent memory, faced down a throng of irate users over a privacy breach, and found itself slapped with a lawsuit byreal estate giant Re/Max.

Still, while such bumbles might seem enough to severely hamstring a companyin this turbulent climate, Yankee Group analyst Paul Ritter told the E-Commerce Times that eBay should have no problem weathering the storm.

“When you’re as big as eBay, you’re much more able to say ‘whoops we made a mistake, we’ll try not to do that again,'” Ritter said. “I think eBay has seen a lotof market forgiveness, so I don’t think [these new issues] will be a major limiting force in their growth.”

A Bug’s Life

eBay’s privacy problems began when it discovered a “bug” had wiped out the default registration settings of 6 million users who registered between April and November of last year.

While working to correct the error, the company reset all 6 million customer accounts to “opt-in” for receiving company e-mails — the standard default.

“We are concerned that many people who signed up during that period of time might not be getting all the e-mail that they do want,” eBay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove told reporters. “What we’vedone here in the past several weeks is send individuals e-mails who were directly affected by eBay’s screwups.”

From Bad to Worse

However, when users who had registered as opting out — probably more than a few of the 6 million people affected by the bug — started getting unwanted company e-mails, eBay had a bunch of unhappy customers on its hands.

Moreover, the auctioneer raised the hackles of Internet privacy groups suchas TRUSTe, which had served as a consultant for eBay after the registration glitch was discovered.

“I think there are legitimate privacy concerns,” TRUSTe spokesperson Dave Steer reportedly said.

eBay is in the process of cleaning up the e-mail boxes of its customers and is putting a 15-day moratorium on e-mails sent to the affected customers while their registration choices get sorted out.

Home Improvement

eBay found itself in even more hot water this week over what was supposed to be a rather positive development for the company — its brand-new television ads.

Unfortunately, real estate firm Re/Max did not find eBay’s TV spot spoofing the home-buying experience especially funny.

The eBay ad features a “For Sale” sign in front of a decaying house and promotes the site as a place to get home improvement goods. Shortly after the ads started appearing, Re/Max filed a trademark lawsuit against eBay, claiming that the “For Sale” sign is modeled after their real estate signs.

Spoof or Goof

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that “the use of the signin eBay’s real estate commercial leaves the viewer with the impression that the sign is a Re/Max sign.”

Re/Max is seeking unspecified damages and a court order that eBay take the commercial off the air.

“We will be contacting Re/Max to tell them this ad was a spoof and meant to be somewhat entertaining,” Pursglovesaid in published reports.

In the Doghouse?

On top of everything else, eBay is still finding itself deafened bythe uproar caused by its recent decision to bar users from doing business outside of eBay.

On the upside, eBay has acquired a Korean Internet company, and is launching a page for high-end art collectors.

Also, eBay’s other TV ad, showing a dog burying household items in the backyard that have to be replaced with items bought on eBay, appears to have engendered no complaintsfrom animal rights groups.

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