Trade Me systems not protecting its traders, academic says

Paul Ralph says: "It's only a matter of time before someone is assaulted or worse" over a Trade Me transaction.

Paul Ralph says: "It's only a matter of time before someone is assaulted or worse" over a Trade Me transaction.

Trade Me is a "time bomb" waiting to go off because it has no way to monitor the communications of its traders, a computing expert says.

Unlike other auction sites such as eBay, Trade Me does not have an internal messaging system.

Buyers and sellers exchange email addresses and phone numbers once an auction has finished. The trade is then completed outside the realms of the website.

Trade Me spokesman Jeff Hunkin said the idea of an internal mail system had been raised before but the existing model worked well in the vast majority of cases.

But University of Auckland computer science lecturer Paul Ralph said that meant the site was washing its hands of trader safety because it could not monitor patterns of abusive communication.

He said someone could be hurt.

"With eBay, if something goes wrong you can email them and they can see the email thread. Trade Me doesn't do that, so even if someone has a history of abusive behaviour, Trade Me won't do anything. 

"It's only a matter of time before someone is assaulted or worse. But Trade Me will say it's nothing to do with them because it happened outside the site, even if they have ignored a history of abusive behaviour."

Ralph said the system undermined the safety of the whole Trade Me community.

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"Regardless of legal liability, TradeMe has a corporate social responsibility to maintain a safe trading environment by sanctioning and eventually removing traders with a pattern of abusive behaviour. Head-in-the-sand is not an acceptable policy."

He said Trade Me already had access to the internal messaging system it would require because it was used on its dating site FindSomeone.

"[You should] expose Trade Me's failures in community management before some mentally unstable trader shoots someone over a used fridge."

Hunkin said Trade Me worked by introducing buyers and sellers to undertake a transaction, and leaving the final terms of that transaction to them.

"Over our 16-year history we've found that 99.99 per cent of trades have gone smoothly this way. As in any large community, there are some bad eggs but it's not a big problem, and we don't see that anything has changed recently in the way our members behave."

He said Trade Me worked hard to make the site safe, with tools such as address verification, feedback and anti-fraud measures.

"We also warn prospective buyers not to leave or use contact details in the Q&A section and always complete sales through Trade Me.

"Sure, this means we collect our success fees, but more importantly, it allows you to be sure that you are actually dealing with the member who has advertised the item for sale."

He said anyone who was unhappy with emails or contact they received should get in touch with Trade Me.

"If you are concerned for your safety to contact the police immediately. It's also important to use your common sense, get educated on staying safe online and listen to your gut.

"We do want to hear from members that have had unpleasant experiences using Trade Me and oftentimes we can help find solutions for tricky issues. We're here to help."

Netsafe chief technology officer Sean Lyons said Trade Me worked hard to monitor what happened on its site, with a large team of people in its safety division keeping files on members whose activity raised concerns.

"Their job is to monitor the traffic that goes on to look for activity that might put people at risk.

"It's not just that they want to look after people, it's because that's how they maintain their business model, they are making sure people don't subvert the auction process."

A Police spokeswoman said: "There are some people who use online sites to scam and rip people off for money".

"It always pays to be careful when dealing with online traders you do not personally know. If you are concerned about safety always tell someone where you are going and who you are meeting or take someone with you.

"If you are the seller and are concerned about the buyer you may want to meet in a public place rather than your home."

 - Stuff


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