eBay acts over privacy fears

The auction site is making it easier for users to close accounts, following a complaint from Privacy International

Internet auction house eBay will make changes to its site after discussions with the UK's Information Commissioner and civil rights group Privacy International.

ZDNet UK has learnt that eBay has agreed to make changes to its Web site to make it easier for users to close accounts and track personal e-commerce transactions, following a complaint by Privacy International. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has confirmed that changes are being made.

"We have been corresponding with eBay and it has now taken steps to ensure its accounts are easier to close, by making changes to the My eBay page," said an ICO spokesman.

The complaint by Privacy International included a claim that eBay was breaching the Data Protection Act because it was extremely difficult, in its opinion, for a user to close an account.

Although the ICO ruled that eBay had not breached the Act, it decided to make the changes to its My eBay page regardless.

The director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, praised eBay's reactions to the complaint.

"We are delighted with the way eBay has dealt with this," said Davies. "After the complaint had been lodged, eBay approached Privacy International. We don't usually get a reach out call. After two phone conferences with senior executives, eBay agreed to a number of changes."

Privacy International is concerned that many Web sites make it very hard for users to cancel their account and delete details of their Web shopping habits and other personal data.

eBay confirmed that it would make changes to its site, but did not tell ZDNet UK what changes would be made, or when.

"We are planning certain changes to our pages and are working closely with the ICO and Privacy International. No changes have yet been made." said an eBay spokeswoman.

However, according to an informed source eBay agreed to a number of changes early last week which will make its use of personal information more transparent. Some of these changes have been accepted and finalised.

The My eBay account management page will have a button to allow users to close their accounts, and the procedure for disclosure of personal information to groups of institutions and their representative organisations will be more clearly explained.

Due to the large number of eBay servers and the 30 different languages eBay operates in, the roll out of the changes is expected to take quite some time.

If they wish to act now, people can remove their accounts by typing "close my account" into the search function and following the resulting instructions, according to the eBay spokeswoman.