eBay has been talking this week of its efforts to crack down on email phishing and last week addressed the problem of spam for its users -- so it may come as a surprise that the auction site is playing a role in facilitating both problems.
Anybody surfing eBay can buy millions of email addresses as well as the tools to send them out, leading one anti-spam campaigner to accuse the auction site of profiting from the spam epidemic.
One lot on eBay.com offers 100 million email addresses plus email software, with bidding starting at under $10.
And such lots are not uncommon or limited solely to the US. On eBay.co.uk it is possible to purchase all manner of email lists. At the time of writing, one seller, based in Gloucester, had seen their £50 reserve met for a lot which promises the buyer one million email addresses. And there are many others just like it, some issuing bogus claims that the lists are legitimate and 'all opt-in'.
Alyn Hockey, product director at content security firm Clearswift, told silicon.com his own anti-spam investigations had taken him to eBay where he was able to procure millions of email addresses as well as the tools to process bulk mail.
Steve Linford from Spamhaus said his foundation has repeatedly asked eBay to stop these kinds of sales, but says the response from the auction house has been underwhelming.
"Sadly there aren't laws in this country with which we can go after these people, but irrespective of that eBay should still be stopping them," he said.
eBay is certainly aware of the problem. The company's Web site states: "eBay does not permit the sale of bulk email or mailing lists. Any tools or software designed predominantly to send unsolicited commercial email will not be permitted."
But such wording is unlikely to deter those individuals selling such items.
A spokeswoman for eBay said the lots highlighted by ZDNet UK's sister site silicon.com have now been removed and action taken against the sellers. She added that eBay's customer service team will also now be vetting the sites and removing any similar auctions.
But Spamhaus' Linford believes eBay should be more vigilant about what trading it allows on its sites.
Linford said: "eBay should be first in line doing whatever it can to stop the growth of spam, not taking a cut and appearing to condone such sales by hosting them."