Press "Enter" to skip to content

Etsy and your privacy(even if you never shop on Etsy!)

Seems that Facfebook gets all the press when it comes to online privacy. But it’s time to put in a bad word for Etsy, too. Now, maybe you don’t hang out at Etsy, which is, after all, an arts & crafts bazaar that may be of limited interest to the techies and political types hereabouts.

But it appears that Etsy might be interested in you, even if you’ve never heard of it.

This week, Etsy members are all getting emails that say (as if speaking to extraordinarily stupid kindergarteners): “Right now it’s hard to find people you know on Etsy, and that’s sad. Well, we’re changing that. We’re making it easy to connect your email address book to Etsy, so we can find people you know who are also members.”

In other words, if you’re in the address book of somebody who has an account at Etsy, they’ll soon be encouraged to upload your name, your address, and whatever other personal data about you they possess in the address book to Etsy. Without your consent. Without even your knowledge.

Whether you receive Etsy spam or not appears to be up to the discretion of the moron who uploaded your information. And once you’ve received Etsy spam at a given email address, you’re graciously “allowed” to opt out of getting any more. But nevertheless, the real bad deed is already done. Etsy will have acquired personal data on (potentially millions of) people who don’t even know they’re being data-mined. And despite all assurances, there’s no telling what Etsy will do with that information. There’s no assurance they’ll safeguard it (and why should they). There’s no telling the ways that the data could be linked with other data to create yet another profile of you and your connections and your activities.


I could be wrong in some of my suspicions about Etsy and the worst potential consequences of this grotesque new policy. Details are sketchy. And Etsy isn’t offering any clarifications. This week’s patronizing message and this updated passage in their privacy policy are about the only Clues:

We utilize a contact-importer feature to help you identify people from your email address books who are current members of Etsy and invite any other contact to join Etsy. You may connect directly with your email service provider and import your contacts to Etsy. When you add contacts to your Etsy circle, they will automatically receive an email notification. When you invite contacts to join Etsy, you may preview the email invitation before Etsy generates and sends it. Recipients of invitations may opt out of receiving future invitations via a convenient link located in the invitation email. If you do not want your contacts to be able to find your Etsy username through your email address, you may opt out through your account privacy settings.

Etsy has always been about networking. I have a very small Etsy jewelry store that’s never done well, partly because of timing (I got into jewelry-making just as it peaked and right before the crash of 2008) and partly because I’ve never haunted the Etsy forums, participated in Etsy teams, or created Etsy “circles” — whatever they might be.

But the idea that it’s “sad” that “we” can’t find our friends on Etsy is — as some of the 4,000 messages of protest have pointed out — just plain silly. The thing that’s hard to find is the items you’re looking for. Etsy has a very poor search engine, and one that is so biased toward the newest listings that the only way you can ensure your items will be found is to keep “churning” listings. Which costs money every time you do it.

I’m really impressed with the response of Etsy members. For “arty types” the writers of those protests show a lot of concern for privacy and a lot more regard for customers than Etsy itself is displaying. I’m not impressed at all with Etsy’s response, which runs from nil to a few more bland bits of kindergarten talk.

I was thinking about closing my Etsy store, anyhow. Only a few great buyers have kept it alive since the crash. (Thank you. 🙂 )When my last items are sold or when the listings expire I’ll close the shop but still create jewelry on commission or for my own enjoyment.

The irony is that, should you want to buy any of that jewelry, you won’t be placing yourself in any greater danger from hackers, spammers, and data-miners than you already are. In fact, if you become a member of Etsy or already are one, you’ll soon be given the option not to let your friends “find” you via their uploaded address books. If you aren’t a member of Etsy, you stand an even greater chance of getting Etsy spam.

But all of us, no matter who we are, might never know which of our “friends” have turned us over to commercial marketers and data miners.

Some of the thousands of Etsy members raging against this new “feature” have questioned whether it’s even legal. In some countries, it may not be. In no country is this a senisble or ethical way to treat people. And on the surface, it appears sneakier than any datamining stunt Facebook has ever pulled.

Somebody — I wish I could remember who — recently said something very sharp. When it comes to dealing with social networking companies — or social networking wannabes like Etsy which have forgotten they’re marketplaces in which participants pay commissions to list and sell tangible goods — we are the product being bought and sold. And increasingly, it seems as if we’re entitled to about as much consideration as a marketer might give to a pair of sox or a package of toilet paper.


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty January 31, 2011 4:16 pm

    Wow… bends your mind sometimes what people can think up. Thanks for warning us Claire…

  2. Claire
    Claire January 31, 2011 4:55 pm

    Well, in a way I actually hope I’m unintentionally misunderstanding or exaggerating, MamaLiberty. What Etsy is planning seems SO crappy I want it not to be true.

    Etsy’s communication is routinely terrible, and in this case the vagueness of the announcement led some members to believe that Etsy would simply start mining contact information from their computers without their consent. Fortunately that’s not the case — yet. But it’s still hard to know what Etsy’s really up to and they aren’t bothering to elucidate.

    But clearly Etsy (formerly a very nice place) has forgotten that it is a marketplace for goods and is financed by its members. It seems so fixated on becoming a kind of Facebook for buyers and sellers that it may very well fall on its face.

  3. Ellendra
    Ellendra January 31, 2011 8:53 pm


    They send messages advertising new listings, but as far as I can remember they’ve never asked me for info about my friends. And, they only charge a fee if the item sells, unlike etsy or ebay.

  4. Claire
    Claire February 1, 2011 7:38 am

    Ellendra — Thank you. Good link. (Better, it seems, than

    The more I think about what Etsy is doing, the more disgusted I am. Aside from the privacy concerns, I think they’re making a string of foolish business decisions that are going to bite them hard one day — neglecting their core, paying business in a silly attempt to become “Facebook with arts and crafts.” As I write this, the thread with the protests has expanded to nearly 500 pages — and nobody from Etsy is stepping in to answer. There’s another, related thread that’s gone 20 pages so far and the only Etsy spokesperson in it is speaking up only to chide people who object to the new policy (again, in that “talking to kindergarteners” tone that now seems characteristic of Etsy).

    I’ll stay with Etsy only until the opt-out mechanism appears. Once I select it, I’m gone. I know that won’t solve the problem, since idiots are going to accept the invitation to open their address books and no amount of opting out will change that. But ugh. It used to be a pleasant place. Thanks again for the link.

  5. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear February 1, 2011 10:27 am

    Heh. Reminds me of way back when Spam Arrest datamined its users’ whitelist and spammed their contacts. When the dumb[…] figured out people didn’t like that, they fell back on two defenses: 1) it wasn’t spam because they had an existing business relationship with the spam victims by virtue of their having communicated with someone used SA, and 2) contacting every writer they could reach who had been critical of them and demanding the criticism be pulled of the ‘Net. That worked real good; I got interviewed by AP about it.

  6. Claire
    Claire February 1, 2011 11:41 am

    Carl-Bear — I had forgotten that about Spam Arrest. Guess they didn’t see the irony in an anti-spam operation spamming people, eh?

    And don’t you just LOVE the old “existing relationship” dodge? Businesses with 800 numbers like to make the same claim. You dial in once. Their system captures the number you’re calling from (even if you’ve put a block on it) — and voila! you’ve just given them “consent” to do anything they want with your information, because after all, you initiated “a relationship” with them.


  7. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear February 1, 2011 12:17 pm

    When it really matters, I stop doing business with a-holes that play that game.

    When Spam Arrest asserted that right, it only made things worse. They _claimed_ they only went after v/i/c/t/i/m/ people who had voluntarily “verified” their addresses to get on user whitelists. Not so. When I was the editor of DF!, a couple of people signed up for my update mailing list, only to get bounced by Spam Arrest, and I refused to verify on the grounds that anyone asking that I update them on DF! doings should 1) be smart enough to whitelist us themselves, 2) be smart enough to protect their privacy by NOT channeling their email through a third party unnecessarily ( and boy did SA prove the wisdom of that), and 3) be smart enough to figure out how to whitelist someone with their own email client for free. Still got spammed. As I recall, a LOT of people called out SA on that little lie.

    Looks like people are still failing that IQ test, because I just looked and SA is still going. Ironically, they have a “TRUSTe – WE DON’T SPAM” logo on their front page.

  8. deeply offended
    deeply offended March 11, 2011 5:43 pm

    Etsy has recently made all users real names and purchase history available on the web. They can be searched from google (I checked). They are also refusing to contact buyers to alert them to this change. They do allow names to be changed, but only with a two day waiting period. There is a thread on their forum about it here… where they have refused to respond to serious concerns for customer privacy. Since Etsy is refusing to tell notify its’ members, please help me get the word out to them by posting on your website. Thank you.

  9. Claire
    Claire March 11, 2011 6:03 pm

    deeply offended — You’ve got plenty of cause for offense, as does anybody who ever set up a shop or bought on Etsy. I’m letting my listings lapse, then will move to another site.

    About that link, though. It takes me to Etsy, but says there’s no such page on the site. I’ll try to find the proper page. But if you’re reading this, you might want to post again with a working link.

  10. -s
    -s March 16, 2011 9:22 am

    No apology, no acknowledgment of the grievous error and gratuitous insult to customers and buyers. The Etsy blog post has a non-apology.

    Not only will I never venture near that website again, but I will be on the lookout for the names Adam Brown, Rob Kalin, Adam Freed, Chad Dickerson, and anyone with a management role at Etsy. I’m certain that not all of these folks participated in and approved of this debacle, but if they won’t identify and cleanse themselves of the responsible parties there is little choice but to shun the lot of them.

  11. Claire
    Claire March 16, 2011 9:39 am

    Amen to that -s. Etsy’s desperate act of closing the barn door after the entire herd has escaped defines “too little, too late.” Their implied blaming of the victims is despicable. Their belief that the only problem is an aging feedback system is total blindness. Even aside from their ghastly privacy breaches, the desire of Etsy’s management team to neglect its marketplace functions in favor of aping Facebook looks like a classic business error.

    I keep thinking about the comment in their “Rethinking Feedback” non-apology, “We believe that markets are conversations.” Not markets entail conversations, but markets are conversations. It appears to be a central statement of their philosophy. My eyes keep crossing. Well, Etsy boys, if you truly believe that the ultimate function of a marketplace is just for people to gossip and chat, good luck to you. You’re gonna need it.

Leave a Reply