eBay's $1 Christmas promotion hacked

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We might be mocking the “fun” trees around here, but there are more serious complaints in the US about eBay.com’s Christmas promotion. Unhappy users are complaining that a range of $1 deals which are supposed to reward loyal eBay members, are instead being snapped up by hackers using ‘bots’, software that will automatically track down and grab the deals before any human users get a look-in.

eBay.com’s $1 Holiday Doorbuster promotion offers lucky eBayers the change to win a range of items for just $1, fixed price, with free shipping. You can win one of 100 smaller items – an Iron Man Blu-Ray DVD or a train set today – or the day’s super-huge luxury item, today’s being a one person mini-sauna.

The prizes are listed at random times, and so to be in with a chance of winning, you need to be either glued to eBay 24/7, or you need to be very lucky and looking at exactly the right time. Or, as some eBay forum users suspect, you need a bit of software to search and buy for you.

Unhappy users point out that many of the $1 deals show “0000” on their hit counter, suggesting that no humans have visited the page (though equally I think it might show a problem with eBay’s rarely-accurate hit counters). Many of the ended items have been won by users with 0 or single-figure feedback scores; I took a look through the Wii listings and it seems that the vast majority of doorbusters were won by 0 feedback bidders.


This might sound like paranoia on behalf of users who’ve missed out, but it’s not: the script is available from RentACoder for just $20 (but get a move on because the promotion has only four days left to run).
eBay spokesman Usher Lieberman said that the company is “doing everything in our power to ensure that all eBay users have an equal opportunity to search for and win these hot holiday items”. But inevitably, some eBay users have taken matters into their own hands, for example posting listings posing as doorbuster items to fool the scripts. Sadly, a few genuine $1 bidders have been fooled too: this isn’t the way to do it.

As I’ve been reading the forums this morning, one thing’s struck me: the sheer amount of disbelief and bad feeling that seems to be the default around eBay giveaways. “Sell an Ipod for a buck, free ship? Something smells fishy,” writes one user. “Ebay will try anything to get those sales statistics up,” says another. “I do feel bad for those honest individuals who actually believed that ebay had (momentarily) invested in a level playing field for the “Holiday Doorbusters” promotion.” “Maybe eBay is just buying their own stuff back before we can blink. They have to save money somehow.” Or as one TechCrunch commenter says, “Did anyone not expect this?”

It doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to win with this one, least of all eBay.

9 Responses

  1. Yeah I don’t understand the 0000 hit counter part. I mean if you are looking at the page and it says 0000 obviously a human is there and it should say at least 0001 if it is working. That aside it did cross my mind more than once to create a bot to do this. I didn’t realize others were already doing it though.

  2. Again, I just think that ebay has lost the faith and trust and positive attitude that ebay users once had. They need to stop all the bells and whistles nonsense stuff and focus very very hard on winning ebay users trust back again. Things like this is just breaking it down even further.

    I got a feeling they have lost touch with everything that made ebay what it was, a couple of years ago!

  3. Re. hit counters, I have sold items myself and seen 0000 on the hit counter, so I am not putting too much faith in that as evidence of bot activity. I think, as far as proof goes, that hit counters are an unnecessary red herring. There is plenty of other solid proof of what’s going on.

  4. Surely it can’t be that difficult for software bots to work this out. From what I’ve seen all the items are BIN listed by user ID’s with zero feedback. All you’d need to do is be looking for new BIN listings from users with zero feedback because no regular user on ebay with no feedback can list BIN. Or am I missing something?

  5. @ # 6

    I think that is pretty much how it works. I don’t remember all the rules but I think the only people that can do buy-it-now must have 10+ feedback or be id verified.

    It would have been real easy to rig up the eBay API to do a search for the items, confirm it was a doorbusters prize, and then use a different application to snipe the listing (API can’t be used to buy). It would violate the API agreement but nothing regarding the contest itself.

  6. #2
    I once had an item that had had 217 hits within the first minute of listing it. Not quite sure where that came from but it made me laugh

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