Etsy's People Search Means You Can Google My Girdle [UPDATE]

Reports that Etsy's letting the world see your purchases is very distressing to those of us whose now-visible shopping lists read like an 80-year-old woman's lingerie drawer. And, you know, everyone else too.

Since apparently anyone who Googles me will be able to see, I might as well admit it: I buy a lot of vintage shapewear. Girdles, shapers, garter belts, you name it, I own it in multiple colors as long as those colors are "frumpy," "dowdy" and "mauve." Not to mention bullet-bras that look like something out of a convent-centric 60's bad-girl flick. Some would argue that I'm sporting a rather grotesque merry-widow as I write — it's very beneficial to the posture, in my non-professional opinion.

So, yeah, I buy a lot of this stuff. Fritter my money away on it, even. Which shouldn't be anyone's business, but now, unfortunately, could be. It's an unfortunate consequence of Etsy's new "People Search" feature, which is intended to widen the site's reach and promote networking.

Let me say that I like Etsy a lot, from a customer's standpoint: it's an unparalleled resource for a lot of things; the interface is user-friendly; I've found sellers to be uniformly courteous, professional and delightful. I don't begrudge the company expansion, and social-networking is actually a logical outgrowth of Etsy's community feeling. But the issue is one of insufficient disclosure — something at-odds with the site's generally transparent policies and easily-navigable profile options.

Explains Ars Technica,

The problem is that, aside from a thread in Etsy's forums (which is almost entirely used by sellers, not buyers), Etsy has not notified users of the change in privacy settings or policy. Previously, users could search Etsy for seller names, but the names of buyers were not exposed as part of the search. Not only are buyers searchable now, they're even searchable by real name if that info is in their account profiles-this is not a required element of the registration process, but there's nothing to indicate that it's optional. Most users enter it to enable a smooth transaction when they make a purchase.

Even if users haven't entered their full names, their profiles are still searchable by username. Even better, people's Etsy profiles and their purchase histories (via the feedback they leave) are beginning to show up under Google results for their names. Even if the buyer didn't leave feedback, a seller could leave feedback for the buyer and still expose what that person purchased.

In other words, while presumably the Google element was unintended, it's a choice on the site's part not to make the change clearly apparent — which is probably what's upsetting people, since it's always felt, well, like a friendly community. It's far from tragic — there's no risk of leaked financial details, for instance — but it's apparently a potential source of embarrassment. And really, beige girdles are the least of it. Here's one worst-case scenario comment from an Etsy thread: "Found an XXL glass dildo with veins and swirled gold coloring (beautiful piece really) and checked to see if anyone favorited it. Someone did. She also favorited some cosplay cat eat hats [sic] and a bell collar/necklace thing. Then I found her on Facebook."

When you do know, you can change your settings to private — I did — and remove your real name from your account. The issue is letting people know, since Etsy opted us all in automatically. The site's CEO tells Ars Technica, "It was the 'mixture of scenarios' [the ability to search buyers and then find their feedback history] that created the situation. In any event, we escalated this issue and addressed it." While that's vague, it sounds promising. Even so, I'd change my profile if I were you. Just in case.

UPDATE: In response to these concerns, Etsy has now made all settings private by default. Huzzah!


Etsy Users Irked After Buyers, Purchases Exposed To The World
[Ars Technica]