eBay Holiday Contest Overrun By Automated Scripts, Honest Users Disgruntled

E-commerce juggernaut eBay is under fire because of a holiday giveaway contest gone awry. On Tuesday 25 November, eBay announced its $1 Holiday Doorbusters deals promotion, giving away 100 gifts ranging from jewelry, clothing, digital cameras, GPS devices to a brand-new Chevrolet Corvette for a $1 fixed price on a daily basis.

The only catch is that there’s no announcement on when these items are released or in which category they will be in.

But cheaters came up with a clever way of winning deals on an automated basis by running scripts to continuously bid on items for $1. That way, they’re gaming the system and winning hundreds of auctions before the items are even available to the public. As evidence, angry eBay users point to a number of closed auctions where the visitor counter shows zero users have actually visisted the item’s page before it was won. That way, an electric scooter worth $1,000 was won by a bidder before anyone visited the page last weekend. (Update: a commenter says eBay took the counters of the listings to make the whole thing less apparent)

Honest eBay users are evidently unhappy with the whole situation, and the eBay Forums reflect that. Meanwhile, bot scripts are being offered on RentACoder for $20 and even free of charge here and there.

The terms and conditions for the contest states:

Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to cancel or suspend part or all of this Promotion at any time without notice, if in the Sponsor’s opinion there is any suspected or actual evidence of electronic or non-electronic tampering with any portion of the Promotion, or if virus, bugs, non-authorized human intervention or other causes corrupt or impair the administration, security, fairness or integrity of the Promotion or for any other reason in its sole discretion.

With that in mind, MSNBC reporter Bob Sullivan interviewed a couple of eBay representatives about the issue, and found out that they’re unable to provide a clear explanation of what kind of automation is allowed and what is prohibited, even contradicting themselves about the issue of using automated tools to bid for items during the contest.

So eBay, if you’re reading: do handy programmers have the right to overrun contests by automatically bidding for items without even visiting the listing, or not?