Privacy Police

Etsy Changes Its Privacy Policy and Pivots Towards Real Names [Updated]

privacy head Etsy Changes Its Privacy Policy and Pivots Towards Real Names [Updated]

Careful about entering your real name, leaf people.

“Your friends at Etsy” sent out an email this afternoon alerting Etsy community members now “over 10 million strong!” to some notable changes in its privacy policy.

Guess they were hoping transparency would help them avoid the same PR debacle that happened when an opt-out feature in the Feedback System inadvertently made some users’ purchases, including artisanal dildos, searchable under their real name. In response to the media, Etsy decided to make all purchase and feedback private by default in March, but users alleged that prior to the policy change, the company shut down Etsy forums complaining of the same glitch.

Today’s notification directs users to two separate blog posts, one on changes to the privacy policy and one about Etsy’s new policy of showing real names, if they are provided, rather than usernames.

The updates to the privacy policy appear to be centered around clarifying the policy for users, as well as offering more control for communication settings now that there is an SMS integration (friends will be able to find you by your phone number). It also details what will happen now that Etsy is enhancing its integration with Twitter and Facebook.

“In respect of your privacy, Flash cookies, clear gifs, and any third-party tracking technologies are not connected to your personal identifying information from Etsy,” says the post, adding rather circuitously, “As a reminder: Etsy still does not share your information without your explicit consent, except as specified in our Privacy Policy.”

According to the company’s post, the real name change, which applies to both buyers and sellers, is supposed to clarify the difference between a person and a shop.

“Almost everywhere on the site, the single username/shop name represents a person and a shop and cannot be changed. As Etsy grows and evolves, this makes less sense. There are also several places on the site where, if you click on a username (which is also a shop name),  you don’t know where you are going. Will you find more information about the person (shop owner) or the shop? The changes we are announcing today aim to make this more clear.

Starting October 18, 2011, shop owners will have two ways to represent themselves across the site. Instead of being just a username/shop name, shop owners will now be displayed as a person who owns a shop. Shop owners can enter their full name, if they choose to, which will be displayed with their shop name and link when they participate in Forums, Teams and other areas of the site. This will allow shop owners to promote their shops while they participate across Etsy.”

This way, there are separate profiles: personal profiles and shop profiles. It also addresses what Etsy says is a popular request: letting shop owners change the name of their shop.

However, the real name policy also applies to users without a shop, ostensibly for consistency.

“As part of these changes, we will also start to show the full names of members who don’t own shops, so everyone is represented consistently across the site. Showing your full name is always optional. You don’t need to enter a full name and you can always remove your name from your profile completely. If you choose not to provide a full name, we will show your username to represent you as a person.”

The post notes that real names will not be displayed for past activity.

“We will make these changes in Treasury, Forums, and Team discussions starting October 18 and going forward. However, it’s important to note that your past participation (Forum and Team discussion, etc.) will remain attached to your username and will not display your full name and shop name.”

It’s unclear, at least to Betabeat, whether you need to opt-out of it going forward. We’ve reached out to Etsy for comment. But we all know how that worked out the last time.

UPDATE: Adam Brown, Etsy’s press manager emailed Betabeat to clarify the new policy and emphasized that the name change was merely response to demand, “We’re separating user identity and shops to fulfill a long-requested feature that shop owners be able to change their shop names,” he wrote, adding:

“It is not a matter of opting in or out. Starting on October 18, If a person provides their full name during Etsy site registration or adds it to their profile, then it will be displayed publicly. If they decide not to enter it, or if they decide to remove it, then their username will be displayed instead. As always, providing full names is 100% optional.

As you can see from the comments in this forum thread, it has been well-received by Etsy members already: http://www.etsy.com/teams/7718/site-help/discuss/9114846 We’ve also received many emails from members who are very excited about the changes, and the additional features that we plan to release. We’re excited about them too, because it makes navigation easier for shoppers, and also gives shop owners more space to represent themselves.”

However, after we asked whether individuals who registered before Oct. 18th, i.e. those 10 million strong, would have to remove their real name if they didn’t want it displayed, Mr. Brown said, “Yes, regardless of when a person has registered, if they have entered their full name, it will be displayed. If they do not want it to be displayed, then they will need to remove it from their account profile. Everyone has to choose a username, and their username will be displayed if their full name is not entered, or if they remove their full name.”

Since we don’t actually remember if we used our real name, guess we’ll have to go into our account and check–or risk exposing our love of  zipper necklaces and vintage maps of Alabama.

Update to the update: Mr. Brown would like us to clarify the last statement, “If you’re talking about exposing your love of them because they are in your favorite items list (which can be set to public or private), then yes, that is true. However, all feedback for items that have been purchased is anonymous.” If you’re still with us, we promise no more updates. At least not tonight. But we may have to update you on that.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com