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Notes From Chad

Apr 27, 2012

by Chad Dickerson handmade and vintage goods

I wanted to comment on the recent controversy over one of our featured sellers and the questions it has raised about Etsy policies. First, I want to let everyone know that I hear you. Thank you for asking good and fair questions. I’ll admit that it’s been difficult for us to find the right balance between upholding our value of transparency for the community, on the one hand, and protecting our promise of privacy to each individual member of Etsy, on the other. We’ve spent a lot of time internally trying to figure out the best approach that honors each commitment. As we wrote earlier in the week, Ecologica Malibu’s operation meets our standard for the marketplace, based on a full internal investigation and policies that have been in place since 2009. Frankly, the easiest path for us would have been to have a knee-jerk reaction to the outcry and shut the shop down, but we took a deeper look and ultimately concluded that the shop does not violate our policies. The community has understandably demanded clarification on our policies, so on Wednesday, we posted details about the rules on collectives and production assistance. We know we have more work to do to clarify our policies.

Having looked at a number of these cases in my time at Etsy, there are times when available public evidence suggests that a violation of our policy is clear, and our investigations find that it’s actually not the case. In other scenarios, a seller who by all appearances is operating within our policies is aggressively violating them and leveraging the overall goodwill of the Etsy community to manipulate the system. In both situations, making what we think is the right decision can cause our process to look unfair or unjust to the community. Juries make decisions after hearing all of the evidence, and that’s how we approach our work. If we made decisions based purely on public outcry — ignoring evidence before us — then we would be operating based on a mob mentality, and this would be destructive to the long-term health of the community.

I realize that not knowing precisely how we conduct these investigations and what we consider proof might feel agonizing or frustrating for some members of our community. We believe this creative community’s interest is best served by keeping the details of our investigations private. Sellers have proprietary information such as suppliers, process, and private business arrangements that they may not want revealed to potential competitors. In addition, we don’t disclose specific details about what we review because we don’t want to give those who are intentionally breaking Etsy’s rules an easier way to get around them. But I can tell you more generally about our thorough process for evaluating shops.

When the internal team at Etsy begins to look at a particular shop or listing, we request a lot of very specific information. This may include who is involved in their shop, how their items are produced, or how orders are fulfilled. Sellers then provide extensive responses to us based on a standard process, and we review the documentation carefully. In some cases, a dozen or more pages of detailed written, photo or video documentation come back from our inquiry. We then compare that information with signals from our own data and the independent research we do to make a decision based on what we’ve learned. We do make some judgment calls and depend on people telling us the truth. But like all Internet platforms, we have reliable technical tools for verifying answers to the kinds of questions we ask, such as where are your items shipped from, where are you located and who do you work with.

Much of the information we learn from investigations can’t be shared with the larger community out of respect for the privacy of the seller being investigated, so there is a natural divergence between what the community sees when they report a seller and what we see as we go deeper on the case. Etsy is lucky to have a dedicated community that helps us by reporting suspicious listings and shops based on what they see and their experience making things themselves. In our DOs and DON’Ts, we say “flagging is akin to neighborhood watch.” But depending on how you participate in the investigative process — as a community member, an Etsy employee, or a seller we are investigating — you will have differing levels of visibility at different stages of the process.

The larger issue here is transparency, and it can be difficult in a marketplace where we have obligations both to the community at large, and to individuals. We’ve been actively working on product changes — starting even before this particular incident — to promote more transparency into the production processes of all Etsy sellers, and to shop businesses as a whole. I’m committed to continuing that work and providing greater transparency, even within the constraints of privacy. I know how much our community cares about preserving what makes Etsy special, and we do, too.

On that note, I wanted to talk a bit more about expectations for behavior in the Etsy community, because I think experiences like this can help us all communicate better in the future. Our DOs and DON’Ts say: “We expect all members of Etsy (including Etsy’s staff) to treat each other with respect and kindness. Remember that behind every username is a real person with feelings.” Etsy has always been about the human element in commerce, and always will be. Real people make mistakes (I know we have made our fair share) and there will be misunderstandings and sometimes bruised feelings along the way. None of this excuses personal attacks on other members, or Etsy staff, like we have seen over the past week. We will not allow or encourage that behavior on Etsy. I want to make that crystal clear. I know that our admin and the vast majority of members love the strong sense of community that Etsy provides. It’s a rare thing, and we all have to work together to protect it.

I know our post from Wednesday is not the end of our work to clarify our policies. As many of you noted, some of these questions have been around since the beginning of Etsy. Our answers don’t yet satisfy all of the questions. While the policies have evolved over time to address some of the questions, they are still a work-in-progress. In the past nine months, we have made substantial progress in our review and enforcement process (cutting down the time it takes to review reports from many days to hours in most cases) but we need to do more on the policy side. To that end, we’re doing a top-to-bottom review of Etsy’s existing marketplace policies, and I’ll continue to give the process a high degree of personal attention. We won’t achieve perfect clarity immediately, but we will continue the dialogue with you over the next months. Thanks, and please share your thoughts.