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eBay sellers say new anti-spam system is backfiring

The auction giant's new system that was designed to limit spam is forcing some sellers to weed through even more junk mail to find legitimate messages from bidders.

eBay's new e-mail system, which was designed to limit the amount of junk mail sent to its members, is instead forcing some sellers to weed through stacks of unsolicited e-mail to find legitimate messages from bidders.

Launched last week, the new mail system allows eBay members to contact one another without revealing their e-mail addresses. But because of the way the system addresses e-mail, programs designed to block spam, or unsolicited e-mail, are filtering out some of the messages sent through the new system.

Some eBay sellers say the only way they have found to ensure they receive messages from bidders is to turn off their spam filters and go through messages one by one.

"This is bad," said Kathy Harvey, an eBay seller from Moline, Ill. "We all knew in advance that this was not going to work, and it's not working."

eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said that members' mail filters are weeding out some of the messages sent by the company's new mail system. Some members have been able to address the problem by modifying their filters, he said.

"We're looking at some ways to address it here to make this more convenient for people," he said. "We're exploring a number of options."

eBay announced the new e-mail system last month as part of a policy that restricts access to customer e-mail addresses. Before the policy, any member could look up another member's e-mail address.

Now, sellers can access the e-mail addresses of bidders on their auctions, and winning bidders can access the e-mail addresses of sellers. eBay funnels all other member e-mail messages through a mail system on its servers.

The company has said that spam is among the biggest complaints of its members. But some members have charged that the purpose of the policy is to prevent members from making deals outside of eBay. eBay has taken steps to discourage off-system deals, but eBay representatives say they cannot stop them.

The new e-mail system directs messages sent through it to recipients without placing anything in the "send to" field of the message. Since the sender can receive a carbon copy of the e-mail, the ostensible purpose is to hide the recipient's e-mail address from the sender.

But many filtering programs are weeding out messages that omit a recipient's address, because spammers often send blind carbon copy messages to dozens of recipients at one time. The recipient of a blind carbon copied message often will not see anything in the "send to" field.

Although some filtering programs can be adjusted to allow desired mail to pass through, the only way for sellers to guarantee that they will receive legitimate messages would be to turn off the filters.

eBay's new mail system is an "imperfect solution to a legitimate problem," said Eytan Urbas, vice president of marketing at Mailshell.com, which provides a service that weeds out junk mail. "In order to effectively use eBay, members will have to accept a greater amount of spam. That seems to me an unfair trade off."

Kathy, a seller from Rockford, Mich., who declined to give her last name, said her e-mail filters were placing messages from her bidders into her junk mail folder. She turned off the filters and said she is now getting about 30 spam messages a day in her in-box.

"This has become nuisance," she said. "It is totally unacceptable to me."