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E-commerce site Etsy exposes users' shopping histories

Etsy is a site which allows users to easily buy and sell handmade and vintage merchandise.

We all make some odd purchases online occasionally — actually, we probably choose to make any particularly strange purchases online because they are odd — and we generally trust that no one will ever find out about them. Unfortunately e-commerce site Etsy has betrayed that trust by exposing the shopping histories of its users.

Ars Technica reports that during the rollout of its new People Search tool, Etsy — a site which encourages people to buy and sell handcrafted or vintage merchandise — made some changes to what private information is publicly displayed by default.

As a result, Etsy users' real names and shopping histories are now public, easily searchable via Etsy, and being indexed by search engines such as Google:

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.

Etsy users were not notified or warned about these privacy setting changes, so we imagine that many are currently rushing to conduct some damage control and prevent scenarios such as the one described by a commenter on the Penny Arcade Forums:

I just found a woman who's [sic] Etsy profile comes up on Google as the 5th link. I was expecting 6 or 7 pages down, but it's on the very first page, right after her online resumes (four of 'em - so I guess she's looking for work and this cannot be helping). She signed up a year ago, under the old privacy policy, and hasn't logged in since 2010.

And now I know what dildo she uses. Right down to the curvature and coloring. 

The way to prevent potential embarrassment or scenarios like that is to log into your Etsy account, head to your profile page and remove your real name. After that, find the "Your Account" link, click on "Settings" and make your purchase history private in the "Privacy" section.

You might be asking what the big deal about this whole privacy setting change is if you can hide your search history and name with a few clicks and the answer is simple.

It's the fact that Etsy chose to make the sharing of additional information an opt-out "feature" instead of something that users can decide to do on their own. Had the e-commerce site left it up to users to decide whether they want the world to know about the hand-knitted socks they've purchased, then there would be no privacy freakout — and far fewer embarrassing Google search results.

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Rosa Golijan writes about tech here and there. She's a bit obsessed with Twitter, loves to be liked on Facebook, and hopes she won't be judged by her odd Etsy purchases.