Not content with owning the way you take photos, talk to your friends and even how you work, Facebook now wants to be the place you go to buy and sell things. Facebook Marketplace, launched in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand this week, is a peer-to-peer shopping platform which hopes to capitalise on the idea that consumers trust each other more than they do brands. It aims to take on the big sites which already dominate this space like eBay, Craigslist, Etsy and Gumtree, along with a whole host of smaller “boot sale” services like Shpock.
“More than 450 million people visit buy and sell groups each month — from families in a local neighbourhood to collectors around the world,” states the official blog post. “To help people make more of these connections, today we’re introducing Marketplace, a convenient destination to discover, buy and sell items with people in your community.”
It works simply enough; users can browse items which are for sale near their location, or search for something more specific. What makes Marketplace different from eBay and other sites is that Facebook does not facilitate or regulate transactions; the buyer and seller connect via direct message to arrange the purchase and delivery.
But doesn’t it seem a little careless for Facebook to enter the social selling sphere without any intention to protect customers from potential abuse or fraud?
“Because this is offering itself as a platform for trading, but at the same time its not like Uber where there’s registered people, it is up to users to see if someone is fake,” David Emm, a cybersecurity expert at Kaspersky Labs, told the Telegraph. “It also presents the risk of face-to-face meetings in local areas, which has the potential to be taken advantage of by criminals or pedophiles…
It’s also easy to post a nice picture of something and charge money for something even if the real goods don’t exist, or they are stolen or illegal.”
If there’s one thing that tech giants like Facebook should be aware of by now, it’s that presenting people with a new tool or platform creates the inevitability that somebody will try to use it for nefarious ends. Sure, buying into the idea of consumer-to-consumer eCommerce makes good business sense. But placing too much faith in this community to police itself, and not preparing for the possibility that shady entrepreneurs might take advantage of the informal structure and establish a new black market, shows a naivety that borders on neglect.