Trust & Safety Blog

Why aren’t you transparency reporting?

Transparency -report -banner

This post by Jon Duffy, Trade Me's Manager of Trust and Safety, was originally published as a guest post on Internet NZ's blog.

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Transparency is good. We know because Trade Me just released its fourth transparency report. Four years on, it is surprising that apparently we're the only company in New Zealand regularly doing this, especially in the current privacy environment.

We were encouraged to take the plunge and begin transparency reporting after seeing the example set by some of the gargantuan global tech companies. We've taken what they do as a base and expanded on it.

Our report aims to include the information we think will be most useful to our community and in line with being trusted and straight up. The level of detail we include won't be appropriate to every company who should be reporting. But, regardless of what the final form looks like, any effort at transparency is better than nothing. It's disappointing that more New Zealand companies aren't doing it.

The recent trial by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner showed that a range of companies were sufficiently interested in the idea of transparency reporting to participate on a confidential basis.

So why are we yet to see a barrage of transparency reports published this year from the banks, the telcos, from utility companies, airline companies and loyalty schemes?

We haven't done a poll, but speaking from experience we can make a few guesses as to why. Here are our top three:

Undeveloped privacy culture

For private companies with significant databases, releasing information to government agencies is a simple reality of trading. There is devil in the detail, but in order to be transparent, companies must embrace this reality, and publicly. For some, this will involve a cultural shift.

Organisations that look for ways to sweep their levels of disclosure under the carpet need to ask themselves why they are hiding this information from their customers. Just because being a closed shop is the way it has always been done doesn't mean it has to stay that way.

We think the tide of consumer expectation is turning and companies may soon have no choice but evolve and increase transparency to avoid embarrassment down the track.

We have found transparency reporting a useful annual check-in on the reality of our own privacy culture.

We make improvements where the process shows we could do better.

As well as a check on performance, the openness of transparency reporting is now influencing our company culture and brand.

A lack of resource committed to privacy

In order for privacy culture to thrive, businesses need to devote appropriate resource to doing things right. Handling requests for information from government agencies, whether they are under the Privacy Act or some form of compulsion order, takes expertise. It is not simply a processing exercise.

It is an unfortunate reality that government agencies cannot always be relied upon to produce legal, proportionate and appropriate requests for information. The Privacy Act places the onus on the agency releasing information to be satisfied that a release is justified in the circumstances.

There is no obligation to release, just because a government agency has requested the information. Staff need the expertise and confidence to push back on agencies and refuse to release if the appropriate standards aren't met.

Needless to say, hiring the expertise to do this well comes at a price. Businesses need to commit to spending the money it takes to get it right. Similarly, if you don't have the data on what you are releasing to government agencies structured in the right way (or at all), you won't be able to extract it accurately in a report.

Again, companies need to commit to building the tools to do this well. This is not cheap.

Transparency reporting provides a way to highlight government agencies who are making inaccurate or disproportionate requests. We think this helps them improve which is a good result for everyone.

A fear of brand damage

When you first take the plunge, transparency reporting is scary.

How on earth are your customers going to react to the fact that you are asked to disclose their financial data to the IRD on a regular basis? Will they shun you?

Or will they increase their trust in you because they see you being upfront about what is happening to their data?

The majority of the feedback we have received over the past four years has been positive. Sure, some people are surprised at the level of requests from some agencies and want to talk about it – but that is a good conversation to have.

The brand implications of increased expectations around transparency is something for each company to wrestle with, albeit with limited certainty.

At Trade Me, we believe it is the right thing to do. Boards and executive teams should be actively discussing transparency, and we see a time when customers will simply expect it from companies holding their data.

As a final thought, there is value in pointing out that this discussion has focussed on private sector reporting, but what about the reverse?

Why are government agencies not reporting on how many requests they make? Surely this is a shared responsibility.

Are you a Trade Me user? Our 2016 Transparency Report is available for you to read here: Trade Me Transparency Report 2016

Why did that listing disappear?

Unsafe -adapter -plug

If you’ve ever been bidding on an auction and winning, and suddenly when time runs out, the listing is ‘Withdrawn by the administrator’ and you’ve wondered what the heck is going on, this blog post is for you.

What’s usually happened in these situations is we’ve asked the seller to provide information about the item they are selling, and they haven’t gotten back to us before the auction was due to expire.

Some examples of the types of information we may request from sellers include:

  • proof of possession of the item
  • information relating to the authenticity of an item
  • certification to sell specific items
  • substantiation of claims made about an item
  • information relating to product safety and compliance.

The information we request is always with member safety in mind, and if we don’t get the information, we can’t let the sale go ahead. By waiting until the last minute to withdraw the listing, it gives the seller as much time as possible to get back to us.

Sellers can also provide us with the information we requested after the auction has expired. When this happens, the item can then be relisted.

Advertising pea plants, seed or pea straw on Trade Me

A guest post by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) about the Pea Weevil

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is currently working with Wairarapa pea growers to get rid of an infestation of a harmful insect, the pea weevil.

The pea weevil larvae feed on young peas, potentially creating substantial damage to pea crops and home vege gardens.Pea -weevil -ban -mpi

The plan is to remove these insects by starving them of their only food source – pea plants – for two years. There is now a complete ban on growing peas in the whole Wairarapa region including and south of Pahiatua.

Pea seed and pea straw is being removed from sale in the Wairarapa and MPI would appreciate the support of Trade Me sellers in this important work.

Wairarapa members with pea-related products should not be selling them. There is a risk the pea weevil could be inadvertently spread out of the affected area in these materials.

If you are based outside the Wairarapa and intend selling pea seedlings, pea seed or pea straw on Trade Me, we would appreciate it if you included the following in your listing description:

  • A statement to the effect that the products for sale should not be used in the Wairarapa.
  • A link to information about the pea weevil: www.mpi.govt.nz/alerts.

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Trade Me thanks MPI for this post and notes that we have banned the sale of pea straw and seed that is from the Control Area.

While the wording is voluntary, we strongly recommend members use it in their listings. 

Do not list treated timber as firewood on Trade Me

A guest post from Ministry for the Environment about the safe burning of treated wood. 

Winter is coming (or it’s already here)… and our thoughts turn to keeping warm, and stocking up on wood for our fires and wood burners. 

If you will be using an open fire or wood burner there a couple of things you need to know. 

Firstly, burning wood releases tiny particles that affect our health. 

PM10 is the collective term for very small airborne particles that 10 micrometres or less in diameter – or about one-fifth of the width of a strand of hair. These tiny particles are associated with respiratory irritation, heart disease and cancer. Poor air quality can also cause damage to the natural environment including soils, vegetation and waterways, as well as buildings, or structures like statues.

Treated timber and wet wood (ie, with a moisture content greater than 25 percent) are especially polluting and should not be used as fuel at all. Aside from risking your health, in some regions it breaches local body bylaws to burn treated timber, and the council could undertake compliance action ranging from abatement notices to fines. Check the rules with your regional council or unitary authority.

It was recently brought to the Ministry for the Environment’s attention that people have been selling treated demolition timber for firewood, but it’s a practice we strongly discourage. We’re delighted that Trade Me is supporting safer wood burning practices and better health by banning people from selling treated timber as firewood. Of course treated timber can continue to be sold, but will be listed elsewhere on their website for other purposes, such as repairs or building projects.

Secondly, if you want to install a second-hand wood burner, including ones bought on Trade Me – buyer beware: there are rules in place that prohibit the installation of domestic wood burners that don’t meet national environmental standards which are specified by the Ministry for the Environment and enforced by councils. These standards ensure all new domestic wood burners burn efficiently to minimise health and environmental risks from poor air quality.

In technical terms, wood burners must have emissions of less than 1.5 grams of particles per kilogram of dry wood burnt and a thermal efficiency of not less than 65 per cent. Authorised wood burners that meet these standards are listed here. We recommend you discuss your plans with your local council. As well as the national environmental standards, your council might have region-specific rules or guidelines you need to know about before you buy. 

For more information about wood burners and fuels contact your regional council/unitary authority or the New Zealand Home Heating Association.

For more information about New Zealand’s air quality and environmental or health risks see the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

Please note:

Trade Me is banning the sale of treated timber in the firewood category from 16 August. Any listings of treated timber offered for firewood will be removed.

All sellers listing wood burners or wood fuel types will need to continue to meet the existing standards for their intended use. Sellers may be asked for evidence of compliance. 

A big thanks for MfE for putting this advice together.

Trade Me 2016 Transparency Report released

Police Enquiry By Type Break Down Trade Me

Like many NZ-based companies, we receive enquiries for information from NZ government agencies to assist them with their responsibilities to maintain the law.

We've put together our fourth 'Trade Me Transparency Report' to give insight into how we work with government agencies to help keep our website trusted and safe.

Follow this link to read the Transparency Report or click here to download it as a PDF.

This transparency report details the number of enquiries from government agencies for information from us in the year from 1 July 2015 to 1 June 2016. 

We have expanded our discussion section this year to include a bit more commentary on topical privacy issues, including whether the Privacy Act is appropriate for information releases to government agencies and whether we should routinely notify our members when their information is released.

Prior reports can be found below: 

  1. 2015 Transparency Report
  2. 2014 Transparency Report
  3. 2013 Transparency Report

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