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• 500 signatories include five Nobel prize winners • Writers demand 'digital bill of rights' to curb abusesMore than 500 of the world's leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orham Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people's digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.They have urged the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the internet age.Their call comes a day after the heads of the world's leading technology companies demanded sweeping changes to surveillance laws to help preserve the public's trust in the internet – reflecting the growing global momentum for a proper review of mass snooping capabilities in countries such as the US and UK, which have been the pioneers in the field.The open letter to the US president, Barack Obama, from firms including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, will be followed by the petition, which has drawn together a remarkable list of the world's most respected and widely-read authors, who have accused states of systematically abusing their powers by conducting intrusive mass surveillance.Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Irvine Welsh, Hari Kunzru, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro are among the British authors on the list.It also includes JM Coetzee, Yann Martel, Ariel Dorfman, Amit Chaudhuri, Roddy Doyle, Amos Oz, David Grossman, and the Russian Mikhail Shishkin.Henning Mankell, Lionel Shriver, Hanif Kureishi and the antipodean writers CK Stead, Thomas Keneally and Anna Funder are other globally renowned signatories.The Guardian has published a series of stories about the mass surveillance techniques of GCHQ and its US counterpart, the NSA, over the past six months; two of the most significant programmes uncovered in the Snowden files were Prism, run by the NSA, and Tempora, which was set up by GCHQ.
In the 50s Hopper invented key software technologies that paved the way for today's computer languagesGoogle's latest doodle celebrates the life of Grace Hopper, one of the great pioneers of the computer age who is widely credited as being the "mother" of the Cobol computer language.Born as Grace Brewster Murray in New York in 1906, she later studied at Vassar College and in 1934 became the first woman in Yale University's 233-year history to graduate with a doctorate in maths.She married the New York University professor, Vincent Foster Hopper, in 1930 and retained his surname after their divorce in 1945.During the war, she was involved in US military research and worked on the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, an "electronic brain" which calculated rocket trajectories and was used by the Manhattan Project scientists to build the atomic bomb.It was in the 50s that Hopper pressed ahead with the pioneering work that would become central to her legacy, by inventing key software technologies that paved the way for today's computer languages.Along with genius for programming, Hopper's formidable powers of persuasion were crucial in prompting government agencies and corporations to agree on a common business programming language: Cobol.It grew out of her role in 1959 as a technical consultant to the Conference on Data Systems Languages, which brought together computer experts from industry and government. Hopper believed that programs should be written in a language that was close to English rather than in machine code or languages close to machine code.As she continued her work, Hopper served as the director of the US Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy's Office of Information Systems Planning from 1967 to 1977 and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1973. Despite retiring in 1963, she was recalled to active duty and travelled widely on international lecturing tours, rising to the rank of rear admiral.Hopper died in January 1992 and was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
One of the writers who signed a letter demanding an international bill of digital rights, says 'our masters are in the grip of a delusionary nightmare'What in principle would justify the scope of the surveillance revealed by the Snowden leak? Would it be enough, for example, if it could be shown that a specific potential act of terrorism had been prevented by, and could only have been prevented by, the full breadth and depth of what we now have learned is the playing field of the security services?We should hesitate before we stray off the touchline. The idea that public safety, the safety of the innocent, is an absolute which trumps every other consideration, is tacitly abandoned in the way we live.Nobody would be killed on the roads if the speed limit were 10 miles an hour. Flying would be safer if airport security demanded body searches with no exceptions and the examination of every item in every piece of luggage. On the matter of surveillance in general we have, without much discussion, learned to live with almost blanket surveillance by CCTV in our towns and cities. As a result thousand of crimes, including murder, have been solved and perhaps many more prevented. But how many more would there have been if we doubled the number of cameras, or increased them tenfold, a hundredfold?Between that and the surveillance we are now talking about there is a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference which hardly needs pointing out. The cameras are in public places, they are not in our houses or our cars or even in our gardens. By contrast, the world of surveillance operated by the people we pay to guard us exceeds the fevered dreams of the Stasi.Even so, let's go carefully here. The Stasi were not dealing with a global threat of murderous malignity. The constituency of everything to be feared has also been altered dreadfully by a technology which vastly underwrites a capacity for evil as it does the capacity for the social good. As for our spooks, I know what I want from them. I want them to eavesdrop on the phones, the emails, on every tap of the keyboard of anybody who comes under suspicion.
It is the world's biggest online business. But with questions being asked about its treatment of employees, what is it like to work at Amazon? Carole Cadwalladr lands a job in one of its giant warehouses and discovers the human cost of our lust for consumer goodsThe first item I see in Amazon's Swansea warehouse is a package of dog nappies. The second is a massive pink plastic dildo. The warehouse is 800,000 square feet, or, in what is Amazon's standard unit of measurement, the size of 11 football pitches (its Dunfermline warehouse, the UK's largest, is 14 football pitches). It is a quarter of a mile from end to end. There is space, it turns out, for an awful lot of crap.But then there are more than 100m items on its UK website: if you can possibly imagine it, Amazon sells it. And if you can't possibly imagine it, well, Amazon sells it too. To spend 10½ hours a day picking items off the shelves is to contemplate the darkest recesses of our consumerist desires, the wilder reaches of stuff, the things that money can buy: a One Direction charm bracelet, a dog onesie, a cat scratching post designed to look like a DJ's record deck, a banana slicer, a fake twig. I work mostly in the outsize "non-conveyable" section, the home of diabetic dog food, and bio-organic vegetarian dog food, and obese dog food; of 52in TVs, and six-packs of water shipped in from Fiji, and oversized sex toys – the 18in double dong (regular-sized sex toys are shelved in the sortables section).On my second day, the manager tells us that we alone have picked and packed 155,000 items in the past 24 hours. Tomorrow, 2 December – the busiest online shopping day of the year – that figure will be closer to 450,000. And this is just one of eight warehouses across the country. Amazon took 3.5m orders on a single day last year. Christmas is its Vietnam – a test of its corporate mettle and the kind of challenge that would make even the most experienced distribution supply manager break down and weep. In the past two weeks, it has taken on an extra 15,000 agency staff in Britain.
Jeff Bezos's 'plan' for drone deliveries is little more than a publicity stunt – timed for the biggest online shopping day of the yearThe future is here! Flying robots will, any second now, be delivering your Christmas books, DVDs and gadgets to your door within 30 minutes of you ordering them, thanks to a new initiative announced by Amazon on CBS News' 60 Minutes on Sunday.It's a brave new world, a whole new paradigm. Or so you'd think if you read most of the breathless coverage about the announcement, which will only get worse: expect a torrent of turgid think-pieces in the next 48 hours about who's going to get "disrupted" as a result of this latest shake-up – and what it means for the US's already beleaguered postal service.Here's the problem: it's all hot air and baloney. As Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, acknowledged in the 60 Minutes segment, his plan to begin delivery by drone won't be enacted until around 2018 – and that's a hugely optimistic timeline.The practical issues are manifold: the technology to make the drones operational in any sense is not yet in place. It's all well and good for the unmanned vehicles to fly to a particular GPS site, but how does it then find the package's intended recipient? How is the transfer of the package enacted? What stops someone else stealing the package along the way? And what happens when next door's kid decides to shoot the drone with his BB rifle?None of that starts to come close to the legal minefield using drones in this way entails. At present, flying drones of this sort for commercial use would be illegal in the US. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates this area, intends to make commercial drones legally viable and workable by 2015, but this deadline is all-but impossible: managing the skies with this much low-level traffic is a problem people are nowhere near solving. Opening up crowded urban areas full of terror targets to large numbers of flying platforms is always going to be packed with conflicting interests and difficulties. And all this has come before the first lawsuit caused after someone is injured by a faulty drone (or that one your neighbour shot), crashing down to earth.
In a petition to the United Nations, a group of authors agree that democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space• State surveillance of personal data is theft, say world's leading authorsA stand for democracy in a digital ageIn recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your email, your social networking and internet searches. It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership with internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption and behaviour. The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested. This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.* Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion. * Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence. * Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.* Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.
The scene you'll find at Christmas Cats TV is a unique one. A woman sits in a den that includes a Christmas tree, a hearth, and some presents — and lots of cute cats, some of which are wearing holiday sweaters.
Figures from world's biggest bookseller trumpeted as sign of how self-publishing and smaller labels are changing the industryAs many as a quarter of the top 100 Kindle books on Amazon.com are from indie publishers, according to data revealed at a trade presentation by the retailer.A chart detailing the 25 top-selling indie titles in 2012 was passed on by an audience member via Twitter.Though the term "indie" is broad, covering everything from self-published authors to publishing houses that fall outside the big six, the news has been interpreted as a victory for the go-it-alone author.A spokeswoman for Amazon.com said: "This figure is referring to Kindle books on Amazon.com in 2012, with "indie" meaning books self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So a quarter of the top 100 bestselling Kindle books on Amazon.com in 2012 were self-published via KDP."Writer.ly , an online marketplace that connects authors with freelance editors, book designers and marketeers, tweeted a picture of the Amazon-branded slide on Tuesday. It displayed the top 100 books, with about a quarter of the covers highlighted, under the title "A Quarter of top 100 on Amazon.com Indie-Published".Writer.ly, like Amazon, is based in Seattle.Though the figure refers to Amazon's US book market, it is a strong indicator of what's in store for the UK. "If the UK isn't quite there yet then it's just a time lag – we are seeing that more and more of the top books around the world are published by authors themselves," said Orna Ross, director of the UK Alliance of Independent Authors, which represents self-published writers."We are in the middle of a major change. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we reached a situation where the majority of the top books are author-published. I don't see what would stop that," Ross said.Hugh Howey, whose novel Wool became a self-publishing phenomenon after it was picked up by a publisher and hit the US bestseller lists, tweeted: "Taken together, indie authors form a new major publisher to round out the big six.
Bombarded with belfies? Up to here with status updates? 2013 is the year digital bragging took over the web. We expose the worst offendersThis is arguably the year in which internet self-obsession reached new heights. Not only did we see that digital chronicler of daily minutiae Instagram announce that it had surpassed 100m active users, but the Oxford English Dictionary people announced that "selfie" was to be the official word of the year. Little did they know that all the coolest, on-trend narcissists had already moved on to "yogis" (yoga + selfie) and "belfies" (bum + selfie), leading us to wonder exactly where self-absorption has to go from here. While we're contemplating that with horror, we thought we'd take a look at the smuggest four corners of the internet currently in existence.Rich Kids Of InstagramLaunched in 2012, Rich Kids Of Instagram is a blog dedicated to the iPhone snapshots of teens and twentysomethings living opulent lifestyles around the world, like a two-dimensional MTV Cribs for people who aren't famous. If you live by the philosophy "money talks but wealth whispers", perhaps look away now, because this is high-pitched shouting. As the website tagline puts it: "They have more money than you and this is what they do." Much of it involves infinity pools, yachts and private jets, and bar tab receipts going into the tens of thousands. Many of the posts are accompanied by nauseating captions: a picture of a room featuring a giant Lichtenstein canvas bears the words "home is where the art is"; an image of a woman's head emerging from a sea of Chanel and Hermès bags is tagged as #goldrush; a young man's "reptile" shoe collection, meanwhile, is labelled #endangered. But even more likely to have you clamouring for revolution are the posts of mock humility: a #livingroom containing an old master and a chandelier, or "weekend at the farm" involving a young man in red trousers disembarking from a helicopter.You may think looking at a 17-year-old's Ferrari ("This is how the pimps roll") might be an exercise in impoverished masochism, but the lack of self-awareness makes the whole experience strangely gratifying.
The Stanley Parable is an exploration game, as well as a narrative storytelling experiment, that puts into question the tried and true rules of video games and challenges the player's notions of choice and free will.
So many spies have targeted gamers that a central group must try to keep track of them all. That's the latest revelation from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and reported by The Guardian.
US Federal Trade Commission charges 'deception' over app which turned on lights on Android smartphones - but also told advertisers about location and device information. By Charles ArthurCharles Arthur
One Anonymous campaign takes down a big bad rapist, while another helps to intimidate women who realise there's more to activism than challenging authorityAt the same time that the "PayPal14" face felony charges in California for involvement in an Anonymous DDoS campaign in support of WikiLeaks, other Anonymous cells are using their hacktivist energies against feminists who report misogynist harassment on Twitter. Anonymous: a baffling mixture of vital, considered political protest and incomprehensible pubescent wankery.In one document, an Anonymous cell names four women as having "pull" in getting Twitter accounts suspended; two feminist activist groups are also criticised, despite having no such power. This hints that the Anonymous cell's problem is not feminists with influence over Twitter per se, but the feminist goal of changing attitudes to gendered hate speech. And herein lies a delicate tension: what, for some Anonymous cells, constitutes feminazis instigating an evil Trollocaust against free speech, I understand as activists working with an awareness that rape and harassment don't happen in a vacuum, but in a cultural climate in which it is OK to intimidate women sexually.Meh – misogyny in activist movements. What else is new? Many people think of Anonymous as a whole new kind of beast, an unprecedented cyber child of our times. But, actually, the movement fits quite neatly into a history of leaderless resistance, which has been used in the service of sweet causes, such as environmentalism and animal rights, and less than savoury ones, such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-nazism. If we think of Anonymous like leaderless resistance – as a mode of activism as opposed to a unified ideological entity – then it's easier to make sense of cells that hack epilepsy forums with flashing animations (lulz!) operating under the same umbrella as cells instrumental to Occupy or the Arab spring.So Anonymous has a genealogy. It has also inherited its methods from earlier forms of activism. For example, what, at base, is the difference between DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks and masked bodies shutting down a city street or occupying a building, with the aim of causing economic and operational disruption to an ideologically targeted institution? But another thing Anonymous has inherited from its activist forebears, sadly, is systemic blindness to female experience and to gender equality.
Guest blogger Michelle Lampinen, a digital literacy and English teacher at Biotechnology High School, describes how she reverse-engineered a rubric for student assessment that includes links and QR codes.
These detention slips are real. They're also really funny. They should make you laugh, cry, and wonder what really happened in the classroom!The post 10 Detention Slips You Must See To Believe appeared first on Edudemic.
News that Microsoft was making a "smart bra" with sensors in it to stop women from overeating was too good to be true. But researchers say they're exploring sensor bracelets so that men, too, could potentially get alerts to stop them from emotional eating.
More than 38,000 people sign petition against Apprentice star and Sun columnist's apparent jibe about Scottish life expectancyThe Apprentice star and Sun columnist Katie Hopkins has apologised after offending Scottish social media users with an apparent joke following the Glasgow helicopter crash.Several facebook groups were formed in protest and more than 38,000 people signed an online petition calling for Hopkins to be banned from TV after she tweeted on Saturday: "Life expectancy in Scotland based 07/08 birth is 59.5. Goodness me. That lot will do anything to avoid working until retirement."The petition said: "On the 30th of November 2013, Scotland was still in shock and trying to come to terms with a horrible crash that took the lives of innocent people. Within 24 hours of this happening Katie Hopkins posted vile remarks on Twitter about how long the people of Scotland live for."This is unacceptable and distressing to those who lost friends and family."We the undersigned are sick and tired of ITV and Channel 5 giving her airtime and want her banned from all TV shows on your channels such as This Morning and The Wright Stuff."This woman is nothing more than an attention seeker who does not deserve to be a celebrity."Consultant Julie Hendry tweeted: "@leicspolice I'd like to report this racist and insensitive comment from supposed media professional @KTHopkins."Hopkins, who has almost 82,000 Twitter followers, appeared to make matters worse by retweeting criticism of her, tweeting the following day: "Am told I am the Biggest Bitch in Britain. Following Independence I will only be the Biggest Bitch in England. Always a positive if you look." She added: "Yikes, I am being reported to Channel 4 and the BBC. In a moment I will forced to read the Labour manifesto and subscribe to the Guardian."She later jokingly tweeted: "There appear to be a number of conflicting petitions out there to have me hung and quartered. Please do feel free to sign them all. PC tastic."However, on Monday she tweeted, linking to a Scottish NHS document: "My tweet on Scotland was directly related to this article: I apologise to those I offended.
When I was a teenager, I thought it would be great to be an adult and be surrounded by people who weren't mean to each other all day. Enter stage left: the world wide webBack in the early 90s, when I was still at school and words such as "friend" and "message" were nouns as opposed to verbs, a particular incident occurred. For a month or so, a book had been circling among my classmates in which we wrote anonymous mean things about each other, and the statements that were deemed the funniest – invariably, the meanest – would get (anonymous) stars of approval. One day someone wrote in the book that a classmate whom I'll call Rose had made out with her cousin. More details about this fascinating make-out session were added to the book daily, and reading about Rose and her cousin became the only reason any of us wanted to come to school in the mornings. Eventually the writer of the story, whom I'll call Charlotte, couldn't resist claiming the attention she felt was duly hers and let her involvement be known.The saga now reached peak hysteria and Rose tearfully went to a teacher. Charlotte was forced to admit that she had made the whole thing up, all because she wanted some stars. (Naturally, the most salacious story a privileged, protected 13-year-old girl could think of was someone making out with their cousin.) All of us stared down at the floor as she confessed, because even though we knew Charlotte had now laid herself open to the most deliciously sharp mockery, hadn't we been, in some vague way, worse? And so it was collectively, if wordlessly, decided that this incident would never be mentioned by any of us again. But I remember vaguely thinking: "Won't it be great to be an adult when people won't lie and be randomly mean to look cool?"Enter stage left: the internet.As the proud possessor of a history GCSE, I know the pre-internet past is littered with examples of mendacious, even psychopathic adults. But even putting my history GCSE to its fullest use, I cannot recall an era in which so many adults behaved quite so much like children.
Let's hope Facebook's button stays an internal experiment – turning sympathy into a data point won't help those posting bad newsWhat would it mean to turn sympathy into a button? Apparently Facebook has already done so although has not yet made plans to launch it. The button has been developed as a solution to the difficulty of responding with "likes" to a status where someone posts bad news – as if users were not already able to negotiate this small hurdle.Facebook is proposing a menu of negative emotions that you can select when posting your status, choosing from which will allow people to respond with sympathy. But there's already the option of commenting on rather than liking bad news statuses – so if someone posts that they're ill, for example, you can write "get well soon" instead of risking looking like you're happy about their condition. Given the flexibility that already exists, a sympathy button seems both patronising towards users, and as though Facebook is trying to encroach further into the range and distribution of human emotions by turning them all into clickable options.What might come after the sympathy button – disgust buttons? Rage buttons? Anyone who has ever kicked a supermarket self check-out machine as it insisted there is an unknown item in the bagging area, will know what machines have done for anger. Emotion buttons on social networks may end up like emoticons in text, which developed as an inventive and diverting way of getting around the difficulty of conveying emotions in a form of communication void of vocal or facial expression. But the trouble is that Facebook works by counting likes. It gives your status a popularity score. So if the sympathy button works in a similar way, that means that users will also get a sympathy score.A significant part of the like function on Facebook is to win over an audience. Facebook uses an algorithm that determines what appears on a user's news feed with both a likes score and the quantity of that user's interactions. The more likes a status has, the more likely you are to see it, and the more you interact with people, the more attention you will get.
Reading is one of the major foundations of any student's studies. In any subject - including math - understanding how to read and being able to comprehend words on a page is a make or break in academics and in life more generally.The post How To Get Students To Love Reading appeared first on Edudemic.
Students in Chicago walk through gang war zones only to arrive at schools starved of music and arts. Parents in Philadelphia watch their children's chances of getting into college minimized because guidance counselors have been laid off. Community members in Miami see how poverty impacts neighborhood kids and want to do something about it. Passionate teachers in New York juggle larger class sizes, the Common Core and new evaluations, without the necessary teaching supports or economic stability. Yet they still work to create great, joyful, engaging environments for their students. For these students, these parents, these community members, these teachers, we must reclaim the promise of public education.On December 9, students, parents, educators, and community members from these and 90 other cities will take part in a National Day of Action under this banner.While Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind were market-driven, top-down policies advanced by corporate interests, large foundations and test-fixated politicians, Reclaiming the Promise is a community-driven movement, focused on investing and doing what works, and spurred on by the people who have been on the receiving end of these bad policies: students, teachers, parents and community members — including business owners, clergy and all those who make our local communities the heart and soul of America.Those closest to the classroom deserve to have their voices heard. If we keep traveling down this path laden with test fixation, budget cuts and privatization, the proud legacy of public education in the United States will fade completely, and with it our children's futures, our thriving economy and our enduring democracy. It's simple: Education is a highway to the middle class. Providing high-quality public education to every child will ensure that students aren't just college-ready but life-ready, prepared to be productive, engaged citizens. And failing to provide such education will only lead to staying where we are, as we saw in the PISA rankings this week.
Firm's boss says the online giant practises 'piracy capitalism' as trademark case loomsIn the cut-throat world of retail, it is a David-versus-Goliath battle.In one corner, there is Lush, the relatively small cosmetics company that takes a strong ethical stance on issues such as the environment, animal testing and giving to charity. And in the other, there is the might of Amazon.Lush does not allow Amazon to sell its products and its co-founder, Mark Constantine, is extremely critical of the way the US company operates. But when visitors to Amazon type the word "lush" into its search field, they are directed to alternative cosmetic products that the online giant suggests they might like to buy instead.Now Lush is taking Amazon to court, claiming it is infringing its trademark.According to documents filed in court, "Lush brought trademark infringement proceedings against Amazon on the basis that when the term 'Lush' was searched for on Amazon's website, the results returned were for goods which, although they featured the word 'lush' in a number of contexts, were not in fact made by Lush. Amazon had also bid on the Google AdWord 'Lush Bath Products' but did not, in fact, sell any Lush products."The case, on which a ruling is expected early next year, potentially has wide-ranging consequences. If Lush is successful, it could deter online retailers from making suggestions for alternatives to products that they do not sell and restrict how they use Google.The case has similarities with another dispute between two well-known brands. In May, a judge found that Marks & Spencer's use of "Interflora" in Google AdWords, to produce results for its own service, infringed trademarks belonging to the flower delivery network.The case will also serve to compare the two companies' business models.Lush reportedly donates around 2% of its profits to charity and has supported a number of direct-action groups, including Plane Stupid, which campaigns against the expansion of UK airports, and Sea Shepherd, which opposes Japanese whaling.
The space agency has announced plans to grow turnips, basil and cress on the moon by 2015. The experiment could be good news for astronauts sick of their freeze-dried fare. But researchers say the real goal is to see if humans could one day live — and farm — on the moon.
We speak to eBay sellers who have found trading is stacked in favour of the buyer while sellers are left out of pocketOnce, the pre-Christmas ritual of decluttering produced bulging bin liners destined for the local charity shop. Now, thanks to online auction sites, household rejects can raise enough to fund the festivities – and thousands will be flogging unwanted possessions on eBay to do just that.But if one of these people is you, be cautious. Most savvy cyber-surfers realise the potential pitfalls of buying online from strangers; far fewer seem aware that buyers can also be unscrupulous and that, if they choose to pocket your wares without paying, eBay's system appears weighted in their favour.I recently addressed the case of a seller who was defrauded of an iPad after the buyer claimed to have received empty packaging. Despite the fact that the weight recorded on the seller's proof of posting showed that the parcel had been filled, and that the buyer refused to cooperate with Royal Mail's investigation, eBay found in the buyer's favour and refunded him. Only after the press office was invoked, did the seller get her money back.The saga has prompted a slew of letters from sellers, all with a worryingly similar story. Buyers, it seems, can claim never to have received goods posted in good faith, or can get several weeks of use out of them before insisting that they arrived damaged and eBay, in many cases, unquestioningly refunds them.In the case of one reader, Matt Mawson, the buyer managed to arrange a refund and keep the goods. Mawson sold an amplifer on eBay and dispatched it via a 48-hour courier service. "Within 36 hours of the sale the buyer emailed to say he needed it quickly and, because it hadn't arrived, he intended to claim a refund," Mawson says. "I instructed the courier to return the item to me and said I'd refund him when it was accounted for but, instead, the buyer arranged a forced refund via eBay while also taking delivery of the item – so he now has my amplifier and my money."Rebecca Barrow started a business selling products on eBay to supplement her hairdressing income.