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Bot-wielding hackers crash eBay holiday giveaway

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eBay users are howling in protest after discovering hackers are using automated scripts to win hundreds of steeply discounted auctions as part of a holiday season contest designed to draw visitors to the site.

Auctions for pricey items including a Green Life electric scooter and an Oscar de la Renta evening gown, which had been marked down to just $1, were scooped up even as the counter for their pages registered 0000 visitors. The Grinch stealing this year's Christmas booty were bot-armed hackers who were able to sniff out the promo pages before they went live to the public.

"This should have been advertised as a programming contest because those are the only people who can win," one eBay user complained to MSNBC's Red Tape Chronicles, which reported the story. "eBay can stop this if they want to by requiring a verification screen or something, they just don't care."

Perhaps. But that would require eBay to have an established set of contest rules, which it apparently doesn't.

An eBay spokesman first told MSNBC's Bob Sullivan the rules didn't prohibit the use of scripts to find items included in the "Holiday Doorbusters" promotion. Later, he changed that to say they might bar automated tools. Finally, the company issued a mealy-fingered email that said only that employees were "doing everything in our power to ensure that all eBay users have an equal opportunity to search for and win these hot holiday items."

So our advice to eBayers intent on winning this year is to hire a freelance programmer to scoop up the hot items before someone else gets there first. It may not be the most ethical thing you've ever done, but the deals are amazing. ®

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