Facebook Marketplace virus precautions falling short of its UK rivals


A woman wearing a face mask on a bus in London, as the first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Wales and two more were identified in England – bringing the total number in the UK to 19.

Yui Mok | PA Images | Getty Images

Facebook Marketplace is one of the biggest second-hand buying and selling platforms in the world. But its efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus pale in comparison to those of rival apps. 

On March 24, one in five people worldwide were in some form of lockdown, with many people only able to go out to pick up essentials (food and medicine), or to get some exercise. Things remain largely unchanged. “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” That’s the message U.K. citizens are hearing over and over again. Popping to someone’s house to pick up a second-hand this or that probably isn’t a great idea right now. 

However, a host of Facebook Marketplace users in the U.K. told CNBC that they were still completing face-to-face transactions over the platform. Some of them said they’re taking their own precautions by wearing masks and gloves, but not all. The company has said that users should follow government advice and it was monitoring the situation. 

CNBC spoke to people selling an £8 ($10) hat from Gap, a £10 indoor palm tree, a £360 Nintendo Switch, some £25 Bose headphones, an £80 golf bag. Items that could all carry the virus. There’s a plethora of items on the platform and sellers say they’re getting more offers than normal, probably because people have more time to trawl through listings.  

“I recently moved house so have extra plants and gardening tools to sell,” one Facebook Marketplace seller said. “People are showing interest for these as they are currently gardening. But it is also that spring is here.” 

Gumtree and Shpock have told their users not to visit other people’s homes. They’ve spelled it out in emails and in-app notifications. 

“Please don’t meet up,” Shpock wrote in the headline of an email to users on April 7.  

The Austrian start-up is currently subsidizing door-to-door contactless deliveries in partnership with Parcel2Go. The deliveries are completed by couriers from Hermes and Parcelforce, who have taken steps to protect their workforce by providing them with the right gear and training. 

“We felt that the way our marketplace was operating — with users often meeting up for personal collection — wasn’t going to be safe for our community during times of the coronavirus pandemic,” a Shpock spokesperson told CNBC. 

“We saw that users continued to close deals and were taking risks, so we decided to openly address the topic.”

Gumtree has launched a similar contactless delivery service called Gumtree Door to Door and it’s promoting it heavily both on the website and via emails. 

Meanwhile, Facebook is not offering a contactless delivery service. Instead, it’s telling users that a number of delivery services exist. 

Going offline

Freecycle, a non-profit that allows people to offer up items for free, has suspended its service in some areas. For example, the Southwark Freecycle group in London, England, is currently not in operation. 

Meanwhile, Facebook Marketplace hasn’t gone as far as to tell U.K. users not to meet up, despite there being a lockdown in place. 

Instead it says: “We suggest following guidelines from the U.K. government.”

A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that it has teams of people monitoring the Covid-19 situation. “We’re continually exploring more ways to keep our community safe and informed,” they said. 

“We’re also taking steps to prevent people exploiting this crisis for financial gain, and have temporarily banned listings on Marketplace for medical face masks, hand sanitizers, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 testing kits.”


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