Trust and Safety teams work to make marketplaces secure environments where people are confident in doing business. A necessary part of that job is disciplining users who violate a marketplace’s rules.
So as not to scare away honest users from a marketplace, Trust and Safety divisions will often issue only warnings or light account restrictions to users who commit minor rules violations. However, some users may ignore these deterrents and repeatedly abuse the marketplace. Others may commit severe infractions that put the safety of other users, or the integrity of the entire marketplace, at risk. In these cases, account suspension may be necessary.
Here, we’ll go over what account suspensions are, including why marketplaces may issue them. We’ll also discuss activities on specific types of marketplaces that may result in account suspensions. Finally, we’ll outline some best practices for how marketplaces should incorporate account suspension rules into their Trust and Safety policy.
What is an Account Suspension?
Account suspension is when a marketplace disables access to a user’s account on the platform and blocks further activity from that account. A suspension is usually issued when a user commits a serious violation of a marketplace’s rules, or sometimes when they repeatedly commit minor violations.
Suspensions can be temporary or permanent depending on the type, severity, and/or frequency of violations a user commits. Many marketplaces also have account suspension appeal processes, which allow users to legitimately challenge suspensions they feel were unwarranted.
Common Reasons for Account Suspensions
Generally, suspension of an account on a marketplace is reserved for cases where a user commits a fairly severe rules violation. However, it can also be issued to users who ignore warnings and minor account restrictions to continually abuse a marketplace’s rules.
So what is a reason for account suspension? Some common ones on marketplaces include:
- Spam: Posting repetitive, unsolicited content for any number of reasons, such as commercial advertising, misinformation spreading, or conducting scams.
- Impersonation: Creating or modifying an account to appear as if it’s owned by someone else, for the purpose of maliciously deceiving other users.
- Abusive behavior: Posting content not allowed by the marketplace’s rules, including threats, self-destructive behavior, illegal activities, pornography, hate speech, users’ private information, etc.
- Copyright infringement: Posting content that a user does not own the intellectual property rights for, but fails to properly indicate this or acts as if they do.
- Security risk: A marketplace may temporarily suspend a user’s account if they suspect it has been compromised, in order to limit it being used for malicious activity.
- Financial abuse: Using an account to commit fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing, or any other type of financial crime.
- Marketplace disruption: Activities that interfere with the normal functioning of a marketplace, including gaining unauthorized access to other users’ accounts, or manipulating feedback or promotion systems.
- Ban evasion: Attempting to get around restrictions on an account – including a suspension – by creating a new account, repurposing an existing account, or hijacking another user’s account.
Certain types of marketplaces can have other criteria for suspending accounts, depending on the nature of the marketplace. Here are a few real-life examples to illustrate how different marketplaces and platforms manage suspensions.
Etsy, Amazon, and eBay account suspension
Marketplaces that involve users exchanging goods and services with each other can suspend users for dishonest or negligent business practices. For example, sellers can be suspended for failing to:
- Pay selling fees
- Reimburse the marketplace for refunds to buyers
- Upload tracking information for buyers’ orders
- Resolve open disputes with buyers in a timely manner
PlayStation and Xbox account suspension
Many modern video game consoles have online marketplace functionality built into them. However, it is possible for users to have their accounts on these marketplaces suspended.
An example is a PlayStation Network suspension for account debt. This happens when a user purchases a game, item, or service from PlayStation Network, but then requests a chargeback on the purchase when they are not legally entitled to one. In this case, PlayStation will suspend the associated account until the debt is repaid.
Suspensions may also be handed down for actions such as:
- Inappropriate conduct towards other users (e.g. hateful or threatening communication)
- Posting inappropriate content in public areas of the marketplace
- Cheating, defrauding, or otherwise acting maliciously towards users or the marketplace
- Modifying the console for purposes such as playing unauthorized games
Account suspensions in Pokemon GO, Overwatch, and Roblox
Many video games with online multiplayer capabilities and marketplace functions have their own rules governing account suspensions. For instance, Pokemon GO players can be suspended for cheating through:
- Falsifying their GPS location
- Deliberately exploiting a glitch for rewards
- Playing with multiple accounts simultaneously
- Sharing an account between multiple players
- Using third-party tools to gain other unfair advantages
Suspensions can also result from actions that exploit the marketplace functions of a game. These include:
- Buying, selling, or otherwise trading accounts
- Buying or selling in-game currency or items on third-party websites
- Abusing the marketplace’s refund policies or mechanisms
How to Handle Suspensions (+ Appeals that are Bound to Follow)
Suspensions are fairly serious punishments that are usually issued for severe or repeated marketplace rules violations. But they may also be handed out in error, or to protect a legitimate user’s account from being hijacked by a bad actor to use for further violations.
In that light, here are some tips for how marketplace Trust and Safety teams should manage suspending users.
Spell out suspension conditions clearly
Include as part of the marketplace’s guidelines a fairly complete (but not overly exhaustive) list of reasons why an account may be suspended. Specify (as best as possible) when suspensions will be temporary or permanent, as well as how long temporary suspensions will last.
Also, be sure to list situations in which a user’s account may be suspended without them necessarily doing anything wrong. Usually, this will include protecting their account from a potential hack or takeover.
Consider implementing a tiered suspension system
Some marketplaces have systems of escalating consequences – of which suspension is usually one – for repeated rules violations. For example, a Youtube account suspension usually occurs after three incidents of rules violations within a given time period. This results in a temporary suspension the first time; the second time, the suspension may be permanent.
Again, if using such a setup, clearly outline how it works in the marketplace’s Trust and Safety guidelines. Be sure to include stipulations that particularly egregious rules violations may have their consequences immediately escalated to suspensions, even with a lack of prior infractions.
Notify users when they are suspended, and give a reason
If a Trust and Safety team is forced to suspend a user’s account, it should send an account suspension notice to that user. The notice should include the rules violation(s) the user was suspended for (as specific as possible), whether the suspension is temporary or permanent, and how long the suspension will likely last (if not permanently).
This is especially important for incidents where the suspended user is not at fault, such as if a Trust and Safety team suspects the user’s account has been compromised.
Allow for suspension appeals
Trust and Safety moderators – whether human or software – can occasionally make inconsistent judgments. That’s why marketplaces should have mechanisms through which a user can appeal an account suspension.
A marketplace should make its appeal mechanism reasonably accessible. It should clearly explain the appeal policies, where to find them, and how to enact them. The mechanism for appeal should also outline what’s involved in the appeal process, and how long it typically takes.
Trust and Safety teams should also set and explain conditions on when appeals can be made. For example, appeals can only be made a certain number of times within a specified timeframe. Or suspensions issued for certain severe rules violations may not be eligible for appeals. This helps to keep serious or repeat offenders from continually trying to appeal suspensions when they have no legitimate reason to.
Manage account suspension policies and decisions responsibly with Unit21
Hopefully, a Trust and Safety team will rarely need to suspend accounts on a marketplace. But this is a necessary process for maintaining marketplace security and confidence by getting rid of bad actors who knowingly break the rules.
Still, it’s something that should be handled with care to avoid unintentionally scaring legitimate users away – both current and future. That’s why it’s helpful to have automated tools to monitor for suspendable offenses, as well as to review cases to determine if suspensions are warranted.
Unit21 has solutions for both – book a demo with us to see how they work in action.