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Etsy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Prohibited Items Policy

I’ve had an Etsy store for a few months. Overall, I’d been very happy with the platform. I’ve sold a lot more through my Etsy store than I have through the store here on my own website. In fact, most months, I made more than ten times as much from Etsy than I did from my own web store.

This week, Etsy closed my store for violating their prohibited items policy.

Needless to say, it’s upsetting to lose a good source of revenue. What’s really frustrating, though, is that they deleted my store because it contained several items that they claim violated the “Nudity and Mature Content” section of their policy. Here’s what that says:

It specifically says they allow nudity, but they prohibit “pornography, illegal or exploitive items, and used intimate items”. Nothing I sold was even arguably illegal or exploitive, nor did I sell anything used, let alone used “intimate items”. By process of elimination, that means they took down my store for selling “pornography”.

The word “pornography” is incredibly vague and means very different things to different people. Etsy is saying there’s a whole class of stuff that is not allowed and can get your store closed, but they won’t specifically define what those things are. They do provide a little more guidance, but it’s not very helpful:

None of the images in my Etsy store involved sex acts or “other erotic behavior for the purpose of sexual arousal or stimulation”. I was always very careful not to use images that were explicit or erotic. So, it appears that they took down my store because some of my products displayed “sex organs”.

But earlier in the policy, they specifically say nudity is allowed! By definition, if a picture contains nudity, sex organs are going to be visible. If they’re not, we usually call it “implied nudity”. Not only is the policy vague, it’s self-contradictory!

From looking at the items they deactivated before closing my entire store, I still don’t know which other items I should have removed to prevent it from happening. For example, this is a product they had a problem with:

Yes, you can see “sex organs” in the actual product (the listing photos were censored). Even so, there’s nothing sexual about this image. It’s a nude woman in a pose where you can see genitals. Her hands are nowhere near them. She’s not touching them. She’s not spreading her labia. She’s not doing anything remotely sexual. Apparently, female genitals aren’t allowed if… what? She happens to be bent at the waist at all?

Here’s another one they deactivated before closing my store:

Again, it’s just a nude. She’s not doing anything sexual. She’s literally just sitting. Here’s another one they felt was just too lascivious to have on their site:

There’s nothing inherently sexual about any of these shots. I was always careful not to use more explicit or erotic images there. They’re literally all just pictures of nude woman, and like most nude women, they have genitals. Which you can see. Because they’re nude. Which they say is allowed. They’re not touching their genitals. They’re not doing anything sexual at all. These are literally just nude photos where you can see labia.

Setting a rule that’s so inherently subjective and vague that nobody could possibly define what’s allowed is incredibly unfair and hostile. You can (as I did) invest a huge amount of time, effort, and money setting up and running a store, but if some random Etsy employee thinks you’re selling “pornography”, you get closed down. They don’t even refund your listing fees, and though they claim you can appeal, I never even got a response when I submitted one.

But, at least they must enforce this policy consistently, right? They must have some internal guidelines about what’s okay, right?

It sure doesn’t look like it. Here are some listings that are currently being sold there:

Whatever could that blue paper be hiding?
I’m sure I have no idea what’s going on behind those post-it notes.
Perfectly safe for work!!
Ah, yes. The wholesome, family magazine, “Cum”.
It’s just a “naked woman and man” so it’s totally fine with Etsy. Definitely not pornography, no sir.

And if you think those are isolated listings I cherry picked, they weren’t. These are literally all from the first page of one search. Just pick any random NSFW term and type it into the Etsy search box. I guarantee you’ll find many, many more.

Why were my fairly innocuous nudes taken down and my store closed when Etsy is rife with hardcore pornography? I have no fucking clue, but I’m pretty fucking pissed off about it, and if you’re running an Etsy store that contains nudity, you need to be aware of how they work.

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