Arrest that algorithm! Glitch

Image: Canva

Arrest that algorithm! Glitch blamed for Gumtree SA posting ‘stolen goods’

A simple Google search suggests that Gumtree SA is offering to connect buyers with sellers of various stolen goods.

Arrest that algorithm! Glitch

Image: Canva

Gumtree South Africa, the local online classifieds website with thousands of live listings of cars, property, electronics, and even jobs, is reportedly featuring stolen goods “by accident”, according to their spokesperson.

Gumtree was launched in South Africa in 2005 and reportedly more than 600 000 live ads and 30 000 new ads are posted every single day.

Gumtree is ‘accidentally’ selling stolen goods

Now, a new article by Business Insider sees them investigating the issue in detail — which sees various types of commonly stolen items in South Africa pop up on Gumtree after a simple Google search. According to the publication, a search suggests that the platform is offering to connect buyers with sellers for everything from “stolen bikes” to “stolen iPhones” in South Africa”.

The catch-all “Find stolen goods in South Africa” can also point those interested to Gumtree.

In one case, a listing on Gumtree — which is said to be legitimate — revealed a total of “64 ads” for stolen goods. Another search item “stolen car” brings up over 300 ads.


“Google allows companies to bid on keywords – so that when a user searches for those words on Google, ads for the company appear near the search results,” the publications states.

“But the Google entries Business Insider South Africa saw were for organic search results, which are not paid for, but the output of Google’s closely-guarded algorithm.”

Online policies

Gumtree head of communications Estelle Nagel later told them that the company “would not bid on keywords related to stolen phones, drugs, sexual trafficking or anything else prohibited by our policies, as the safety of our customers are our top priority”.

“Google picks up the word ‘stolen’ and indexes it as relevant to someone looking for the phrase ‘stolen + phone’. When you search ‘stolen phone’ it takes you to our Search Results Page,” Nagel said further.

Gumtree thinks it is included on Google results for stolen items “as Google believes our site may be a source of information for someone seeking info on stolen phones”.

A ‘few bad eggs’ that ruin it for everyone

In 2019, Gumtree wrote a blog piece saying that there will also be a “few bad eggs” that ruin it for everyone, so it’s best to be educated and prepared to ensure the safest overall experience.

Therefore, they put together an easy-to-follow guide to buying and selling safely on Gumtree. These tips includes knowing the market, doing thorough research, how and when to send the money, the sharing of your personal information and choosing safe payment methods.

“You do not want to be stuck having to purchase a scratched or defected item or an item with missing parts that were not disclosed,” they wrote. “Always opt to see the item in person before transferring funds or handing over cash to ensure you are getting exactly what was advertised.”

You can see the details of their safety guidelines over here: