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July 20, 2009

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Hackers theory as plate auction called to a halt

Computer hackers may have caused the network problem that halted the city's car plate auction at the weekend.

Zhu Junyi, an official from the Shanghai Information Center's automotive industry research office, said yesterday: "A group of experts from the auction house has teamed up with the anti-hacker division of the city's police to start investigation on the bidding statistics."

The monthly bidding for private car plates was abruptly cancelled a few minutes before it ended on Saturday due to problems on the online platform.

The Shanghai International Commodity Auction Co, which runs the auction, said hundreds of thousands of people were logging onto the platform at the same time when the first round of bidding was about to close at 11am.

"The network traffic was suddenly 10 times more than usual and most of them were abnormal bids that disabled the system," it said.

It was the first time the auction had been cancelled since it was introduced in 1994.

The call-off meant a lot of bidders lost their chance to get a private car plate at a low price. After the first round, the lowest bid was 100 yuan (US$14.60) with 8,834 registered bidders.

According to the rules, that meant the final bid price would be 400 yuan at most, an unusually low price compared to the 30,363 yuan a month earlier.

Some outraged bidders who took part in an online discussion said they did not see any signs of network traffic problems.

"There have been times when the number of bidders is much more than this time, but the system has never failed," said Eric Shao. "I thought the deal price would be no more than 10,000 yuan if the bidding had continued, which would have been a very good bargain.

"But I am very disappointed now. And I was very angry to have such an experience. The only hope I have now is that the result of the bidding will be valid," Shao added.

Unhappy bidders

Other bidders also expressed their discontent at online forums, and a group of unhappy bidders gathered at the auction house on Saturday afternoon.

An official told them the results of the investigation would be made public.

The auction house said this month's bidding would be rescheduled for 10am next Sunday and eligible bidders would retain the right to join in the auction again.

A total of 8,000 private car plates were to be auctioned this month, the same as last month. The number of bidders was 17,433 in June.

The bidding price for this month is likely to drop as July and August are the low season for private car sales.

Shanghai is the only city in the Chinese mainland that charges private car owners a license fee, a policy designed to control vehicles on the streets.


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