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Should eBay Founder Investigate His Own Company’s Practices?

Now that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is trying to make a name for himself as a proponent of investigative journalism, some sellers have suggested a campaign to make him aware of practices at the company in which he remains Chairman of the Board.

The idea was proposed on an eBay discussion board in which sellers discussed Omidyar’s plea for leniency for the 14 alleged criminals who are charged with launching a Denial of Service attack against PayPal in 2010. In Omidyar’s post on a Huffington Post blog, he wrote about the case and said:

“A denial of service attack is damaging and costly. Many of PayPal’s customers rely on PayPal for their livelihood. An interruption in service can have serious consequences: those customers may lose income that may cause them to become late on rent payments, medical expenses, etc. These are serious impacts that must not be ignored. An attack on PayPal’s servers hurts these vulnerable people far more than it hurts a multinational company.”

He then wrote:

“But on the other side, I can understand that the protesters were upset by PayPal’s actions and felt that they were simply participating in an online demonstration of their frustration. That is their right, and I support freedom of expression, even when it’s my own company that is the target.”

(A WikiLeaks staffer and Snowden collaborator nevertheless criticized Omidyar over his actions regarding the PayPal hacking and its aftermath.)

A seller who read Omidyar’s description of a denial of service attack and its impact on PayPal users said in response, “In reading this, it occurs to me that eBay routinely may cause sellers to become late on rent payments, medical expenses, etc. when they slap holds on their PayPal accounts. The irony was not lost on me.”

However, another seller disagreed: “IMHO there’s a difference between a Paypal user who cannot access his funds due to a denial of service attack and a person who could not access his funds because that is part of the agreement when he uses the service.”

A seller wondered if Omidyar knew how many times sellers’ basic needs were being put on hold due to PayPal denying access to their funds. Sellers’ funds should not be “held hostage” by PayPal when a case is opened against a seller, the poster said.

In response, another wrote, “Perhaps a number of people should email Mr. Omidyar and make him aware of what is happening at his former company (he still owns 5% of eBay). He is, afterall, pushing investigative journalism…”

Omidyar is setting up a new “media organization” in conjunction with Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke a series of stories on the National Security Agency based on documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

You can find the sellers’ discussion of the issue on this eBay discussion board.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.