Here's the deal. Tickets for the Live 8 Festival in Britain, organized by Geldof, were distributed for free through text message lottery. Geldof's outrage was sparked when some of the lucky winners wanted to get just a little bit luckier ... by auctioning off the tickets on eBay's site for copious amounts of cash.
At first, eBay declined to pull the auctions, using the argument that in Britain, there's no law against selling items intended for charity, which led to Geldof's teeth-gnashing about the online auctioneer. ("I Don't Like eBay," read one headline today. And this, of course, is not a nice kind of hating eBay.) eBay gave in to the pressure -- probably due to the fear of a PR disaster and more unpleasant words like pimp -- and suspended the auctions.
My first thought was that Geldof needs to get over it. eBay is an online market. Regardless of the moral implications, people put these tickets up for sale and other people were willing to pay money for them. You can call such people what you will -- unscrupulous, selfish, or merely enterprising. I know that many people have different opinions of this kind of behavior. But the bottom line is, the sellers recognized that they had a product that others would pay up for. Sure, maybe it would serve them right if nobody bit, and in some Utopian world, maybe nobody would have. (Indeed, news articles say that some enraged eBay members themselves flooded the auctions with fake bids to scuttle the proceedings -- talk about a community backlash!) Bottom line, though: eBay itself is an online market and not a morality compass.
Like I said, eBay has suffered some morale-busting issues (or just plain strange PR) over the last year. Anger over price hikes. An Indian sex scandal. A rather bizarre auction concerning an iconic grilled cheese sandwich. What with the stock's recent malaise (triggering our discussion board community's question as to whether today's are bargain prices for the stock), eBay seems to want to avoid being the bad guy at the moment.
For that reason, in this particular situation, eBay turned its back on its real mission -- to simply function as a giant marketplace, a mission that has gone remarkably well. Geldof's comments go after that easier, "corporate" target (in some mindsets, corporations are always the villain); it seems to me his message ignores the real issue -- people sold, and bought, the tickets. Blaming eBay for this one implies that individuals shouldn't be allowed to make some of their own decisions -- however flawed they might seem to others.
There's been quite a bit of weirdness going on at eBay over recent months. Read about the highlights:
- There were four-letter words like price "hike."
- There was a scandal imported from India.
- There were some bids for the holy grilled cheese.
- Ouch! An outage! But eBay apologized. Or did it?
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.