eBay’s pathetic, power-hungry pranksters

To better understand why so many people mistrust business, read David Streitfeld’s masterly explication in The New York Times of the federal case against several eBay employees for viciously, if incompetently, harassing and intimidating two benign critics.

The story is lurid and pathetic. The then-CEO of eBay, Devin Wenig, didn’t like the reports in a husband-and-wife newsletter aimed at people who sell wares on eBay. Wenig sent texts documenting his ire to his head of communications (“Take her down”), who egged on the company’s head of security (“I want to see ashes”), a drunk-on-power operative charged with cooking up sophomoric stunts to frighten the couple (“I’ve been ordered to find and destroy”).

While the head of security was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking, neither Wenig nor his communications deputy have been accused of any crime. Wenig did resign from eBay before the case became public but after internal investigators learned about it. He didn’t cite the scandal when he quit.

eBay always cultivated an image of cuddliness. Beanie Babies, after all, were one of the original hits on the site. Yet behind the we’re-just-here-to-help-folks-realize-their-dreams facade, I’d say the Silicon Valley company always has been a den of buttoned-up MBAs trying to optimize its e-commerce engine.

That never necessarily made eBay rotten. And it doesn’t mean all businesses are bad. But it is a reminder that tremendous power and wealth accrue to the caretakers of giant shareholder-owned corporations, and like anyone else, these people can be preposterously thin-skinned, causing them to make poor decisions.


Fortune releases its first Impact 20 today, a list of startups that help to mitigate some of the world’s problems. (Because, you know, business can be a force for good.) It’s an early-stage version of our annual Change the World List.

I asked Matt Heimer, the Fortune editor who oversaw the package, to tell me a bit about the technology angle. Here’s what he wrote:

“A theme I like involves using technology to overcome economic barriers. Bajillion-dollar drug companies can’t figure out how to get medicine to African villages? Zipline does it with drones. America can’t or won’t train or pay enough school guidance counselors or tutors to help minority and other non-traditional college kids? Upswing steps up to provide the service online. Social and cultural practices keep female health-care providers from being able to see patients in person? doctHERs reaches almost two million patients through telemedicine. You could argue that this is what startups do best: Find little inefficiencies and throw themselves into resolving, filling, and fixing them.”

Thanks, Matt, for shining a light on these efforts.


Finally, check out Maria Aspan’s important story about how two companies, startup Electric and software stalwart Red Hat, are helping their employees deal with grief, an unexpectedly prominent aspect of the 2020 business landscape.

Adam Lashinsky



This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett.


Nervous tics. A U.S. judge blocked a Commerce Department-ordered ban on new TikTok app downloads that was set to go into effect at 11:59PM ET on Sunday. District Judge Carl Nichols's opinion is sealed and being reviewed by the two sides’ attorneys; they are set to meet by September 30th to discuss next steps. Separately, a Pennsylvania judge tossed a request by three of the app's users to delay the since-delayed TikTok ban. Judge Wendy Beetlestone said the plaintiffs failed to prove they would suffer "immediate, irreparable harm" from the action.

I'm going to need those TPS reports. If you're worried you soon won't be able to get your short-form video fix, fear not: Microsoft's LinkedIn has you covered. The workplace networking site rolled out a redesign that includes its own version of ephemeral video "stories." Maybe this is Microsoft's way of shaking a spiteful fist at Oracle and Walmart after losing out on that pending TikTok acquisition. In another corner of the company, Microsoft's new Xbox Series X gaming console is garnering favorable early reviews.

It's prime time. Amazon says its Prime Day sales bonanza will take place over two days, October 13th and 14th, this year. Industry watchers expect the invented shopping holiday to help the company clock record earnings for the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Amazon is expanding its footprint in Canada, where it plans to hire thousands of people into new roles in Vancouver and Toronto. 

A bourse is a bourse, of course, of course. Japanese semiconductor maker Kioxia Holdings has called off a planned initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange after saying U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecom giant Huawei, a major customer, have hit its bottom line hard. The IPO, which was slated to value the company at $16 billion and would have been one of the biggest of the year, has been postponed indefinitely. Meanwhile, Beijing-based Sina, maker of the popular Chinese media site Weibo, has agreed to be taken private in a deal that values the firm at $2.6 billion.


As Adam highlights above, eBay represents one corporate culture that went flagrantly awry. Another is Magic Leap, a once-hyped augmented reality startup that is struggling to recover from mismanagement failures. Aaron mentioned a post-mortem of the aspirations of ex-CEO Rony Abovitz just before the weekend, but I am re-shining a spotlight on it here; it's a story of starry-eyed ambition brought crashing back down to Earth.

Okay, really I just think you should watch Abovitz's utterly zany TEDx talk from 2012. It features Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, gamboling monsters, and space fudge. There is no better way to start your Monday.

Like many investors, this one had initially been won over by a dazzling demo, only to watch things go wrong, not just technically but culturally. For those on the inside, Abovitz’s vision had become a sort of blindfold to common business sense. “Everyone was so bought in, they’d drunk the Kool-Aid together. Nobody stopped to say, ‘This product sucks,’” the investor said. “The first time I put on the real one, it was just like, ‘Oh shit. You guys did not deliver on your promise.’” 


The U.S. just undercut China’s best shot at semiconductor independence by Eamon Barrett

Uber shares soar as London court gives license go-ahead by David Meyer

Fans of K-Pop’s BTS are mobilizing on a new platform: the stock market by Grady McGregor

Investors look to buck a four-week losing streak, sending global stocks higher by Bernhard Warner

Airline executives say there’s less than 1% risk of catching COVID-19 on a flight—and some pandemic-era changes are here to stay by Nikki Ekstein

Big Tech is suffering from ‘mean reversion.’ And the downdraft isn’t over yet by Shawn Tully

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Sometimes you've gotta treat yo' self. Rachel Schallom, Fortune's deputy digital editor, is on a quest to make work-from-home life more comfortable. Here are some of her latest recommended purchases: Apple's AirPods Pro, an adjustable office chair, and ultra-cozy PJs.

Together, we can redefine WFH as work-for-hygge.

Robert Hackett



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