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Pierre Omidyar: It Is Better to Receive than to Give

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained here. [1] (The flash dri­ve includes the anti-fas­cist books avail­able on this site.)

COMMENT: In the long FTR series on L’Af­faire Snow­den,  we not­ed that all of the play­ers were out­right fas­cists and/or expo­nents of cor­po­ratist eco­nom­ic the­o­ry. That includes Pierre Omid­yar [2], Nazi fel­low-trav­el­er Glenn Green­wald’s [3] finan­cial angel and backer of First Look media.  Tout­ing the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics of the GOP and oth­er cor­po­ratist ele­ments around the world, Omid­yar has also helped to finance the rise of fas­cist ele­ments abroad, includ­ing assist­ing in the ascent [4] of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor forces in the Ukraine, as well as Naren­dra [5] Modi, heir to the RSS Hin­du fas­cists that spawned his BJP.

Omid­yar’s “phil­an­thropy” is cast in the lais­sez-faire eco­nom­ics to which he is wed. Build­ing on the lethal record of his SKS micro­fi­nance project in Andhra Pradesh state in India, Omid­yar Net­works has uti­lized the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, the child of Roy Proster­man, a coun­terin­sur­gency vet­er­an of the Phoenix Pro­gram in Viet­nam and sim­i­lar projects in places like El Sal­vador.

Omid­yar and his then-CEO Meg Whit­man (of EBAy) also were  under inves­ti­ga­tion: “. . . .  in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” [6] bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit [7] in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.

Omid­yar and oth­er EBay exec­u­tives are cur­rent­ly being inves­ti­gat­ed for anoth­er alleged scam: “Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed [8] by a fed­er­al grand jury [9] crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion [10] into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” [11] for eBay’s prof­it.”

What a swell guy Omid­yar is. Read the arti­cle below for details on his (and oth­er cor­po­ratists’) vision for the mutat­ing of micro-finance into a prof­it-mak­ing vehi­cle, often at the lethal expense of the poor who are sup­posed to ben­e­fit from those pro­grams.

“EBay Shrugged: Pierre Omid­yar Believes there Should Be No Phil­an­thropy With­out Prof­it” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 5/31/2014. [12]

EXCERPT: This week, India’s new­ly-elect­ed ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi unveiled his cab­i­net, three-quar­ters of whom come from a fas­cist para­mil­i­tary out­fit, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh) [13] — includ­ing one min­is­ter accused by police last year of incit­ing dead­ly Hin­du-Mus­lim vio­lence that left over 50 dead.

The RSS was found­ed in 1925 by open admir­ers of Mus­soli­ni and Hitler; in 1948, an RSS mem­ber assas­si­nat­ed paci­fist Mahat­ma Gand­hi. In 1992, it was the RSS that orga­nized the destruc­tion of the Ayo­d­ha Mosque, leav­ing 2000 dead, most­ly Mus­lims; and in 2002, the RSS played a key role in the mass-mur­ders of minor­i­ty Mus­lims in Gujarat, accord­ing to Human Rights Watch, when the state of Gujarat was ruled by Naren­dra Modi — him­self a prod­uct of the RSS.

Ear­li­er this week, Pan­do report­ed that Modi’s elec­tion received help from unlike­ly sources in Sil­i­con Val­ley includ­ing Google, and to a much more seri­ous extent, Omid­yar Net­work, the phil­an­thropy fund of eBay bil­lion­aire and First Look pub­lish­er Pierre Omid­yar.

From 2009 through Feb­ru­ary of this year, Omid­yar Net­work India Advis­ers was head­ed by Jayant Sin­ha, a long­time Modi advis­er and new­ly-elect­ed MP in Modi’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP par­ty tick­et. The Omid­yar Net­work part­ner and man­ag­ing direc­tor played a dou­ble role, invest­ing funds in Indi­an non­prof­its and for-prof­its, some with dis­tinct­ly polit­i­cal agen­das; while pri­vate­ly, the Omid­yar man “worked in Modi’s team” in 2012–13, and served as direc­tor in the ultra­na­tion­al­ist BJP party’s main think tank on secu­ri­ty and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, the India Foun­da­tion. This week, Modi appoint­ed the head of the India Foun­da­tion, for­mer intel­li­gence chief Ajit Doval, as his Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor.

Modi was the “hi-tech pop­ulist” can­di­date: Lon­don techies man­aged Modi’s 3‑D holo­gram cam­paign, beam­ing 10-feet-tall Modi holo­grams to ral­lies across India. And India’s techies played a key role both in cam­paign­ing for Modi and vot­ing for Modi.

Despite the sun­ny pro­gres­sive Sil­i­con Val­ley gloss we’ve been fed these past few decades, Modi’s appeal shows that the tech indus­try is as prone to far-right author­i­tar­i­an pol­i­tics as any oth­er indus­try.

And that is what makes the Omid­yar Net­work sto­ry so reveal­ing: Per­haps no oth­er fig­ure embod­ies the dis­con­nect between his pro­gres­sive anti-state image, and his fac­tu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Amer­i­can nation­al secu­ri­ty state and the glob­al neolib­er­al agen­da, than Pierre Omid­yar.

The role of Omid­yar Net­work in so many major events of the past week — help­ing elect India’s ultra­na­tion­al­ist leader Naren­dra Modi; co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change NGOs with USAID, result­ing in a dead­ly civ­il war and Monday’s elec­tion of Ukrain­ian bil­lion­aire oli­garch Petro Poroshenko; and now, this week’s first-ever sit-down TV inter­view with Edward Snow­den, through an arrange­ment between NBC News and Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media — shows how these con­tra­dic­tions are com­ing to the fore, and shap­ing our world.

Omidyar’s cen­tral role in the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state’s glob­al agen­da may still come as a shock to out­siders and fans of First Look media’s ros­ter of once-inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. But to White House for­eign pol­i­cy hawks, Pierre Omid­yar rep­re­sents the new face of an old impe­r­i­al tra­di­tion. . . .

. . . . . By tak­ing a clos­er look at Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in India, we gain insight into where the com­mon inter­ests between Big Tech, the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state, and neolib­er­al­ism align — and Omidyar’s strate­gic think­ing align­ing eBay/PayPal with Omid­yar Net­work and First Look media.

Let’s start with Omid­yar Network’s invest­ments in the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute, found­ed by one of the god­fa­thers of Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy: Roy Proster­man.

“Prop­er­ty Rights”: Omid­yar and “Phoenix Pro­gram” guru Roy Proster­man

Omid­yar Net­work iden­ti­fies “prop­er­ty rights” (or “prop­er­ty titling”) as one of its five areas of focus. One of Omidyar’s per­son­al heroes and largest grant recip­i­ents is neolib­er­al econ­o­mist Her­nan­do de Soto, the for­mer right-hand man to jailed dic­ta­tor Alber­to Fuji­mori. De Soto is the world’s lead­ing ped­dler of “prop­er­ty titling” as the answer to glob­al pover­ty: rather than giv­ing aid, De Soto says we should give the world’s poor pri­vate prop­er­ty titles, which slum dwellers can pre­sum­ably col­lat­er­al­ize into microloans for their slum-based star­tups. The results have often been cat­a­stroph­ic — but that hasn’t stopped De Soto from being admired by the world’s rul­ing elite, rang­ing from Bill Clin­ton, to the Koch broth­ers — to Pierre Omid­yar, who gave $5 mil­lion to De Soto’s neolib­er­al think tank . . .

. . . .India, like many devel­op­ing coun­tries around the world, has what Anglo-Amer­i­cans con­sid­er a weak legal struc­ture on prop­er­ty rights. In par­tic­u­lar, local indige­nous peo­ples lay ancient claims to lands they live on, and have resist­ed state attempts to forcibly evict them to make way for indus­try, min­ing, and oth­er pow­er­ful inter­ests. The Nax­al Maoist insur­gen­cies rag­ing in parts of India are fueled in part by dis­placed, land­less peo­ples. Since Modi’s elec­tion land­slide, glob­al investors have been hope­ful that India’s land will now be made eas­i­er to buy and sell. Omid­yar Network’s long­time top man in India, Jayant Sinha—now an MP in Modi’s far-right rul­ing par­ty — told CNBC that Modi’s first job should be mak­ing land acqui­si­tion eas­i­er:

We have to start with land acqui­si­tion. We have to make land acqui­si­tion a lot bet­ter in terms of both the peo­ple that are acquir­ing the land from the farmer’s and so on as well as for indus­try.

So per­haps it’s lit­tle sur­prise that Omidyar’s first major India grant, in 2008, went to the Rur­al Devel­op­ment Institute’s (renamed “Lan­desa”) pro­gram “to help secure land rights for the rur­al poor” in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. By 2009, Omid­yar Net­work had com­mit­ted $9 mil­lion to the RDI land rights pro­gram, the largest grant in the outfit’s his­to­ry.

And what a his­to­ry: The Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute was found­ed in 1967 by Roy Proster­man, whose land reform pro­grams were a key ele­ment in the Viet­nam War coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, the “Phoenix” assas­si­na­tion pro­gram. The Phoenix pro­gram became the tem­plate for mod­ern Amer­i­can coun­terin­sur­gency — vio­lent ter­ror, com­bined with soft-pow­er land “reforms” cooked up by Prosterman’s Insti­tute.

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, Proster­man teamed up with USAID to imple­ment his “land-to-the-tillers” reforms, grant­i­ng land to peas­ants as the car­rot, while at the same time CIA death squads assas­si­nat­ed tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese vil­lage lead­ers and ter­ror­ized restive regions into sub­mis­sion. The result, Proster­man lat­er boast­ed, was that Viet Cong recruit­ment dropped 80 per­cent.

A decade lat­er, Proster­man sold the same land reform pro­gram to El Salvador’s jun­ta, just as the jun­ta was ramp­ing up its dead­ly attacks on rur­al civil­ians that left 75,000 killed by US-backed gov­ern­ment forces. Proster­man also served as “land reform” advi­sor to Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. And in the 1990s, Proster­man was con­tract­ed by Booz Allen to advise land reforms in Moldo­va, accord­ing to jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock. . . .

. . . . . A few years ago, Prosterman’s Rur­al Devel­op­ment Insti­tute changed its name to Lan­desa. But Prosterman’s Cold War out­fit hasn’t changed its close coop­er­a­tion with USAID, or its core strate­gic mis­sion, tying land own­er­ship to secu­ri­ty (and coun­terin­sur­gency) — neat­ly summed by Landesa’s India director’s arti­cle: “Con­nect­ing the Dots Between Secu­ri­ty and Land Rights in India.”

Leav­ing aside the alleged ben­e­fits to India’s poor of giv­ing them land title to the com­mons — 400,000,000 Indi­ans live on less than $1.25 a day — for the more pow­er­ful inter­ests fund­ing land titling pro­grams, there are end­less advan­tages. It helps cre­ate a mass tax base for gov­ern­ments that want to shift more tax­es onto the mass­es; it for­mal­izes and legal­izes trans­fer of prop­er­ty from the com­mons to the strongest and rich­est; it makes for­eign investors hap­py; it helps the gov­ern­ment and busi­ness­es track and keep data on its cit­i­zens; and, to quote Omid­yar Net­work man­ag­ing part­ner Matt Ban­nick — recent­ly appoint­ed by the Oba­ma White House to a spe­cial task force — Prosterman’s land reforms made Omid­yar “excit­ed about how micro-land own­er­ship can empow­er women and help them to pull them­selves out of pover­ty.”

That’s because micro-land own­er­ship helps cre­ate the real focus of Omid­yar Net­work invest­ments in India: Micro­fi­nance.

“Finan­cial Inclu­sion”: Omid­yar, Micro­fi­nance & Sui­cide-By-Pes­ti­cide

Omid­yar Network’s ugli­est dis­as­ter — besides co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups with USAID — was its role in fund­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance, whose preda­to­ry lend­ing and debt col­lect­ing prac­tices led to a rash of grue­some sui­cides in rur­al Andhra Pradesh.

First, a quick word on the the­o­ry and prac­tice of microlend­ing. In the­o­ry, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept — a non­prof­it extend­ing micro-loans to the poor, under favor­able terms, below mar­ket rates — could be ben­e­fi­cial, and under the right cir­cum­stances, it often was. But to the neolib­er­als, the orig­i­nal micro­fi­nance con­cept smacked of do-good­er state social­ism — so micro­fi­nance floun­dered in the mar­gins of the devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty until 1992. That year, USAID com­mer­cial­ized a Boli­vian micro­fi­nance non­prof­it called Pro­dem, cre­at­ing a new for-prof­it micro-lender, Ban­coSol in its place. Ban­coSol bal­looned overnight — both in loans and in prof­its, mak­ing mil­lion­aires of the for­mer non­prof­it direc­tors before Ban­coSol near­ly col­lapsed at the end of the decade.

USAID liked the for-prof­it neolib­er­al mod­el for micro­fi­nance, and it per­suad­ed the World Bank and oth­er glob­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions to load in and sing its prais­es. That brought micro­fi­nance to the atten­tion of Wall Street funds, even­tu­al­ly push­ing out “old” “unsus­tain­able” non­prof­it micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions, and seduc­ing the likes of Nobel Peace Prize win­ner and micro­fi­nance indus­try guru Muham­mad Yunus into the for-prof­it sec­tor as well. As we now know, it end­ed in dis­as­ter — par­tic­u­lar­ly in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, where Omid­yar-fund­ed land title pro­grams had been busy cre­at­ing legions of rur­al poor “micro-land own­ers” now ready to load up on Omid­yar-fund­ed micro­fi­nance loans. The result would be scores of women dri­ven to gris­ly sui­cides, forced pros­ti­tu­tion, and despair.

It’s hard to over­state just how cen­tral the for-prof­it micro­fi­nance mod­el is to Pierre Omidyar’s “vision.” In a 2006 New York­er arti­cle detail­ing Omidyar’s near-reli­gious zeal for com­mer­cial­iz­ing micro­fi­nance, we learn that the eBay bil­lion­aire not only reject­ed the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s appeals to soft­en his mono­ma­ni­ac focus on prof­it­ing off the world’s poor — we also learn that Omid­yar was com­mit­ted to wip­ing out what­ev­er remained of char­i­ta­ble non-prof­it microlend­ing, so as not to “dis­tort the mar­ket.” Omid­yar reject­ed on prin­ci­ple entreaties from his fel­low bil­lion­aires to invest in a non­prof­it micro­fi­nance fund. Because on prin­ci­ple, Omid­yar refused to believe that good could come from any­thing but the self-inter­est­ed prof­it motive. Here’s the New York­er:

[Omid­yar] often cites Adam Smith’s doc­trine that unre­strained mar­ket forces and self-inter­est dri­ve the most efficient—and social­ly beneficial—use of resources. Omid­yar sees Smith’s prin­ci­ples at work in eBay; he believes that eBay’s com­mer­cial suc­cess was linked to a pro­found social good.

Omidyar’s faith in the eBay mod­el is so great that he is con­vinced that it can be applied to solv­ing humanity’s prob­lems, includ­ing pover­ty — and that is why Omid­yar sin­gled out for-prof­it micro­fi­nance as his life’s mis­sion. After reject­ing Yunus as an “old thinker” wed­ded to old do-good­erism non-prof­it think­ing, Omid­yar announced a $100 mil­lion dona­tion to Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, the largest in school his­to­ry, with the stip­u­la­tion that the Omid­yar-Tufts Micro­fi­nance Fund went “specif­i­cal­ly” into “invest­ments that would pro­mote microfinance’s com­mer­cial­iza­tion.”

To man­age the fund, Omid­yar hired a Senior Cred­it Offi­cer from USAID — the agency that orig­i­nal­ly com­mer­cial­ized micro­fi­nance in 1992 — who chan­neled Joseph Schum­peter to the New York­er:

“One of the things we need and we will get is a cycle of cre­ative destruc­tion,” said Try­fan Evans, the direc­tor of invest­ments at the Omid­yar-Tufts fund, who pre­vi­ous­ly worked at U.S.A.I.D. “If you’re inef­fi­cient, you will get over­tak­en by com­peti­tors.”

What is rather shock­ing in hind­sight is how fanat­i­cal Omidyar’s faith is in the free mar­ket, to the point that he’s will­ing to risk exploit­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble poor on earth to prove that Adam Smith is right. The dan­gers of for-prof­it micro­fi­nance lend­ing to India’s poor were no secret: the New York­er arti­cle ref­er­ences a string of micro­fi­nance relat­ed sui­cides in Andhra Pradesh back in 2006, before Omidyar’s mil­lions poured oil on that fire. . . .

. . . . And so Omid­yar test­ed his the­o­ry: plow­ing mil­lions into India’s SKS Micro­fi­nance via  invest­ments into murky micro­fi­nance out­fit Uni­tus. In 2010, SKS Micro­fi­nance list­ed a $350 mil­lion IPO [14] that net­ted insid­ers and ear­ly investors like Uni­tus obscene prof­its. The murky, inter­lock­ing non­prof­it/­for-prof­it [15] struc­tures ensured that only those on the inside knew whether Omid­yar made mon­ey on his invest­ment.

The only sure thing was that the explo­sion of micro­fi­nance lend­ing in the state of Andrah Pradesh, led by SKS Micro­fi­nance, wound up sad­dling the world’s poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble vil­lage women with debts they could not pay, caus­ing a wave of sui­cides. An AP inves­ti­ga­tion [16] direct­ly impli­cat­ed Omid­yar-fund­ed SKS Micro­fi­nance agents in sev­er­al sui­cides:

One woman drank pes­ti­cide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to pros­ti­tute her daugh­ters to pay off her debt. She had been giv­en 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.

Anoth­er SKS debt col­lec­tor told a delin­quent bor­row­er to drown her­self in a pond if she want­ed her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four chil­dren.

One agent blocked a woman from bring­ing her young son, weak with diar­rhea, to the hos­pi­tal, demand­ing pay­ment first. Oth­er bor­row­ers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she want­ed to die, they would bring her pes­ti­cide. An SKS staff mem­ber was there when she drank the poi­son. She sur­vived.

An 18-year-old girl, pres­sured until she hand­ed over 150 rupees ($3) – meant for a school exam­i­na­tion fee – also drank pes­ti­cide. She left a sui­cide note: “Work hard and earn mon­ey. Do not take loans.”

In all these cas­es, the report com­mis­sioned by SKS con­clud­ed that the company’s staff was either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly respon­si­ble.

After the report, Omid­yar Net­work scrubbed SKS Micro­fi­nance from its web­site. An old cached web­page [17] shows Omid­yar hail­ing SKS Micro­fi­nance for “serv­ing the rur­al poor in India” and claim­ing that the murky Uni­tus pri­vate equi­ty fund’s IPO “exit strat­e­gy” will “attract more cap­i­tal to the mar­ket.”

Instead, Uni­tus dis­solved its micro­fi­nance NGO, a wave of res­ig­na­tions and murky mil­lions moved hands, SKS Micro­fi­nance became a pari­ah, and Andhra Pradesh passed laws reg­u­lat­ing micro­fi­nance insti­tu­tions. A tiny hand­ful of insid­ers and investors pock­et­ed obscene mil­lions, over 200 killed them­selves, and entire Indi­an rur­al com­mu­ni­ties were dev­as­tat­ed. Self-inter­est and prof­it motive did not cre­ate the great­est social good that Omid­yar believed in; and yet, Omid­yar Net­work con­tin­ues to expand its port­fo­lio [18] of micro­fi­nance — or “finan­cial inclu­sion” — invest­ments.

eBay Shrugged

 “Omid­yar stopped talk­ing about micro­fi­nance as a way to end world pover­ty, and instead described its mis­sion in a way con­gru­ent with the eBay expe­ri­ence.” —New York­er

The key to under­stand­ing the enig­mat­ic eBay bil­lion­aire and his many con­tra­dic­tions — an active par­tic­i­pant in Washington’s glob­al empire on a scale unri­valed in pub­lish­ing, while also founder of a quar­ter-bil­lion dol­lar “adver­sar­i­al jour­nal­ism” start­up and pri­va­tiz­er of the Snow­den NSA files, the largest cache of leaked nation­al secu­ri­ty secrets in US his­to­ry — is under­stand­ing Omidyar’s eBay-cen­tric vision.

Omid­yar is a vision man [19], as his star employ­ee Jere­my Scahill [20] con­stant­ly reminds us. And his vision was shaped, for under­stand­able rea­sons, by his expe­ri­ence mak­ing ten bil­lion dol­lars overnight off of eBay, which Omid­yar believes is proof of a larg­er philo­soph­i­cal and moral struc­ture at work, rather than a com­bi­na­tion of smarts, luck, priv­i­lege… and oth­er less savory fac­tors.

In 2000, Omid­yar con­fid­ed to his New York Times biog­ra­ph­er, Adam Cohen, that he found­ed eBay to cre­ate a “per­fect mar­ket” after feel­ing cheat­ed by the way tech IPOs in the ear­ly 1990s let insid­ers “spin” IPOs for a quick prof­its before dump­ing them onto the mar­ket to reg­u­lar investors — like the pre-eBay Omid­yar. Cohen writes [21]:

When 3DO announced plans to go pub­lic in May 1993, Omid­yar placed an order for stock through his Charles Schwab bro­ker­age account…. 3DO went pub­lic at $15 a share, but when Omid­yar checked his account, he learned that the stock had soared 50 per­cent before his order had been filled…. it struck him that this was not how a free mar­ket was sup­posed to operate—favored buy­ers pay­ing one price, and ordi­nary peo­ple get­ting the same stock moments lat­er at a size­able markup.

Omidyar’s solu­tion was an online auc­tion.

Cohen, a mem­ber of the New York Times edi­to­r­i­al board, found Omidyar’s sto­ry con­vinc­ing. There was only one prob­lem: At the very time Omid­yar spun this yarn to Cohen, Omid­yar was under inves­ti­ga­tion [22] in the largest IPO stock spin­ning scan­dal in his­to­ry. Accord­ing to a House inves­ti­ga­tion, in return for giv­ing Gold­man Sachs the lucra­tive eBay IPO, the “vam­pire squid” [6] bank set up pri­vate secret accounts for Omid­yar and CEO Meg Whit­man let­ting them spin dozens of tech IPOs before they went to mar­ket — rip­ping off both retail investors and start­up investors. Omid­yar set­tled a share­hold­er fraud law­suit [7] in 2005 with­out admit­ting wrong­do­ing, iron­ic for a vision­ary who believes so deeply in account­abil­i­ty.

More recent­ly, Omid­yar was sub­poe­naed [8] by a fed­er­al grand jury [9] crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion [10] into his and oth­er eBay exec­u­tives’ alleged roles in steal­ing Craigslist’s “secret sauce” [11] for eBay’s prof­it. . . .