How one of America’s premier data monarchs is funding a global information war and shaping the media landscape
Through his purchase of influence over the daily flow of information to American media consumers, a dizzying array of connections to the national security state, and a media empire that shields him from critical scrutiny, Pierre Omidyar has become one of the world’s most politically sophisticated data monarchs.
by Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal
Part 2 - The genesis of a private marketplace and surveillance apparatus
“The origin story of eBay is fairly well known,” according to a 1999 Time Magazine profile spinning out the company’s “small scale origins.”
Painting Omidyar as a high-tech Horatio Alger, Time wrote that “other tech giants have their garages, eBay has its Pez dispenser. Or, rather, founder Pierre Omidyar’s then-fiancée didn’t have a Pez dispenser.”
As the story goes, Omidyar created eBay for his then-fiancée Pam as an online marketplace for her to improve her collection of Pez candy dispensers. According to the Time profile, “eBay started out free, but it quickly attracted so much traffic that Omidyar‘s Internet service upped his monthly bill to $250. Now that it was costing him real money, Omidyar decided to start charging.”
In a more candid interview with journalist Sarah Lacy in 2010, who opened by informing her audience that Omidyar “does actually exist,” the billionaire came clean about his company’s cute genesis story. According to the billionaire, he and his colleagues “may have embellished it a little bit on the story in those early days.” But it was not his doing, he insisted: “I think we can blame that on PR people.”
According to journalist Yasha Levine, who researched eBay’s formation for his book Surveillance Valley, the company began assembling an internal police and intelligence agency comprised of former FBI agents in 1999 to spy on eBay users and track down fraud. Levine told MintPress:
“By the mid-2000s, when Google was still a small company and Facebook barely existed, eBay had built this global private division into a behemoth: 2,000 employees and more than a thousand private investigators, who worked closely with intelligence and law enforcement agencies in every country where it operated — including the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia, India, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland. EBay was proud of its close relationship with law enforcement, touting efforts to arrest 1,000 people a year and boasting that it had handed over user data to the NSA and FBI without requiring subpoenas or court orders.”
By 2015, eBay was a corporate behemoth worth nearly $69 billion. Omidyar leveraged his wealth and reputation as one of Silicon Valley’s premier innovators to forge close ties with President Barack Obama, visiting him more times in the White House than did tech-giant rivals like Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Even as he forged ties with the captains of America’s national security apparatus, Omidyar held on to an image as a business renegade and radical disruptor. “There’s something about entrepreneur that is somewhat sort of anti-establishment,” he told The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
But this May, news arrived that Omidyar had begun directing his money into the political apparatus of a Republican Party operative known as one one of the most prominent enforcers of America’s permanent war lobby.
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