There was an interesting piece in the New York Times on Sunday about eBay’s lobbying tactics, “How eBay Makes Regulations Disappear“. Here is the relevant quote that describes what eBay is up to online:

“EBay combines its politics-as-usual approach with more creative grass-roots tactics. It keeps its membership informed about regulatory issues as soon as they crop up, using mass e-mail messages and a year-old Web-based initiative called ‘eBay Main Street,’ which sends out ‘legislative alerts’ and provides letters that users can send to government officials. Bowing to the traditions of ward politicos adept at turning out the vote, eBay routinely summons its sellers and sends them on personal visits to statehouses around the country to meet with legislators.”

From my reading of the story, it is unclear to me whether eBay is mobilizing their full member database or just people who opt in to their eBay Main Street program. I would guess they are mostly sending emails to Main Street members. But if they get into a real fight and mobilize their full membership, look out. eBay has a massive grassroots database at its disposal that rivals the databases of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Here’s a breakdown:

First, I hadn’t really thought much about how massive eBay really is. According to the Times, at any one time there are 89 million items being sold on eBay and the site has 193 million registered users. 193 million registered users! To put that in perspective, 122 million people voted in the last U.S. Presidential election.

Second, when you register for eBay you are required to give them your full address and phone number, in addition to your email address. This information allows eBay to easily get sophisticated demographic data about each user: they know your state, your Congressional District, your county, and even your State Legislative District. In addition, eBay has access to your account history. They know how many items you’ve bought and sold, and how much money you’ve made or spent on EBay. eBay knows where you live and exactly how you use their service. And they have this information for ever single member.

So, if you combine points #1 and #2, you’ve got a massive and targeted database of users that can mobilized when regulation threatens eBay.

I don’t think the size and potential power of eBay’s database can be overstated. The eBay database rivals anything the Democrat or Republican Parties possess in terms of pure numbers (the press has estimated the size of the Dem and GOP databases at around 170 million Americans each). And having an email address for every member is huge.

Regulate eBay at your own peril.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.