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Living in the Sovereign State of eBay

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Abstract

In my work, I ask if eBay is merely a commercial enterprise or is it (almost) a sovereign state? If it were a state, would we want to live there? Through its user agreements and the operation of its enforcement departments, eBay regulates relationships between itself and the millions of members in its community. These members have no representation in the polity. They do enjoy some incipient political institutions: Town Hall meetings, eBay radio and eBay Live, a yearly gathering where thousands of members interact with one another and with eBay executives. But these budding political institutions do not carry any promise for a sharing of power. Although eBay does conceive of itself as a “community,” a term that appears on each and every page of its website, it is completely unaware of, or is unwilling to acknowledge, the political implications of its operation. In the book I discuss the surprising implications of the political structure and functions of this enormous non-territorial but powerful government that has its own police force, a fact that embitters and alienates the eBay citizen body. To understand eBay as a political entity redirects political science, aligning it more fully with our understanding of how cyberspace is changing our lives.In the spirit of political scientific inquiry since Plato and Aristotle, my discussion asks: Are the citizens of eBay happy? Is eBay ruled by a good or a bad ruler? Does it foster injustice? The book calls for a change: the current corporate business discourse about marketplaces, monopolies, merchandise or profit in cyberspace must be accompanied by the discourse of political science, which examines questions of sovereignty, civil rights, separation of powers, law enforcement, and Bills of Rights.