Shuttle mishap sends buyers, sellers rushing to online auctions
the hours after the disintegration of space shuttle Columbia disintegrated
during re-entry over Texas, auction giant eBay was hit with a huge
surge of users looking to buy and sell space shuttle memorabilia.
Many sellers were posting auctions within 90 minutes of the disaster,
hoping to take advantage of the world's interest in the Columbia
and her crew.
patches for the Columbia's final mission, STS-107 (available from
official Web sites for $4.95) were attracting bids of 10 to 20 times
that and more. The bidding for one patch posted on eBay 30 minutes
after the Columbia's 9:16 a.m. touchdown time topped $1,275.
reports of Columbia debris showing up in auction listings attracted
even more attention for eBay. The debris listings, which were apparently
hoaxes, were quickly taken off eBay. I spent a lot of time on eBay
in the days after the disaster and never found a single debris auction.
prices for legitimate items quickly escalated in the first days
following the disaster. Some eBay users began posting anything they
thought would sell. Some users printed out official NASA photos
and documents (available free on the Web) and sold them to memorabilia
hunters. Even media photos from wire services (printed out on home
printers) were listed for sale in the $25-$50 range. Some sellers
assembled "mission kits," consisting of a full-color launch
program, T-shirt with the mission logo and a patch with a selling
price of $149.95. The same items purchased separately from the Johnson
Space Center Web site totaled less than $21.
eBay'ers who sought to cash in on the demand for Columbia memorabilia
created auctions not for the actual items, but for the links that
would take you to a Web site to buy them for the "regular"
price. Ironically, a number of these sellers accused other memorabilia
sellers of price-gouging -- though they themselves were selling
a link to a Web page that could located at no cost by typing "shuttle
patch" on any search engine.
36 hours, more than 5,600 auctions were listed under "shuttle
unusual memorabilia joined the thousands of Columbia-related auctions
auction was for one of three STS-107 "special edition"
2003 Chevrolet Cavaliers. "This is a brand new, special edition
2003 Chevrolet Cavalier with COLUMBIA STS-107 stenciled in red on
the side," this listing stated. "This is definitely a
car to be seen in driving on the road." The minimum bid for
the cars was $24,000 each. The seller ended the auctions before
the cars were actually sold.
Internet domain names were listed for sale, including www.columbiamissionsts107.com
(with a "Buy It Now" price of $5,000), and www.shuttle-columbia.co.uk
for $1,800. In the days following the disaster, speculators registered
dozens of shuttle-related domain names.
surge in Columbia auctions ignited a firestorm of debate, protests
and counterprotests on the eBay Community message boards. Users
hotly debated the ethics of selling memorabilia just hours after
such an immense national tragedy. Many called on eBay to stop all
auctions of Columbia memorabilia out respect for the seven crewmembers
who perished. EBay staffers promised to pull illegal auctions and
those that violated its rules, stopping short of a ban on all Columbia-related
as many users pointed out, eBay had an interest in allowing legitimate
auctions to proceed since they earn money on successfully completed
users who were frustrated by eBay's apparent decision to let legitimate
auctions proceed took matters into their own hands by becoming vigilantes,
hoping to stop Columbia-related auctions at any cost. Many of these
vigilantes created new eBay accounts and used them to sabotage auctions
by submitting ridiculously high bids they did not intend to honor,
or ending auctions by using the "Buy It Now" feature.
you might expect, over time the rush to buy and sell Columbia-related
items subsided. A week after the tragedy, there were still roughly
5,500 Columbia-related auctions listed on eBay. Prices for most
items have returned to what would be considered near-normal levels,
and the debate over selling Columbia-related items has cooled.
the end, the ethical questions surrounding the sale of Columbia-related
items must be answered by each of us as individuals. As one eBay
seller said, "If you don't like what I'm selling in an auction,
UPDATE. Microsoft issued a "critical" security update
for its Internet Explorer Web browser last week.
to the company, two new security problems make it necessary for
users to update their Internet Explorer browsers. The versions affected
by the problem include Internet Explorer versions 5.01, 5.5 and
check which version of the browser you have, click the "Help"
button on the top menu bar and go click on "About Internet
latest security bug could enable a Web site operator to load malicious
code onto a user's computer system, and even start executable files
on the computer.
more information on the free software update to fix this problem,
visit www.microsoft.com and click on the "Cumulative patch
for Internet Explorer" link on the right hand side of the home
SITUATION. Beginning this month, if you buy something from one
of the major online retailers you can expect to pay sales tax --
even if the retailer doesn't have a store in your state.
list of retailers includes Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, Amazon and
move follows work to promote the Streamlined Sales Tax Project,
an initiative by the National Governor's Association to get states
to simplify sales tax laws. The goal is to make it easier for online
retailers to collect sales taxes.
current federal law, Internet retailers must charge sales tax if
the buyer is located in a state where the company has a physical
presence, which means a store, office or distribution center.
Internet Tax Freedom Act remains in place, but only prohibits states
from taxing consumers on the use of Internet provider services.
The law doesn't apply to sales taxes or federal taxes.
incentive to amend state sales tax laws is simple -- money. A report
by the University of Tennessee last year estimated that all 50 states
could collectively lose more than $45 billion in Internet sales
tax revenue in 2006.
than half of all consumers are aware they can avoid sales tax by
buying online, and nearly two-thirds said they didn't go out of
their way to avoid paying sales taxes in the first place.
states' budget woes increase, you can bet that collecting sales
taxes from online retailers will become more important.