Whitman to Court: eBay Just Wanted to Own Online Classifieds

Last Updated Dec 8, 2009 10:08 AM EST

As we were promised yesterday, eBay former CEO Meg Whitman took the stand in Delaware to testify in the lawsuit the company has brought against Craigslist. And you get the feeling that even if successful, there could be problems should the online auction site get its way to eventually take over the king of free listings.

The suit revolves eBay's claim that after it had invested money, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and CEO James Buckmaster engaged in "a series of clandestine transactions designed to ensure that eBay would not be able to elect a director, and to either impose new transfer restrictions on eBay or dilute its interests, and to dilute the interests of the employee holders of company stock options." But ultimately this isn't about having a seat on the board. It's about owning Craigslist and getting the free listings out of the way so eBay can continue listing at a price -- and maybe stop listing from side to side as it struggles to create a competitive and compelling business out of a former fiscal brightness that has dulled like a razor shaving rock.

Forget the written complaint for a moment and look at what Whitman said on the stand, as reported by the New York Times:
"We were very interested in making an acquisition of Craigslist, and we would have loved to have bought the whole thing," Ms. Whitman said, testifying in a Delaware courtroom in the lawsuit brought by eBay against Craigslist.
So Craigslist took their money and then, realizing their intentions, danced around them. Whitman said that eBay only wanted to be a good collaborative partner. Oh, cry me a river. Whitman and all wanted to put Craigslist out of business, or at least out of serious competition because they haven't been able to compete with much of anyone. On one hand, Craigslist offers a free way to sell off stuff, and then Amazon has an amazing machine to move products, whether from large partners or independent "stores" that let individuals reach a bit audience.

When it comes to strategic decisions, lawsuits are generally the last stage of desperation, when you can't figure out how to win by convincing people to do business with you. So what happens should eBay win? Would the concentration of classifieds in electronic media be copacetic with the federal government? Or would antitrust concerns rear their heads, given how carefully the feds seem to watch the high tech world these days? So much court time, so many lawyers' fees.

Image via stock.xchng user plrang, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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