EBay's 'Conflict of Interest' Is Just How Silicon Valley Does Business


Corporate raider Carl Icahn is stirring up another shitstorm. This time, he’s going after eBay, accusing the web giant of harboring competitors on its board of directors. Ultimately, the billionaire investor is throwing his weight around in order to make himself some extra cash, but he has stumbled onto a phenomenon that will only become more common at the highest levels of the tech world. As the giants of tech keep expanding — entering each others’ markets, looking more like one another — apparent conflicts of internet are only going to pop up in the board room more often. The question is how to deal with them.

In this case, eBay isn’t just an online auction house. It owns PayPal, the enormous online payments service. Icahn, hoping to break eBay and PayPal into two separate companies, is publicly arguing that that eBay board members Marc Andreessen and Scott Cook are in the business of competing with PayPal. Andreessen, a prominent venture capitalist, backs the up-and-coming digital currency and payments startup Coinbase, and Cook is the CEO of Intuit, a financial software company that, as one part of its business, helps broker the flow of payments.