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eBay Thwarts Shuttle Debris Sales

Auction giant eBay in many ways is the very model of capitalism at work, and that means that it affords opportunities for both the best - and the worst - in human nature.

Saturday's space shuttle disaster afforded an opportunity for some of the worst, as a handful of people listed debris from the fallen Columbia.

But San Jose, Calif.-based eBay went on alert quickly, and by about 10 a.m. PST had already posted a notice in its announcements section both expressing sympathies to the affected families and advising users that "sale or listing of such debris is strictly prohibited."

NASA officials had warned the public not to touch any debris because of the possibility of toxic contamination.

eBay Spokesman Kevin Pursglove told internenews.com that "only a handful -- maybe 10 or 15 items" - related to the disaster were posted. "It hasn't been very many," he said, and they were quickly taken down.

"There were more such inappropriate items listed after the World Trade Center disaster," Pursglove said.. "We're getting better at spotting such items."

And of course, a number of such items may have been phony, anyway.

Pursglove said eBay users are aware of the fact that the company removes inappropriate items and that the Columbia disaster is the center of a federal investigation.

On Sunday, a fuller explanation of eBay's policy was posted, saying: "Any listing of shuttle debris on eBay, now or in the future, will be immediately removed from the site. In addition, eBay will cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies requesting information about users attempting to list illegal items."

eBay uses both an automated monitoring system to check postings, and also has its customer support teams pore over the site with key word searches, Pursglove said.

"We actually started such programs three or four years ago, and now we are in a position where we can remove items whenever a tragedy occurs," Pursglove said, adding that the mechanism can even be used upon the death of an individual, such as the demise of the late John F. Kennedy Jr.