Tech Industry

Livestrong bands on eBay? It's not about charity

The trendy yellow bracelets are being resold for a profit on eBay--and cancer researchers are losing out on their cut.

Whether you find them inspiring or just trendy, the yellow Livestrong bracelets sold in the name of charity by the Lance Armstrong Foundation are everywhere these days--including eBay.

First seen on the wrist of the cycling legend himself as he pedaled to a record sixth Tour De France victory in July, the rubbery yellow bands are meant to show support for individuals living with cancer. And the symbolic charms have proven to be a major hit, both online and offline. The Lance Armstrong Foundation estimates that it has sold 20 million of the bracelets thus far and that it is currently selling 200,000 per day via its Web site.

Armstrong survived a near-death brush with testicular cancer and returned to competition to win his Tour de France titles. He began selling the bracelets through his foundation earlier this year at a $1 apiece, with the proceeds going to cancer research. However, now that the bracelets have achieved pop culture status, showing up on the arms of everyone from professional athletes to presidential candidates, the items, along with various forms of knockoffs, have spawned a secondary market at online auction site eBay.

For the most part, existing eBay auctions feature what appear to be the real bracelets, made for the foundation by Nike and offered for more than their original price. A quick search Monday afternoon showed literally thousands of eBay auctions selling the items for everywhere from 99 cents to $5 individually, with a lot of multiple bracelets going for much more. The foundation sells packs of 10 bracelets for $10.

E-mails sent to a dozen individuals selling the armlets, asking how proceeds of the sales would be used, went unanswered.

Officials from the foundation said the eBay development strikes them as "truly disappointing"--they are not, to the best of their knowledge, receiving any additional funds for the marked-up, resold bracelets.

Consumers are turning to eBay because of a backlog, said Michelle Milford, a spokeswoman for Lance Armstrong Foundation.

"We're seeing them sold for as much as $20 in some cases, and we could put that money toward valuable research," Milford said. "The eBay situation is being caused by a perception that there is a shortage of bracelets, which there is not."

In fact, the foundation continues to take orders for the bracelets and will continue to do so indefinitely, but high demand has resulted in a three- to four-week wait for shipments of the rubber jewelry.

Milford said the foundation has received hundreds of e-mails denouncing the eBay bracelet sales. She fears that the unauthorized auctions of the items will cut into demand and proceeds for the charitable organization. The group is legally pursuing individuals selling fake versions of the bracelets, she said.

For eBay, the undisputed leader in the online auction industry, the Livestrong bracelets represent something of a catch-22. According to Hani Durzy, a spokesman for the San Jose, Calif.-based company, eBay has kept a close eye on postings for the little yellow bands to make sure that auctions are at least truthful. The ethical debate behind the situation is something the auctioneer attempts to avoid, he said.

"People who own something legally, and can legally sell it, certainly have the right to do so if they choose to," Durzy said. "eBay is an open, transparent marketplace, and we're not going to limit the ability of people to sell something because others find it distasteful."

Durzy's advice to people opposed to the Livestrong auctions is a simple "don't bid." However, eBay does have a system in place to make sure that its sellers are not misleading consumers regarding where their money ends up.

As part of its Giving Works program, through which eBay members can donate money gained through auctions to charity, the company insists on either delivering those donations itself or requires sellers to prove their intentions. Most often, this is achieved by a seller posting a certified letter from whatever charity they claim to support in the involved items on eBay.

Durzy admitted that there has been a lot of interest in the Livestrong auctions from its registered users and that some people have been upset with the sales. He said that in most cases, when an eBay member has posted something for charity without following the company's guidelines, it is done so out of ignorance of the rules, not maliciousness. The spokesman said the open nature of eBay will not be compromised by outsiders' perceptions or controversy.

"If people are making no claims about the proceeds going to a good cause--if they are just trying to make some money off an item because it is in scarce supply and in high demand--that's what the marketplace is for, and we're not going to interrupt that transaction," he said.