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13 Jan, 2024 17:53

eBay fined for delivering live spiders to company critics

Court documents say that eBay executives targeted bloggers for harassment after receiving negative coverage online
eBay fined for delivering live spiders to company critics

Online retail giant eBay has agreed to pay a fine of $3 million (£2.35 million) to resolve a criminal complaint over employees who had sent a range of items, including live spiders and cockroaches, to the home of two US bloggers.

David and Ina Steiner received a series of unwanted deliveries from eBay employees in 2019, court papers said, which also included a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask, and a book detailing how to deal with the grief of a deceased spouse.

The items were delivered as part of a targeted harassment campaign following the publication of the Steiners’ ‘EcommerceBytes’ newsletter, which some eBay executives had disliked, prosecutors said. The US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts said that Jim Baugh, formerly eBay’s senior director of safety and security, and six other associates, were involved in the scheme.

Additionally, the court documents detail that Baugh and his associates ‘bugged’ the couple’s car with a GPS tracking device and posted messages to the Craigslist website inviting strangers to the Steiners’ home in Natick, Massachusetts, for sexual encounters.

“eBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct,” acting Massachusetts US Attorney Josh Levy said to the AP news agency this week. “The company’s employees and contractors involved in this campaign put the victims through pure hell in a petrifying campaign aimed at silencing their reporting and protecting the eBay brand.”

The series of harassing deliveries began in 2019 after the Steiners published an online story about a lawsuit eBay had filed in which it alleged that Amazon was using tactics to steal its customer base.

Court records say that just 30 minutes after the article appeared online, eBay’s then-CEO Devin Wenig sent a message to another executive saying: “If you are ever going to take her down … now is the time.”

The executive is then said to have relayed the message to Waugh, adding that Ira Steiner is a “biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”

The legal filings said that the Steiners had felt “emotionally, psychologically, and physically” abused as a result of the harassment.

The employees involved were fired soon after the allegations became known. Baugh and six others pleaded guilty to charges related to the case. Waugh was sentenced to almost five years in prison in 2022.

Wenig, who stood down from eBay in 2019, denied complicity in the scheme – however, Baugh claimed in legal proceedings that he had received pressure from Wenig to respond to the Steiners’ claims in their newsletter.