In a disturbing turn of events, the U.S. government has fined online retail giant eBay $3 million for a harassment campaign against a Massachusetts couple.
David and Ina Steiner, publishers of a critical online newsletter, were targeted by eBay employees with a series of alarming and threatening deliveries.
The couple, who run the newsletter EcommerceBytes, had attracted the ire of eBay executives with their critical reporting. The situation escalated when eBay's then-CEO Devin Wenig messaged an executive to "take her down," referring to Ina Steiner, following her article about eBay's legal action against Amazon.
EBay's senior director of safety and security, James Baugh, orchestrated the campaign. The Steiners received live spiders, cockroaches, a funeral wreath, and a bloody pig mask, among other disturbing items.
This intimidation campaign resulted in federal authorities' involvement, leading to severe legal consequences for those involved.
Seven former eBay employees eventually admitted their roles in the harassment. They pleaded guilty to charges of cyberstalking and harassment. Baugh received a sentence of nearly five years in prison, while another executive, David Harville, was sentenced to two years.
In response to these events, eBay has entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government and paid a $3 million fine. The company acknowledged its responsibility for the actions of its employees.
Since then, eBay has reported improvements in its internal policies and training to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Josh Levy highlighted the gravity of eBay's misconduct. He said:
EBay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct. 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.
eBay's current CEO, Jamie Iannone, spoke of transformative changes within the company since these events. He stated that new leaders have joined eBay and that the company's policies, procedures, controls, and training have strengthened.
The Steiners, still shaken by their experience, have expressed a desire for stricter measures against corporate misconduct. They believe further indictments are necessary to deter similar behavior in the future.
David and Ina Steiner emphasized the importance of holding corporate executives and board members accountable for creating a workplace culture that tolerates or encourages stalking and harassment.
Looking back at the timeline, the harassment began in August 2019, soon after Ina Steiner's article about eBay's lawsuit against Amazon. The federal charges against the eBay employees were filed in June 2020, with sentences for Baugh and Harville being handed down in April 2021 and July 2022, respectively.
This case serves as a stark reminder of the potential for corporate power to be misused against individuals. The actions of eBay's employees not only crossed legal boundaries but also violated basic ethical standards.
As this chapter closes with eBay's acceptance of responsibility and the legal system's response, it underscores the need for vigilance against such abuses of power.
The ordeal of David and Ina Steiner at the hands of eBay employees has led to significant legal repercussions for the involved parties and the company. eBay's acceptance of responsibility and its efforts to improve internal practices reflect a move towards rectifying the wrongs. However, the incident raises important questions about corporate ethics and the responsibilities of leadership in preventing such misconduct.