eBay sued after former employees ‘terrorised’ critics of the company

Evidence including a pig mask and a book on 'surviving the loss of a spouse'

Credit: US Department of Justice

A couple who were subjected to a campaign of stalking and harassment by eBay employees have sued the company for damages over the emotional stress caused by the tech giant.

The Massachusetts couple, who ran a blog critical of the online auction site, were sent threatening emails and Twitter messages, subjected to covert surveillance and had bizarre and disturbing packages delivered to their home, including live cockroaches and a bloody Halloween pig mask.

David and Ina Steiner said eBay’s security staff and contractors launched a campaign in August 2019 to “intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorise, stalk and silence” them for their newsletter coverage.

The bloggers had pornography sent in their names to neighbours’ houses, and a funeral wreath delivered to their door. Staff at eBay also published adverts inviting “swingers” to their house for parties.

US prosecutors also allege that even more disturbing packages were ordered, including a “preserved fetal pig”, which was cancelled by the vendor. The packages were accompanied by Twitter threats from an anonymous account asking “do I have ur [sic] attention now?”

Seven former eBay employees have been charged over the campaign and five have pleaded guilty.

The employees involved were sacked by eBay and the company has said it is cooperating with prosecutors investigating the case.

Prosecutors last year accused former staff of a “systemic campaign fuelled by the resources of a Fortune 500 company to emotionally and psychologically terrorise this middle-aged couple, with the goal of deterring them from writing bad things online about eBay”.

Texts emerged in the case in 2019 in which eBay’s previous chief executive, Devin Wenig, urged the company’s head of communications to “take her down”, referring to one of the victims.

There has been no suggestion that Mr Wenig ordered the harassment and he has denied knowing about the scheme. eBay investigated Mr Wenig’s communications and last year said there was no evidence he knew about the scheme.

An eBay spokesperson said: "The misconduct of these former employees was wrong, and we will do what is fair and appropriate to try to address what the Steiners went through. We are very sorry for what they endured."

The company has said it has cooperated with prosecutors.

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