eBay has agreed to pay a $3 million fine, the maximum criminal penalty, for a disturbing stalking campaign targeting a Massachusetts couple who published a newsletter critical of the company. What had covered this nearly 3 years ago in an article named inside eBay’s alleged plot that targeted a blogging duo. The harassment, orchestrated by top eBay executives, included sending the couple threatening messages, having employees surveil their home, and mailing them unsettling packages.
The campaign started after the couple, Ina and David Steiner, wrote an article suggesting eBay file a meritless lawsuit against Amazon. eBay’s then-CEO Devin Wenig responded by telling another executive that it was time to “take her down,” a message that was forwarded to security head James Baugh. Baugh then mobilized a team to stalk, intimidate and silence the Steiners.
The harassment included sending the Steiners a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask, live spiders and cockroaches, and a book on recovering from the death of a spouse. Employees also traveled to Boston to conduct covert surveillance on the Steiners’ home and posted fake online ads inviting strangers to meet at their house for sex.
The Justice Department charged eBay with obstruction of justice, witness tampering, interstate stalking and online stalking. Baugh and another director, David Harville, were convicted and sent to prison. In total, seven eBay employees have been convicted for stalking the Steiners.
While former CEO Wenig has denied directing illegal activity, he resigned in 2019 after the board investigated his communications. The Steiners are currently suing him in civil court for his alleged role. They said eBay’s actions had a “damaging and permanent impact” and have pushed for further indictments of executives who foster a culture allowing such conduct.
Current eBay CEO Jamie Iannone apologized again to the Steiners in a statement after the fine was announced. He said the company has new leadership, strengthened policies and controls, and remains committed to high ethical standards. The $3 million fine appears to be the final chapter in eBay’s legal troubles from the stalking scandal targeting its critics.
The Steiners said while monetary compensation helps, eBay’s actions took an extreme emotional, psychological and reputational toll. The fine indicates tech companies will face severe consequences for campaigns to intimidate and silence critics or journalists, even by top leadership. Ultimately, the executives’ criminal convictions show no one is above the law.