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‘Horrific, criminal conduct’: Ebay fined $3 million for terrorizing critics

E-commerce company Ebay will pay a $3 million fine for its involvement in the harassment of a couple in Massachusetts, according to court documents.

The couple, Ina and David Steiner, were the victims of a harassment and intimidation campaign run by Ebay employees in August 2019. 

They had been subjected to threats and disturbing deliveries, including live spiders, cockroaches, a funeral wreath, a bloody pig mask and a book about surviving the loss of a spouse.

“Ebay engaged in absolutely horrific, criminal conduct,” acting US Attorney Joshua Levy said in a statement. “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 Justice Department criminally charged Ebay for stalking through interstate travel, stalking through electronic communications services, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. 

The company has agreed to pay $3 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. An independent monitor will also oversee the firm for three years to ensure its compliance with the terms and federal law.

The Steiners operate a website named EcommerceBytes covering news about players in the e-commerce industry. Some of their articles upset Ebay executives at the time.

“Senior executives at Ebay were frustrated with the newsletter’s tone and content, and with the comments posted beneath the newsletter’s articles,” the Department of Justice wrote in its announcement. 

In a statement, current Ebay CEO Jamie Iannone said the conduct in 2019 was “wrong and reprehensible”.

“Since these events occurred, new leaders have joined the company and Ebay has strengthened its policies, procedures, controls and training. 

“Ebay remains committed to upholding high standards of conduct and ethics and to making things right with the Steiners.”

Meanwhile, the Steiners wrote on their website that they will continue to push for answers “to ensure that no corporation ever feels that the option exists for them to squash a person’s First Amendment rights”.

They also noted the civil trial related to the case is scheduled for March 3.

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