Exec That Tried To Send Critical Reporters A Dead Pig Blames 'The Drinking Culture At eBay'

from the bad-ideas-all-around dept

Last year, you might recall how a group of eBay executives were arrested for a truly bizarre (an understatement) stalking and harassment campaign aimed at critical reporters. Angry at the critical coverage of eBay by a small news site (Ecommercebytes.com, published by David and Ina Steiner), a team of six eBay executives and employees engaged in a year long campaign of terror against the couple that included death threats, spying on them, and even sending them everything from dead cockroaches and a bloody pig mask. The crew even tried to send the reporters a dead pig, though it never managed to ship.

These weren't really low-level employees, either. They included eBay’s senior manager of global intelligence, a manager of eBay's global intelligence center (GIC), a contractor who worked as an intelligence analyst within the GIC, and a senior manager of special operations for eBay’s global security team --and a former cop. And all of them lost their jobs for their decision to engage in this bizarre campaign of terror against what's really just a fairly ordinary and polite industry trade outlet run by a couple of genuinely decent people.

This week saw the manager of eBay's global security team Philip Cooke plead guilty to the charges in court. At his sentencing hearing, Cooke insisted that it was eBay's "drinking culture" that was apparently responsible for his atrocious judgement:

"A former eBay security official who pleaded guilty for his role in a cyberstalking conspiracy has asked for leniency in sentencing while blaming his actions in part on a "drinking culture" at eBay that contributed to his alcoholism.

"eBay had a bar on campus that opened at 3:00 p.m., and drinking was part of the culture, with alcohol present throughout the office space where it was typical to take morning shots of alcohol with co-workers," a sentencing memorandum for 56-year-old defendant Philip Cooke said yesterday. It was filed in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts."

It's pretty hard to blame gin and tonics for a campaign that required this much focus, attention, and detail. The real and obvious problem was the corporate rot that infected eBay's overall corporate culture (and still may). Cooke was ultimately promoted by eBay to director of security operations and given a raise to $205,000 in June 2020 -- ten months after the campaign began -- before ultimately losing his job once allegations came to light a few months later. If the story had never gone public, there's a not insubstantial chance he'd still be working at eBay.

Last week, the Steiners filed an unsurprising lawsuit (pdf) against the executives. But that lawsuit also included former eBay CEO Devin Wenig and eBay Chief Communications Officer Steven Wymer, who were not originally charged by the DOJ. The lawsuit accuses both of sanctioning the behavior from the highest levels of eBay leadership. According to the complaint, the two executives:

"provided the other Defendants with carte blanche authority to terminate the reporting of the Steiners by whatever means necessary, with Defendant Wymer expressing "... I want to see ashes. As long as it takes. Whatever it takes." Defendant Wymer promised the defendants he would "embrace managing any bad fallout" if the plan went south, further directing, "We need to STOP her." All of the horrific, vicious and sickening conduct that followed was committed by employees of eBay and PFC, while acting in the scope of their employment under the authority of and for the benefit of eBay and PFC."

Again it's astonishing the lengths these guys went to in order to harass a fairly small and relatively polite blog. There is some incredible culture rot needed for an effort like this to materialize and persist for so long. If this is how they felt about a fairly innocuous trade blog, you can only imagine their disdain for bigger outlets that do more serious investigative reporting. The idea that this was just a strange one off caused by just a few errant, sauced executives still seems a little hard to believe.

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Filed Under: critics, david steiner, devin wenig, drinking, harassment, ina steiner, intimidation, philip cooke, reporters, steven wymer
Companies: ebay, ecommercebytes


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 5:02am

    Hmmm…

    From time to time, I shop on ebay because I don't like Amazon and how much they control.

    Maybe I should rethink the "shopping on ebay" part given this information…

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 7:09pm

      Re: Hmmm…

      somewhere deep inside eBay a light has just gone off showing that you have been disloyal to them & they will be taking appropriate action

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2021 @ 6:45am

    Kind of like when a group of lawyers gasses up someone to defame a litigious target and then rush in to "defend free speech."

    Wonder if anyone will notice the similarities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2021 @ 6:47am

    I can't judge too harshly here since I'd probably do roughly the same thing if alcohol and cocaine were allowed at work. But I can acknowledge that so I will not be working at any tech startups.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2021 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      Not every tech startup has a drinking culture.

      Some developers recognize the wisdom of "don't code Drunk".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        sumgai (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 11:06am

        Re: Re:

        .... "don't code Drunk".

        Perhaps not, but they still code like monkeys, for job justification if nothing else. I invite you to look at the web in general, where 98% of all sites are composed of nothing more than "Look at what I can do! Watch this, I'm gonna enrage our users even more!!"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mrtraver (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 7:48am

    Bizarre is right

    At first I thought this was yet another FBI entrapment scheme I mean sting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 29 Jul 2021 @ 8:11am

    The "drinking culture" explanation does not hold water

    This went on for about a year. Even the most steadfast alcoholic should manage a few sober moments in that time span.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2021 @ 5:21pm

      Re: The "drinking culture" explanation does not hold water

      Well yeah, and the other thing is: Really, this is what you do when intoxicated? Christ.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2021 @ 8:28am

    Drinking culture???

    Blaming unforgivable behaviour on a "drinking culture" strikes be as being rather similar to blaming a homicide on a culture of careless gun use.

    It might be true, but so what? The culture is almost as big a problem as the crime and a responsible person would have tried to fix it or left.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 11:07am

      The culture is almost as big a problem as the crime and a responsible person would have tried to fix it or left.

      See also: Activision Blizzard.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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      Mononymous Tim (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 9:25am

      Re: smartphone

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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 29 Jul 2021 @ 8:35am

    Power corrupts

    Well, let's hope they dry out with some time behind bars. The fact that no one seemed to think this was a really bad idea tells me the whole group needs some serious therapy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Trails (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 8:57am

    What did the Steiners write?

    So, I'm just curious what the Steiners actually wrote that provoked this.

    To be clear, I'm not suggesting it's their fault or they deserved this, I would just love to see what must be the most brilliant pieces of biting sarcasm ever produced.

    Ebay's behaviour in this, as an org, is fucking disgusting and their claims of "this isn't our corporate culture" ring pretty flat given the sanctioning of this on record.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 11:06am

      So far as I can tell, the original government complaint doesn’t provide specific examples of the speech that pissed off those now-former eBay employees.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2021 @ 4:31pm

      Re: What did the Steiners write?

      It wasn't really primarily the newsletter content, the *real* issue was the comments below the articles. Since eBay couldn't contain those comments, it appears they targeted the publication as the source for allowing it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 12:06pm

    'The dev- I mean booze made me do it'

    "A former eBay security official who pleaded guilty for his role in a cyberstalking conspiracy has asked for leniency in sentencing while blaming his actions in part on a "drinking culture" at eBay that contributed to his alcoholism.

    That's fair, I mean everyone knows that drunk people routinely harass, stalk and send death threats and dead animals through the mail to people they don't' like, that's why the mail system is basically nothing but animal corpses in boxes at this point, so many drunk people who simply cannot help themselves.

    Not only a horrible person but a bloody coward who refuses to accept personal responsibility, truly a charming individual all around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2021 @ 4:21pm

      Re: 'The dev- I mean booze made me do it'

      Well looking at the case they must have been on *something*, that's for sure

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joanna M, 29 Jul 2021 @ 1:31pm

    What set off the eBay execs

    I am a regular reader of the newsletter in question, and have followed this case since it went public.

    It is explained in the original federal criminal indictment:

    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6945151-USA-v-BAUGH-HARVILLE.html

    P. 11 has one instance. I believe that executive 1 is Wenig.

    There was lots of coverage at the time:

    https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/2020/06/16/it-was-ina-versus-goliath-and-guess-who-won/

    “ According to the Wall Street Journal article, one senior executive texted in April 2019, “We are going to crush this lady” to an individual identified only as “Executive 1.” The text message included a link to an EcommerceBytes article titled “eBay CEO Devin Wenig Earns 152 Times That of Employees.” On May 10, according to the Journal article, Wenig texted, “Take her down.””

    https://www.vice.com/en/article/ep4z7e/ebay-executives-accused-of-horrifying-harassment- campaign-against-journalists

    https://www.npr.org/2020/06/15/877659807/feds-former-ebay-employees-sen t-newsletter-writers-roaches-spiders-and-pornograp

    The Steiners allege in the new (civil) complaint that their ability to make a living with the newsletter has been impacted, because everyone thinks they must’ve been very very critical of eBay. (Even the beginning of this techdirt article says they were critical.) They were just being accurate, as you would expect from normal journalists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Josh, 29 Jul 2021 @ 5:19pm

    Australia in general can be described as having a drinking culture. We are probably more prone to playing unwise pranks on our mates. But my god it certainly does not make us do this sort of crazy shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 29 Jul 2021 @ 7:24pm

    🎶“Can we forget about the pig I sent when I was drunk,

    I didn’t mean to mail you that . . .”🎶

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zaqwe (profile), 30 Jul 2021 @ 6:43am

    Longtime low-level eBay employee perspective

    eBay has been providing my health insurance for 18 years now. And the subjects of this article are multiple ranks above anyone I've ever interacted with. So feel free to dismiss the following as self-interest, ignorance, or both.

    But the eBay corporate culture, at least as far as I've experienced it in the Salt Lake City office, is far healthier than anywhere else I've worked. It supports the front-line workers like the company assets we are and I have never had a jerk put in a supervisory position over me. And the only "culture of drinking" I'm aware of is free soda and juice in the vending machines.

    Again, I can't speak to what goes on in the executive suites. But if the kind of sociopathy these clowns demonstrated infected the company as much as the writer suspects, I have to imagine it would manifest itself in exploitative customer-facing policies. And I truly don't feel we have any. (Yes, we charge a lot. But the fees are easy to find on our web site. If you think we're worth it, pay them. If you don't, don't.) At least, I've never felt the need to apologize for who I work for. And I'm very sensitive. :-)

    The writer also neglects to mention the government's praise of the company's full and free cooperation in nailing these jerks. I dunno... seems relevant to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 30 Jul 2021 @ 2:20pm

    But but but…?

    But… a pig? Wow.
    I’ve seen drunks do some fairly stupid and crazy things.
    But a pig? That’s actually somewhat clever.

    Credit to the person who thought of that for being so crazy to come up with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon E. Moose, 31 Jul 2021 @ 1:24pm

    Man, I've been blackout drunk before, but never "mail a dead pig" drunk. I mean, hell, if I mailed anyone a dead pig, it'd probably be my local butcher because I wanted more bacon...... tasty tasty bacon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Lostinlodos (profile), 31 Jul 2021 @ 1:55pm

      Re:

      Bacon. Lol. Bacon vodka shots.
      Seriously. Strangest thing I watched was a second floor window dive into a table.
      Shipping a dead animal across the country… that’s beyond even American psycho level of bizarre.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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