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.