A couple from the US who run a small ecommerce publication have launched legal action against eBay accusing the company of a "coordinated effort to intimidate, threaten to kill, torture, terrorize, stalk and silence" them to muzzle their coverage.
The allegations – made in a complaint lodged in the US District Court of Massachusetts this week – are the latest chapter in a long-running case that has already resulted in guilty pleas from a number of former employees in what has become known as the "eBay cyberstalking case".
Lawyers acting on behalf of the owners of EcommerceBytes – an online trade publication that covers the ecommerce industry run by journalists Ina and David Steiner - said the intimidation was so bad they were in fear for their lives.
The complaint, filed on Wednesday [PDF], alleged that eBay should be held to have been part of a "conspiracy" of harassment in violation of their state and constitutional rights, including but not limited to freedom of speech and press. They are looking to ensure such harassment "does not again happen" to them or any other journalists and plan to seek "redress for the significant emotional, physical and economic harm" as well as compensation for the "damage to their business and reputation".
The couple allege they were targeted and harassed with "around-the-clock cyberstalking" and "ominous death threats" which included deliveries of a "bloody pig mask, a fetal pig, a funeral wreath, and various live insects."
It's alleged that senior execs at eBay became increasingly angry by what they perceived as the Steiners' negative coverage of eBay and took steps to curtail their coverage.
The court papers go on to allege, among other things, that the defendants "taunted Ina Steiner using a phony Twitter handle pretending to be an eBay seller" employing threatening and abusive language to try to get her to stop.
According to the complaint: "The online attacks continued to escalate into threatening and disturbing package deliveries, which included live spiders, cockroaches, a bloody pig mask, a funeral wreath, and a book entitled Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Spouse sent directly to David Steiner."
The suit also claims the couple were tailed by a "black van" and an alleged attempt was made to "break into the Steiner garage in order to install a GPS tracking device on their vehicle."
In a statement on EcommerceBytes Website Mr Steiner said: "This has been an unbelievably difficult ordeal for my wife and I.
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"Never did we imagine doing our jobs as journalists would lead to this. We want to protect the rights of reporters and their freedom of the press. We have endured enormous cruelty and abuse and feared for our lives. If this behaviour can happen to us, it can happen to anyone."
No one from eBay was available for comment but in a statement published by AP in its coverage eBay apologized to the couple and stressed that it had fully cooperated with authorities during their inquiry.
"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," the company said. "The events from 2019 should never have happened, and as eBay expressed to the Steiners, we are very sorry for what they endured."
The Register has asked eBay for further comment. ®