Former eBay exec who harassed and spied on bloggers is going to prison

Signage at eBay headquarters in San Jose, California, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.

As reported by the Boston Globe (opens in new tab) (readers may encounter a paywall), James Baugh, the former head of safety and security at eBay, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison yesterday over his execution of a bizarre harassment campaign against bloggers David and Ina Steiner. Baugh is one of seven former eBay executives and high level employees to plead guilty in relation to the case.

I mostly understand eBay as a place to get cheap second hand PC parts (buyer beware, by the way (opens in new tab)) or even absurdly overpriced collectible big boxes (opens in new tab). In a truly more innocent time, Weird Al Yankovic graced the digital marketplace with one of those darling parodical songs of his (opens in new tab). It’s a bit shocking then, to read about the truly gangsterish intimidation campaign its executive-level employees masterminded.

The Steiners, who publish an online shopping-focused newsletter, EcommerceBytes (opens in new tab), put out a series of articles critical of eBay in 2019. Baugh and his fellow eBay employees proceeded to retaliate, allegedly in response to the demands of even more senior executives, including then-CEO Devin Wenig.

According to The Guardian (opens in new tab), the Steiners were sent threatening items like boxes of insects, a bloody Halloween pig’s mask, and a funeral wreath. The eBay team also harassed the Steiners with sock puppet social media accounts, sent pornography addressed to David Steiner to the couple’s neighbors, and even doxxed the couple, advertising fake yard sales and the like.

The apex of absurdity, for my money, was when Baugh and eBay’s former director of global resiliency, David Harville (who pled guilty back in May (opens in new tab)) allegedly flew across the country to the Steiners’ residence near Boston. According to the prosecution, Baugh and Harville intended to place a GPS tracking device on the couple’s car, but were thwarted by a locked garage door.

Baugh, for his part, claims to have received direction from top eBay executives, including the former CEO Wenig. NPR (opens in new tab) reports that Wenig sent a message to a fellow executive regarding one of Ina Steiner’s articles reading, “If you are ever going to take her down…now is the time.”

Former eBay head of security James Baugh arrives for sentencing on Thursday, September 29. (Image credit: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Wenig has not been criminally charged in relation to the harassment campaign, though he faces a civil suit from the couple. Wenig stepped down from his position in 2019 and maintains he had no knowledge of the plot. 

James Baugh seems to be the most senior eBay employee to face consequences in relation to the case. On September 28, Ina Steiner published a post (opens in new tab) on EcommerceBytes addressing the situation, and clarifying that she believes more senior executives, as well as the company itself, should be held accountable.

“Last year David and I brought a civil RICO case against those we believe were responsible for the criminal campaign, including former eBay CEO Devin Wenig, CCO Steve Wymer, and eBay itself,” Steiner writes. “While it was a difficult decision, we firmly believe it was the right thing to do.”

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