Peeling Back the eBananas Scandal

By WIRED Staff

LG: What?

BB: Yeah, it did not work out that way, but that was the plan. A couple of other highlights, and I'm sorry, we'll get to the questions, but there's just so much guys. They flew out from California—allegedly—to Massachusetts, drove to this couple's house—allegedly—with a GPS tracker that they intended to put on the couple's car, but couldn't get in to the garage because the garage was locked. They advertise—allegedly—sex parties at all hours on Craigslist with this couple's home address, so they dox the couple's address. And it just keeps going, like there's more, there's so much more, but I'm going to stop there because that's sort of the gist of it. And it's really incredible to see that this could have happened and I'm very curious to see where it goes from here.

MC: So tell us about EcommerceBytes. What did this couple do to draw the ire of these eBay executives? What kind of stories are they writing?

BB: Yeah, this is an industry newsletter focused on eCommerce. They cover sites like eBay obviously, but also Amazon and Craigslist occasionally, anywhere that there's an eCommerce aspect. And there were specific stories that the executives reportedly weren't fans of. But when you look back to them and they're not crazy over the top of critical, this is just sort of the kind of criticism you would expect if you're a multi-billion dollar company. The other thing to note though, is that they were... eBay had concerns about some of the commenters too, they felt that some of the commenters on the site were especially egregious and over the top and in some cases threatening. And so that was an element to this as well.

LG: So presumably this couple at some point, contacted authorities and said, "This stuff is happening to us." How did this plan unravel?

BB: So according to court documents, you're right, they had called the police and they got the police and all. And in fact, when the eBay team made contact with them and said, "Hey, we're here to help," the prosecutor that the couple had said, "Well, actually we already talking to the police, so go for them." The couple knew that they were being followed, they spotted that they were being followed by a van, a minivan. They got the license plate number, almost exactly right, they were off by one number. But basically they got enough information to trace this rental car that was following them around town, back to a member of the eBay team. And it all kind of unspooled from there.

MC: So there are other news organizations that cover very specific parts of the tech industry. Like for example, I'm thinking of all of the different new sites and blogs and newsletters that cover electric vehicles and write about Tesla and write about Nissan and Honda all the time. Has any sort of harassment campaign shown up anywhere else in the tech industry, or is this a pretty much an isolated incident?

BB: So, and I invite Lauren to chime in here, she knows that, the closest that comes to top of mind isn't harassment specifically, it's when HP did a surveillance campaign and sort of listened in on phone calls of nine journalists or so several years ago. Tensions obviously run hot with a lot of these companies, but I've never seen it get to this point and go to these extremes. "Alleged" extremes.

LG: Right, alleged. Yeah, nothing quite like this comes to mind. I mean, one thing that I was thinking about is, we're aware that some tech companies have dossiers on reporters. They like to compile information about us and our beats and what we typically cover in our prior coverage, hoping that in some ways that maybe they can glean some insights into like our psyches and what we're thinking about certain things and people and products. The most famous example we have is very close to us. Over a decade ago, Microsoft accidentally sent their dossier on our colleague, Fred Vogelstein to Fred Vogelstein, via email. Yeah, he was emailed this. He wasn't supposed to see it. And he was able to see exactly all of the information that Microsoft had compiled on him. So the existence of that kind of document doesn't necessarily signal any kind of animosity. But that said, sometimes things can get quite tense between reporters and the companies they're covering.