Last summer, members of eBay's private security team sent live cockroaches and a bloody pig mask to the home of a Boston suburb who published an e-commerce newsletter.
The harassment campaign, which also included physical surveillance, sending pornographic videos to the couple's neighbors, posting ads that invited sexual partners to the couple's home, and an attempt to link a tracking device to their car, was described earlier this month in a federal indictment against six former eBay employees.
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However, the industry's intense focus on reputation can cause their security devices to get lost. These dangers were exposed when federal authorities revealed the charges against eBay employees.
"Most companies, especially established high-tech companies, have devices within them that do this kind of work, respond as real-time as they can to online criticism of the company, to take steps to protect the brand," said Andrew Lelling, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts But, he added, "I can tell you that, at least internally, we've never seen a company that has done anything like this before."
Prosecutors charged the six eBay conspiracy employees for to commit cyber stalking and witness tampering, but noted that eBay's campaign against the husband and wife publishing duo was commissioned by senior executives.
"I want her executed," Steven Wymer, eBay's former communications manager, told James Baugh, the company's former senior director for safety and security. "She's a partisan troll who needs to be burned down."
In case there was any confusion, Wymer added, "I want to see ash."
Contacted last week, said Wymer, who was not one of the employees indicted in the indictment, "I would never condole or participate in such an activity . " He added that he was limited in what he could say beyond that. EBay said in a statement that "neither the company nor any current eBay employee was prosecuted."
Private security teams have long been a part of corporate America, among them insurance companies scams and "seed police," which farmers call investigators for agricultural giant Monsanto who secretly infiltrate video tapes, infiltrate community meetings and recruit informants in their search for patent infringement.
These private detective teams, typically operating under fraud $ 23.3 billion industry this year from a $ 17.3 billion industry in 2018, according to to Grand View Research.
Few industries have embraced the idea of private security as much as technically. investigator, who talked about the condition of anonymity because of non-disclosure agreements, said that a startup manager had paid his company $ 50,000 in running t of a weekend to exterminate employees he meant to plan his radiation. (They were.) The total tab for work was as much as half a million dollars.
However, as with the eBay team, these private security groups are sometimes accused of crossing legal lines.
In 2006, for example, investigators hired by Hewlett-Packard caught fluttering through journalists' trash cans and telephone journals. About a year ago, Tesla made headlines for its aggressive efforts to exterminate and punish an employee, Martin Tripp, who had tipped reporters to waste at the carmaker's Nevada plant.
According to police reports and complaints about whistleblowers, two Tesla security operators with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla was charged with hacking into Mr. Tripp's phone, having him followed by private investigators and giving an anonymous, false tip to the local authorities that Mr. Tripp planned to fire up Tesla's factory.
"Tesla's investigators tailor him, appeared in strange places, and made him very close," said Robert Mitchell, Mr. Tripp's attorney, in an interview. Tripp has since moved to Hungary for fear of family safety.
Tesla did not respond to requests for comment, but the company has sued Mr. Tripp for $ 167 million for what it said was computer theft. Tripp has delivered a counterclaim for defamation and unspecified damages. Both cases are ongoing.
When working for technology companies, private investigators have advantages over traditional law enforcement: they have access to more data, handle far less bureaucracy, and have the ability to quickly cross jurisdictions and borders.  Justin Zeefe, the president of Nisos, a Virginia security firm that has worked for technology companies in a wide variety of cases. Credit … Emma Howells for The New York Times
Justin Zeefe, a former intelligence officer who is now president of Nisos, a Virginia security firm, said his company has worked for a number of technology companies matters. On one occasion, they learned that a company's foreign suppliers had ties to foreign intelligence agencies.
Another client asked his company to determine if an acquisition target had been infiltrated by foreign hackers. Another Nisos employee to determine the source of multiple online attacks. It turned out to be the work of a competitor who had intercepted the company's Wi-Fi from an apartment rented across the street.