Federal prosecutors in the United States have launched a criminal probe to discover whether eBay employees, including founder and Chairman Pierre Omidyar, used confidential information from classified ads giant Craigslist in an attempt to build its competing business, reports Reuters. The probe comes after years of legal battles in civil courts between the two companies over allegations that eBay purchased a stake in Craigslist for the sole purpose of poaching its private business data.
According to a copy of a grand jury subpoena obtained by Reuters, the probe has also put former Skype chief executive Joshua Silverman, who represented eBay on Craigslist’s board of directors, under the legal microscope.
Amanda Miller, an eBay spokeswoman, told Reuters that the company plans to fully cooperate with the prosecutors’ inquiries, but stipulates that eBay does not believe any allegations of misconduct on the part of eBay employees made by Craigslist.
“EBay believes that Craigslist’s allegations against eBay are without merit,” said Miller in an email to Reuters. “We will continue to vigorously defend ourselves, and we will aggressively pursue our claims against Craigslist.”
The subpoena seeks information concerning “incidents where eBay employees engaged in alleged criminal activities and misconduct focused around the misappropriation of proprietary/confidential information from Craigslist.”
These incidents include a February 2005 request by Omidyar about how Craigslist went about adding new cities to its roster, as well as information about when Craigslist planned to launch in new cities, the subpoena says.
Another instance in question is a March 2007 transaction, in which eBay’s then-general counsel, Brian Levey, forwarded Craigslist’s confidential financial information pertaining to 2004 to 2007 to a team of eBay employees that was working to build what would become eBay Classifieds. It is not clear whether eBay management knew about Levey’s actions.