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Connecticut Attorney General Goes After Craigslist Again

 
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Perhaps it was reading that Craigslist expected to earn $36 million this year from sex ads that set him off.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has issued a subpoena to Craigslist Inc., seeking information on whether it is fulfilling its promise to crack down on ads for prostitution in its adult-services section, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The online classified site has been fighting with state attorneys general -- particularly Blumenthal -- since at least 2008, with them claiming it promotes prostitution and with it pointing to ways it has kept that from happening and how it is hardly alone.

For example, in May of last year, when South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster contended that the continued presence of ads for "erotic services" on the site constituted a criminal violation for which Craigslist management was personally responsible, Craigslist management fired back with a list of all the other places in which such ads could be found and asked whether McMaster was prepared to arrest them all too.

In late 2008, Craigslist came to an agreement with 40 attorneys general -- including McMaster and Blumenthal -- to help reduce prostitution on the site. In March, 2008, the organization implemented a telephone verification system for the "erotic services" section of the site, requiring a working phone number for advertisers, and enabling blacklisting of phone numbers for those who post inappropriate ads. Phone verification resulted in an 80% reduction in ad volume, and significantly increased compliance with site guidelines, Craigslist said.

Craigslist CEO James Buckmaster, who would not confirm the revenue projections because it is a private company, noted “Of the thousands of U.S. venues that carry adult service ads, including venues operated by some of the largest and best known companies in the U.S., Craigslist has done the best and most responsible job of combating child exploitation and human trafficking," according to the New York Times. "Mr. Buckmaster was referring to alternative newspapers, phone directories and sex Web sites that carry ads for prostitution, although authorities say that Craigslist is the largest place for such ads," the Times continued.

Initially, the company had donated money it raised from sex ads to charity, but stopped doing so in May, when it shut down the "erotic services" section and created an "adult services" section instead, postings to which were to be manually reviewed.

The $36 million estimate comes from the AIM Group, which conducts an annual Craigslist study by tabulating all the posts to Craigslist in 39 major United States cities over a 30-day period, and then extrapolating to reach a final revenue figure, according to the Times. (And you thought your job was boring.) The increase was largely caused by Craigslist doubling the the price, to $10, of the sex ads, the researcher said.

Craigslist is likely to be protected from prosecution through the 1996 Communications Decency Act, according to Daily Finance. "Although the primary focus of the Act is to shield children from adult content on the Internet, Section 230 of the Act states that any "interactive computer service" is not a publisher of the content that third parties post, and thus is immune from lawsuits or prosecution based on the material its users post."

The Craigslist blog chalked up Blumenthal's action to political maneuvering, noting that the company hasn't yet been served with a subpoena. "AG Blumenthal won’t let the facts get in the way of a good photo op," the blog said. "Or as I heard while in his offices 2 years ago — “The most dangerous place on earth is getting caught between Dick Blumenthal and a television camera.”"

 
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This is a prime example where the Attorney General wants to secure certain wins - especially towards a relatively "infant" field of digital privacy/pornography/communications. Yes, legislation is needed but to go after one site that has actually provided great service to the community is something to consider - judging the pros and the cons. Another side note is that I would not be surprised if this AG is planning to run for higher politics in later years. You never know..

 
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IIRC, Blumenthal is running for Senate.

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