Craigslist to Cooperate with Prostitution Investigations

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In response to a letter signed by 40 state attorneys general, the popular classified ad site Craigslist has taken additional steps to keep sex workers from using its site.

Left unsaid, though, is that Craigslist had little choice, unless it wished to risk being made a party to illegal activity.

The 40 attorneys general had written Craiglist earlier this year, asking the company to deal with the issue of people posting ads for prostitution on the site. For example, in recent months, there have been two cases in Idaho of female teens used for prostitution and advertised on Craigslist.

The San Francisco-based organization said in March it had 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.

In addition, Craigslist said it will soon require credit card verification and a small fee per ad for posting in "erotic services," to further encourage compliance with site guidelines. Paid ads that violate site guidelines will be removed without refund. The company intends to donate the net revenue generated from these ads to charity, with net revenue to be verified by an external auditor.

The company also said it had filed 14 lawsuits and was sending "cease and desist" demands to companies and individuals offering services designed to evade Craigslist's terms of use, and to circumvent its technical defenses against misuse. Moreover, Craigslist will investigate and provide information to state attorneys general for the prosecution of those engaging in and facilitating criminal activity, the company warned.

Due to precedents in the online gambling industry, though, Craigslist could have been charged with promoting illegal activity if it didn't act. In 2004, United States marshals seized $3.2 million from Discovery Communications, a television and media company, after months of threatening companies that they saw as aiding and abetting the online casino industry.

The money initially belonged to Tropical Paradise, a Costa Rica-based Internet casino operation, which paid Discovery for television spots to advertise an online poker room, According to court documents, the government seized the money and told Discovery it could be party to an illegal activity by broadcasting such advertisements. The move itself was not without controversy; people criticized it both on First Amendment grounds and on jurisdictional grounds between American and non-American companies and mores.

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