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Craigslist Sued For Promoting Prostitution

An Illinois sheriff says the classified ads Web site should stop allowing erotic services ads and reimburse law enforcement agencies for the costs of policing prostitution-related crime.

Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked about this issue last year, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said the site had instituted new screening procedures for erotic ads, which reduced the number posted by 80%. He insisted that Craigslist does not profit from erotic ads, unlike newspapers and free weekly papers that run erotic ads for a fee.

Craigslist does maintain a Web page to make it easy for users to report the exploitation of minors. It has also implemented the PICS content-labeling system, which is used by filtering software.

Legally, the lawsuit faces long odds because Internet law currently (mostly) immunizes Internet service providers for the posts of their users. Politically, however, it may not be tenable for Craigslist to say it's doing as much as it can if it continues to host content related to prostitution and child sex trafficking.

In a blog post, Eric Goldman, associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, dismisses the suit as "a sad publicity stunt."

However, he expresses uncertainty about the necessity of the continued existence of the erotic services category, where most sex service posts reside (because site users want them to be confined there). "If everything directed to this category is always illegal, it seems like Craigslist could, and perhaps should, voluntarily choose to eliminate the category altogether," wrote Goldman. "That may require Craigslist to invest some more resources policing its other categories to prevent their spamming/hijacking by the dispersed ads, but that may be the unavoidable cost of a free classified ads service."

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on rich Internet applications. Download the report here (registration required).

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