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Craigslist adult services takedown could lead to more crime: Microsoft researcher

A senior researcher at Microsoft said Tuesday that censoring of adult services on Craigslist.org could lead to more sex crimes, not less.

Danah Boyd wrote in a column on Huffington Post on Monday that the Web has made it easier for prostitutes and traffickers to connect with clients. The Web has also, however, made it easier for law enforcement to peer into those contacts, and Craigslist has become a one-stop shop of sorts that makes such activity more available for monitoring.

“From the bottom of my soul and the depths of my intellect, I believe that the current efforts to censor Craigslist's 'adult services' achieves the absolute opposite” effect of stopping sex crimes, Boyd said.

“Rather than helping those who are abused, it fundamentally helps pimps, human traffickers and others who profit off of abusing others,” said Boyd, herself a victim of sexual violence. Boyd wrote in her column that her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Microsoft.

Last weekend, Craigslist, under pressure from U.S. attorneys general, took down adult services ads on its free classified Web site.

As my colleague David Fahrenthold reported, the site replaced its blue-letter link to “adult services” with a black box containing the word “censored.”

Prosecutors have criticized Craigslist as an online forum that allows “rampant” ads for prostitution, including ads for trafficking children. Attorneys general have called the San Francisco-based Web site founded by Craig Newmark and with 50 million users as “the Wal-Mart of child sex trafficking.”

The company's solution was to take down ads for sex services, a move First Amendment advocates say goes against free speech.

Craigslist executives didn’t respond to requests for an interview, and there is speculation that the move may be a stand against regulators. Craigslist said this year that it would help law enforcement officials fight sex crimes and trafficking by manually filtering adult services ads to catch crimes.

Boyd, however, said the issue is not about free speech versus protection against sex crimes. Instead, Craigslist – as a medium that acts as the channel for communication – in some ways provides more transparency into sex crimes, she said.

Web users seem to disagree with the prosecutors on stopping the ads. In a Washington Post poll, 51 percent said the adult services ads should have continued. Also read The Post’s On Leadership panel discussion on what the move says about executive decisions at the online classified giant.

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 7, 2010; 2:21 PM ET
Categories:  Privacy  
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