Craigslist Punishes Naughty Erotic Advertisers

In its never-ending quest to clean up its mostly-free classifieds, Craigslist will begin charging for “erotic” services ads. Listings for massage and boudoir photo services now will cost advertisers a “small fee,” according to the company, which announced the new requirement yesterday. The goal is to scrub away the muck of prostitution ads, one of many forms of ad corruption that has arisen on the site over the years.

By requiring credit card information in addition to phone verification, Craigslist believes ads for illegal services will diminish. Another deterrent: Those credit card and phone numbers will be provided to law enforcement if Craigslist is subpoenaed. The company said it will remove ads in violation of its standards, and will donate all net revenue from erotic ad sales to charity.

The online classifieds giant worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and 40 U.S. attorneys general offices, including Connecticut’s, which led the mission to curtail ads enabling exploitation of children, human trafficking, and other unlawful activities.

Craigslist has battled improper use of its free ad space for years. In fact, police have used the site to track down prostitution rings. Last year, Nassau County police in New York went on a virtual stakeout of the site to track down prostitutes advertising their wares. Nassau County police, along with others from around the country, reportedly have made arrests for prostitution as a result of Craigslist-related investigations.

According to the company, the phone verification requirement it put in place recently has decreased the volume of inappropriate ads by 80 percent. Listings viewed in the section today advertised with headlines like, “Erotic Yoga/Massage,” “Hot Chocolate Dominican,” and “Book your Boudoir Session Today!”

Though most categories of ads on the site are free, Craigslist charges for employment ads and real estate listings in some cities. The company has been sued for hosting real estate ads that included discriminatory language. Its free service has also been exploited by advertisers that flood the site with spam. And if that’s not enough, software fraudsters have also proliferated tools allowing advertisers to easily evade the company’s censors.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark told ClickZ News in 2007 that fraudulent loan listings and inappropriate postings by travel or porn affiliate sites “has been a constant problem there for some time.”

To counteract inappropriate ads and spam listings, about two years ago Craigslist introduced new tools to wrangle loan scammers, prostitution peddlers, and greedy marketers. The site’s initial line of defense is its flagging system, which enables users to tag particular posts according to specific types of infractions. When investigation is necessary, the company has worked with cyber crimes-related police units around the country and ISPs including Comcast, Cox, AT&T, and Earthlink to nab offenders.

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