Skip the navigation

Craigslist execs, state AGs meet to discuss questionable ads

Attorneys general look to hold site's feet to the fire in light of Craigslist suspect arrest

May 5, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Less than two weeks after the CEO of Craigslist Inc. said the company keeps ads for prostitution off its Web site, state attorneys general from Missouri, Connecticut and Illinois are holding a meeting with company executives today in New York to wrestle with that very issue.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in an online post that the attorneys general are looking to negotiate an end to the questionable ads on the popular online classified advertising site that's known for letting people sell everything from old sofas and bicycles to escort services and massages.

"Craigslist is allowing advertisements for illegal activities like prostitution on its site," Koster said in a statement. "It is blatant. It is irresponsible. It is illegal. Craigslist is responsible for the types of advertisements it allows, and it is imperative that Craigslist agree to tougher restrictions and to remove ads for illegal activities from its site."

Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

Koster added that his office has been investigating Craigslist and its advertisements and has found "many instances" where ads remained up on the site even though they had been "flagged" as illegal.

"Our investigators found advertisements that clearly were offering sex for money or seeking a sex-for-money relationship on Craigslist's Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia/Jefferson City and Springfield sites," Koster said. "These arrangements advertised are not only illegal but dangerous, and we aim to stop this type of advertising in Missouri."

While there has been sporadic debate about the legality of the ads in the Erotic Services category on Craigslist, a spotlight was shined on the issue last month after Boston University medical student Philip Markoff was arrested and arraigned for allegedly murdering one woman and kidnapping and assaulting another after meeting both of them through erotic services ads on Craigslist.

On Monday, Markoff was also charged with assault and weapons charges for allegedly using a gun to threaten a woman in a Rhode Island hotel on an April 16. The woman told police that she had met her assailant through an advertisement on Craigslist.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster told Computerworld in an interview last month that the company works hard to filter out advertisements for prostitution.

"The Erotic Services category was added at the request of our users who were seeing ads for escort services and massage parlors and they wanted them placed under a single category under a warning screen," Buckmaster told Computerworld. "It's intended only for legal businesses to post, and anything illegal is not wanted there and is removed by staff."

He added that Craigslist has no plans to remove the Erotic Services category from its Web site.

While some of the ads in that category include nude photos and list hourly rates, Buckmaster said they are not necessarily advertising illegal services. "There's nothing illegal about charging by the hour," he said. "I would encourage you to do some research on what constitutes an ad soliciting sex in exchange for money."

There's nothing illegal about charging by the hour. I would encourage you to do some research on what constitutes an ad soliciting sex in exchange for money.
Jim Buckmaster, CEO, Craigslist Inc.

And he added that the incidence of violent crime connected to Craigslist is "exceedingly low" given that 50 million Americans use the site every month.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch disagrees.

In a story published yesterday in the Boston Globe, Lynch said that he had heard a media interview with a Craigslist official in which the official said "it was only one incident."

"I think it was totally irresponsible," Lynch told the Globe. "It was a murder."

In March, Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Thomas J. Dart filed suit in U.S. District Court against the owners of Craigslist, accusing them of knowingly promoting and facilitating prostitution. That move came just four months after the Web site settled a national lawsuit and vowed to set up safeguards to restrict some postings on the Web site.

"Craigslist is the single largest source of prostitution in the nation," contended Dart, who is asking a federal court to order Craigslist to eliminate its Erotic Services section. "Missing children, runaways, abused women and women trafficked in from foreign countries are routinely... being pimped on Craigslist."

Buckmaster called those charges "baseless".

Read more about E-business in Computerworld's E-business Topic Center.

Our Commenting Policies