Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a subpoena today to Craigslist over the prostitution ads often displayed in the classifieds Web site's "casual encounters" section. Reports indicate that Craigslist may be earning over $35 million in revenue from these ads.
"The Craigslist brothel business seems booming—belying its promise to fight prostitution," said Blumenthal, who is leading 39 states in the effort to regulate the site's screening process. "The best evidence is the thousands of ads that remain on Craigslist—skimpily and slickly disguised with code words. We’re asking Craigslist for specific answers about steps to screen and stop sex-for-money offers—and whether the company is actually profiting from prostitution ads that it promised states and the public that it would try to block." Last week, Jim Buckmaster, CEO of the company, posted a piece on Craigslist's blog about the recent Twitter campaign to shut down CL personals. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and we embrace all criticism as useful in improving our approach," Buckmaster wrote. "But cynical misuse of a cause as important as human trafficking as a pretense for imposing one’s own flavor of religious morality ("casual sex is evil") strikes me as wrong on so many levels."
Buckmaster is a staunch defender of Craigslist's policies. In a recent issue of Wired, he defended Craigslist for the misuse of the Web site. "That the world would expect Craigslist to take responsibility for the rare violent criminal who lures victims through an ad strikes Buckmaster as absurd. He points to the thousands of people who die every year in auto accidents. "Does anybody call up the head of GM and say, 'Somebody just got killed using your product? How can you sleep at night? Don't you realize that a person is dead?'"
The big problem with Buckmaster's analogy is that many regulators did call up the head of GM over auto accidents. In fact, there were well over 100 lawsuits against GM in the 1960s over the safety of their products, which led to Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, a study that significantly changed how the automobile industry was regulated, from the passing of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Let's just hope Craigslist's lawyers can make a more compelling argument than Buckmaster in court.
The subpoena seeks information about Craigslist's manual review process for objectionable advertisements, and also any documentation regarding the company's telephone verification system for its adult services section. Requests for comment from Craigslist were not immediately returned.
Update: In a recent blog post titled "Deja Blumenthal," Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster goes after the connecticut attorney general over subpoena charges. "True to form, CT AG Blumenthal is once again indulging in self-serving publicity at the expense of the truth and his constituents — touting a subpoena on television and telling whoppers about craigslist "reneging" on promises — even before craigslist had been served with a subpoena," writes Buckmaster. "As AG Blumenthal knows full well, craigslist has gone beyond fulfilling its legal obligations, far beyond classifieds industry norms, has more than lived up to any promises it made, and working together with its partners is in fact a leader in the fight against human trafficking and exploitation."
Buckmaster concludes his brief post by accusing Blumenthal of having ulterior motives. "With his senatorial race in full swing however, AG Blumenthal won’t let the facts get in the way of a good photo op. Or as I heard while in his offices 2 years ago — 'The most dangerous place on earth is getting caught between Dick Blumenthal and a television camera.'"
Interestingly, one of the tags under Buckmaster's post is "harassment." Is this referring to Craigslist's erotic services section or abuse by Blumenthal?