Site-scraper seeks to undermine Internet safety by instructing users to ignore safety guidelines
Classified listings scraper/aggregator and CL wannabe Oodle has paid AIM Group to falsely portray craigslist as fraught with criminal activity.
If you strip away the false (and defamatory) paid-for editorial however, and look at the numbers AIM uses, a very different story emerges.
AIM group “documents” 330 crimes that it says occurred in connection with use of CL in the US over a 12 month period. Sounds scary until you compare that number to the 570 million classified ads posted by 100 million or more US craigslist users during that same time span, generating literally BILLIONS of human interactions, many involving face-to-face meetings between users who do not know one another.
AIM Group facetiously writes “we understand thousands or even tens of thousands of transactions happen safely between Craigslist aficionados.”
THOUSANDS??? Shame on you AIM Group (and Oodle). You know better. Try hundreds of millions or billions of safe transactions. How does the self-proclaimed “bible of the classifieds industry” arrive at a range that underestimates the transaction volume of CL by 5 or more orders of magnitude (and declines to correct it) ? Well, when you’re paid to reach false conclusions about crime incidence, you’ve got little choice. If you accurately describe the transaction volume, you then have to admit that the incidence of crime is extremely low, and that’s not what those sponsor dollars were about. As Techdirt has noted, this “research” calls into question AIM Group’s entire value proposition:
As for the actual “research,” it seems laughable, at best, and should immediately raise questions about any AIM Group research. The “research” basically scoured news reports and found a grand total of 330 “crimes” in the past year that have some sort of loose connection to Craigslist. I have a hard time seeing how that makes it a “cesspool” of crime. That’s a very small number, especially considering the hundreds of millions of posts and transactions that take place via Craigslist.
James Temple at the SF Chronicle is reporting that, in terms of crime rate, or incidence of crime, craigslist is roughly 11,000 times safer than the city of Oakland. And as he has now updated, there is no reason to pick on his hometown of Oakland, the 11,000x incidence ratio would likely apply to any major city in the US. The point he is making is not the dangerousness of any given city, but the relative safety of craigslist.
Crime is rare on craigslist in part because criminals know that the electronic trail they leave there helps ensure their capture, and CL is unusually helpful and cooperative with law enforcement. The risk is not zero of course, andcommon sense precautions are in order when using craigslist, just as you would do at other venues or offline (where risks are arguably higher).
Since few have heard of it, its worth mentioning that Oodle is a classified ad scraper or aggregator, meaning it acquires its listings by scraping them or aggregating them from other sites. In fact we had to send them a cease-and-desist notice when they started scraping listings from craigslist in 2005.
AIM omits to mention craigslist is likely also safer than Oodle in terms of crime rate, or incidence of crime, when you compare the usage between the two sites. Spot checking of categories such as furniture, roommates, collectibles, baby/kid stuff, and bicycles for January showed craigslist having roughly 1000x times Oodle’s listings (and CL listings are posted by its users, not scraped from other sites). Some Oodle categories have more listings, but those are dominated by data feeds from a few large commercial entities.
Compete.com web traffic stats show CL with 550x Oodle’s page views.
Such that if so much as ONE (1) crime was connected with an Oodle listing over the past 12 months, the crime rate for Oodle would exceed by almost two times the crime rate that AIM Group claims for CL.
It’s kind of like comparing Pine Bluff Arkansas (pop 100,000) to the state of California (population 30 million) — yeah, California has far more TOTAL crime, but the INCIDENCE of crime (crimes per 100,000 people) is actually lower in California (522) than in Pine Bluff (946).
But of course, you don’t include such findings or perspective when your “research” is being bought and paid for by a client looking to tar an industry leader whose position it covets and envies.
Not content with defaming craigslist, AIM/Oodle recklessly misadvises that “the old rules — “meet in public;” “always tell someone where you’re going;” “know who you’re dealing with” — often don’t work on Craigslist.” This wildly false and irresponsible guidance is reinforced in a related press release, which says that “the old rules of ‘meeting in public’ and ‘knowing whom you’re dealing with’ no longer apply.”
Kind of like advising motorists that, because accidents are happening despite precautions, that the old rules about “observing speed limits” and “wearing your seat belt” and “don’t drink and drive” no longer apply.
We are pleased with the Chancellor Chandler’s split decision, which he foreshadowed in his concluding remarks at trial. As the Chancellor opines intoday’s ruling, “more fortunate than Goliath, eBay leaves this field with only a gash across its forehead; less fortunate than David, craigslist leaves this field with something less than total victory.”
He affirmed craigslist’s “Staggered Board Amendments,” finding they were approved “in good faith to prevent eBay, a business competitor, from having access to confidential craigslist board discussions.” He also provided valuable guidance to fiduciaries of closely-held private companies like craigslist, when carrying out their obligations to protect against conflicted, duplicitous, and/or predatory shareholders.
The Chancellor deferred to “the California judiciary” to decide “whether eBay’s use of craigslist’s non-public information or its competitive activity was unlawful.” These and craigslist’s other claims will now be taken up in San Francisco before Superior Court Judge Richard A. Kramer, in craigslist vs eBay, filed May 2008 but stayed pending today’s ruling.
I see you’ve now gotten around to requesting an interview with me or a company spokesperson, 90 days after you ambushed our namesake and founder, Craig Newmark, following his May 20th talk on veteran’s affairs and other issues unrelated to craigslist, at a conference in Washington.
You knew Craig was not in management or a company spokesperson, but setting CNN’s ethical code aside, you sidestepped company channels in favor of ambushing our semi-retired founder, complete with a misleading “set up” for your surprise questions. Now that CNN has aired your highly misleading piece dozens of times, mischaracterizing your stunt as a serious interview on this subject, and you’ve updated your “bio” to showcase this rare jewel of investigative journalism, you’re ready to try actually interviewing the company itself on this subject.
There is a class of “journalists” known for gratuitously trashing respected organizations and individuals, ignoring readily available facts in favor of rank sensationalism and self-promotion. They work for tabloid media. Your stunt has veteran news pros we know recoiling in journalistic horror, some of them chalking it up to a decline in CNN’s standards, which is unfortunate.
Seeing how you’ve pinned your career hopes on butchering this story, I’ll have to pass. If Anderson Cooper would like to come out to SF and sit with us for an interview worthy of CNN’s viewers, we’ll consider it.
craigslist is committed to being socially responsible, and when it comes to adult services ads, that includes aggressively combating violent crime and human rights violations, including human trafficking and the exploitation of minors. We are working intensively as I write this with experts and thought leaders at leading non-profits and among law enforcement on further substantive measures we can take. We are profoundly grateful to those offering us their expert assistance in this regard.
One of the many recommendations we hear from experts at NGOs, in law enforcement, and from politicians and regulators, is that craigslist is uniquely positioned to lead by example, and to exert influence over other advertising venues to follow in its footsteps. Indeed, as we intensify our efforts to make further forward progress, we continue to be hopeful that other companies will take an interest in adopting measures we have had in place for years.
craigslist implemented manual screening of adult services ads in May of 2009. Since that time, before being posted each individual ad is reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice law in the US, trained to enforce craigslist’s posting guidelines, which are stricter than those typically used by yellow pages, newspapers, or any other company that we are aware of. More than 700,000 ads were rejected by those attorneys in the year following implementation of manual screening, for falling short of our guidelines. Our uniquely intensive manual screening process has resulted in a mass exodus of those unwilling to abide by craigslist’s standards, manually enforced on an ad-by-ad basis.
Manual screening matters. We are proud of the difference it has made, along with the other measures we have taken. However, there is no shortage of US companies that have not yet implemented manual screening for this ad category, or any other of the steps that craigslist has taken, and that have not yet exhibited any interest in combating human trafficking and the exploitation of minors, and other forms of violence and human rights violations.
One of those companies, interestingly, is eBay — despite their touting their sites as a “family friendly” alternatives to craigslist. In response to criticismabout their management of one such site, LOQUO.com, where eBay offers tens of thousands of exceptionally hardcore pornographic ads explicitly offering sex for sale, yesterday eBay blocked access to all US IP addresses, presumably so that eBay investors, journalists, and other interested parties could not see. All the ads are still up, and can be viewed via proxy IPs.
Techcrunch has further coverage on these developments, and notes that eBay plans to eventually take down these types of listings as part of its “process of ensuring all of its sites are in alignment with its family-friendly values.” I’ll make a friendly wager that rather than taking down such listings, which eBay has aggressively marketed over the years to a very high level of profitability, upselling their users to higher and higher fees, eBay will instead soon sell their “non family friendly” sites such as this one to the highest bidder.
Back in the US, another company that does not manually screen adult ads, or take any of the other preventative measures that craigslist takes, is Village Voice Media’s backpage.com. When craigslist implemented manual screening of adult ads in May 2009, adult ads on backpage spiked by a factor of 5-10x, and you can see from the graph below that their page view traffic, which was flat until we implemented manual screening, more than quadrupled in the year following.
In addition to public nudges such as this blog entry, we’d like to offer our help to companies such as eBay and Backpage that may be interested in developing best practices. CEOs of such companies can email me directly, or you can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An interesting Facebook page recently came to our attention, dedicated to the proposition that one can literally “stop human trafficking” by using eBay’s “family friendly” classifieds instead of craigslist.
eBay touts the advanced filtering technologies eBay employs to “make sure all of our categories and content are family-friendly,” technologies it no doubt applies to the “broader eBay Classifieds family including Gumtree, Marktplaats, Mobile.de and Loquo, which extends the reach of eBay Classifieds to more than 20 countries.”
As a practical example of eBay’s “advanced filtering” and “family friendly” classifieds, we’ve been shown some ads currently live on eBay’s Loquo.com classifieds site, which features thousands of paid ads offering various sexual acts in exchange for money (NSFW). The highly explicit photographs included in the following example ads depict young Asian females engaged in unprotected sex, along with rates and a listing of specific sex acts (in Spanish) on offer. DO NOT CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINKS UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO VIEW HARD CORE PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES OF UNPROTECTED SEX ACTS!
Ad Example #2 had been viewed by more than 10,000 users when the screen shot was taken. Appended to each “eroticos profesionales” ad is a lengthy explanation of how to get more “exposure” by paying additional fees to eBay. Linked below is a screenshot of such upsells, like “visibility pack”, “bump up”, “top ads”, “thumbnail service”, and “highlight a listing.” DO NOT CLICK ON THIS LINK UNLESS PREPARED TO VIEW HARD CORE PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES OF UNPROTECTED SEX ACTS!
eBay acquired LOQUO in the Spring of 2005, as part of Meg Whitman’s classifieds acquisition strategy, at a time when its “eroticos profesionales” section was present, but with few ads or pictures. Changes would soon be afoot however, and Meg crowed about the growth and profitability of LOQUO on eBay’s Q2 2007 earnings call.
Today, 5 years into eBay’s “family friendly” management of this now very large business, and with eBay well aware of all the protective measures craigslist has implemented, there is no sign of eBay manually reviewing ads for content, instructing users to report suspected trafficking or exploitation of minors, or providing contacts for legal authorities or NGO hotlines. This despite the President of Spain calling for an advertising ban due to trafficking concerns in Spain. eBay does not appear to be doing phone verification or supporting parental control software either.
Some have scoffed at all of the industry-leading protective measures craigslist has taken with respect to adult services ads over the years, including a stringent manual screening process, and policies and procedures aimed specifically at combating exploitation and trafficking. It’s worth remembering what you get when all these measures are omitted. eBay’s LOQUO is a prime example. Here is another.
Meg Whitman didn’t mention eBay’s paid hard-core pornographic ads offering unprotected sex acts for sale to eBay investors when talking up the growth and profitability of LOQUO during eBay earnings calls, and I’m not aware that subsequent management has done so either.
Similarly, there is no reference to eBay classifieds depicting unprotected sex for sale with potentially underage and/or trafficked persons on the Stop Human Trafficking by Using eBay Classifieds Facebook page.
Nor is there any mention of the countless millions in eBay pornography sales revenue that earned Meg the nickname “Porn Queen.”