Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

craigslist Pets and “Puppy Doe”

September 25, 2013

We were saddened and horrified to learn of the pain and suffering inflicted on “Puppy Doe” (Kiya) in Massachusetts.

Based on news coverage, the last owner via craigslist is not a suspect, but we are ready (as always) to assist law enforcement if needed.

Meanwhile a misguided petition wants to ban millions of conscientious CL users from rehoming pets, cruelly dooming countless healthy animals to needless euthanization (no-kill shelters are full).

It misleadingly blames CL for Kiya’s fate, and for the Jeffrey Nally case, where police made clear all victims were found via newspaper ads:

“[Chief Deputy] Murray said Nally gathered dogs by responding to newspaper ads,” including the local “Bargain Hunter.”

morningjournalnews ] [ weirtondailytimes ] (warning, graphic!)

But direct rehoming via classifieds is a solution, not a problem.

Countless pets find good homes on CL, saved from unnecessary euthanization (most pets entering shelters are destroyed ).

In fact, CL “pets” is a primary tool shelter volunteers themselves use to find homes for dogs and cats they would otherwise have to kill.

We at CL love animals (many of us are vegan or vegetarian) and are proud of the overwhelming good CL “pets” does in finding them new loving homes.

Let’s honor Kiya by (1) not breeding so many pets, and (2) taking care when a new home must be found (CL permits a small rehoming fee).

CL-wannabe-sponsored “research” backfires

February 24, 2011

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.

Manual Screening Matters

August 18, 2010

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 legal@craigslist.org.

Advocate Indeed

August 12, 2010

Malika Saada Saar,

We saw your performance on CNN, and have read your recent letter.

You claim to be “appalled that [craigslist is] requesting the police reports from young victims as proof of their trauma.”

As you must know, because it was quite clear in my letter to you, we asked for the police reports for the **perpetrators** of these crimes, not for personal information about the victims.

We are stunned and appalled that, as an “advocate” for these young victims, you have chosen to provide the case information from the District Court of Maryland for one of the victims to CNN for display to its mass television audience and to the users of its website.

What possible reason could there be for doing such a thing? The case number was clearly displayed, and by doing so you have made the victim’s full name and other very personal details easily accessible to anyone who wants to look up her case, including to the criminals who victimized her.

For the victim’s sake, please work with CNN immediately to properly redact this court record (which we did not ask for), before the victim’s misfortunes are further compounded by your error in judgement, as well as CNN’s error in judgement in actually broadcasting this information.

In our view, victims of such crimes should not be arrested in the first place. It seems wrong to treat as a criminal the very victim of such a crime. In fact the case report you publicized reveals trial is pending against one of the victims, which seems very unfortunate indeed.

Returning to your conduct, that an “advocate” would display zero interest in the actual criminals who exploited these victims, or in the fact that the victims themselves are now being treated as criminals, choosing to focus instead exclusively on craigslist, strikes us as misguided at best. Obviously your financial backers had a very particular purpose in mind.

Regardless of what you believe about those issues however, we would like to think you would wholeheartedly agree that an “advocate” should not be gratuitously publicizing victims’ personal records for the “advocate’s” own purposes. Please address this critical error before it is too late.

Finally, please do respond to our request for the police reports of the criminals who you maintain misused craigslist in commercially exploiting these girls, so that we can make sure we have done everything possible to assist in bringing them to justice.

Although the person whose case information you displayed was actually nearly 19 at the time of her arrest according to the court record, and not underage as you had implied, and although these events took place before we implemented manual screening of ads, we would also like to be able to review these reports from the perspective of potentially further improving our preventitive measures.

Response to AK and MC Ads

August 9, 2010

To AK and MC:

We saw your recent half-page newspaper advertisements in the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. Hearing your accounts of being victimized by criminals who you mention also misused our site, we are anxious to know that the perpetrators are behind bars. Would you or the advocacy groups who placed the ads please let us know where the police reports were filed? We have been unable thus far to identify police reports matching the crimes you describe. If craigslist was misused, we want to learn more so we can improve our preventative measures. If anyone committing such crimes has not yet been apprehended and prosecuted, we want to do everything in our power to assist the police in making that happen. You can send the information to legal@craigslist.org. We work with law enforcement to bring to justice any criminals foolish enough to incriminate themselves by misusing our site, and want to make sure everything possible has been done in your cases.

craigslist is used by more than 50 million Americans to facilitate billions of interactions each month, and criminal misuse of the site is quite rare. We are dedicated to eliminating it entirely however, and in this regard we have been working for years to ensure that craigslist is very much part of the solution to crimes such as trafficking and exploitation of minors. In November 2008, we issued a Joint Statement with 40 Attorneys General and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, describing an array of measures to prevent misuse of craigslist. In May 2009 we went beyond those measures and implemented manual screening of each adult services ad. Based on the time period mentioned in your newspaper ads, it appears the events you describe may have occurred before manual screening was implemented.

craigslist is one of the few bright spots and success stories in the critical fight against trafficking and child exploitation. We’ve been told as much by experts on the front lines, many of whom we have met with in person, and many of whom have shared helpful suggestions we have incorporated in our approach. Even politicians looking to advance their careers by publicly criticizing us grudgingly admit (when pressed) that we have made giant strides, and that craigslist is virtually alone among advertising venues in vigorously combating exploitation and trafficking.

For example, to our knowledge only craigslist, out of countless venues, takes any of the following measures, let alone all of them:

* educating and encouraging users to report trafficking/exploitation
* prominently featuring anti-trafficking/exploitation resources
* creating specialized victim search interfaces for law enforcement
* actively participating in NCMEC’s cybertipline program
* leading all awareness efforts for the National Trafficking Hotline
* meeting regularly with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement
* manually reviewing every adult service ad prior to posting
* requiring phone verification for every adult service ad
* implementing the PICS content labeling system

We are not content however, and are committed to making further progress. Specific information about the outrageous misuse of our site you describe in your advertisements will help prevent such crimes in the future.

 

An Open Invitation to Rachel Lloyd

May 11, 2010

I vividly recall meeting with Rachel Lloyd. Thanks to her story (and others I’ve been privileged to hear) we’ve vastly improved our approach to the point where an adult service ad submitted to craigslist today relating to an underage person like “Bethany” would be rejected by our reviewers, with an immediate report submitted to law enforcement, allowing the victim to be rescued, and the perpetrator to be removed from society.

Human trafficking and child exploitation are utterly despicable and horrendous crimes, absolutely beyond the pale. While quite rare on craigslist, any ad on our site in facilitation of such an unspeakable crime is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to work tirelessly with law enforcement to ensure that any such victim receives the assistance they deserve and that anyone responsible for such a crime is imprisoned.

Craig Newmark and I have been called communists and socialists for putting community ahead of financial considerations. After 15 years of focusing on public service, 50 million now rely on craigslist each month for their everyday needs. To the eternal amazement of financial analysts we have never sought to maximize our personal gain. Not because we’re saints, but because valuing service over money is more fulfilling and enjoyable, and has always felt like the right thing to do.

If we for one moment believed our labor of love was increasing the incidence of such a heinous crime or was contributing to the suffering of its victims, we would indeed have trouble sleeping. We have been accused of many things over our 15 year history, but having no conscience is not one of them. Viewed in light of our 15 year history, is it even plausible that we would be defending the approach we have taken, in the face of the sustained demonization of our efforts that is occurring, if we did not believe we were doing the right thing?

To the contrary, we are convinced craigslist is a vital part of the solution to this age old scourge. We’ve been told as much by experts on the front lines of this fight, many of whom we have met with in person, and many of whom have shared very helpful suggestions that we have incorporated in our approach. Even politicans looking to make their careers at the expense of craigslist’s good name grudgingly admit (when pressed) that we have made huge strides.

To our knowledge, only craigslist, out of countless venues, takes ANY of the following measures, let alone ALL of them:

  • educating and encouraging users to report trafficking/exploitation
  • prominently featuring a directory of trafficking/exploitation resources
  • providing specialized anti-trafficking tools for law enforcement
  • providing support for law enforcement anti-trafficking sweeps and stings
  • actively participating in NCMEC’s cybertipline program
  • leading all awareness efforts for the National Trafficking Hotline
  • meeting regularly with experts at nonprofits and in law enforcement
  • manually reviewing every adult service ad submitted
  • requiring phone verification for every adult service ad
  • implementing the PICS content labeling system

What these measures mean in practice is that those foolish enough to place ads on CL relating to trafficking and exploitation are caught by law enforcement, with lots of assistance from craigslist — hence the arrests you hear about.

Last year, when we began manual screening of adult services ads, those unwilling to subject themselves to  craigslist’s standards left in droves for the numerous venues which do not monitor ads.  This migration is a matter of public record. You do not hear about arrests connected to the vast majority of adult services advertising because those venues do not cooperate with law enforcement, and do not urge their users to be on the lookout for and report suspected trafficking and exploitation.

For the sake of rescuing the exploited and prosecuting those responsible, is it really a good idea to eliminate the only venue for adult service ads that is highly responsive to law enforcement? The only venue that seeks out nonprofit groups and readily adopts their suggestions? Would it not be a step backward to confine adult ads to venues that don’t cooperate with law enforcement, that don’t care what advocacy groups and nonprofits have to say? Quite a few concerned parties, including front line workers in this field, have told us it would.

craigslist started charging for “erotic services” at the repeated request of law enforcement, some of whom suggested fees of $100 or more. It was our idea to pledge net revenues to charity, an unprecedented pledge that no phone company or newspaper featuring adult ads ever took, and one which subjected us to significant state by-state regulatory burdens. This pledge was met with accusations of dishonesty, and ridicule that we thought any charity would want our “tainted” money. Can anyone blame us for announcing in May 2009 we would not repeat this pledge with adult services? As was made clear a year ago, craigslist will continue to engage in charitable giving, privately, and as we see fit.

As to the quote from my earlier blog entry cited by Ms Lloyd, describing a “cynical misuse of a cause as important as human trafficking as a pretense for imposing one’s own flavor of religious morality” — how should we interpret a fundamentalist twitter campaign citing human trafficking as a reason for shutting down all of the craigslist personals categories, which together make up by far the most used personals service in the world? Surely a more constructive approach can be found than demonizing tens of millions of users of craigslist personals users, and effectively trivializing the suffering of actual trafficking victims.

In serving our users and the public as best we can, craigslist has to balance an immense amount of passionate and often conflicting feedback, and at the end of the day do what our consciences tell us is right. Certainly the adult services arena has exemplified that. And while there are no perfect solutions to difficult societal problems, craigslist is indisputably the “corporate responsibility” leader among the countless companies large and small that offer adult services ads. We will not rest on our laurels however, and are committed to doing even better.

craigslist has come a long way since I last met with Ms Lloyd by video in 2008. I invite her to come meet with me in person, as so many other experts in this field have done, to learn more about our approach, and help us make further improvements. That’s how we’ve come this far, and it is our belief that by continuing to work together we will ultimately reach the goals all people of conscience share.

 

Deja Blumenthal

May 3, 2010

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.

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.

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.”

 

Sad State of Affairs at the New York Times

April 28, 2010

We’re receiving inquiries about the gross inaccuracies and absence of fact checking I cited in Monday’s New York Time article by Brad Stone. There are quite a few, but I’ll start walking through them. Let’s start with this one:

The ads, many of which blatantly advertise prostitution, are expected to bring $36 million this year, according to a new projection of Craigslist’s income.

Each ad submitted to “adult services” on CL is manually screened by one or more human reviewers. Ads that “blatantly advertise prostitution” are summarily rejected.  The phrase “many of which blatantly advertise prostitution” is so patently false (and damaging) that another phrase comes to mind – “actionably defamatory”. In fact, the NY Times article probably violated multiple tenets of the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics.  More on that later.

Although you won’t find them in CL “adult services,” there are plenty of places where such ads *can* be found in great abundance.

For example, most if not all adult service ads featured by The Village Voice’sbackpage.com (which carries more adult ads than CL in most US cities) would be rejected by our manual reviewers — and in fact, quite a few of them, if submitted to CL, would be reported by our reviewers to NCMEC’s cybertipline.

Here’s an ad with photos (NSFW) of bare genitalia (CL reviewers reject ads with nude pictures), describing specific sex acts offered (CL reviewers reject ads with sexual language or code words):

******Ev3Ry !!! M@N’s!///!!% W3tt ***Dre@M __ CuM%TruE*** – 24

Watch closely as i bounce my fat luscious, juicy apple bottom booty up & down ure big c*ck!!! 80Roses** Quk $e$$ion 100Roses** Half Hr 140Roses** Full Hr200 Roses.

This ad offers “greek” in exchange for 100 “kisses” in the ad title (CL reviewers reject such ads):

♥ ♥ SexY EXxXOTiC BuSTii B@RB!E (( g/r/3/3/k)) ♥ ♥ 100 kisses – 21

The following ad, if submitted to CL’s review team, would have been reported to NCMEC’s cybertipline:

** I JuST TuRNeD 18 YeSTeRDaYY** FiNaLLY LeGal – 18

my parents are at work and im all alone jus waiting for someone to cum inside and invade my young, barely legal, juicy, suculant love nest.

I’m now hearing that AG Blumenthal was quite taken aback this morning when a CNN reporter had the audacity to ask him why he was spending all of his time on craigslist when Village Voice carries more adult ads of a far more graphic nature — but does not manually screen them or take any of the other steps CL does to combat trafficking. Senatorial candidate AG Blumenthal hemmed and hawed (as he’s done for the past year) but really does not have a good answer for this question.

 

Misdirected Outrage

April 27, 2010

Senatorial candidate CT AG Blumenthal is again pointing a misguided finger of blame at a faithful partner of law enforcement.

Misuse of craigslist for criminal purposes is utterly unacceptable, and craigslist continues to work with its partners in law enforcement and at NGOs to eliminate it. Among the many steps CL has taken that collectively set it far ahead of the countless other companies accepting adult service ads (including many among the Fortune 500) when it comes to combating crime:

  • educating and encouraging CL users to report trafficking/exploitation
  • prominently featuring a directory of trafficking/exploitation resources
  • providing specialized anti-trafficking tools for law enforcement
  • providing support for law enforcement anti-crime sweeps and stings
  • actively participating in NCMEC’s cybertipline program
  • meeting regularly with experts at NGOs and in law enforcement
  • manually reviewing every adult service ad submitted
  • requiring phone verification for every adult service ad
  • implementing the PICS content labeling system

craigslist figures in newspaper “crime stories” periodically in part because it is extremely law enforcement friendly — we are known for our responsiveness to law enforcement inquiries, and we actively assist in sweeps and stings — and those foolish enough to misuse the site in connection with crime are disproportionately likely to get caught.

Of the thousands of US venues that carry adult service ads, including ones operated by some of our largest and best known companies, craigslist has done the best and most responsible job of combating child exploitation and human trafficking. Period. We would challenge anyone to find a company that goes anywhere near the lengths to which CL does.

Lagging behind (to mention but a few) are the large mainstream internet portals, the major search engines, large telephone companies (yellow pages), major newspapers, chain operators of alternative weeklies, etc — which derive vastly more revenue from adult service ads than craigslist, while doing far less than craigslist to combat exploitation/trafficking.

Better questions for AG Blumenthal — questions I understand he is finally starting to be asked — where is his “outrage” toward all of these companies? Why does he continue to offer a free pass to larger venues that have yet to take any of the positive steps CL has already taken? Why continue to scapegoat craigslist?

Dart Dismissed

October 21, 2009

US District Court Judge John F. Grady has summarily dismissed Sheriff Dart’s suit against craigslist, concluding:

Sheriff Dart may continue to use craigslist’s website to identify and pursue individuals who post allegedly unlawful content. But he cannot sue craigslist for their conduct

Here is the full text of the judge’s ruling

Matt Zimmerman at the EFF has excellent analysis and commentary:

Meritless cases brought by law enforcement officers, amounting to little more than publicity stunts with little to no chance of success, do little to address the officers’ underlying concerns.


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