Thursday, July 9, 2015

Backpage's Answer to Credit Card Companies? Free "Adult" Ads For Everyone

Crime finds a way.

"Backpage is ballsy." That was the text I received this morning from "Marie," a working prostitute who is one of the women I interviewed for my book, "The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in America." Like many of her brief texts, I didn't quite understand what she was talking about. I replied with a simple "?"

Her response was ecstatic. "Backpage isn't charging me anything to post ads anymore! Woohoo!"

Recently, Visa, Master Card and Amerincan Express each barred its credit cards from being used to pay for "Adult" ads on Backpage.comthe online classified-ad company that's become the center of a hard-fought battleground against human traffickingThe decision followed a request from Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Thomas Dart who said the site is used by sex traffickers. 

In response, has stopped charging users to post ads in its "adult" section all together. Until now, users could post free ads elsewhere on the site, but paid fees for promotions in the "adult" section, which receives thousands of ads for "escorts" every few minutes. This is the section where "Marie" posts her ads every day. 

On July 1, 2015, when Visa became the last major credit card company to bar its users from posting "Escort" ads, human rights advocates were cheering. "We commend these credit card companies for making it more challenging for traffickers to profit off of the exploitation of people," said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris, a Washington-based anti-trafficking group.

In urging the credit card companies to refuse processing payments, Sheriff Dart wrote, "We have objectively found (sites like Backpage) promote prostitution and facilitate online sex trafficking. Institutions such as yours have the moral, social and legal right to step up on this pervasive problem and make a fundamental and everlasting difference."

But then made a simple determination: since no one can pay for "Adult" ads, why charge for them?

At this point, no one knows if will create a new way for users to post "Escort" ads. Some have suggested Backpage will give a boost to non-government, non-bank affiliated, web-based currencies like Bitcoin. One thing is certain, "Adult" ads account for a huge portion of income. Without them it could lose a substantial amount of traffic and advertising revenue. 

In an email to many of its registered users, hinted that the free adult postings may be temporary. "We understand some users have had difficulty posting over the last few days," said the email. "Sign up for a free account and enjoy posting free ads until the payment issues are resolved." Non-registered users received a similar email, this one instructing them to register for a free account using the promo code "FREESPEECH."

"Marie's" view on the issue is diabolically simple. "I pay Backpage. The johns pay me. I pay my dealer. Why are people f____ing with that?"

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