Feds Investigating Next Round Of Sites Accused Of Facilitating Sex Trafficking

from the whac-a-mole dept

The Wall Street Journal has a report about how both the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are investigating three “massage and escort” sites accused of taking up where Backpage left off (that link is likely paywalled, but here’s a Gizmodo summary of the same article). The article is interesting in that it explores how these three sites — Rubmaps, Eros, and EroticMonkey — are believed to be connected with one guy, David Azzato, who “was convicted in France in 2011 of profiting from prostitution through a European network of escort-ad sites.” Azzato denies having anything to do with the sites, though the article highlights some evidence that at least suggests otherwise.

Either way, a few things struck me about the article. The first is the general futility of shutting down one or another such sites, because people move elsewhere:

?All three of those websites benefited substantially from the seizure of Backpage,? said Rob Spectre, ChildSafe.ai?s founder and chief executive.

In the article, it becomes quite clear that whoever is behind these sites — whether it’s Azzato or someone else entirely — has zero interest in working with the US government to prevent trafficking. Contrast that with the recent reports that Backpage seemed to bend over backwards to work with the feds to prevent sex trafficking on the site. It raises a big question about what the actual goal is here.

Of course, part of the issue is the same one that comes up over and over again in these discussions: consensual sex work is not the same thing as sex trafficking. It’s absolutely true that there can be overlap, but so much of this fight seems to break down along those lines. That was the point at which various reports suggest that Backpage’s execs tried to draw the line. They were happy to help the feds stop actual traffickers — but when some in the DOJ wanted to use Backpage to go after everyday consensual sex work, the execs said no.

And note that the Wall Street Journal piece seems to freely shift back and forth between prostitution and sex trafficking as if they’re identical. That makes it difficult to have a serious conversation about the goals and tactics being used here. Generally speaking, people seem to use the language of sex trafficking to push for the attacks on these sites, but when it comes down to details, they’re really just focused on prostitution.

A separate issue in the article is that it hints that the feds might go after American companies who provide services to the three sites in question (all of whom are based outside of the US):

It is true that website domains registered abroad may be outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement. But officials can request information from their U.S.-based technology providers and can seize those accounts through a court order, which could interrupt the websites? operations. U.S. officials can also seek to prosecute individuals who own or run sites they allege are breaking U.S. laws.

Rubmaps, EroticMonkey and Eros all use San Francisco-based Cloudflare Inc., a web infrastructure and security company, according to domain records. Cloudflare didn?t respond to requests for comment.

Again, this seems like a pretty messed up way of going about all of this. Cloudflare is just providing some basic infrastructure and security services. If the feds think it makes sense to go after that company because some of its customers had illegal activities occurring on their websites, that opens up a whole bunch of serious questions about how deep the liability levels are supposed to go.

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Companies: cloudflare

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Comments on “Feds Investigating Next Round Of Sites Accused Of Facilitating Sex Trafficking”

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Mark A. Line says:

Re: Backpage's execs tried to draw the line OVER THE LINE.

Here’s your libertarian Richard Stallman discovering that conservatism intersects with the left’s new focus on sexual predators:

MIT researcher and open source software activist Richard Stallman has resigned over a series of writings in which he defended convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and child pornography. Stallman also resigned from the Free Software Foundation.


Here’s a Rosenfeld who no doubt thinks his actions are "normal":

NY Jewish day school admin arrested for `production of child pornography’

Stanley Rosenfeld, now 84, who has admitted to abusing hundreds of boys throughout his lifetime, worked as an assistant principal at SAR in the 1970s and also taught English there a decade later.


PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Backpage's execs tried to draw the line OVER THE LIN

"Hey, I can coment here as normal again!"

I assume you’ve stumbled across an IP in the range of services you use to get around people telling you to fuck off that hasn’t been caught yet. Hopefully it won’t be long till the spam filter kicks in.

"I can’t tell whether that’s Cloudflare or you dial up the mighty filters,"

I’m not sure what’s funnier – the fact that you think that filters require manual intervention, or the fact that despite your whining bullshit on threads that involve them, you clearly don’t know what Cloudflare actually do.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Backpage's execs tried to draw the line OVER THE

Well, to be fair – Cloadflare actually try to mitigate DoS-attackes and it can get a bit ornery if you come from the wrong ip-range or do stupid stuff that may look like bot-activity.

So, I’m not very surprised that he may run afoul of Cloudflare. And considering his other problems posting here it seems his computer is a potato.

On the other hand, his grossly self-inflated ego really thinks people have the time to manually muck around with the filters just to penalize him which tells us how detached from reality he really is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Backpage's execs tried to draw the line OVER THE LINE.

Make prostitution legal, so the sex workers can work in the open, and you will eliminate most of the pimps, and with them almost all of the sex trafficking. It is the ability to make money by controlling prostitutes that drives what little sex trafficking there is.

Anonymous Coward says:

be interesting to see if the Feds manage to make as big a fuck up as they did over backpage. look at the harm that did and the extra risks that women are now taking. they never protected anyone at all!
it seems to me that the entire USA is being led down the path of ensuring that absolutely nothing offends certain people in Congress and the security services, ie all Bible Pushers, as long as those who are making money from them can keep doing so. i think HYPOCRITES comes to mind!

That One Guy says:

Out of the single frying pan, into the multiple hidden fires...

“All three of those websites benefited substantially from the seizure of Backpage,” said Rob Spectre, ChildSafe.ai’s founder and chief executive.

Shut down the visible site that is willing to work with police and the activity(that’s been going on basically the entirely of human history) doesn’t shut down, it merely moves. If only someone, anyone, had warned those involved that something like that would happen…

In the article, it becomes quite clear that whoever is behind these sites — whether it’s Azzato or someone else entirely — has zero interest in working with the US government to prevent trafficking. Contrast that with the recent reports that Backpage seemed to bend over backwards to work with the feds to prevent sex trafficking on the site.

Imagine that, make it clear that working with law enforcement will be used against you and sites suddenly lose all interest in doing so. Who ever could have seen that coming?

It raises a big question about what the actual goal is here.

‘Look like you’re Doing Something’ and ‘Catch criminals to add to your personal tally for PR reasons’. ‘Help the victims’ might be on the list, but it’s not the top reason, or even near the top by any stretch.

Anon says:


So shut down the locally based site and surprise, foreign sites fill in the gap since the internet goes everywhere.

So now they go after locally based infrastructure providers. What could possibly go wrong? What will be the result?

This is as silly as driving away business from American companies by revealing that the NSA installs compromise chips in select Cisco routers. For all the bluster, nobody has proven that similarly, Huawei or Kaspersky have back doors.

FrakyStyle664 (profile) says:

I just wanted to drop my 2 cents on this subject. This article has got to be one of the biggest crocks of shit I have read in a long time. It’s just like the government not to get its facts straight. They want to call out sites like Rubmaps, Euros, and EroticMonkey. What about those other sites that get like 10X the traffic like adult search, skipthegame, and bedpage. It makes you wonder whos getting the kickbacks if the Clintons where still in office I would point the finger right there.

The only reason these sites are even around is because the US won’t allow people to do this legally. Hell, if I take out a nice girl for drinks dinner and movie $300 bucks easy, and I still go home with blue balls. I see a friendly call, girl$ 300. I go home with a smile and a great night’s sleep. Now at the end of the day, do you want the government telling you how to spend your money?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Honestly the main takeaway here is that cooperation with law enforcement is often a pointless and self-destructive endeavor.

Consider that Megaupload, Ninjavideo and Backpage all cooperated with law enforcement. None of those sites was the biggest offender in their respective fields. At best you could say the people in charge were obnoxious. And as a prize for their cooperation with the law they were rewarded with an assrape with no lube.

Meanwhile other sites go deeper underground where law enforcement can’t get them. And now that their carrot has been exposed for the stick of dynamite it actually is, law enforcement scratches its head as to why prostitutes are no longer keen to work with them…

marc says:

thats so funny this article…..if i look on the first site eros.com, it has no explicit content or wording…unlike backpage had at any time….its extrem ristrict against anything in the direction of anything ilicit..just read their policy or look at their advertising guideline…..but yeah…seems like somebody wanna cover up for the real backpage copys out their by pointing probably on the only site in USA who really fights against the real problems…..look at http://skipthegames.com/, or listcrawler.com….has 3xtimes the traffic of eros, according to alexa, same resource childsafe refer…….full illicit content…..

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