Mayor’s Office, SPD Say Backpage.com Has Never Tipped Them To Child Prostitution Ads

Despite Village Voice Media/Seattle Weekly/Backpage.com’s claims that the the online classified ad site works closely with law enforcement to crack down on juvenile sex trafficking, the Seattle Police Department and Mayor Mike McGinn’s office say Backpage has never voluntarily referred a suspicious escort ad to police for investigation.

Backpage/VVM/the Seattle Weekly have repeatedly claimed their crack team of 100 ad screeners aggressively seek out suspicious ads to send to police. But, according to SPD, Vice detectives never received a single tip about an ad for a suspected juvenile prostitute, despite the fact that  SPD has regularly found children being pimped on Backpage.com on their own.

Last Friday, I asked the Weekly whether they could refute the department’s claims, and received a boilerplate response from Chicago-based public relations firm Culloton Strategies, which is now apparently running interference for the VVM chain:

Every month backpage.com sends along more than 250 tips regarding suspicious users and ads to NCMEC and law enforcement authorities.  Backpage.com also responds to an average of 50 subpoenas a month. 

We must be sensitive to any ongoing investigation, therefore we do not provide localized information. You would need to contact law enforcement for numbers specific to your area. 

I pointed out that SPD says it has never received a tip from Backpage, and asked if they had any data that showed otherwise, but have yet to receive a response.

I did, however, get a copy of a very long list of Backpage’s security policies, which seem to be mostly reactive rather than proactive in dealing with online child sex trafficking ads:

Backpage.com  Safety  &  Security  Backgrounder   July  1,  2011    

Backpage.com  is  committed  to  making  our  site  safer  for  our  members  and  our  community.    Over  the   past  nine  months,  Backpage.com  has  been  focused  on  increasing  the  safety  and  security  of  the  site  and   on  preventing  those  intent  on  committing  illegal  activity  through  the  site.  This  process  is  ongoing  and  is   backed  by  a  team  that  works  diligently  on  safety  and  security  related  initiatives  across  the  site.  The   following  are  some  examples  of  recent  safety  measures  that  Backpage.com  has  implemented.   Implementing  Stronger  Policies  to  Prevent  Illegal  Activity    

• Implemented  no  nudity  policy.  

• Implemented  strict  content  policies  to  prevent  illegal  activity  

• Implemented  stricter  image  content  standards  

Preventing  Inappropriate  Content    

• Images  are  reviewed  for  compliance  with  content  policies  

• Keyword  searches  conducted  across  site  to  locate  inappropriate  or  illegal  content  

• Banned  inappropriate  terms  list  utilized  to  identify  and  prevent  illegal  content  

• Child  exploitation  response  process  used  to  prioritize  child  related  matters    

Increasing  Online  Classified  Ad  Controls  to  Prevent  Abuse    

• Inappropriate  ad  content  removed    

• Known  bad  URLs  blocked  from  being  posted  on  site  

• HTML  images  blocked  in  ads  (except  for  trusted  users)  

• Character  limit  on  ads  (ad  size)  reduced  significantly  

• Users  attempting  to  inappropriately  edit  ads  after  review/approval  blocked  from  ad  editing   process  

• All  ads  edited  by  user  after  initial  review  and  approval  are  reviewed  again  

• Built  tool  to  restrict  ad  poster  capabilities  for  policy  violations  

• Suspicious  URLS  linked  to  off-­‐site  destinations  manually  reviewed  by  staff  for  appropriateness  

• Ad  moderator  accountability  system  implemented  to  increase  quality  and  effectiveness.    

• Two  tier  system  used  to  moderate  content  to  increase  quality  of  ad  review  

• Time  alerts  utilized  to  ensure  ads  are  reviewed  within  20  minutes  of  upload  

• Ads  deleted  for  egregious  violations  of  Terms  of  Use  

• CAPTCHAs  added  to  report  abuse  process  to  prevent  abuse  reporting  misuse   Increased  security  of  personally  identifiable  information  of  users    

Partnering  with  Law  Enforcement  and  Safety  Advocates/Experts        

• All  law  enforcement  inquiries  involving  minors  given  first  priority  

• Ads  containing  possible  minors  investigated  and  referred  to  the  National  Center  for  Missing  and   Exploited  Children  (NCMEC)  

• Created  an  automated  process  to  quickly  report  ads  suspected  of  child  exploitation  to  NCMEC  

• Trained  moderation  and  support  staff  to  make  reports  to  NCMEC  

• Created  a  process  for  public  users  to  report  illegal  postings  and  to  include  detailed  information   which  is  in  turn  forwarded  to  NCMEC  

• Created  an  urgent  email  communication  process  with  NCMEC  for  any  ads  suspected  of   immediate  child  endangerment.  

• Created  process  using  Google  Safe  Browsing  URL  algorithm  and  NCMEC’s  database  of  known   child  exploitation  URLS  and  images  to  automatically  report  and  remove  illegal  content.    

• Worked  with  law  enforcement  to  improve  understandability  of  information  provided  during   investigations  

• Added  4  color  electronic  documents  at  the  request  of  law  enforcement  

• Created  FAQ  document  with  each  Cybertipline  report  to  assist  law  enforcement  

• Added  time,  date,  and  time  zone  stamps  to  improve  quality  of  information  provided  to  law   enforcement  

• Child  safety  experts  enlisted  to  help  guide  safety  strategies  and  help  prevent  illegal  misuse  of   Backpage.com                    

I asked Seattle police whether they might have received a tip from Backpage via NCMEC. Nope, they say.

I’ve contacted NCMEC as well to see if they’ve got anything to say about Backpage’s work with law enforcement, but haven’t heard back.