back to article Oracle throws weight behind draft US law to curtail web sexploitation

A looming battle over corporate social responsibility on the internet has taken an interesting turn. Oracle has backed a proposed US law that will penalize the operators of sex-trafficking websites. The California database giant says it will support the bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, aka SESTA, arguing that it …

  1. Criminny Rickets

    One problem with this is that the Justice departments usually see all persons involved in the sex trade as victims, whether willing or not. So if Sasha in Nevada, where prostitution is legal, has a web page offering her wares, this law can be used to punish her.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Given that prostitution is legal in the US in one state - and not even the most populous parts of that state - if this law should hobble legal prostitutes advertising their services, I think that's acceptable collateral damage if it makes it much easier to prosecute sex traffickers.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aren't there already enough laws?

    I don't see the point here to be honest, and quite frankly I can't help wonder if some definitions aren't being heavily mixed up here to make the story sound more dramatic.

    See: when we're talking about "sex trafficking" then I'm not thinking about online advertisements but about people who are being forced / coerced into sexual slavery. Who are being forced to have sex against their will. Are you telling me that this isn't already illegal under US law? Surely the US isn't that much of an underdeveloped country? Last time I heard prostitution itself is pretty much outlawed in several states. So why aren't those laws being applied to catch the culprits?

    And speaking of those online advertisements... Isn't child labor pretty much illegal in most civilized Western countries (let alone working within the adult industry)?

    I can't help wonder if there isn't much more at stake here than just protecting the innocent.

    See: most of the crimes we're talking about are already illegal under current laws. Therefor I can't help wonder if the attention isn't being diverted away from the actual problem. Wouldn't it be fair to say that instead of more confusing laws we need better law enforcement instead?

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

      It's hard to say, and this article doesn't really clarify matters. The problem is this line:

      "The EFF, which one year received half of its total funding from Google"

      Once I read it, I checked the byline, and sure enough, it was written by Andrew Orlowski. If Google is against it, even by the most remote association, Andrew must be for it. I recommend bypassing the purple prose, red top, and yellow journalism and doing external research.

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

        I rarely agree with Orlowski, but his articles are usually well worth reading... Journalism should challenge one's own preconceptions. And it's hard to find fault in AO's journalism, even if you think his analysis is wrong and some of his opinions are bonkers.

        And whilst I would tend to agree that more laws are usually just a noisy distraction, in this instance the article mentions a specific case that was not covered by an existing law... so I did learn something.

      2. icesenshi
        Thumb Down

        Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

        No kidding, please please put the resident troll Orlowski back in charge of cell phones or something.

    2. a_yank_lurker

      Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

      There are more than enough laws to nail someone. While Section 230 protects ISPs and sites from suits it does not mean the flatfeet can't use the two brain cells they have to use the information in the ads to try to apprehend the miscreants. If someone is using an ad they have to provide some sort of contact method. If they are using chats, troll the chats (which has been done successfully). However both require the doughnut eaters to done actual work.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

        "There are more than enough laws to nail someone."

        Evidently the law is ineffective, as Backpage walked away from the John Doe case to even the Judge's disgust. Summary: our hands are tied, on the internet anything goes. Do RTFA next time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

          I can sympathise with Backpage. If they are being sued it makes perfect sense to respond with something like: "If you think we've done something criminal, call the cops, and they can get a warrant. Otherwise, sod off." The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any functional criminal law or police in the USA so suing people is the only way to get "justice". (And if the victim is dead and doesn't have any family to sue on their behalf - perhaps they were murdered too - then nothing happens.)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

            "I can sympathise with Backpage"

            I however cannot sympathise with Backpage.

            If I were running such a company, I would be screaming - "people are abusing our advertising services to do WHAT??" and do something about it.

            There is internet freedom, and then there is just plain wrong.

          2. gnarlymarley

            Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

            Leave it to the USA to have so many laws, that now in order to not plagiarize, they are punishing the innocent and letting the criminals go. The police are sometimes having trouble keeping up with the laws, let alone USA citizens. I heard a quote from Nancy Pelosi that said "We have to pass the bill so you can know what it in it."

        2. nijam Silver badge

          Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

          Standard knee-jerk reaction to an inadequate (or more usually, inadequately-enforced) law is to create another inadequate law to be inadequately-enforced. It never works.

          Bored with Orlowski's hatred of the internet and ISPs yet? You should be.

          1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

            Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

            "Bored with Orlowski's hatred of the internet and ISPs yet? You should be."

            Are you on drugs?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Aren't there already enough laws?

      Actually, yes, there is one law used to protect web sites that sell people, and that's a form of slavery. So law enforcement can't act.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is the opinion of the actual people who enforce the trafficking laws? Surely they must be using these adverts as a source of potential crime intelligence.

    Blocking likely adverts will push the activities further underground. It will also cause collateral damage to otherwise legal activities when the host providers err on the side of caution to avoid being prosecuted.

    "Out of sight - out of mind" may suit the politicians and lobby groups - but does nothing to solve the underlying problems.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Out of sight out of mind can be useful. I admit that I'm not up on the academic literature on child abuse or anything, I've only heard a few academics discussing it on Radio 4 on a few programs. But there's quite a lot of current theory to suggest that more people are moving from the stage of having sexual thoughts about kids to actually getting hold of child porn, or even worse. And that this is partly down to the internet. Twenty years ago someone might have those thoughts, but if they didn't know anybody else who did - how were the supposed to do anything about it? Whereas now they can find a "community" of like-minded pewople online - and that may lead to people who 20 years ago would have just put it down to being different to everyone else and do nothing about it - now having those thought reinforced by finding a peer group, and then maybe taking the next steps of getting hold of indecent images or worse acting on those impulses.

      I'm happy to be contradicted if I've misunderstood, or the debate has changed in the last few years - but it's a theory that makes sense - so making child porn harder to find online sounds like a good idea.

      Plus making it hard to sell it, makes it less lucrative to make it, which hopefully leads to fewer children being abused for the purpose. And fewer scumbags profiting from it. That's a win-win-win situation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >Twenty years ago someone might have those thoughts, but if they didn't know anybody else who did - how were the supposed to do anything about it?

        Since children aren't a new invention, and with out any other outlet for their urge, the only option still available would have been to go out and find the real thing.

        >Plus making it hard to sell it, makes it less lucrative to make it

        It's basic economics, that the harder something is to acquire, the higher the price it can be sold for - making it more lucrative, not less. You think drug dealers are operating on slim profit margins because what they do is illegal?

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          It is possible that you're right of course. But there are apparently a lot more people who have sexual thoughts about kids, than there are that act on them. Only a proportion of those who act on those thughts do anything other than seeking child porn.

          I hesitate to use the slippery slope / gateway drug type argument, but the academics and practising psychiatrists seemed to be saying that few people go straight from thought to action. And that being isolated made many take their thoughts no further. Whereas the internet alllowed them to form communities that normalised thoughts and behaviour that otherwise wouldn't be.

          As for your economic argument, that entirely depends on the numbers. Selling in volume illicitly is incredibly difficult and expensive. Whereas the internet allows you to sell to thousands or even millions of people, with little extra effort. Selling something from the back of a shop, or out of a van, is much harder to do in volume, takes longer and has a massively higher risk of getting caught.

          If you can sell something for $5 to 100,000 people you're going to have to charge $500 to get the same money from selling it to 1,000 people. Which you probably won't manage at that price. And that's a lot of people to talk to - and an extra thousand more chances that one of those people is a policeman than if you were selling online.

          By the way, drug dealers are on a slim margin. There was an economist at Chicago University who did a study on some dodgy housing project. He talked to one drug dealing gang for 2 years. Only 2 of them were making more than $20,000 a year - most were making much less than minimum wage, 2 a year got killed and many ended up in prision.

          But there's a lot more demand for drugs. And a lot of people won't shop drug dealers to the police, even if they know about it. Because it's not worth the effort, and they might like to buy drugs sometime. Plus for the low-level ones the police may not make massive efforts.

          Put the police onto a dealer in child porn, and you'll get a lot more attention from them. And your neighbours will cheer you on for shopping them.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Put the police onto a dealer in child porn, and you'll get a lot more attention from them. And your neighbours will cheer you on for shopping them."

            Which carries undertones of lynch mobs. There have been well publicised cases of innocent people arrested for photographing their kids in the bath or on a naturist holiday.

            A man was battered to death in Bristol last year because he took pictures of neighbours' children repeatedly vandalising his garden. Several policemen were disciplined for the way they treated him as the offender and not as the victim. The IPCC said Avon and Somerset Constabulary was institutionally responsible for Mr Embrahimi’s death.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              What's that got to do with whether internet companies should have legal protection from facilitating crime?

              I mean, I don't disagree with you that the lymch-mob mentalitiy can kick in. And the idea that the police will probably take child porn more seriously than minor-league drug dealers is a symptom of society thinking one crime is worse than the other.

              But the question here is, should we attempt to stop child exploitation online? And if so, how far should we go?

              The allegation is that this company not only helped people advertise for sex with underage girls, but were able to then hide behind laws designed to protect legitimate internet business from their users' crimes. They're also accused of not just taking the advertising money, but also colluding in getting round regulations to stop child exploitation.

              Obviously people like Google want to argue for the continuing protection of online intermediaries such as themselves. They don't want to treated like publishers, and held responsible for the content they show, when in a lot of cases they're just pointing you to other peoples' stuff.

              And that's a legitimate argument. So long as when problems are pointed out to them, that they then act to no longer promote illegal material. So they should be taking terrorist beheading videos off Youtube for example.

              There's then a further question, that these laws were put in place to help internet companies when they were smaller. But now Google are a behemoth who turn over over $100bn. At which point they might be pushed to becoming a bit more pro-active about abuses of their services for all sorts of things like copyright infringement, terrorist propoganda, child exploitation etc.

              So there's a debate to be had here. But Orlowski is suggesting that Google are deploying their huge lobbying machine in order to protect child exploiters - presumably because they see this as the thin end of the wedge and that once this exception to their protections is passed - then maybe more will.

              Like all that hysterical stuff about how the EU right to be forgotten case a few years ago would destroy internet freedom. Basically Google want as much of the profits, control and data as they can hoover up, with none of the responsibilities that go with being a global internet utility. And I think they should be called on it. Because Google are really starting to look like greedy, creepy bastards. Arrogant ones too.

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    further proof

    (as if any was needed) that Oracle is living in a parallel universe where Supreme Leader Ellison rules with an iron fist covered in Red (blood naturally).

    As for the author... Some of us can remember back to the days when any article by Mr O didn't have a comment section. Hopefully, that era is long gone.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: further proof

      "further proof (as if any was needed) that Oracle is living in a parallel universe"

      Um, really?

      "Beginning at age 15, each of the appellants was trafficked through advertisements posted on Backpage. Jane Doe # 1 was advertised on Backpage during two periods in 2012 and 2013. She estimates that, as a result, she was raped over 1,000 times. Jane Doe # 2 was advertised on Backpage between 2010 and 2012. She estimates that, as a result, she was raped over 900 times. Jane Doe # 3 was advertised on Backpage from December of 2013 until some unspecified future date. As a result, she was raped on numerous occasions.3 All of the rapes occurred either in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. Sometimes the sex traffickers posted the advertisements directly and sometimes they forced the victims to post the advertisements.

      "Typically, each posted advertisement included images of the particular appellant, usually taken by the traffickers (but advertisements for Doe # 3 included some pictures that she herself had taken). Many of the advertisements embodied challenged practices such as anonymous payment for postings, coded terminology meant to refer to underage girls, and altered telephone numbers."

      [Backpage developed these codes and coached the advertisers how to evade safeguards]

      US Criminal Code:

      "(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal."

      The Act to amend S.230 reflects widespread disgust that criminals can use the shield law. This fixes it. So it looks very much like you are in the parallel universe.

      1. patrickstar

        Re: further proof

        Serious question: Have you bothered to try forming a balanced opinion, by say, reading something else than one-sided propaganda from people on a personal crusade against Backpage in particular and Internet services in general?

        Some quotes to shine a _slightly_ different light on this:

        'In total the complaint mentions nine ads, for which Backpage received $79.60. It does not allege that Ferrer, Lacey, or Larkin knew the ad-posters were discreetly offering sex for cash, knew the ad posters personally at all, had ever seen the ads in question, or had any direct knowledge of these ads.'

        'Ferrer and his co-defendants, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were booked for pimping, pimping a minor, attempted pimping of a minor, and conspiracy, based on the state's contention that they know some of the tens of millions of user-generated posts on are veiled ads for prostitution, sometimes involving teenagers.

        As evidence of this, the state pointed out that Backpage blocks ads explicitly offering prostitution, states clearly that ads in the "adult" section can only be posted by adults, and promptly removes posts that are reported to advertise sex or underage women. In the topsy-turvy logic of the criminal complaint, the fact that Backpage policies are designed to prevent commercial-sex advertising and the prostitution of minors shows that execs actually condone these things, because said policies encourage posters of illicit sex ads to conceal their true intentions.'

        'The former Backpage owners suggested that California's AG knows she won't prevail here but doesn't care because conviction isn't the point. Their arrest in early October generated massive publicity for Harris just before the election, almost universally portraying her actions in a positive light.'

    2. John Lilburne

      Re: further proof

      "Some of us can remember back to the days when any article by Mr O didn't have a comment section. Hopefully, that era is long gone."

      Indeed but back then most denizens of this site were Google fanbois that hadn't grown up and were likely to bawl and scream in vast numbers. Since then articles by others, including Mr O, have demonstrated that pronouncements of Google, its astroturfers, and shills are no longer taken as benign statements from an godlike overloard, but rather the self serving bullshit that one would expect from crony capitalist corporations intent on maintaining there monopolies.

  5. DavCrav

    The ad hominems in the comments are unworthy of commentards,

    no wait, entirely normal for commentards.

    I don't agree with Andrew Orlowski on a few things, but I thought we could all get behind changing the law so that actual cases of forced child prostitution and trafficking (which, back in my day, was called kidnapping) that have been thrown out of court on a technicality are no longer thrown out.

    But no, it's all 'I disagree with Andrew so everything he says must be wrong' utter bullshit. Also on this site was the recent story that a Google-funded think tank parrots Google lines and throws its employees under the bus if they go against it, so the fact that the EFF derives a significant portion of its revenue from Google is a pertinent fact when it gives its clearly completely impartial view on this issue. And again, just because you agree with the EFF on a lot of things does not mean they are also right when they say that paedophiles should get away with it because S230 is inviolable.

    1. nijam Silver badge

      Re: The ad hominems in the comments are unworthy of commentards,

      > but I thought we could all get behind changing the law so that actual cases of forced child prostitution and trafficking

      It's already illegal. So a new law will achieve?

      Thought not.

      1. DavCrav

        Re: The ad hominems in the comments are unworthy of commentards,

        "It's already illegal. So a new law will achieve?

        Thought not."

        If it's illegal, why were they not convicted?

  6. iOS6 user

    Yep. That is official.

    Oracle is lost as they now completely have no idea what is company primary source of income.

    1. ardj

      @iOS6 user: so you think Oracle's main source of income is sex trafficking ?

  7. handleoclast

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    I remember the early days of home internet in the UK, as a Demon user. Early, as in before the intarwebs. No intarwebs, no message boards. We communicated through something called "Usenet News." Usenet news was pretty anarchic: anybody (with a little technical knowledge) could create a new newsgroup, any news server admin could carry, or refuse to carry, any specific newsgroup that he/she could get a feed of.

    One day, one of the UK's "think of the children" Demon users [hi Stan, you fucktard] spotted the creation of a kiddy-porn newsgroup and demanded, via a demon.* newsgroup, that Demon should refuse to carry it. Wiser heads pointed out the standard quote "the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it," but Stan persisted. Wiser heads pointed out that Demon could stop carrying that group but then other groups would spring up, but Stan persisted. Wiser heads pointed out that Demon could play whack-a-mole on new kiddy-porn newsgroups and then the paedos would just dump their stuff anywhere, that at least it was currently contained so it could be avoided, but Stan persisted.

    Stan and his ilk persisted. More and more ISPs dropped the paedophile newsgroups. Prompting somebody to post kiddy porn to rec.arts.disney. Law of unintended consequences, anyone? Stan had been told that's what would happen but he persisted and that's exactly what happened.

    Here's the point to all those reminiscences. If left alone a little longer, the criminal justice system would have caught up to modern technology and realized they had a golden, one-off opportunity. News server logs would show which IP addresses downloaded the bad stuff on a regular basis. ISP and Telco logs would tie that down to an actual phone number. Mass raids could be conducted. Not every paedo had the internet back then, but those that did would likely provide leads to those that didn't.

    We could have cleaned out that cess pit, but Stan and his ilk, with all their protestations, served to drive the paedos underground before the CJS got its act together. They're now on the dark web where they're a lot harder to find. They used to be out in the open. I wondered at the time, and still do, if Stan was a paedo broadcasting a warning to the others, because that's the effect his complaints had.

    So now we have a bunch of human sex traffickers, many of them kidnapping and renting out children, stupid enough to advertise on a web site. A perfect opportunity to take them down. Except that Stan, oops Oracle, is broadcasting a damned big warning that they'd better find a less risky way of advertising.

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. --Santayana

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

      Other newsgroups also suffered from similar pressure tactics by people like "Stan". Any group whose existence offended their "morals" was flooded with such pr0n pictures. Then they made a complaint to ISPs to close the group down because of the pictures they had sent. The expression these days is "no-platforming".

      It wasn't just social text naturist groups they targeted - but those for women's rights, atheists, etc.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ms. Pride said her daughter had been missing for nine months when she found her picture on the top website for commercial sex activity – She was actually glad to have found her daughter. So she called and said: That is my daughter. She has been missing for nine months. She is 14 years old. Thank you for taking down the ad.

    I dunno, but if it were me I would've gone to the fucking police with the information and had them rescue her, rather than trying to get the only fresh lead on her location taken down.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Priorities

      It is just possible that she did both you know. I mean this isn't exactly a hard concept to grasp.

      But perhaps after doing so, didn't fancy naked pictures of her daughter being left online?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Priorities

      One also has to question what were the circumstances that presumably made a 13 year old girl leave home. Random kidnapping is probably rare. Usually runaways would quickly find themselves stuck for money, food, and lodgings - and are then introduced to a way to get them.

      Robin Lloyd's book "For Money or Love" (1976) was a journalistic investigation of the similar adverts that appeared in many USA newspapers and magazines. He estimated 300,000 boys aged 8-17 were living that way - mostly resulting from their home situation.

      There was a Channel 4 program that did a drama-documentary on the subject of exploited children - long before Brass Eye. Not runaways - just children who felt "unloved" at home.

      In Jeannie Duckworth's "Fagin's Children" she describes how Victorian children as young as 5 were cast out to fend for themselves on the streets.

      The USA had 200,000 legal child marriages in the last 15 years. Three girls were aged 10 and a boy was 11. Whilst the majority were 16/17 - more than 1,000 children aged 14 or under were granted marriage licences.

      Until the underlying causes are addressed then anything else is only a symptom of a society's ills.

  9. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    Hang on, I'm confused

    Government and a major corporation working together to do something... good/right?

    Perhaps I'm the one in a parallel universe. Color me ever so slightly less jaded.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Hang on, I'm confused

      Nah, this is Oracle having a go at some rivals surely? You can't be telling me that Oracle are on the moral side of an argument...

      But if I'm being unfair, how awful does it make Google look, that they're having to be schooled on morality by Oracle?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Laser focused"

    Oh so then they have lasers? In that case, fine, let them do what they want with the law. No constitutional considerations need be applied. And it's the police. Protecting children. With lasers.

  11. trapper5

    This is a bad law that will hurt women

    Backpage is a 3rd party provider and as such is not liable for the content users post on the site. That's an important protection that many websites depend on.

    Most of the actions against them have been by grandstanding Attorney Generals that are either up for re-election or running for office.

    If this law passes and the site is shut down, trafficking won't go away It just move somewhere else, to a site much less inclined to help the police. Let's be clear, trafficking of these girls is horrible, but the best way to fight it is with sunlight.

  12. patrickstar

    I can recommend actually reading up on what the anti-SESTA crowd has to say about this.

    Start with and then the Reason articles about the attempts, led by a single AG on a witch-hunt, to prosecute Backpage, starting with

    TL;DR Sex trafficking can already be prosecuted, including going after sites involved in it, Backpage aren't the bad guys, and this legislation would be very harmful without offering any benefit whatsoever.

    For someone who remembers the fight against the anti-indecency provisions in the original CDA, it's really sad to see that so many commentards here seem totally oblivious to the potential consequences of introducing liability for intermediaries.

    N.B. I hate Google and Facebook with a passion - certainly more than I hate Oracle - but some supporters/opponents of this being crooks is not an argument in itself.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      "Backpage aren't the bad guys"

      I suggest you read the Doe vs Backpage case to see the lengths to which Backpage facilitated the underage prostitution. And also what constitutes red flag knowledge. It's remarkable how people can blind themselves to something they really don't want to see.

      You're basically saying "the sky will fall" if anything at all happens to the CDA. However society needs a sensible legal framework for secondary liability, and this is no longer a credible position.

      1. patrickstar

        Ignoring the particulars of the case for a moment: Do you really, honestly, believe that going after Backpage and similar sites in any way would help rescue trafficked children?

        Or is it just that it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that someone is "doing something" about something bad?

        Even when that "something" would potentially have very far-reaching negative effects?

        Have you even read any of the very well written and argued articles in opposition to this...?

        Are the EFF, Cato Institute, et al. simply wrong when they claim this legislation would potentially be disastrous? Can you suggest a group that would be more qualified to determine that than the EFF?

        "Advocates for Backpage point out that by carefully scrutinizing each posting in the Adult section before it is posted, removing questionable posts and reporting potential cases of the trafficking of minors to the authorities and NGOs such as NCMEC, Backpage is aiding in the fight against this activity. In addition, they argue that by providing prompt and detailed information about postings to law enforcement when asked to do so (including phone numbers, credit card numbers and IP addresses), Backpage aids law enforcement in protecting minors from such activity. "

        What more do you want them, or other sites, to do exactly?

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