SALESFORCE sued for Sex Trafficking because of Backpage

Salesforce Sued For Sex Trafficking... Because Backpage Used Salesforce's CRM

Thu, Mar 28th 2019 10:47am — Mike Masnick


In the latest insane lawsuit regarding the internet and sex trafficking, a group of women who were tragic victims of sex trafficking have decided not to sue those responsible for trafficking them... but online customer relationship management (CRM) provider Salesforce.com. What? Huh? Why? You might ask? Well, apparently it's because everyone's favorite sex trafficking bogeyman, Backpage.com, used Salesforce.com for its CRM. Yup.

While most of the reports on this don't show the lawsuit, CNBC thankfully posted a copy (though it's locked up in Scribd, so we can't embed our own version, unfortunately). The lawsuit makes a bunch of leaps to argue that Salesforce is somehow magically responsible for people doing illegal things on Backpage. The levels of separation between the criminal actions and the liability here are simply ridiculous. Much of the lawsuit tries to suggest that because Salesforce is good at its job in customizing its offerings to its customers, that's proof that it's magically responsible for sex trafficking:

In public, including on Twitter, Salesforce boasted about fighting human trafficking using its data tools.

But behind closed doors, Salesforce’s data tools were actually providing the backbone of Backpage’s exponential growth.

Salesforce didn’t just provide Backpage with a customer-ready version of its data and marketing tools. Salesforce designed and implemented a heavily customized enterprise database tailored for Backpage’s operations, both locally and internationally.

With Salesforce’s guidance, Backpage was able to use Salesforce’s tools to market to new “users”—that is, pimps, johns, and traffickers—on three continents.

Backpage could also use Salesforce’s custom tools to remarket to those pimps, johns, and traffickers who had been underusing its trafficking services.

It is inconceivable that the technologies used world-round to manage customer and marketing databases would be put to the immoral and illegal purposes engineered by Backpage and Salesforce.

It should not be our tax dollars, charities, and churches that carry the burden of the catastrophic harms and losses to sex trafficking survivors. That responsibility should fall to companies like Salesforce, that have facilitated and profited from sex trafficking.

Incredibly -- and obnoxiously -- the complaint uses Salesforce's own efforts to help in the fight against sex trafficking against the company. And uses that as proof of "knowledge" by Salesforce:

Salesforce knew the scourge of sex trafficking because it sought publicity for trying to stop it. But at the same time, this publicly traded company was, in actuality, among the vilest of rogue companies, concerned only with their bottom line.

The entire assumption underlying the lawsuit is this: that Backpage was only used for illegal sex trafficking and that using CRM can help you increase your "sales," and thus Salesforce is responsible for Backpage increasing sex trafficking. That... is quite the twisted logic there.

The lawsuit was filed in California state court, rather than in federal court, under California state laws -- so there's no direct reference to FOSTA as far as I can tell. However, FOSTA casts its looming shadow over this case. Normally, I imagine that Salesforce would make a straight CDA 230 argument here that it's not responsible for the actions of its users (in this case, Backpage). But, FOSTA potentially takes that away. I say potentially, because based on my reading of the final version of FOSTA, (which is now CDA 230(e)(5)), for a civil lawsuit, FOSTA only exempts cases brought under federal sex trafficking law, and not state laws (for criminal complaints, FOSTA exempts some state sex trafficking charges). So, as plead, I'm not sure if FOSTA even directly applies -- meaning potentially Salesforce could perhaps try to claim that it's still protected by CDA 230 and the FOSTA additions don't help the plaintiffs, but... who knows? Now that we've got this new untested law, I guess we'll find out.

On the whole, though, what a preposterously silly lawsuit. Sex trafficking is a truly horrible thing, and while the complaint filed trots out a bunch of debunked and exaggerated stats about just how big a problem sex trafficking is, the real focus should be on those actually responsible. Going after the CRM provider of a website that traffickers may have used, feels like yet another example of what we've called a Steve Dallas lawsuit after the 1986 Bloom County strip in which lawyer Steve Dallas explains that after getting beaten up by Sean Penn for trying to take a paparazzi photo, he decides not to sue any of the obvious parties, but rather go after the camera manufacturer -- because that's who has the money (click through for the full comic):

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190327/18031241887/salesforce-sued-sex-trafficking-because-backpage-used-salesforces-crm.shtml

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