Do you miss prostitution on Craigslist? Don’t worry; it’s still there.
Before I get started, I need to point something out: Craig Newmark is an absolutely lovely man who spends his time doing good things. He’s not very active in the day-to-day operations of the company that bears his name, instead choosing to put his considerable brain into charity and activism. PLEASE DO NOT BLAME CRAIG NEWMARK FOR ANY OF WHAT YOU’RE ABOUT TO READ HERE OR HAVE READ OR HEARD ELSEWHERE.
As you may have heard, Craigslist, the Internet’s bazaar and a big sales point for the kinds of things you’d otherwise have to hunt for, locate at a flea markets, or stand on corners hoping for the best when you needed them, has recently made their adult services section inaccessible from the United States.
Umm . . . No, they haven’t.
I’m in New York City. I’m using the Internet through Time Warner Cable, in New York City. I’m not doing anything sneaky, like employing an off-shore proxy server so Craigslist thinks I’m elsewhere. And when I go here, I can see everything that Craigslist has to offer in Paris, including “Erotic Services”, (WOW! 24 Hours Later, this is no longer true. See below) briefly known in the USA as Adult Services to combat the idea that Erotic Services are wrong.
Here’s the problem:
Under pressure from a group of State Attorney Generals, Craigslist has agreed to block the Adult Services section of their site on pages devoted to people in the United States. So if you’re looking for naughty stuff in the USA you’re out of luck. And given that much of what happens in the Adult Services section of Craigslist is illegal in most of this country that makes sense if Craigslist is trying to do the right thing here.
And if you visit this country from a place where prostitution is legal, you won’t find that kind of service offered on the local Craigslist when you get here. Again, appropriate.
But now, seeing that the deal they made with Craigslist doesn’t stop Americans from finding the banned-and-blocked-here services elsewhere, the Attorneys General are after Craigslist to remove the Erotic Services section of their site . . . everywhere.
Forget the civil liberties stuff. Forget my opinion; heck, forget yours. Let’s look instead at the real issue here:
The Internet is All But Ungovernable.
So what do you do if you’re Craig Newmark?
I’ll tell you what you don’t do: you don’t cave to a request to do business “The American Way” in other countries, because that doesn’t work.
I happen to know Craig a little bit, and I’m not at all concerned about him having the strength to hold his ground in the face of undue and unfair pressure. But I am concerned about what many small business owners do when faced with choices that may be computer-driven, may be rules or society driven, or may be driven by a combination of those forces.
UPDATE: one day after this was written Craigslist caved in. The Adult Services section of Craigslist IS NO MORE.
You need to understand the way your physical resources actually work. No, you needn’t know anything about the paths electrons take to make the magic boxes you use to get to the Internet do that magic. But if you’re faced with a computer question that turns out to actually be a business question, or vice-versa, it’s a good bet that it’s actually both.