I’ve been too busy to write for a couple of days. This makes me sad.

Not, however, as sad as it made me to hear that I might be responsible for any illegal things my clients do if I handle their Search Engine Optimization. A judge in the US District Court for South Carolina recently ruled that being an SEO Consultant for a company that sells counterfeit merchandise makes you essentially a co-conspirator.

I’m not going to comment in an outraged manner about the legalities of this ruling. In fact, while it’s astonishing that the SEO Consultant was fined twenty times what the company selling the bogus goods had to pay, I think the basic idea behind this ruling has some merit; the Search Engine Optimization company knew it was helping perform an illegal act, and helped, anyway. Sounds even worse than “my buddy robbed that convenience store; I was just in the car and knew nothing about his plans”. The SEO Consultant knew … plenty.

But in a larger sense it raises questions about business ethics.

I recently was asked to do the Search Engine Optimization for an Escort Service in New York City. It’s a new venture being funded by a prominent Ophthalmologist. This is a man who by all appearances is an upstanding member of the community, doing thousands of Lasek Ear Surgery procedures each year.

I applaud the Lasek Surgeon (Lasek is not a misspelling, by the way; Lasik is better known, but this eye doctor performs a similar procedure called Lasek) for realizing that he wanted to start a side business and for moving forward. I applaud him for realizing that Escort Services, like Lasek Surgeons, need SEO.

But whether your pimp is a large man in a fur coat wearing a hat with a multi-colored feather or a Lasek Sugery-performing ophthalmologist, prostitution is still prostitution. And merely claiming that you didn’t know you were helping to promote prostitution doesn’t, it seems, get an SEO Consultant off the hook.

Now yes, there’s a jump in that logic. It’s certainly possible that when the Eye Doctor said he was promoting a non-sexual escort service he actually believed it. I questioned him extensively, looking for the wink-wink-nudge-nudge in his position that both the hookers escorts and the johns clients were signing documents stating conclusively that the beautiful young ladies being sold rented umm . . . something were on dates only to provide company to men willing to pay $300 per hour for the privilege of being with them. Really! They’re escorts, not prostitutes! I swear!

And my personal position is quite libertarian; I have no problem with prostitution.

But in New York, prostitution is illegal, and calling it an escort service knowing full well what’s really happening doesn’t make it any less so.

When I was considering working for the Lasek Surgeon/Pimp I argued with a couple of friends about the matter. For me, it came down to the fact that because the Eye Doctor was swearing to me even in private conversation that he really was running a legitimate, non-sexual escort service I was protected legally. And I hope that whoever decides to take on his Search Engine Optimization is protected. But you know that old saying about things that walk like a duck and quack like a duck? Escorts are Prostitutes. Almost always. And nothing I saw while sitting in the Lasek Surgery Center watching an unimpressive group of young ladies be interviewed and ranked as “8”, “9”, or “10” convinced me otherwise.

Got a questionable business that needs SEO? We can talk. But after reading that article I referenced above I think I’ll be sticking to doing Search Engine Optimization for companies that I know are legitimate.

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