By David A. FahrentholdSaturday, September 4, 2010; 12:54 PM
Craigslist, the Internet's iconic ad bazaar, has stopped allowing U.S. users to access its "adult services" ads.
On Saturday morning, the link to those ads - which had been criticized by prosecutors and human-trafficking groups as a tool for pimps and prostitutes - were replaced by a black box with the word "censored" in white letters. News reports indicated that the ads were still visible to users in other countries.
It's unclear, for now, whether the change is a temporary statement or a signal that Craigslist will stop allowing the ads.
A spokeswoman for Craigslist did not respond to e-mails for comment. The company's outspoken chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, posted no explanation on his official blog or his Twitter account.
In a statement, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) - who was among 17 attorneys general who last month asked Craigslist to shut down its "adult" section - said he welcomed "Craigslist's apparent decision to close" the section.
"We welcome any steps toward eliminating the adult services section and prostitution ads on Craigslist, as we have urged, and we are seeking to verify the site's official policy going forward," Blumenthal said. "If Craigslist is doing the right thing voluntarily in response to our coalition of attorneys general, it could set an example for others."
On much of the Craigslist site - where users can also find everything from sofas to roommates - posting ads is free. But adult ads cost $10 apiece and that section on the site was on track to bring in about $36 million in revenue this year, about a third of the company's total, according to an analysis by the Advanced Interactive Media Group.
But the ads have also made the site a target for law enforcement and nonprofit groups. In early August, groups that help victims of human trafficking paid for an ad in The Washington Post in which two women said they had been sold as prostitutes by pimps who used Craigslist to find clients.
On Aug. 18, Buckmaster posted an item on the company's blog that detailed the measures it had taken to fight illegal activity using adult-services ads.
Since May 2009, Buckmaster wrote, "before being posted each individual ad is reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice law in the US, trained to enforce Craigslist's posting guidelines, which are stricter than those typically used by Yellow Pages, newspapers, or any other company that we are aware of."
Buckmaster said that more 700,000 ads had been rejected, and suggested that Craigslist's policy could be a model for the industry.