On Friday, the online sex-oriented classified ads website Backpage.com was seized by law enforcement agencies “as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation” and several other government organizations, according to a message on the site. The company’s affiliated websites were also seized as part of the law enforcement action.
Backpage.com is known for its personal adult ads and was considered the predominant online forum for sex workers to advertise their services.
According to a report by Reuters, an FBI official in Phoenix stated that there was “law enforcement activity” at the Sedona, Arizona home of Michael Lacey, one of Backpage’s founders, on Friday.
The website is the second largest classified ad-oriented service in the US after Craigslist.
Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on the site, which was launched in 2004 and has affiliates scattered across the country and the world.
In 2014, the company had an annual revenue of $135 million, and the state of California says that 90 percent of the income could be attributed to “adult ads.”
Backpage has faced numerous lawsuits alleging that the website facilitated forced prostitution and child sex trafficking.
Additionally, credit card companies, in 2015, stopped processing payments for the website in response to law enforcement allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution taking place on Backpage.
Recently, the House and Senate passed legislation that can hold websites liable, in both criminal and civil contexts, for sex trafficking activities that occur on their site, including posts by users that are determined to be associated with such actions or the posting of exploitative materials by others on their platforms.
Near the end of 2016, attorneys general in Texas and California raided Backpage’s headquarters in Dallas and arrested Carl Ferrer, the chief executive, and other executives of the company on charges related to pimping. However, a judge ruled that the website was protected by the First Amendment and that the site could not be held liable for the speech of others.
Speaking with Congress, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children stated that approximately three-quarters of cases submitted to them related to ads posted on Backpage.