Salesforce to face court over claims it knowingly assisted sex trafficking website
CRM giant fails to get Backpage.com case thrown out on appeal
Salesforce is set to face allegations in court that it knew its software was being used by a sex trafficking organization, following an appeal ruling.
In May last year, a trial court had barred [PDF] the claim that the SaaS provider benefited from Backpage.com's venture that it knew, or should have known, was engaged in illegal sex trafficking.
However, the appeal found that the plaintiff did not need to show Salesforce knew of the specific Backpage advertisements concerning the plaintiff, but only it should have known that the organization was making money from sex traffickers.
In judging the appeal, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, is required to accept the plaintiff's allegations as true. The software company is due to have the chance to defend itself against the main allegation in court and argue the "objective truth."
In ruling filed last week, the judges found "a company like Salesforce could simply bury its head in the sand with respect to individual victims. It could work, for example, only with high-level data on behalf of a venture that the company knows or should know is engaged in illegal sex trafficking on a large scale."
While Salesforce was not involved in publishing details of trafficked victims, the software company's "job was, in part, to help Backpage reach more customers, both in the form of sex traffickers and purchasers of commercial sex. In a sense, Salesforce helped Backpage find more sex-trafficking contractors," assuming there was truth in the allegations.
- Salesforce to face trial after software used by Backpage 'to track sex traffickers, pimps, johns on social media'
- Backpage.com execs cling to First Amendment in court over sex trafficking case
- Humanitarian champ or sex-trafficking profiteer? Fresh sueball argues Salesforce is the latter
- Backpage.com cops to human trafficking, money laundering
The Register has offered Salesforce the opportunity to respond.
Backpage.com was shut down in 2018 after it was seized by the US Department of Justice. CEO, Carl Ferrer, admitted charges including conspiracy to facilitate prostitution and money laundering. His classified ads website was, simply put, a nexus of child sex trafficking in America.
The allegations, brought by the plaintiff anonymously referred to as GG and her mother, claim that Salesforce did not just sell the sex trafficking outfit off-the-shelf software. "It instead sold Backpage software designed specifically for Backpage and provided affirmative, 'personalized support.' With those products and support, Salesforce helped Backpage operate its business, manage relationships with existing customers, market itself to new customers, and improve profitability."
"Toward that end, at least five times between November 2013 and April 2017, Salesforce consulted with Backpage, including its CEO, to learn about the business and 'to assess its operational needs.'"
According to the plaintiffs, Salesforce "entered into the first of several lucrative contracts with Backpage" in 2013, years after the nature of Backpage's business was widely known. ®