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New Lawsuit Alleges Mailchimp Facilitated Sex Trafficking

Filed in a Georgia court, the suit claims that the email marketing platform allowed a sex trafficker to match a victim with an online market for sexual exploitation.

Posted on December 3, 2019, at 7:12 p.m. ET

Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters

A woman who alleges she was sex-trafficked as a result of an email sent via Mailchimp, an email marketing platform, is suing the company.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Georgia, will challenge the relative immunity of tech platforms from legal responsibility — and damages — for what users post on their services.

Texas lawyer Annie McAdams brought the suit, claiming Mailchimp — after US law enforcement shut down Backpage for facilitating sex trafficking — worked with copycat site YesBackpage.com.

“Here we have a sex trafficker who was looking: ‘Where do I go after Backpage? How am I going to sell this particular Jane Doe for sex?’” McAdams told BuzzFeed News. “Well, all of a sudden Mailchimp delivers the solution to his mailbox.”

An email promoting YesBackpage, sent via Mailchimp, landed in the inbox of a trafficker who had withheld a Wisconsin woman's identity documents and physically forced her into sexual exploitation, McAdams said. The trafficker listed the Wisconsin woman on YesBackpage and made her provide sexual services.

YesBackpage did not respond to a request for comment.

A Mailchimp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that YesBackpage was no longer a client and declined to discuss the specifics of the suit.

“While we can’t say much about the allegations in the complaint because this is a sensitive legal matter,” the spokesperson said, “we can tell you we absolutely don’t allow content related to illegal activity on our platform, as stated in our Standard Terms of Use and Acceptable Use Policy. We take action immediately when we become aware of potential abuse of our platform.”

Since 1996, tech companies have been protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents the publishers of an “interactive computer service” from being held liable for content posted on their services. In 2018, however, President Donald Trump signed FOSTA-SESTA into law, removing Section 230’s protections when it comes to facilitating sex trafficking.

McAdams is taking aim at Mailchimp with the hope that these changes in the law will give her client an opening. “The passing of SESTA and the seizure of Backpage sent shockwaves through the tech community,” read the lawsuit. “Yet, despite the public outcry and condemnation of actions, MailChimp chose to go the other way and assist YesBackpage in its sex trafficking venture.”

McAdams declined to specify the amount of monetary damages she would be asking for in the suit, but added, “These tech companies have made millions off facilitating sex trafficking. I anticipate the jury's gonna send a message.”

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