Potential Prostitutes is only the latest sleazy site to wed personal photos to public humiliation. Its offer to publicize anonymous claims of sex crimes, however, is a novelty: any woman may be be anonymously tagged as a prostitute.
The site accepts anonymous submissions through an online form and promises to post uploads in a browsable "offender" database seeded with mugshots of convicted prostitutes. Entries may be removed by those listed—so long as they pay a hefty removal fee.
Along with Predators Watch, a nearly-identical sister site aimed at "potential" sex predators, it's part of a growing fad for shakedowns that exploit public records, police mugshots, compromising Facebook photos and other embarrassing personal information.
This one differs in how closely it resembles official sex offender registries—and the aggressiveness with which it targets women.
But like other operators, it claims that U.S. laws indemnify it for the actions of its users. Though it solicits material it knows could be libelous or defamatory, it says it has no obligation to remove claims, even when they are proven to be false. It even reports that it's been sued -- and that it has won every case.
"That’s a lie," writes Kenneth White, a lawyer who regularly debunks legal falsity at his popular blog, Popehat. "The site was registered in October 2012. It’s part of the stock language such sites use."
According to their domain name records, the sites were registered to a P.O. Box in Stockholm, Sweden, in the last few weeks. The named registrant might well be a red herring—any information can be entered into the records, and no-one from the site has yet replied to inquiries placed earlier today.
Its Twitter feed consists only of a burst of links to prostitution stings and scandals from early November. Status People reports that only 6 percent of its followers are "good", the rest being fake or inactive accounts.
The site's Facebook page -- itself suspiciously close to exactly 10,000 likes -- is already plastered with removal demands and accusations of fraud.
"You're pathetic for posting just anyone on your website. You even post pictures of kids?", wrote one annoyed Facebook user.
"If my 11 year old son gets one more text from someone looking to hook up I will sue you," claims another.
When the site's owners come forward or are tracked down, White writes that Section 230—the part of the law referred to by the site's operators—might not be as strong a defense as they expect.
"Courts are still determining application of Section 230 to extortion sites, [but] even the most generous application of Section 230 wouldn’t apply if the 'user submission' was a hoax – if the purveyors of the site were themselves the ones populating it with pictures under the guise of users doing it. That’s something that would come out in discovery in any case. There’s reason to question whether the content is actually user-submitted, or whether the purveyors put it in themselves, when a brand-new site appears already populated with content."
"Moreover, Section 230 is not a defense to criminal charges. Extortion is a crime in many states, and a federal crime to the extent it uses interstate communication. Similarly, to the extent the site makes deliberately false statements of fact to extort money, its purveyors may have committed fraud, which is both a state and federal crime."