The FBI’s shutdown of a Bay Area-based website that became a go-to marketplace for prostitution is once again raising questions about how far online operators can go in claiming immunity from the actions of third-party customers – a cornerstone of online innovation.
Federal authorities said the alleged proprietors of MyRedbook.com – Eric Omuro, 53, of Mountain View, and 40-year-old Annmarie Lanoce of Rocklin (Placer County) – were part of a racketeering enterprise, profiting from their creation of a site that had explicit photos of prostitutes, “menus of sexual services” and customer reviews.
The FBI seized the site last week, and a grand jury indicted the pair on charges of using the mail and the Internet to facilitate prostitution. Omuro was also charged with 24 counts of money laundering.
Prosecutors said the defendants went beyond hosting classified ads. They listed acronyms for sex acts in a “Terms and Acronyms” section of the website, and sold VIP memberships that allowed customers “access to ‘private forums’ and heightened capabilities to search reviews of the prostitution services.”
But the case remains somewhat of a mystery. Prosecutors have not detailed the evidence against Omuro and Lanoce, and they have not commented. Though the website was known as a connection point for prostitutes and johns, it ostensibly offered “escorts,” exotic dancers and massages.
Legal experts said the case might test prosecutors’ ability to go after a website despite protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which says Web service providers cannot be “treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”