Salesforce is facing accusations that it facilitated sex trafficking for its work with the now defunct classifieds website Backpage. In a lawsuit filed Monday in a San Francisco superior court by 50 women identified as antonymous sex trafficking survivors, Salesforce is accused of turning a blind eye to the dark underbelly of Backpage's business and upselling the website with data products that helped spur its exponential growth.
According the filing, Salesforce began working with Backpage in 2013 when its user numbers started to dwindle and, more importantly, after the site was accused of acting as a hub for human trafficking. The suit also alleges that Salesforce knowingly worked the classifieds site despite social and legal efforts to bring it offline. Here's the core argument against Salesforce from the filing:
In public, including on Twitter, Salesforce boasted about fighting human trafficking using its data tools. But behind closed doors, Salesforce's data tools were actually providing the backbone of Backpage's exponential growth. Salesforce didn't just provide Backpage with a customer-ready version of its data and marketing tools. Salesforce designed and implemented a heavily customized enterprise database tailored for Backpage's operations, both locally and internationally.
With Salesforce's guidance, Backpage was able to use Salesforce's tools to market to new "users"—that is, pimps, johns, and traffickers—on three continents. Backpage could also use Salesforce's custom tools to remarket to those pimps, johns, and traffickers who had been underusing its trafficking services.
It is inconceivable that the technologies used world-round to manage customer and marketing databases would be put to the immoral and illegal purposes engineered by Backpage and Salesforce. It should not be our tax dollars, charities, and churches that carry the burden of the catastrophic harms and losses to sex trafficking survivors. That responsibility should fall to companies like Salesforce, that have facilitated and profited from sex trafficking.
Salesforce is accused of selling a bevy of tools to Backpage and built custom APIs and SMS platforms that enabled Backpage's nefarious users to procure victims. The charges directed at Salesforce in the lawsuit include negligence, gross negligence, and civil conspiracy. The women are seeking compensation for damages.
In a statement from a corporate spokesperson, Salesforce said, "We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously; however we don't comment on pending litigation."
Backpage was launched in 2004 as a online classifieds page and quickly drifted into the realm of escorts, prostitution and human trafficking. In December 2016, the state of California charged Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and former Backpage owners Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin with pimping and money laundering. The website was shuttered for good in 2018.