For Immediate Release
May 14, 2010
Assistant Attorney General Jacqueline Rompre
Attorney General Michael A. Delaney, joined by 22 other state attorneys general, today urged Internet message board host Topix.com to improve consumer protections and eliminate its $19.99 fee for "priority review" of abusive or inappropriate posts.
In a letter to Topix CEO Chris Tolles, the attorneys general expressed their "significant concerns" with the "Forums and Polls" pages and the Web site's $19.99 fee to expedite review of inappropriate posts. The fee, combined with the design of the feedback system and lack of adequate disclosure about the system, pose serious consumer protection concerns, according to the attorneys general.
An initial investigation by Kentucky and Connecticut found that the "Forums and Polls" section of Topix is routinely used to post abusive, vulgar and obscene information, often about children, in blatant violation of Topix's terms of service. The forums also appear to operate without moderators.
"The people who are targets of false, abusive or obscene posts on this Web site are being victimized a second time by being charged a removal fee," Attorney General Delaney said. "It is unacceptable that a Web site would deliberately create an environment where these types of comments, many of them directed at children, are permitted and then allowed to remain on the Web site."
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal first contacted Topix in February and asked that the Web site respond to their concerns and make changes. The attorneys general believe the changes offered by Topix did not fully address their concerns as well as the concerns of consumers across the country.
What the letter asks Topix to do:
Eliminate the $19.99 fee for "expedited review"
Charging consumers $19.99 for an "expedited review" of abusive posts that violate the Topix Terms of Service (TOS) is unconscionable. Topix should immediately refrain from charging consumers to conduct expedited reviews and develop alternative measures to screen out abusive posts and provide timely review and removal of posts that violate their TOS including hiring additional personnel, if necessary, to timely review abuse reports.
Improve disclosures regarding the feedback system
Removal of the $19.99 "expedited review" option from the "flag abuse" drop down link is necessary, but there needs to be additional disclosures clarifying Topix's "feedback" and "flagging" options so that consumers understand the process Topix employs for reviewing flagged posts and reports of abuse.
Reduce time for reviewing abuse reports
A 7-14 day turnaround time for reviewing abuse reports is not satisfactory. The attorneys general encourage Topix to improve its system to reduce the amount of time needed to review these posts that are in line with standards developed by MySpace and Facebook.
Improve screening of abusive posts
Screening measures should be enhanced to improve the effectiveness of any artificial intelligence (AI) systems in place. The current ones are not effective. Abusive posts continue to dominate many of the forums. Topix should immediately revamp its AI technology to block more violative posts and repeat offenders, and explore additional technological measures that will block abusive and hateful posts before they are posted.
The attorneys general from the following states and jurisdictions have signed the Topix letter: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Guam, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.
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