Classified ad site Craigslist regularly lashes out against companies that use data from its site, and now the service is moving to impose harsh preemptive penalties: users who wish to post an ad must now agree to pay Craigslist up to $25,000 a day for violating its terms of service.
The company added the penalties to its service terms months ago, but it is now making them very visible — and giving them a stronger legal punch — in light of a conspicuous “click through” contract that greets those who go to post a classified ad. Here’s a screenshot that shows what violators “agree” to pay, including $0.10 per server request and $1 for each item of personal information collected:
The issue of “robots” became a big issue for Craigslist in response to the emergence of sits like companies like PadMapper, an apartment-finder service that draws on data from sites like Craigslist, and presents the information in a modern, easy-to-use interface. In 2012, Craigslist sued PadMapper and related site 3Taps, “a one stop data shop,” but the case remains unresolved.
The recent “click through” arrangement is unlikely to go over well with startups and developers, who have accused Craigslist of monopoly-like behavior, and who have complained about its outdated design. In the view of Craigslist, however, the site believes that outside sites are illegally “mass-harvesting” its data.
So far, Craigslist’s legal strategy has proved controversial, as Craigslist briefly claimed copyright of users’ classified ads, and it is also accusing PadMapper of violating federal hacking laws.
But since there has yet to be a final ruling in the PadMapper case, Craigslist appears to be using the click-through tactic as a way to strengthen its legal hand. As the Technology & Marketing Law Blog noted, online contracts carry more force when company requires a user to affirmatively agree to the terms, rather than just tucking the the terms at the bottom of a website (in reality, of course, the whole process is just a formality for most internet users).
Still, it’s far from clear if the Craigslist penalties will hold up in court. One reason is that such click-through contracts typically act as a shield for the company, rather than a sword for the company to collect money. It’s also unclear if a court would accept Craigslist’s view that “actual damages are hard to calculate” and that the $0.10 service figure is reasonable.
The new contract terms have yet to be tested in court but, for now, they may serve as a deterrent to other companies that want to use the ads people post to Craigslist as a source of data.