CRM Firm Salesforce At the Core of Backpage Sex Trafficking Allegations

More than four dozen women have come forward this week to file a lawsuit—asking for unspecified damages—accusing the customer relations management firm Salesforce of legal charges including sex trafficking, conspiracy, and negligence. The suit says the company created a marketing strategy that helped notorious blacklisted site Backpage to build its illicit brand.  

You may recall that Backpage shut down its online classified just last year after entering a guilty plea for “knowingly facilitating prostitution.”  The new lawsuit, then, alleges that Salesforce’s involvement conspired towards various nefarious activities, which is quite opposite what Backpage claimed they were doing. 

The lawsuit alleges, “The Jane Does were forced, coerced, and made victims of sex trafficking by means of force, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to themselves or others, including family members. Salesforce committed acts at issue with malice, oppression, fraud, and duress.”

Furthermore, the 50 Jane Does argue that Backpage had full awareness of “how to make millions of dollars trafficking victims and promoting prostitution,” but did not hve the ability to build a brand on the internet through traditional advertising and marketing methods. 

The women claim they were kept in sexual slavery by pimps who utilized Backpage ads that were managed by the cloud technology built by Salesforce.  As such, the suit further alleges “Salesforce knew the scourge of sex trafficking because it sought publicity for trying to stop it. But, at the same time, this publicly traded company was, in actuality, among the vilest of rogue companies, concerned only with their bottom line.”

Somewhat in response to this, Salesforce contends, “Backpage needed operational support through customer relationship management (CRM) to help maximize not only customer acquisition and retention, but marketing strategies to those customers as well”; service for which, Salesforce provided. 

Indeed, Salesforce outright denies the claims, simply issuing a statement that reads “We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously.”

Facing this suit is not going to be easy for Salesforce, as the allegations continue to claim that Salesforce’s technology was, in fact, the foundation for Backpage’s massive growth.  The company has grown quickly over the past 20 years, generating upwards of $13 billion in annual revenue as of 2019.  As such, the lawsuit requests that Salesforce accept at least some of the financial burden associated with helping these victims of sex trafficking.