RICHMOND (May 14, 2010) — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, 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 concerns with the “Forums and Polls” pages and the website’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 consumer protection concerns, according to the attorneys general.
“Targets of false, abusive, or obscene posts are being victimized a second time by being charged a removal fee for having the site take those posts down,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “I find it deplorable that a website 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 website.”
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.
What the letter asks Topix to do:
· Eliminate the $19.99 fee for “expedited review”
Topix charges consumers $19.99 for an “expedited review” of abusive posts that violate its Terms of Service (TOS). 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 the TOS, including hiring additional personnel, if necessary, to 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, as well as additional disclosures clarifying Topix’s “feedback” and “flagging” options so that consumers understand the process Topix employs for reviewing 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 is in line with standards developed by MySpace and Facebook: 72 hours for routine abuse reports and 24 hours for emergency reports.
· 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 posts before they are posted.
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Politics, State Politics
Tags: attorney_general, corruption, cuccinelli