soap-boxLast week, I penned an open letter to my counterparts in the classified ad business, challenging them to follow me in imposing new policies to make their sites safer. (Press release)

Not surprisingly, none of them has yet to respond to my letter. After all, the changes that I’m suggesting are not easy ones for the site owners to make. Ridding their sites of personal ads and other adult-oriented categories that run amok with criminal activity could impact their bottom lines.

But those changes could also save lives. And in my opinion, saving a life is more important than making a buck.

Of course, this is not a new effort. The horn has been sounded many times in the past as the leader in these sites – craigslist – has been put into the spotlight over the criminal activity that has been prevalent on that site, with only a tool for others to “flag” posts as a means of keeping the site safe. Just a few weeks ago, the AimGroup, publishers of the Classified Intelligence Report, called craigslist a “cesspool of crime” and posted details of the crimes that have been linked to the site – from murders and assaults to robberies and prostitution.

It may be easy to point fingers at craigslist, seeing how the site is the biggest in the online classifieds business, but it’s not the only one turning a blind eye to some of the criminal activities on its site. Change.org recently called out backpage.com for reports of teenage prostitution that originated on that site.

For several years now, I’ve been that “crazy guy” in the corner screaming about the elephant in the room. But, now that there is a conversation going on about Internet safety, the time is right for this “crazy guy” to once again wave his red flag. It’s not enough to warn users to be careful while interacting with people they meet on classifieds sites. Site owners need to do their parts to deter criminals from making it so easy to lure in victims.

My goal is to get other classified site owners to join me in an effort to establish best practices in consumer safety. In the long run, it’s good for the industry. But more importantly, it’s good for the consumers. These are our users. Without them, we don’t have a business and we don’t have any income.

The Wild West days of the Internet are over. It’s time for those of us who operate sites on the Internet to take responsibility for what we’re allowing on our sites. More importantly, it’s time for us to fix the areas that are broken, to allow our humanity to supersede our economic interests so that we can collectively save lives, prevent robberies and rape, halt human trafficking, and stop other scams and illicit activities from occurring.

Anything less is unacceptable.

And while the owners of the other classified sites out there – craigslist included – have chosen to ignore my cries for change, I’ll continue to stand on that soapbox – just as I’ve been doing for years – trying to bring some responsibility to the online classified ads business.

I’d rather be the “crazy guy” in the corner who can sleep at night knowing that I’m doing everything I can to make the Internet a safer place than to be the guy who collects the money at the expense of the innocent victims who found themselves at the hands of a killer – a killer who had a key to an unruly place on the Internet where criminals are welcomed.