Salesforce Accused of Aiding Sex Trafficking

Trafficking survivors allege Salesforce's CRM tools helped the Backpage website to facilitate prostitution and sexual exploitation.
Matthew HellerMarch 27, 2019

Fifty women who claim to be sex trafficking survivors are seeking to hold Salesforce liable for their injuries, alleging the software giant helped the now-shuttered Backpage website to facilitate prostitution and sexual exploitation.

The “Jane Doe” plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in San Francisco said they were sexually exploited through ads posted on Backpage by pimps and traffickers, with Salesforce providing “operational support” through customized enterprise software that it developed for the website.

According to the suit, Salesforce’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform fueled Backpage’s “exponential growth” at a time it was under fire by law enforcement as a “hub of human trafficking.” Backpage pleaded guilty to trafficking charges in Texas in April 2018.

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“It is inconceivable that the technologies used world-round to manage customer and marketing databases would be put to the immoral and illegal purposes engineered by Backpage and Salesforce,” the suit says.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for violations of the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, negligence, and conspiracy.

A Salesforce spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but added, “We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously.”

The company, which has a market valuation of more than $120 billion, is a leading provider of “software-as-a-service” tools that enterprises use to acquire and retain customers. According to the suit, it has publicly “boasted about fighting human trafficking using data tools” but in 2013 began working with Backpage on a customized CRM platform.

“With Salesforce’s guidance, Backpage was able to use Salesforce’s tooks to market to new ‘users’ — that is, pimps, johns, and traffickers — on three continents” and remarket to customers who had been underusing its trafficking services, the suit says.

Among other things, the software allegedly automatically generated “insights into traffickers’ and pimps’ purchasing habits” and managed “a secure cloud storage database for Backpage to store (and secure) the unspeakable details of its sex trafficking business.”

The suit says Salesforce “reaped profits” as Backpage grew and its “need for additional Salesforce licenses kept increasing.”