Court Says Site Not Liable For Age Liars

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Dateline NBC wasn’t involved in this one, and whether or not the plaintiff in the lawsuit against SexSearch.com was aware once he saw her at her house that she was only 14 is irrelevant. He’s already been convicted on those charges.

Court Says Site Not Liable For Age Liars
Court Says Site Not Liable For Age Liars

But "John Doe" lost a second court battle after shifting blame to the website operators, for not properly verifying the age of "Jane Roe," whose website profile said she was born June 15, 1987, making her 18 at the time of contact.

Roe made a sex date with Doe via the website, and the two consummated at her house. Doe was soon after charged with felony statutory rape. Obviously, he didn’t verify her age, either.

Regardless, Doe sued SexSearch.com for failing to discover that Jane Roe lied about her age to join the website.

Typically, suits such as these are doomed from the start, as interactive computer services, a category which SexSearch would fall under, are immune from liability from user-submitted data. In this case, the user submitted data is an underage girl lying about her age.

An ICS is protected by Section 230 of the United States Code from third party information that could defamatory, libelous, false, et cetera, though there is still some debate as to whether any amount of comment moderation or supplying of structured data are tantamount to removal of third party status.

In John Doe vs. SexSearch.com, the website, as an ICS supplies structured data in the form of dropdown menus that offer age ranges. Though a previous court ruling involving Roommates.com declared structured data used for drop down menus left the site liable for defamation, a ruling attorney and law professor Eric Goldman called "a hairball."

Though this newest case is disturbing, the outcome is good for website operators using structured data on their sites. And as for John Doe and Jane Roe, well, Goldman puts says it nicely:

…the court rightly realized that the legally significant event did not occur when Doe read Roe’s online profile and self-reported age. Instead, the locus of harm occurred offline–as the court says, "Plaintiff clearly had the ability to confirm Jane Roe’s age when he met with her in person, before they had sex, yet failed to do so."

It also brings another issue to light that has been around for some time. The "If 18 Click to Enter" tradition that is required and useless for keeping minors off of adult websites. 

Court Says Site Not Liable For Age Liars
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