What happened to pounced.org?

Pounced is a furry personals site which operates a free service on behalf of the community. We are staffed by volunteers and cover our own costs as a benefit to the community. (We apologize we have been a little too hasty on taking action on FOSTA, the bill has yet to be signed by President Trump, but has passed both the House and Senate, and will soon likely be signed into law by the president. Our action was prompted by Craigslist response to FOSTA, which was to shut down their personals section.)

FOSTA attempts to make Internet sites such as pounced.org liable for the way users use the site in an effort to address sex trafficking and prostitution.

FOSTA increases our liability significantly and chips away at one of the primary reasons we as a small organization can provide services to the community - the protection that had previously been offered to us by Section 230 of the Communications Decency act:

"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider"

We didn't have to worry about what our users said using our platform, as we weren't liable for what they said.

FOSTA changes that in a way that makes sites operated by small organizations like pounced.org much riskier to operate. FOSTA essentially says that if we facilitate the prostitution of another person we're liable. If you read FOSTA carefully the bill says "or facilitate" - the problem is that "or facilitate" is ill-defined.

"(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties-a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both-on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person."

We don't promote prostitution or sex trafficking. We're a personals site for the furry community, our goal was to allow members of our community to have a personals site dedicated solely to the community, and we've tried to serve our community well.

The problem is, with limited resources and a small volunteer staff, our risk for operating the site has now significantly increased. Now if someone posts an ad looking to exchange sex for something to pounced.org, and we don't catch it, is that facilitating prostitution? Is it enough to simply re-train our volunteer staff and update our terms of service?

Do we try to filter advertisements and forum posts? Do we ask our volunteer staff to take on the burden of reviewing all personal ads to insure we're in compliance - and what if they miss one? If we try to implement filtering will it be anything other than intrusive and ineffective, given the resources of a small organization like ours?

And we must now account for the fact that our liability to operate a service such as pounced.org has unequivocally increased, especially given that FOSTA explicitly makes this a criminal liability.

We now can be held accountable for the actions of others using our service. This bill is poor a trade off, it makes all service operators bear increased liability for the actions of their users or act as censors to their speech in exchange for targeting a few malicious services.

As an organization that operates a free service, is this trade off worth the reward of providing our services to the community?

We were able to offer pounced.org as a free service to the community because the liability to us was manageable and we could manage our cost effectively. We didn't frequently have to pay for lawyers, and we ate this cost when we did.

Would you be willing to try to accomplish the same if it meant you could be criminally liable for the actions of others who use a service you offered for free?

In many ways this bill targets small sites like ours directly, it favors organizations with the resources to invest in filtering technology, paid staff and legal support staff. It is less of an impediment for big organizations, while doing significant harm to small organizations like ours, which service niche communities like ours. Our larger competitors are not likely to find a large market in servicing the furry community, and so our community will suffer.

The Internet would never have become what it is today with bills like FOSTA in place and communities like ours would never have dedicated service providers like pounced.org.

What are our next steps?

We will be trying to locate appropriate legal advice to see what our options are. Finding a lawyer who is experienced with FOSTA isn't going to happen because the bill is so new, so it will probably take a few days to find a lawyer who is comfortable advising us.

Update 3/31/18
We're working to update our terms of service and modify the site as required. It appears that if President Trump does not sign FOSTA into law very soon then it may have to start it's legislative journey over again. This article is worth reading as it helps describe how we got here. When we started pounced.org long ago we paid for legal advice regarding administration of the site, which is where we originally learned about the communications decency act, and is what has made pounced.org possible for so long.

Why haven't other small sites shut down?

We didn't even realize FOSTA was in motion until it started to show up in the news, with it's passage this past Friday. It's unclear many small site operators realize how they are now criminally liable if someone tries to use their site for prostitution or sex trafficking. Or perhaps they are hoping they'll just get lucky and nothing will ever happen. The thing is we've been at this for a while now, we started pounced.org in 2003, and have had our fair share of challenges and still tried to provide a free personals service to our niche community, but FOSTA may change our risk/reward ratio too much.

Perhaps this is an over-reaction but when you take on additional liability for the actions of others an abundance of caution is warranted.

What can you do?

We wish we didn't have to ask you to fight for the Internet, but we do. Here is what we think you can do to help keep the Internet free.

Call or write you representatives and let them know that FOSTA is a poor trade off, it makes all sites bear increased liability to target a few malicious sites.

We're a niche community and will suffer first as these sorts of erosions of Internet freedom occur, few operators are likely to service such a small niche community. And these sorts of bills favor large organizations which can bear the burden of meeting compliance. FOSTA is an erosion of what made the Internet great.

There is speculation that this is the beginning of erosions of legal protections for site operators - we all have to be watchful and engaged.

If pounced.org shutdowns permanently what will happen to my data?

We have always tried to operate with a community first perspective. We will find some way to make your data available to you for a period of time, after which all member data will be destroyed. We will not sell your data or re-purpose it outside the context of operating pounced.org.

Thank you for all the kind words and support!

It brings us much happiness to know that we were able to serve our community for so many years.

This is what pounced.org last looked like: