Craigslist, Google, Yahoo, and fair housing

One reason that Craigslist may have difficulties evolving within the world of real estate is this from the Search Engine Watch blog:

At stake is whether online sites should be compelled to actively police the postings of their users to ensure compliance with federal and state laws. The trademark policing issue in paid search is a cousin of this suit and raises some of the same general questions about the duties of online publishers.

This story stems from the fair housing lawsuit against Craigslist(pdf). Craigslist does an outstanding job (in my opinion) of responding to the community’s identifications of offensive posts.

The difference between the service provided by the MLS and Realtors is simple – theoretically those publishing the data are responsible for that content. If Craigslist, et. al. are not responsible for offensive posts, who is?

If Google, Yahoo and Craigslist win the war they are waging against newspapers’ revenue streams, will government’s enforcement of fair housing law regarding advertisements (and who can foresee what else) be moot? Can the government hope to keep up or will the people prevail?

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