International classified ad sites Backpage.com has switched to providing exclusively cryptocurrency payments for its adult entertainment section.
As of July 9, users posting advertisements of an adult nature, such as escort services, must use Bitcoin, Litecoin or Dogecoin to pay any posting fees. The move makes Backpage the first mainstream resource of its type to experiment with a cryptocurrency-only payment model.
On July 7 Backpage, which is headquartered in Texas, announced the suspension of fees for the adult section, in response to Visa and MasterCard’s refusal to continue servicing its website. Although the zero-fee period is expected to be temporary, the cryptocurrency integration could be longer lived, with reports of site downtime due to increased traffic following the change.
Francis Pouliot, co-founder and vice president of Satoshi Counter, the exchange which assisted Backpage’s Bitcoin implementation, also commented that his company’s phones “would not stop ringing” once the feature went live.
Visa, MasterCard Embargo
The switch-up at Backpage came as the major payment processors abandoned their support earlier this week, MasterCard citing what it describes as “illegal or brand-damaging activities” involving its cards as motivating the decision.
However, as USA Today reported Monday, it was a “call to action” on the part of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart which spurred Visa to follow suit. Dart, who objected to the availability of Backpage’s adult section within his jurisdiction for “moral, social and legal” reasons, told the paper that his office “did not threaten Visa and MasterCard, but simply asked for their cooperation.”
A letter sent by Dart to MasterCard’s CEO and board of directors further asserted that “(I)nstitutions such as yours have the moral, social and legal right to step up on this pervasive problem and make a fundamental and everlasting difference.”
Backpage’s adult section had been a source of contention between the site’s administration and US lawmakers for several years. Cook County stated that in their jurisdiction alone “over 800 arrests” had been made in connection with Backpage.com adult section ads.
While spokesmen from Backpage declined to comment directly on Visa and MasterCard’s decisions, users subsequently received an email inviting them to sign up for a free account using the promotional code ‘FREESPEECH’.