Office of the Attorney General
Attorney General Conway Leads Coalition Urging Topix.com to Improve Consumer Protections

Press Release Date:  Friday, May 14, 2010  
Contact Information:  Shelley Catharine Johnson
Deputy Communications Director
502-696-5659 (office)
 


Attorney General Jack Conway today announced that the attorneys general of 22 other states and territories have joined his initiative urging Internet message board host Topix.com to improve consumer protections and eliminate the $19.99 fee for "priority review" of abusive or inappropriate posts.

In a letter to Topix CEO Chris Tolles, the attorneys general expressed their "significant concerns" with the "Forums and Polls" pages and the $19.99 fee Topix charges for expedited review of inappropriate posts. The fee, combined with the design of the website’s feedback system and lack of adequate disclosure about the system, pose serious consumer protection concerns, according to the attorneys general.

"Targets of false, abusive or obscene posts are being victimized a second time by being charged a removal fee," General Conway said. "I find it deplorable that a website would deliberately create an environment where these types of comments, many of them directed at children, are permitted and then allowed to remain on the website. This type of abuse on the Internet can have a devastating impact on youth."

General Conway and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal first contacted Topix in February and asked that the website respond to their concerns and make changes. An initial investigation by both states found that the "Forums and Polls" section of Topix is routinely used to post abusive, vulgar and obscene information, often about children, in blatant violation of the website’s terms of service. The forums also appear to operate without moderators.

The attorneys general believe that the changes offered by Topix did not fully address their concerns as well as the concerns of consumers across the country. Generals Conway and Blumenthal have been joined by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, President of the National Association of Attorneys General, in leading the coalition.

What the letter asks Topix to do:

  • Eliminate the $19.99 fee for "expedited review" — Charging consumers $19.99 for an "expedited review" of abusive posts that violate the Topix Terms of Service (TOS) is unconscionable.  Topix should immediately refrain from charging consumers to conduct expedited reviews and develop alternative measures to screen out abusive posts and provide timely review and removal of posts that violate your TOS including hiring additional personnel, if necessary, to timely review abuse reports.
  • Improve disclosures regarding the feedback system — Removal of the $19.99 "expedited review" option from the "flag abuse" drop down link is necessary, but there need to be additional disclosures clarifying Topix’s "feedback" and "flagging" options so that consumers understand the process Topix employs for reviewing flagged posts and reports of abuse.
  • Reduce time for reviewing abuse reports — A 7-14 day turnaround time for reviewing abuse reports is not satisfactory. We encourage Topix to improve its system to reduce the amount of time needed to review these posts that is in line with standards developed by MySpace and Facebook. 72 hours for routine abuse reports and 24 hours for emergency reports.
  • Improve screening of abusive posts — Screening measures should be enhanced to improve the effectiveness of any artificial intelligence (AI) systems in place. The current ones are not effective. Abusive posts continue to dominate many of the forums. Topix should immediately revamp its AI technology to block more violative posts and repeat offenders, and explore additional technological measures that will block abusive and hateful posts before they are posted.

The attorneys general from the following states and territories have signed the Topix letter: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Guam, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

Click here to read the letter sent to Topix.com