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'Revenge porn' site operator arrrested for extortion, conspiracy, and ID theft

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We discussed "revenge porn" websites in early January, when California became only the second state to outlaw the practice. On Tuesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that the state had arrested the owner of such a site (via Ars Technica).

"Revenge porn" begins when relationships end, and involves the posting of private photos, sometimes to multiple sites, without a subject's knowledge or consent. These are, of course, sexually explicit or nude images of the subject. Some sites even specialize in revenge porn photos and charge the subject hefty fees to remove them.

One such site was ugotposted. It had been run, until yesterday, by Kevin Bollaert, a 27-year-old San Diego resident. Harris said:

This website published intimate photos of unsuspecting victims and turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives. Online predators that profit from the extortion of private photos will be investigated and prosecuted for this reprehensible and illegal internet activity.

Bollaert's business model was the aforementioned blackmail scheme. He built the site about a year ago, and invited anyone to post nude images of others. As part of the post, Bollaert requireed that identifying information, including a full name, location, age, and a Facebook link, be posted as well.

Bollaert would then refuse to take the posts down, unless he was paid. Victims would be directed to a separate website, called changemyreputation.com, where they would be asked to pay a fee, between $300 and $350, to have the images removed.

He also made about $900 monthly in advertising revenue, with authorities saying that Bollaert made over $10,000 from the sites.

The criminal complaint is available here, and the arrest warrant here. Bollaert has been charged with 31 counts of identity theft, extortion, and conspiracy, and is being held in jail on $50,000 bail.

As examples of emails that victims sent to Bollaert, one woman, identified only as Jane Doe #6, said:

PLEASE HELP! I am scared for my life! People are calling my work place and they obtained that information through this site! I did not give permission for anyone to put up those pictures or my personal information. I have contacted the police but these pictures need to come down! Please!

Another, a woman named Melinda, said:

Take my pictures DOWN. It makes me sick to my stomach you run this as your little family business... because of this site, my phone has been going off EVERY 2 MINUTES with strange men sending inappropriate things to me... I don't know what gets you off about ruining people's lives, but I was under aged in the photos you posted of me so yes, you are showing child pornography.

Bollaert, as well other other operators of similar sites, tried to use Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an "interactive computer service" who publish information posted by others.

However, his strategy appears -- at least for now -- to have not worked, as California charged him with ID theft, blackmail, and harassment, as well.

The arrest came after a six-month investigation by the Harris' office. The AG's office is asking anyone who feels they were a victim of ugotposted or any other revenge porn site to file a complaint against the site with the office.

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