Here’s a story that should send a chill down the spine of anybody who ever had a profile on an adult social media site. The FBI uses search warrants to collect whole databases of user contact information from adult social media sites, so that it can broadcast a large volume of entrapment emails just to see who bites? Yes, apparently that’s now a thing.

Remember CollarMe.com? For many years (from 2013 dating back to at least 2008) it was a free ad-supported BDSM social media dating and hangout site. It’s off the web now, but this review from 2013 and this Reddit thread documenting some founder-drama when the site folded should combine to give you a decent notion of what the site was all about. Like FetLife, CollarMe always had a bit of a reputation for drama and skeeviness. But to all outside appearances (I was never a member and never saw anything but the front page) it was a perfectly normal BDSM meet-and-greet site.

2012 collarme.com screenshot

With that background, you can judge for yourself how much trust to put in a Daily Beast story that describes CollarMe.com as “a fraudulent website where U.S. citizens attempted to buy Asian sex slaves.” Given that the rest of the story is about a failed FBI operation that was looking for, but did not find, any “victims who might need to be rescued”, I think we can assume the bogus description of CollarMe.com was fed to the Daily Beast reporter by the FBI. Whenever credulous “journalists” want to write breathless sex-scandal and sexploitation stories that involve law enforcement, you can rely on the truth being the very first casualty.

Normally I wouldn’t link to a story like this under any circumstances, but I think people need to be made aware that if they’ve ever had an adult social media profile anywhere, the most disgusting and creepy emails that arrive in your inbox are potentially from the FBI.

The story that ran in the Daily Beast had the breathless (and false) headline “FBI Uncovers National Sex Dungeon Ring.” Supposedly:

The FBI operation aimed to tap into the seedy underground of Americans seeking slaves for sexual gratification, said George Steuer, an FBI supervisory special agent in Phoenix. If agents posed as buyers it might create more victims, he said, so they opted to advertise a fake sex-slave auction in Arizona.

The goal was to find any victims who might need to be rescued. “We didn’t find any victims,” he told The Daily Beast, “but the market is definitely there.”

The operation launched in June 2013 after the FBI was tipped off to collarme.com, a fraudulent website where U.S. citizens attempted to buy Asian sex slaves.

The agents, posing as a human trafficking ring, then sent emails to a number of people using the site, after obtaining their addresses through a search warrant.

Note here that “a number of people” may well be code for “the entire user database of CollarMe.” The search warrant surely cannot have been narrowly targeted in any sense, because the FBI claims to have gotten at least 100 interested responses, mostly from people who subsequently bailed as the FBI made it increasingly clear that the solicitation was genuinely criminal, rather than some sort of creepy-but-innocent fantasy roleplay wankery. In order to filter the replies to its broadcast entrapment emails, the FBI

…posted an open Web advertisement in August 2013 for a mock slave auction, court records show.

“Domestic slave auction to be held,” the ad began. “Attendance is limited and details will be provided to selected buyers. Females available are of Asian, Hispanic, and Eastern European descent, between 18 and 26… Interest in areas outside of available product can be discussed.”

FBI agents pared the suspect list by reiterating that the women were kidnapped, non-consenting and that the sale would be illegal. Many people walked away, Steuer said.

“We had over 100 persons that expressed interest,” Steuer said. “That’s where we got concerned … We found many people who said, ‘This is what I’m in for. This is not fantasy.’ These people are going another step to really execute this transaction. The four we ultimately arrested showed up.”

The rest of the Daily Beast article discusses the subsequent legal prosecutions of the four creepers who actually showed up looking for the slave auction. No sympathy needs to be wasted on them if (and it’s a rather big “if”) the reportage about them is fair and accurate. However, there’s nothing in the article indicating that the four were linked by anything closer than CollarMe membership, which does not exactly make them into the “National Sex Dungeon Ring” that the Daily Beast trumpeted in its headline.

But this blog post is not supposed to be a rant about shitty kink-phobic sensationalist sexploitation journalism in the Daily Beast. (I mostly stopped wasting my time on that sort of ranting many years ago.)

the fbi is watching you date

No, my motive in all of this is to underline the risks of sharing your personal information with social media websites. Even reading between the highly-dubious lines of this crappy reporting, it seems likely that what the FBI did is demand the entire user database of CollarMe, which database it then used to send a large volume of entrapment emails just to see who might be “up” for a bit of sexcrime. It’s obviously not news that this sort of privacy-invasive broadcast “investigation” technique is possible under our legal system, but it may be an eye-opener for some that the FBI is really doing this sort of thing on a mass “send the bogus enticement to each and every member” scale. My sense is that this sort of mass “surveillance plus instigation” is much more prevalent than most of us imagine. Your tax dollars at work, citizen!

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