Ars, Reddit, and a few other sites are talking about Craigslist and the changes they’ve made to their Terms of Service ( TOS ) to prevent sites like Padmapper from using their data feeds through third party aggregators. Polar sides have formed, and a brew-haha is a going between people who defend CraigsList ( I’ll call it CL from here ), and people who dislike the TOS.
CL Lovers believe in a version of, “It’s their data, they can do with it as they want. ) Those who don’t like the changes believe that CL is stifling innovation by hoarding data.
CL may be stifling innovation, but it’s also protecting how CL is used. The problem that CL faces is if they don’t protect their data from harmless sites, when harmful sites appear, they won’t have any legal standing to stop the bad guys. Right now, CL has a “bad actor” problem — lots of scam artists/criminal types are using CL. People go out of their way to take precautions when dealing with CL — they view the counterparties to any transaction ( say the buyer of your used furniture )as untrustworthy. Aggregation APIs would make this problem much worse — the good guys and the bad guys would have the same info and tools, and could no longer be distinguished. Right now, CL has a chance of spotting the bad guys, since they can see things like where posters/responders are coming from, session info, etc… This gives them a small chance of fighting recurring bad guys. Aggregators remove this ability entirely. So, by allowing aggregators, CL worsens their biggest problem.
And there’s the problem — we live in a world with bad guys. This means that we have to lock our doors and secure our computers. This means that sites like CL have to put in place content controls. The API aggregators may be able to license from Craig what they need — but remember that CL is a small company( I think they have 5 employee — certainly less than 100 ), and remains small by choice. They would have to hire more people to handle those requests, or develop new technology. For a site that has an externality ( large, existing user base, name recognition, “mindshare” ) which creates market power( CL is an easy to copy site. But that’s not important — no copy of CL can succeed without some major backing to counter CLs reputation ), this is a needed defense.