Apple Removes Sugar Daddy Apps in the Wake of FOSTA- SESTA Bills

Dating apps have enabled the sugar baby lifestyle to thrive online. Back in 2011 when the first sugar dating app SugarSugar made its way onto the App store, it was described as "an innovative app for locating singles interested in the sugar daddy-sugar baby lifestyle." Many thought it was an extrapolation or rather an innocuous way of saying it was an app for hooking up generous men with young women looking for financial support. This was not a site for people who wanted a relationship. What it came down to was that SugarSugar was promoting the oldest profession in the world, prostitution. Many people expected Apple to take it down, but it was a case of too little too late as more dating apps made it onto the Apple Store and every body got used to them.

There has been a lot of debate over the years about sugar daddy sites and apps. Many people felt that they promoted prostitution and over the years, various entities have tried to shut them down. There has been some backlash against these sites, but there are people who believe that doing so would jeopardize the freedom of the internet. Should the internet be free though?

This is a question that a lot of people found themselves asking when Backpage came into the spotlight. There was general outrage when stories about girls going missing and being prostituted on Backpage broke out. Backpage had long been known for its advertisements for sex work, but it started courting a litany of controversies relating to illegal sex work. A few of the girls like 16-year old Desiree Robinson were killed after being on People wanted retribution, they wanted justice and so the government went after the company in court and hauled its CEO Carl Ferrer, former owners James Larkin, Michael Lacey and COO Andrew Padilla before a Senate committee. Backpage had managed to win court battles due to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, also known as the safe harbor rule which basically says that websites aren't liable for the content posted by users. In the end, Backpage lost out, its co-founder and CEO pleaded guilty to conspiracy to facilitate prostitution and money laundering charges and now the site has been shut down.

On April 11, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a set of bills enabling law enforcement authorities to pursue sites that promote prostitution and sex trafficking online. These bills, known as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), have been hailed as a victory for victims, but elsewhere on the world wide web they have caused much consternation and confusion.

Craigslist stopped running its Personals section, citing the difficulty of adhering to the new law. Google began deleting content directly off the Drive accounts of some users whilst Reddit responded by deleting multiple subreddits r/SugarDaddy. Apple has now has taken all sugar daddy dating apps down. While many would argue that these apps do not promote prostitution and sex trafficking, the FOSTA-SESTA states that any websites that “promote or facilitate prostitution" will be penalized. The language in these new bills is vague problematic for sites like Seeking Arrangement which have been courting controversy and largely seen as platforms for high-end prostitution.

Apple is currently sending developers of sugar daddy apps a message through its message center, that these sugar dating apps are being evaluated for possible contravention of their safety 1.1 clause which stipulates that apps that have content that many users would find offensive and objectionable would be removed from the Apple store.

Under section 230, website owners and server hosts could not be legally entangled in lawsuits because of something someone did on their platforms. The best they could do is self-police but with this bill, websites are taking a strategic turn - one that is preemptive to avoid possible infractions. Internet freedom advocates are worried that FOSTA-SESTA would erode the protection offered by section 230 and curtail freedom of speech. As for sugar dating apps the future is uncertain and whilst the ambiguity of the SESTA law remains, platforms like the Apple store can only deal with them prudently and remove them completely from their listings.