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Most of the criticism has centered on the charge that Backpage is used to market minors (i.e.underage sex trafficking), and that they contribute to a surge of prostitution in areas that they operate.The site included the various categories found in newspaper classified sections including those that were unique to and part of the First-Amendment-driven traditions of most alternative weeklies.

There has been significant public controversy and discourse regarding the adult section of

Backpage has had continued issues with credit card processors, who were under pressure from law enforcement to cease working with companies that allegedly allow or encourage illegal prostitution.

In 2015 Backpage lost all credit card processing agreements, leaving Bitcoin as the remaining option for paid ads.

They said "To all intents and purposes, Backpage has instituted no effective procedures to prevent child sex trafficking ads from being created on its site." They say that they do not use obvious techniques to identify traffickers, such as using the same phone number, email address or credit card of a known trafficker, or reusing the same picture of known victim of human trafficking.

Advocates for Backpage point out that by carefully scrutinizing each posting in the Adult section before it is posted, removing questionable posts and reporting potential cases of the trafficking of minors to the authorities and NGOs such as NCMEC, Backpage is aiding in the fight against this activity.

Until 9 January 2017, Backpage contained an adult section containing different subcategories of various sex work professions (escorts, erotic masseuses, strippers, phone sex operators, etc.).

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