Sex Work

Imagining 'Prostitution 3.0'

Why is there no Uber for prostitution?



Adam Ozimek of Modeled Behavior asks: Why is there no Uber for prostitution? "Customers could receive ratings, so could prostitutes, and payments could be done in a safer way that does not involve cash," he writes. The short answer to why this doesn't exist, of course, is because prostitution remains illegal in most of the United States, as does promoting or aiding prostitution—a designation that could ensnare anyone inclined to launch or run an Uber-like sex-trade app. 

In a new Iowa Law Review article, "Prostitution 3.0," University of Colorado law professor Scott Peppet explores the issue in more depth, laying out the myriad benefits of a "technology-enabled sex market" as well as the legal barriers that "inhibit prostitution-related innovation" in America. First, the benefits of better apps and screening tools: 

It could help prostitutes by deterring "no shows" and non-paying customers. It could reduce illegal trafficking and coerced prostitution by screening prostitutes for age and legal status, and by using biometric identification to confirm that the prostitute the client hired online was in fact the same individual who appeared in person. It could enable and encourage prostitutes and clients to find and engage each other off the streets and out of view. It could preserve anonymity for both prostitutes and customers, allowing them to avoid social stigma and maintain privacy. It could be conducted by a private (perhaps non-profit) firm, not the government, greatly reducing the risk to either party that the state might in some way exploit the information provided. 

However… laws! 

Perhaps most potent, many states have criminalized activity that advances prostitution or promotes prostitution, other than as a prostitute or a client of prostitution. In most cases, this is defined as activity that "causes or aids" a person in engaging in prostitution, "procures or solicits patrons for prostitution," or "engages in any other conduct designed to institute, aid or facilitate an act or enterprise of prostitution." Other states only ban solicitation without this wider prohibition on "other conduct," but define solicitation broadly in ways that might include online facilitation of prostitution. Still others prohibit "[a]rranging for prostitution," which generally "means any act to procure or attempt to procure or otherwise arrange for the purpose of prostitution, regardless of whether such procurement or arrangement occurred or a fee was paid." 

All of this has created a Catch-22, writes Peppet, wherein the legal climate prevents innovation that could make the industry safer and more socially acceptable, and then this danger and stigma is used to justify continued prohibition. Peppet suggests incremental legal reform, including repealing various state laws that criminalize ancillary prostitution activities and tightening existing laws that shield third-party communication platforms. 

The argument for such incremental technological innovation and legal reform is grounded in our basic commitment to freedom of contract in a liberal society. As a society, we have long been committed to the ideal that contracting parties are best positioned to arrange their affairs and that judicial intervention into those affairs is generally unwarranted absent market failure or other concerns. … To respect our commitment to preserving liberty to the extent possible, we should remove legal barriers to such innovation.

Unfortunately, Peppet's ultimate vision here is "legalizing Prostitution 3.0 while criminalizing the purchase of sex outside of Prostitution 3.0's parameters"—which seems far from the lofty liberalism and freedom-of-contract ideas Peppet pays lip service to. If we continue with the Uber analogy, Peppet's system would remove legal constraints on ride-sharing apps while making hailing or driving a cab illegal. It's a vision that seems predicated on a strange sort of techno-utopian statism, and a disappointing one for those of us who believe prostitution problems stem from black markets and state interference. 

In a nice response article published in Iowa Law Review, Scott Cunningham and Todd D. Kendall argue similarly, writing that "most of the social problems associated with prostitution are not inherent to the industry, but they are the logical result of the prohibition itself, a conclusion supported by the fact that other, similar, markets not subject to a prohibition experience few of the problems associated with prostitution." 

"The proper conclusion to be drawn from the fact that violence, exploitation, and robbery still exist in the market is not that we need more or different types of technology ("prostitution 3.0″), but instead it simply reflects that the de facto legalization associated with [the shift from street to online prostitution] was only a partial, limited legalization, not a full de jure legalization," Cunningham and Kendall continue. And any proposal "that would exempt from prosecution particular types of prostitution-facilitating technology, while proscribing others, presumes too much foresight into the future development of the prostitution market, and too much wisdom on the part of lawmakers and industry regulators."

NEXT: Judge OK's Cops Decision to Seize Truck, Cash from NFL Player Letroy Guion

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. No one is going to legalize prostitution when they know that there are people out there just ready to capitalize on it and make money!

    1. The Skynet of pimps?

    2. You’re clearly astroturf being paid by Big Hooker.

  2. I cannot imagine for the LIFE of me why “Uber for prostitutes” doesn’t exist already. NO idea….

    1. Now, a “Silk Road for prostitutes” …

    2. It would be all dudes signed up… I guarantee it.

    3. Wouldn’t that be Ashley Madison or something?

  3. Disappointment: Thinking you are hearing the opening bars of Judas Priest’s Turbo Lover and discovering you are actually listening to The Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran.

    1. tarran prefers “Ram It Down” anyway.

      1. The greatest trick that Judas Priest ever pulled was convincing the world they recorded more than one song.

        1. No, that was Frank Stallone.

          1. I thought it was Metallica.

            1. Def Leppard

            2. [RAGEFACE]

              /fucking Mustaine fans

              1. Hey, don’t talk shit about Dave!

        2. I’ll demonstrate that Hugh is a philistine with squirrel-like inability to appreciate music very simply: thus.

    2. oops

      We kind of mashed all those awful 80’s bands together into:

      Flock of Duranjagoogoo

    3. Doesn’t Bill Nelson play the guitar parts on I Ran?

      1. I think that was Brian Williams.

  4. We have it but it’s called tinder, plenty of fish, and okcupid. although sometimes you spend money typically you pay through the nose in time, misunderstanding and some kind of minor std. Although experiences may vary.

  5. Look, this is all pointless speculation anyways. Prostitution will disappear forever once they get a few more laws in place.

    1. It worked with drugs, so why not?

  6. WTF? Look, you hedonistic anarchists, prostitutes are victims and must be arrested to save themselves from themselves.

    Under the new regulatory state of the intertoobz, I hereby arrest all the Reason staff and everyone posting here, for encouraging human trafficking (that’s on page 231, section IV, paragraph 2), for the children.

    Now off to the re-education camps with all of you. This site has been asset forfeited and will be given to some nice folks who want to put up a new social justice site.

    /Team Obamanet Enforcer

    1. All they got from PauliePimps was protection from other guys looking to rip them off. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the FBIObamanet Enforce can never understand – that what PauliePimps and the organization offer is protection for the kinds of guys who can’t go to the cops. They’re like the police department for wiseguyswhores.

  7. Adam Ozimek of Modeled Behavior asks: Why is there no Uber for prostitution?

    There is. And now that the state got hold of Uber, Uber is more like prostitution.

  8. If I was super ambitious and wanted to be the richest man in the world, I’d be hard at work right now developing the first authentic sexbots for rent, free one hour delivery, instead of here posting on Reason.

    1. If I was super ambitious and wanted to be the richest man in the world, I’d be hard at work right now developing the first authentic sexbots for rent, free one hour delivery, instead of here posting on Reason.

      “Instead, I post on Reason and masturbate a lot.”

    2. Then the One Percenters would take all the warm, living and breathing whores and us poor slobs would have to be humpin’ the robo-dolls.

      1. There’s probably a better chance with the robo-dolls that you won’t wake up in the middle of the nite with your penis being chewed off.

      2. No way robo dolls would cost less than actual whores. At least the ones that the 99% can afford.

    3. You think people want a previously used sex bot?

      Maybe I’m weird, but I’d rather just jerk off than fuck a machine. Seems to me that the fact that you are with an actual other person is kind of key to decent sex.

  9. “Customers could receive ratings”… That already exists.
    There are Escort Review Boards for most cities in North America. I don’t know about cities outside of N.A.


  10. It would be interesting if someone were to create (and maybe they have) a generic site that provides all the tools to set up a community rating site/system for whatever you want. So an AirBnB or an Uber type thing, but genericized so that it could be for anything that you want to connect people for and then have them rate each other on the services and behavior involved. Unfortunately, even though people could have “anonymous” accounts with it, I’m sure if it got the attention of the government, they’d still try and track down who was using it via IP address. But if the servers were offshore*…

    * Then they’d just ask the NSA for help!

    1. Wait, you mean I can’t get this from AOL already?

      /still using dial up

      1. You’ve. Got. Tail.

    2. eLay

  11. Pop-a-John: If *You* Don’t Come in Thirty Minutes or Less Your Next One is Free!

  12. There’s a place called the Netherlands, and they tried this. It didn’t eliminate trafficking.

    1. It didn’t eliminate trafficking.

      Nobody’s expecting perfection.

    2. It didn’t eliminate trafficking.

      There’s a place called the United States where they tried locking a bunch of people up under 24 hour state supervision. It didn’t eliminate trafficking either.

      It’s almost as though consensual activity isn’t legally related to non-consensual activity.

    3. I am sure you aren’t concern trolling, and actually care about the details of human trafficking, and don’t just bring it up during discussions of legalizing prostitution, but there is a bit more to the situation than, “netherlands tried it and failed”.

      Germany and the Netherlands learned that ending human trafficking was not some switch to be turned on by legalizing prostitution, but for people that have a precognitive aversion to prostitution, any difficulties at all are enough to write off the whole idea.

  13. OT: but I know you’re interested in this ENB…

    ‘Epigenome’ mapped

    1. The Epi Genome: a gene that makes someone an insufferable prick with surprisingly excellent taste in films and television.

      1. Surprisingly?!?

        1. Yeah Jimbo, there is nothing the least bit surprising about Epi’s tastes when you consider his truly heroic consumption of THC.

  14. Why is there no Uber for prostitution?

    Hober. I’m trademarking this now.

      1. Swallow.

        You can only use 140 characters to describe what you want.

  15. I can see the reviews now…

    “10/10 Pel? of anal. Would bang again.”

    (bonus points to whoever gets the reference)

    1. When they’re dead they’re just hookers.

      1. “When they’re dead they’re just hookers.”

        That’s super fucked up. Are you really advocating a “no humans involved” mentality concerning victimization of sex workers?

        1. You need to work on your getting of pop culture references. And your sense of humor.

      2. Hell, I know a dead hooker when I see one.

        1. There the ones that don’t smell like fish

    2. Sounds like a Steam review to me.

  16. There are already sites that are the sex industry equivalent of Yelp, such as Erotic Review, AdultFax, Punternet, and so on. But these exist in what is best a legal gray area, and see what happened to MyRedBook, one of the most established of these sites, given the reality of American prostitution laws further inflamed by the moral panic over “sex trafficking”:…..ce-against

    That kind of legal situation is going to stand in the way of anybody taking the next step in putting together a centralized app like Uber for the sex industry.

    Now something like this could be tried in Europe, where many countries have decriminalized prostitution. But if the American market is ruled out because of its legal situation, the growth potential for this kind of app is limited. Add to that companies like Apple that put limits on sex-related apps for their platform.

  17. But without proper regulation, what would happen if I was raped by an Uber-whore?

    1. You would develop uber-powers?

    2. You’d give her (him?) five stars and another appointment for next week?

    3. Wait, we can get this? is this a feature?

  18. That new Jeopardy skit for SNL’s 40th Anniversary special had more Sean Connery inappropriately reading the category headings.

    Who Reads = WHORE ADS!
    Let it Snow = Le Tits Now as in “Good evening madamoiselle, I’d like to see LE TITS NOW!”

    Everything else sucked.

    1. That, and The Rapists! For $200 are probably the best SNL lines ever.

      1. Alex Trebek: Why don’t you pick a category?
        Sean Connery: I’ve got to ask you… about the Penis Mightier.
        Alex Trebek: [Trebek looks to the board… ] The what? No, No, NO, that’s “The Pen is Mightier”.
        Sean Connery: Gussy it up however ya want, Trebek, what matters is, does it work, will it really mighty my penis man?
        Alex Trebek: It’s not a product Mr. Connery.
        Sean Connery: Because I’ve ordered devices like that before, wasted a pretty penny, I don’t mind tellin’ ya! And if the Penis Mightier really works, I’ll order a dozen!
        Alex Trebek: It’s not a Penis Mightier, Mr. Connery! There’s no such thing!
        Nicolas Cage: Wait… Wait… Wait… Are you selling Penis Mightiers?
        Alex Trebek: NO! No I’m not!
        Sean Connery: Well you’re sitting on a gold mine Trebek!

    2. This is related, and better than SNL any day (wait for the Connery bit).

  19. “For if you want a happy ending to your Uber ride.”

  20. The way to legalize prostitution is to reaffirm the sanctity of the home. Anyone should be able to engage in any kind of consensual transaction with another adult in the privacy of their own home (and by home I would include hotel rooms).

    If cities want to ban street walking and full on brothels, fine. That is at least a quality of life issue. But no city or state should have the authority to ban a consensual transaction inside someone’s home. If a woman wants to sell her body in the privacy of her’s or someone else’ home, that should be beyond the reach of legitimate government authority.

    1. That seems like a good approach. I’d rather people just be allowed to engage in whatever commerce they choose, but it would be a lot better.

  21. Can you imagine the accommodation laws if whoring was legal?

    Sorry, you drew The Gimp (from Deadwood) and there’s nothing you can do about it.

  22. We already had MyRedBook which offered a ratings system in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m sure it saved many lives and many wallets. Unfortunately, the owners decided not to pay taxes and that is probably what completely undermined them.

    In order for a system like this to work, it would have to go off shore and handling payments just seems impossible given that you can’t even play poker online anymore. It would be hard to defeat an off-shore ratings system, however, if it were based in a country that has legal prostitution and doesn’t give a fig for the opinion of the authoritarians in the USA.

  23. Why is there no Uber for prostitution?

    Well, see, it’s because…ummm…

    *Runs off to steal idea, likely get arrested.*

  24. I think you are wrong to reject “cyberpros” out of hand. Its opponents would doubtless object that it is “the thin edge of the wedge”, the first step on a slippery slope, maybe even “the camel’s nose”. They would be right. We would not have our current anti-discrimination laws today without ‘Brown v. Board’, which only desegregated the public schools. And it seems clear that the acceptance of domestic partnership laws helped spur the immense change in public opinion of gay marriage. In these and other cases, the fact that the skies did not fall (as their opponents had prophesied) reassured us and opened our minds to further freedoms. Similarly, I would suggest that, in this instance as well, any degree of legitimacy, however limited, is both necessary and desirable.

  25. I thought we’ve already had those services for years, called matchmaking or dating services.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.