Sex workers have created the perfect method for keeping people honest online

Sex workers have created the perfect method for keeping people honest online, by Allison Schrager.

If you work at Goldman Sachs in New York City and you want to tie up a woman and then have sex with her, there’s a good chance you’ll first have to speak to Rita.

She’ll insist on calling your office, speaking to the switchboard operator, and being patched through to your desk. Then she will want to check out your profile on the company website and LinkedIn. She’ll demand you send her message from your work email, and require a scan of either your passport or driver’s license.

And you will comply.

Rita’s business is an online brothel that specializes in bondage and kink, and offers an essential customer-vetting service for sex workers. She is a madam, but for the electronic era. And the fact that her business exists at all offers a key insight into the future of trust and jobs in the technology-driven 21st century.

Before Uber, who realized that the problem of getting around cities was a communications problem, not a vehicle problem? Uber was an IT solution. Apparently the same happened for sex workers:

Mid-range prostitution is a relatively new market, enabled by technology. Before the internet, it was hard for escorts to find customers: They had to either walk the streets searching for customers (the lower end of the market), rely on word-of-mouth, or work with agencies. Walking the streets was dangerous, while agencies ate up a large share of workers’ profit and autonomy, and created a bottleneck to entering the market. The internet changed all that. …

Today, sex workers can promote their own services on multiple websites (with hundreds of other competitors). This system means customers enjoy more discretion and a wider selection, while giving workers access to millions of potential customers, all over the world, from the dignity and safety of their own homes, while retaining their autonomy and earnings. Agencies make up a much smaller share of the market, says Cunningham.

How the world really works: reviews, and climbing the reference chain. This applies in many perfectly legit. areas too.

Still, agencies have one remaining edge over independent sex work: They reduce risk. This is the market opportunity Rita has spotted. …

Online reviews—of anything from restaurants to handymen—are the most conspicuous example of this. As we’ve reported, they’re critical to the functioning of the ultra-secretive marketplaces of the dark web, which trade everything from drugs to weapons to stolen identities.

But reviews are not always reliable; referrals also play a key role. In fact, the higher the stakes, the more important the referral. You might trust Yelp to try a new restaurant, but you wouldn’t hire a new employee just because she has four and a half stars. The same is true for people engaging in crime. (A government official said that accessing the darkest corners of the dark web requires an invite—and you can only get an invite if you have been referred by “trusted criminals.”)

There are two-way reviews—by both the client and service provider—on escort websites, just as there on Uber or Airbnb. But many escorts still require at least two references from other escorts before taking on a new client, Cunningham said. That means first-time clients are often out of luck. The only option is to find a less fussy, lower-range escort, and work up the reference chain. To get the best, you have to get a reputation as a good customer.