Craigslist has long maintained that the site is run for the benefit of users, and that making money is a secondary concern at best. To this day, the company boasts that even though it's not a nonprofit, it nonetheless has a "relatively non-commercial nature, public service mission, and non-corporate culture."
But for a company with a public service mission, Craigslist takes some pretty questionable positions. In recent months, Craigslist has spent a lot of time trying to shut down other developers who draw on the site's free listings -- even when those developers benefit users.
The company reportedly sent cease-and-desist letters to more than a dozen start-ups that were trying to make it easier for people to sift through the site's listings. One company hit with a cease-and-desist, PadMapper, meshed Craigslist's apartment listings with Google maps -- which enables apartment seekers to easily search for apartments by neighborhood.
Padmapper obtained the information from 3Taps, which makes public data accessible to developers. Craigslist subsequently sued PadMapper and 3Taps for allegedly infringing Craigslist's trademark as well as its copyright in the listings.
"Because Craigslist has worked hard and invested heavily for many years so that its users can use its local community sites largely free of charge, and free from third-party advertising and marketing, opportunists like 3Taps and PadMapper now claim Craigslist's content is 'free' for them to misappropriate wholesale and commercially exploit, even for the purpose of developing rival businesses," Craigslist says in its lawsuit.
This week, 3Taps fired back with an antitrust lawsuit alleging that Craigslist engages in anti-competitive conduct.
3Taps says that it started offering developers the data that had been posted to Craigslist in response to a "massive, unmet consumer demand" for a better way to search Craigslist's listings.
"Using publicly available data accessed through general search engines, 3Taps spent several years (and millions of dollars) creating a significantly more robust index and categorization of user-generated classified ads onboarded onto Craigslist and other classified ad websites," 3Taps says in its court papers. "3Taps makes that database available to exchange-specific search developers ... that are ready, willing, and able to fill the consumer-demand void left by Craigslist."
The lawsuits, currently pending in federal court in San Francisco, could take years to resolve. Meanwhile, if Craigslist feels it faces a threat from developers who can improve the site's listings, the company would do well to invest resources in upgrading its site. Already its taking some steps in that direction. Last month it reportedly began testing a new mapping feature for housing listings.