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Friday, March 14, 2008

Where prostitution meets technology

It may be the world's oldest profession, but prostitution is using some 21st-century tricks.

The prostitution scandal involving New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer lays bare some of the inner workings of modern-day sex work: text messaging to clock in the client, electronic fund transfers, a Web site featuring color photos, prices and rankings.

There's always been a distinction between indoor and street-level prostitution, and advances in technology have increasingly separated the two, said Ronald Weitzer, author of "Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography and the Sex Industry."

Not only can prostitutes and escort services now run more efficient businesses, but they can leverage word-of-mouth advertising in new ways to build their brands and troll for clients. Online social communities built around the escort and sex worker industries can solidify customer loyalty.

"It's commercial, but it's also social, so people do really form relationships," says Audacia Ray, author of "Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration" and a former sex worker.

"Clients become buddies," she said.

There are a host of online message boards where clients or potential clients can discuss, rate and exchange information about individual women.

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