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Correction and clarification: A previous version of this story had the wrong name for Preferred Silicon Valley is better known for its search engines and smartphones than it is for sex. But the sex industry has been closely linked to boom times in the Bay Area going back to the Gold Rush, when men with pickaxes ventured here hoping to hit the mother lode. The glare of the national spotlight is on Silicon Valley sex workers after news broke this week that an alleged prostitute is charged with leaving a Google executive to die on his yacht in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Forrest Hayes, 51, was found dead last November aboard his foot yacht, Escape. Police say Tichelman had an "ongoing prostitution relationship" with Hayes that began when she met him on SeekingArrangement. The Internet is rife with anonymous websites that match sex workers with clients and help them avoid being arrested or assaulted. The websites have both broadened the sex market and helped customers hire prostitutes more discreetly.
Scott Cunningham, an associate professor at Baylor University who studies the economics of prostitution, said the Internet has made the sex trade "extraordinarily efficient," taking it from the streets and red-light districts to home computers and smartphones. Federal authorities have taken notice and started cracking down on Internet-enabled sex. The FBI recently shut down a Bay Area website that had for a decade operated as a marketplace to connect customers and sex workers.
The website used acronyms to refer to sex acts and sold VIP memberships so customers could access private forums and search reviews of services offered by sex workers. But local police departments say websites advertising escort services are rampant on the Web, and still others will be created to fill the void left by MyRedbook. The law generally shields Internet companies from liability for illegal activity taken by people who use their services. If you think about it in an economic sense, the Internet has removed a lot of the friction from the market," Cunningham said.
Unlike British actor Hugh Grant's infamous prostitution arrest, "this Google executive did not have to worry about getting caught," Cunningham said. For decades, Silicon Valley has been a magnet for sex workers looking to strike gold, too. At the height of the dot-com boom in , the San Jose Mercury News called the technology industry a "prime target for trafficking" because of all the "lonely single men with money to burn.