U.S. Congress puts global microscope on Google about sex-trafficking
Following rising reports of Backpage ads pointing to human traffickers, direct connections between Backpage.com and Google Adwords are now beginning to be made by advocates, legislators and the media. In spite of this, anti-human trafficking agencies who received funding from Google recently still refuse to point out these and other indications.
“The internet has been identified as the number one platform that pimps, traffickers and johns currently use for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States,” says the Polaris Project. Pointing to the use of online sex ads, internet classifieds, local newspapers, phone directories, word of mouth and text messaging as “Advertising mechanisms to attract customers,” Polaris mentions Craigslist and also Backpage.com on their webpage, but any direct mention of Google ads seem to be missing.
“Whatever Google is doing or not doing to prevent these sorts of advertisements from appearing on their properties, Google has not satisfied a significant number of human rights organizations who have a specialized understanding of how these ads contribute to the human trafficking of women and girls,” said the joint U.S. Congressional letter, authored by Congresswomen Blackburn and Maloney and recently sent to executives at Google. “We are particularly concerned that these human rights groups may have identified yet another area where Google profits from illicit activities such as Google’s advertising of controlled substances for which your company paid a $500,000,000 forfeiture to the United States last year,” continues the letter.
The reported deaths of two women found dead in the trunk of a car in the city of Detroit (U.S.) in mid December 2011 has now been linked to two other women who were “burned beyond recognition” and were also found dead in the trunk of a different and separate car in Detroit only days later on Christmas Day 2011. Three of the four women have been directly linked to online ads that “specifically dealt with prearranged adult dating services,” said Detroit Police Chief Ralph L. Godbee. These specific online ads were not found on Google per se but on Backpage.com. The advertising agency, owned by Village Voice Media, has over 35 million online loyal visitors per month. It also publishes ads in over 500 cities inside the United States and 19 cities in the United Kingdom.
In the wake of such bad publicity, Goldman Sachs Group Inc just sold their entire share of the agency after stating it has had little authority over Backpage.com company policy and has grown “uncomfortable with the direction of the company.”
“I have no doubt that if Google was found to profit from online ads that promoted human trafficking, they would immediately stop the placement of those ads,” says U.S. Congressional Representative Blackburn. “Since Google has a unique ability to help thwart this modern-day form of human slavery, we are looking forward to learning how Google responds to various human rights critics on this issue and whether Google’s advertising policies address the exploitation of vulnerable women and girls.”
A recent legislative bill in the (U.S.) State of Connecticut seeking to make both in-print and online publishers and their employees “criminally liable” for escort ads using under-age minors was recently pushed through the legislature. But House Bill 5504 did not end up including the provision against publishers inside the bill. What it did stay is that a requirement that places responsibility on the owners of escort agencies had been made in the Bill to stipulate that the people featured in their ads are not minors.
On a sweep of support, Washington State Bill 6251 is now the first state legislation to officially pass legal measures that make any employee libel who may be involved with aiding a human trafficker to place an ad online. The bill (6251:Section 2) states “A person commits the offense of advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor if he or she knowingly publishes, disseminates, or displays, or causes directly or indirectly, to be published, disseminated, or displayed, any advertisement for a commercial sex act, which is to take place in the state of Washington and that includes the depiction of a minor.”
The (U.S.) California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010 may also start to be used in court as a legal instrument that could start to place pressure on Google, Inc, along with Google’s executive board members. The law asks that Google must have website post with a “conspicuous and easily understood” link on its homepage with detailed information concerning human trafficking and advertising on its website. This information must include and:
- Evaluates the risk of slavery and human trafficking in its product supply chain, and whether the evaluation is conducted by a third party
- Audits its suppliers, and whether the audits are independent and unannounced
- Requires direct suppliers to certify that materials incorporated into the product comply with applicable laws regarding slavery and human trafficking
- Holds employees and suppliers accountable
- Trains employees on mitigating the risk of slavery and human trafficking in the product supply chain
Congresswomen Marsha Blackburn and Carolyn Maloney’s letter to Google outlines much of the same requirements.
“These are our daughters, their schoolmates, and their friends; everyone — every company — must understand the reality: that sex trafficking is the slavery of the 21st century,” says U.S. Congressional Rep. Carolyn Maloney. “I hope Google will look into its practices to make sure it does not contribute to web-based sex trafficking.” Rep. Maloney, a Democrat from a district of Manhattan (New York, U.S.), is also co-chair of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus, working to educate people about the realities of the criminal trade in human lives and to stop the growing tide of human trafficking crimes inside the U.S.
The U.S. is not the only place where attempts to place legal sanctions against online advertisements have appeared. A recent sanction by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has found that Google has “engaged and continues to engage in misleading and deceptive conduct” with ads connected to the sale of automobiles in the region.
“Those who are trying to rescue victims of sex-trafficking haven’t asked victims what they know about the use of online ads to sell them,” outlined Cenedella. “Undoubtedly, there’s alot of fear out there. Alot of the girls, boys and women don’t want to talk, but some are beginning to talk. Craigslist, Backpage and Google Adwords are truly all part of the same supply chain bringing sex-trafficking victims to those scum bags who are buying them,” added Cenedella. “What the public needs to know is: Google is 100 times larger than Backpage and Craigslist combined. So as much as people are screaming about the problem, including myself, we should be asking Google to answer some in-depth questions,” he continued. “How many victims of human trafficking have been sold on Google Adwords daily? How much revenue has Google Adwords reaped from the categories of listings that harbor criminals in the last 24 months? What might show up in the answers that come is that all of this crime is growing dramatically.”
Last month, 19 US Senators also sent a letter to the Village Voice, calling for them to stop using online advertising on Backpage.com to promote child prostitution on their website. While everyone discusses the companies who may be involved in cross border and illegal crimes, the victims of sex-trafficking often go without access to help or safety measures.
“Some victims of sex-trafficking are forced themselves by their traffickers to place sexually explicit exploitative ads online for their own sex services. These are ads with descriptions of acts that a victim would later be forced to perform. With this kind of information getting close to popping out into the public, many questions about what’s really going on can and should be answered,” continued Cenedella.
See the recent U.S. Congressional Letter to Google, Inc about online ads and human trafficking HERE
Also see WNN – Women News Network sponsored Change.org petition (WNN is acting as a news reporting agency only for this petition) for citizens worldwide who are currently trying to get a message over to Google about online human trafficking HERE
Outlining joint efforts in U.S. Congress to address how Google may be linked to online ads tied to human trafficking, Congressman Blackburn talks to FOX TV network celebrity Judge 99999999999. This 5:01 min April 9, 2012 video was posted to YouTube by Congresswoman Blackburn’s office publication ‘The Blackburn Report.’
An unprecedented and compelling inquiry into a dark side of immigration so difficult to cover or probe with depth, THE PRICE OF SEX sheds light on the underground criminal network of human trafficking and experiences of trafficked Eastern European women forced into prostitution abroad. Photojournalist Mimi Chakarova’s feature documentary caps years of painstaking, on-the-ground reporting that aired on Frontline (PBS) and 60 Minutes (CBS) and earned her an Emmy nomination, Magnum photo agency’s Inge Morath Award, and a Webby for Internet excellence. For more information, visit http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c804.shtml
For more information on this topic:
- “Human Trafficking Online,” University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy – website;
- “Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 – Victims Stories,” U.S. Department of State – website.
Lys Anzia is a human rights journalist and editor who’s work has appeared in CURRENT TV, The Guardian News, Thomson Reuters Foundation (Trustlaw), World Bank Publications, Morocco World News, ReliefWeb and Cairo based Bikya Masr, as well as many others. She is also the founder/editor-at-large for WNN – Women News Network.
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