Representatives Marsha Blackburn and Carolyn Maloney on April 3 sent a bipartisan letter to Google CEO Larry Page questioning how the company’s advertising practices addresses human trafficking. In the letter, Maloney and Blackburn expressed their fears that Google is profiting from advertisements placed by sex traffickers.
Blackburn stated, “Illicit online advertising threatens more than just the freedom of the Internet –… 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… 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.”
Maloney said: “As a leader in technology, I encourage Google also to lead in the fight against online human trafficking. Too many people believe that human trafficking is a problem only in foreign countries but online advertising has opened new markets for the estimated 100,000 children in the United States–most of whom are American citizens–exploited through commercial sex every year…”
“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,” the letter said.
“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.”
Philip J. Cenedella of the National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates (NAHTVA) when asked what he thinks Google should do to end AdWords ads contributing to human trafficking, says they should, “stop ALL of these ads until they can guarantee 0.0% of the providers of the services are NOT trafficking victims, exploited women, men, girls and boys.”
Maloney and Blackburn refer to calls by The National Association For Human Trafficking Victim Advocates and other anti-trafficking organizations that Google’s part in accepting and displaying human-trafficking-related ads be investigated. The organization last week wrote to the National Association of Attorneys General saying that it believes Google is not taking enough proactive steps to prevent the ads in question from appearing. Specifically, the groups urge doubters to search for terms like “adult fun” and “buy foreign women” on Google, and see what results appear.
“If you don’t think that online dating and sex tourism sites are fronts for prostitution and human trafficking, then you have your head in the sand… just Google it. Ads on Craigslist and Backpage.com pale in comparison to the volume that Google generates,” Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, a former victim and anti-human-trafficking advocate, said in a statement.
Google says it does ban ads for sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution: “We have invested millions of dollars in monitoring and enforcing this ban — using the latest technology as well as manual review by teams who are specially trained to get bad ads, and bad advertisers, off Google. We also work closely with law enforcement and other government authorities. But it’s a constant battle against these bad actors so we are always looking at ways to improve our systems and practices — including by working with leading anti-trafficking organizations.”