Google under the spotlight over sex trafficking ads

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's being accused of doing too little to prevent ads from human traffickers from appearing on its sites.

Last week, the National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates wrote to the company, claiming it was turning a blind eye to such ads, and calling for it to proactively prevent them from appearing in the first place.

While Google's policy bans ads for sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution, and the company looks out for them both automatically and manually, the NAHTVA wants it to do more.

"We greatly appreciate your efforts to combat human trafficking by helping to shut down adult service advertisements on Craigslist and for your more recent efforts to shut down adult services advertisements appearing on Backpage.com," the letter reads.

But, it says: "Search Google and you will find online ads for exotic services, sex tourism, adult web cams and other sex industry offerings that are not dissimilar from those now found on Backpage.com, even if they are cloaked in the veneer of 'online dating'."

And now two lawmakers, Marsha Blackburn and Carolyn Maloney, have added their voice, writing to Google to ask that it re-examine its advertising practices.

"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 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."

The pair say they're particularly concerned because Google has admitted profiting from illegal advertising in the past. Last year, the company paid $500 million to settle charges that it was carrying ads for illegal pharmacies.