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Congress

Google Under Scrutiny Over Sex Trafficking Ads

April 4, 2012

Google is coming under pressure to do more to ensure its online ads do not help promote sex-trafficking.

Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., wrote Google CEO Larry Page on Tuesday to find out what the online search and ad provider is doing to ensure it does not profit from the sale of ads related to sex trafficking.

"Whatever Google is doing or is 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 lawmakers wrote.

They called on Google to detail what it has done internally to block "sexually exploitative" ads and what the firm would do if it discovers that it is profiting from such ads.

The Blackburn-Maloney letter comes a week after the National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates and other groups wrote the National Association of Attorneys General to investigate whether Google has profited from the sale of online adult-services ads.

"The online purveyors of the sex trade--modern day online pimps--are utilizing Google to drive massive volume through sites that are gateways to prostitution and the sex trade," the group said in the letter to the state attorneys general. "As the world's largest supplier of online advertising, Google is in a unique position to choke the supply chain that delivers women for sale through online sex trafficking."

Following a similar campaign two years ago, Craigslist dropped its "adult services" section from its online classified site after critics including several state attorneys general claimed that many of the ads in the section helped promote sexual exploitation.

A Google spokesman said the company bans ad for sex trafficking, child pornography and prostitution and deploys many resources to try to enforce it.

"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," the spokesman said. "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. We also look forward to working with others in the industry on this important issue."

Google, however, is not the only firm to come under fire recently over ads that promote sex trafficking. Village Voice Media's Backpage.com has been criticized for profiting from ads that critics say promote both sexual and human trafficking.

"Backpage.com is among the online Web sites that have been found to serve as a conduit for the buying and selling of human beings - not just prostitution (which is itself illegal in 49 out of 50 states), but more specifically the trafficking of minors," Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said in a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Eric Holder.

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