Public Policy

Google’s fight against human trafficking

Google has made it a priority to tackle the heinous crime of sex trafficking. I know, because I’ve worked on this from the day I joined in 2012. We have hired and funded advocates in this area. We have developed and built extensive technology to connect victims with the resources they need. And we have helped pioneer the use of technologies that identify trafficking networks to make it easier and quicker for law enforcement to arrest these abusers. You can read about these efforts here. We’ve supported over 40 bills on human trafficking. And we are determined to do more to stop this evil, including support for tougher legislation. 

There is currently a debate over a proposed bill to combat sex trafficking by amending section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. While we agree with the intentions of the bill, we are concerned that it erodes the “good samaritan” protection and would actually hinder the fight against sex trafficking. While large companies are more likely to continue their proactive enforcement efforts and can afford to fight lawsuits, if smaller platforms are made liable for “knowledge” of human trafficking occurring on their platforms, there is a risk that some will seek to avoid that “knowledge”; they will simply stop looking for it. This would be a disaster. We think it’s much better to foster an environment in which all technology companies can continue to clean their platforms and support effective tools for law enforcement and advocacy organizations to find and disrupt these networks. We’ve met with the sponsors of the particular bill and provided alternatives that will encourage this environment, and we’ll continue to seek a constructive approach to advance a shared goal.

We’re not alone in this view. Organizations as broad and diverse as Engine Advocacy, PEN America, Charles Koch Institute, Heritage Action, ACLU, U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center, Business Software Alliance, Internet Commerce Coalition, Internet Association (whose members include Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Snap, Match.com, Pinterest, etc.), TechFreedom, Medium, GitHub, Reddit, Wikimedia, National Venture Capital Association and many others have raised concerns about the bill. We—and many others—stand ready to work with Congress on changes to the bill, and on other legislation and measures to fight human trafficking and protect and support victims and survivors.

A lot of the discussion around this issue focuses on the role of a website called Backpage.com. I want to make our position on this clear. Google believes that Backpage.com can and should be held accountable for its crimes. We strongly applaud the work of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in exposing Backpage's intentional promotion of child sex trafficking through ads. Based on those findings, Google believes that Backpage.com should be criminally prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for facilitating child sex trafficking, something they can do today without need to amend any laws. And years before the Senate's investigation and report, we prohibited Backpage from advertising on Google, and we have criticized Backpage publicly.

I understand that when important legislation is being discussed, public debate is robust. That’s how it should be. But on the crucial issue of sex trafficking, we’ve been a deeply committed partner in the fight. Let’s not let a genuine disagreement over the likely unintended impact of a particular piece of legislation obscure that fact.