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Google Appears to Be Manipulating Its Search Engine Results to Defend Internet Law that Enables Sex Trafficking, Consumer Watchdog Finds

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:30

SANTA MONICA, CA – Internet giant Google appears to be manipulating its search engine results to favor opposition to bipartisan efforts seeking to amend a key Internet law so websites like Backpage that facilitate online sex trafficking can be held accountable, Consumer Watchdog said today.

Three of the top four links returned under the news tab for the search term “Section 230” were to articles from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a staunch opponent of amending the Internet law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Consumer Watchdog found.

Searches for news results for “Section 230” on competing search engines Bing and DuckDuckGo gave links to articles presenting all sides of the issue.

Click here to view screenshots of the results from the three search engines.

“Google is supposed to be an unbiased gatekeeper to information,” said John M. Simpson Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Instead they appear to be stacking the deck to favor their own purposes. You can forget their motto; this is evil.”

Google is leading Tech industry efforts to block any amendment to Section 230, which protects websites from liability for material posted by third parties on their sites. The companies and other defenders of Section 230 claim it promotes and protects free expression on the Internet, but a U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations staff report shows that sites like Backpage aid and abet under-age sex traffickers using the blanket protection of the Act. By one count 73% of child trafficking reports in the United States involve Backpage.

The bipartisan Senate bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA) was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). Its 27 cosponsors include Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). The House bill, Rep. Ann Wagner’s H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, has 111 co-sponsors. Both would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“We already know that Google manipulates its search results to favor its own services,” said Simpson, noting the Internet giant faces a $2.7 billion fine from European antitrust authorities for that monopolistic practice. “I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that they use their clout to surreptitiously influence a public policy debate.”

Unified Tech opposition to narrowly amending Section 230 is changing, Consumer Watchdog noted. Last week Tech giant Oracle and CoStar Group, which operates Apartments.com, both endorsed S. 1639 and H.R. 1865.

In letters supporting the measures Kenneth Glueck, Oracle Senior Vice President wrote:

“As your and other investigations have demonstrated, sex trafficking has exploded in large part due to nefarious Internet actors that knowingly facilitate and profit from it. We agree that congressional action is necessary to put an end to this tragic exploitation of human beings and hold its online accomplices to account.”

In his letter Andy Florence, CoStar CEO, wrote:

“As a Technology company, we believe in, and have benefited from, the growth of the Internet. We understand that an unregulated Internet provides fertile ground for the development of important new and innovative business models, and we will continue to strongly defend that openness. But when we see those driven by greed take advantage of that freedom by facilitating sex trafficking, we cannot be silent.

“The absolute immunity under section 230 of the CDA can no longer be justified at the expense of the exploitation of children.”

Backpage’s abuses and the fight by its victims to hold it accountable are the subject of the documentary film, "I am Jane Doe", which is now available on Netflix or can be downloaded from Google Play, iTunes or Amazon.


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