Consumer Watchdog Calls On Tech Firms To Support Change In Internet Law So Child Sex Trafficking Websites Can Be Held Accountable

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Microsoft, to support amending a key Internet law so websites like that facilitate child sex trafficking can be held accountable by victims and state attorneys general.

Consumer Watchdog’s call came at the start of what Congress has called “Combatting Trafficking and Child Protection Week.” Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-Mo.) has introduced H.R. 1865, Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 that would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – the law that shields Backpage from accountability for its ongoing abuses. Other bills focusing on the trafficking issue are expected to come to the floor Tuesday.

Consumer Watchdog’s call came after a news conference last week with anti-trafficking groups where a mother of a victim of Backpage-facilitated child sex trafficking, Nacole S., called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is engaged in a "listening tour," to meet with her family so she could explain the harm his support of Section 230 causes. View the news conference here.  
Section 230 of the CDA provides that a website can’t be held liable for what’s posted on its site by third parties. Tech companies and other defenders of CDA Section 230 claim it promotes and protects free expression on the Internet.

“Internet freedom must not come at the expense of children who are sex trafficked,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project Director. “Just as the First Amendment does not allow you to shout fire in a crowded movie house, or to assist hit men and drug dealers in their criminal activity, CDA Section 230 must not be allowed to protect an exploitative business that is built on child sex trafficking. It’s past time for tech companies to step up and act to narrowly amend this law.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg here. 

Our letter to Amazon.

Our letter to Apple.

Our letter to Microsoft.

Our letter to Twitter.

Our letter to Google.

Backpage’s victims have filled multiple lawsuits and brought legal actions against Backpage, which has also been the target of government investigations. Among victims bringing suit are a 13-year-old girl in Miami whose pimp tattooed his name on her eyelids and a 15-year-old in Seattle who was sold for sex more than 150 times. A new documentary film I Am Jane Doe, which chronicles the struggles of child sex victims, is now available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon, and will be available on Netflix beginning May 26th.

Last week a coalition of anti-child sex trafficking and public interest groups and the mother of a trafficking victim released a report detailing Backpage’s abuses. It documented how Google has funded efforts to defend Sec. 230.

“For years, one company——has dominated online trafficking in minors for sex. The advertising giant’s reach is vast, with sites catering to 437 locations in the U.S. and 506 overseas. So is its impact: By one count, 73% of all suspected child trafficking reports in the U.S. involve Backpage,” the report said.

Joining in issuing the report were a victim’s mother Nacole S., Consumer Watchdog, DeliverFund, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Trafficking America Taskforce and The Rebecca Project. View a copy of the report here.

In letters to the tech companies Consumer Watchdog’s Simpson wrote:

“We call on you to support a narrow amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — H.R. 1865, the ‘Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act’ could be the vehicle — that would allow Backpage to be held accountable for its ongoing facilitating of child sex trafficking.”


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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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