Sex traffickers in America have the police and prosecutors pursuing them, but they do have one crucial (if secret) ally: Google.
Google’s motto has long been “Don’t be evil,” and I admire lots about the company. But organizations it funds have for years been quietly helping Backpage.com, the odious website where most American victims of human trafficking are sold, to battle lawsuits from children sold there for sex.
Now Google is using its enormous lobbying power in Washington to try to kill bipartisan legislation that would crack down on websites that promote sex trafficking.
“I wanted to bring to your attention an issue that is picking up steam in the Senate and the House,” a Google lobbyist, E. Stewart Jeffries, wrote in a letter to congressional offices last month. He urged House members not to co-sponsor the legislation targeting sex trafficking.
It’s not that Google is taking ads from Backpage (it doesn’t) or giving it money. But as Backpage fights off prosecutors and worries about the legislation, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, Google has emerged as its behind-the-scenes champion.
Why? Why would Google ally itself with Backpage, which is involved in 73 percent of cases of suspected child sex trafficking in the U.S., which advertised a 13-year-old whose pimp had tattooed his name on her eyelids?
The answer has to do with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies like Google (and The New York Times) from lawsuits — and also protects Backpage. Google seems to have a vague, poorly grounded fear that closing the loophole would open the way to frivolous lawsuits and investigations and lead to a slippery slope that will damage its interests and the freedom of the internet.