January 13, 2019

Google: A Complicated Case of Corporate Influence

Google’s unofficial slogan is “don’t be evil.”

For the enormous multinational technology company that is now intimately involved in most people’s lives this seems like a good goal. But does Google live up to this slogan?

In short: it’s complicated.

Google is a vast corporate empire.

Most of the people who work within the corporation have nothing to do with the decisions the company has made that have helped fuel sexual exploitation. Our criticisms of Google are not directed at these individuals.

Responsibility for these decisions rests with Google’s top corporate executives. Sometimes, these executives have taken important steps to help create a world free from sexual exploitation; other times they have worked in direct opposition to this vital vision.

Much like all of us in our personal lives, Google has made some decisions that seek the public good, and others that seek to protect self-interests. Thus, on issues of sexual exploitation, the results are decidedly mixed.

Examples of Combatting Sexual Exploitation:

But if you have been a NCOSE supporter for the last few years, you know we had a huge victory when Google removed pornographic apps from Google Play and when they stopped allowing pornographic advertisements on Google.com.

Google also developed YouTube Kids which is an app that greatly improves video browsing safety for children.

These were significant strides of progress for opposing sexual exploitation and reveal that Google has some concern for human rights and online safety.

Examples of Facilitating Sexual Exploitation:

Google’s YouTube is on our Dirty Dozen list for failing to enforce its community guidelines against hardcore pornography on the platform. Google could vastly improve YouTube with commonsense enhancements to reporting systems and ads. In a world awash in Internet pornography and suffering the harms of a public health crisis as a result, such measures vitally important. Learn more about our concerns with YouTube here.

And, if you have been following NCOSE’s blog, you will know we are taking on Google for another reason: Google is lobbying against amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This law is shielding websites such as Backpage.com, that intentionally and knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. Amending the CDA is the most vital legal change needed in our country today to help curb rampant sexual exploitation fueled by websites with a business model built on sexual exploitation. Learn more about the Communications Decency Act here.

Further, a search of Google Images often turns up pornographic and explicit images even for seemingly innocent search terms.

One example that has been recently fixed thanks to the organization Enough Is Enough, (we wouldn’t share an innocent term here that is currently problematic because we don’t want people to test it out) is that if a child would type in “water sports” they used to be bombarded with images of urination pornography, instead of waterskiing, snowboarding, swimming, polo, etc.

Google must do a better job of removing sexually explicit images from Google Image searches, especially when the user (often children) is expecting to view something completely different.

Making Sense of it All:

So given Google’s checkered history on sexual exploitation issues, should we be thanking them or petitioning them? Condemning or praising?

At the end of the day we remember that we make our efforts for people and with people. This means we want to acknowledge and thank Google and its leaders when they take meaningful steps towards reducing sexual exploitation. Positive change deserves to be recognized and commended.

But, we must also hold companies to account when their products or policies cause serious harm. Unfortunately, some of Google’s products and policies are doing just that.

Google, and companies like it, are multifaceted and complex. It makes advocating for our issues more difficult.

No corporation like this or the others NCOSE takes on will be changed overnight, but incremental, meaningful steps toward defending human dignity will make for a future opposing sexual exploitation.

Say thank you to Google for the positive policy changes they have made.

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

Further Reading

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