Group: Google Should Halt All Online Dating Ads Until They’re Sure None Are Fronts For Human Trafficking

Philip J. Cenedella of the NAHTVA

Google says it’s spending “millions of dollars” to police AdWords ads to ensure they’re not contributing to human trafficking, but the head of a victim’s rights group seems to believe that’s not enough.

Asked what he thinks Google should do, Philip J. Cenedella of the National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates (NAHTVA) says they should, “stop ALL of these ads until they can guarantee 0.0% of the providers of the services are NOT trafficking victims, exploited women, men, girls and boys.”

Based on NAHTVA’s efforts, two lawmakers yesterday wrote a letter to CEO Larry Page questioning the company’s efforts to police possible human trafficking ads itself.

Google maintains it’s doing the best that it can, putting millions of dollars of resources toward solving the problem of bad ads. “We…work closely with law enforcement and other government authorities,” the company said in a statement. “But it’s a constant battle against these bad actors so we are always looking at ways to improve our systems and practices — including by working with leading anti-trafficking organizations.”

The challenge is the sheer number of ads that Google deals with on a regular basis and, even though the company does both manual and algorithmic reviews, bad ads seem to slip through all the time.

With pharmaceutical and other healthcare ads, Google requires that companies go through a certification process before they can advertise. In the U.S., the company also has the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites database (part of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy) to call upon for verification. Other countries have similar organizations that help Google distinguish between legit and rogue pharmacies.

Could such a model be used for online dating sites? In the UK, there appears to be an Association of British Introduction Agencies, and perhaps similar organizations in other countries could help Google vet advertisers.

But David Evans, who has long consulted for and covered the online dating industry at, says verifying and vetting these sites just isn’t practical. “Of course [Google] should stop [running ads placed by human traffickers], and I’m sure they will when the pressure is bad enough, but bad actors are like quicksilver — they will break up, adapt strategy and come back together in some other formulation.”

Google should take heart, though, that it’s not the only company under the scrutiny of the anti-human trafficking activists. Says Cenedella, “In 2009, I led the protest against the UAE Embassy in DC. 2010 was Craigslist. 2011 was Backpage (still in process). 2012 is Google. Facebook, Twitter, Bing and others are in our sights.”

Related Topics: Channel: Display | Google: AdSense | Google: Legal


About The Author: is Executive Features Editor at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since 1998.

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  • markbrooks

    aka Google should throw the baby out with the bath water?  

    While we’re at it, all massage parlors should close in the USA, and people flying to Bangkok should have a monitoring bracelet installed before departure.

    More policing is needed, but this solution is ludicrous.

    Mark Brooks


    usa 212-444-1636 / uk 020-8133-1835

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