Internet firms like Google were opposing a bill to attack online human trafficking, but now they’ve given up their opposition. Why?

Nacole S. wipes tears as she testifies about her daughter becoming sex trafficked during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent subcommittee hearing into Backpage.com, Tuesday Jan. 10, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

As I discussed earlier this year, we have a problem of websites that turn a blind eye to human trafficking:

This is Nacole S. Her daughter was picked up by a child sex slavery ring, which sold her around on the Internet. The preferred site by these traffickers was Backpage.com.

Backpage.com was allegedly making good money on this stuff, and even though they had no direct role in the sex slavery business, it’s argued that they should have done something to stop their business from being in the business of promoting this sort of activity. So, they’re being sued.

Google has jumped to the defense of Backpage, bankrolling efforts to defend them. Why would they do this? … Google is afraid that they’ll next have to be held responsible for what they’ve willfully ignored, if Backpage falls first. So they’re defending Backpage’s blindness to child sex trafficking, in order to protect their own profits.

So naturally when the US Congress began to work on a bill called SESTA to attack this issue, Google also jumped to the defense of the next Backpage. The change: those sued under the bill have to have had knowledge. Says the NY Times (I know, this is just the link someone sent me):

Lawmakers said the new bill contained modest changes that clarified that state law enforcement officials would have to use federal law as their basis of suits, one of the final sticking points for the companies. And the new draft contained language that only websites that knowingly assisted and supported sex trafficking would be targeted.

Some critics are still worried about the bill, claiming that the “facilitation” of human trafficking is defined too broadly.

One question I have is whether hosts of TOR (The Onion Router, an Internet anonymization service) nodes might be held accountable for human trafficking operations run over TOR, if they are made aware that such activities are going over the network. The Internet is not, and should not be, a zone of anarchy. Kids are being raped systematically. We can make it harder for the perpetrators to use the Internet to profit from it.