Sunday, September 15, 2019

Carrie Goldberg: Revenge Porn and The Lives Destroyed By Google

Carrie Goldberg
How Google has destroyed the lives of revenge porn victims
NY POST, By Carrie Goldberg, August 17, 2019

I’m a lawyer who fights for victims of online harassment, sexual assault and blackmail. When I first started my Brooklyn firm five years ago, I was known as “the revenge-porn lawyer,” and indeed many of my clients were young women whose naked pictures had been posted on the Internet without their consent for the world to see.

My clients — nurses, students, teachers, moms, lawyers, dominatrices, celebrities — suffered horribly from their most intimate pictures being shared publicly. In my book, “Nobody’s Victim,” I discuss stories of my clients who were humiliated, harassed and stalked online by people who viewed nonconsensual material and photos of them on the Internet. Without exception, my clients’ No. 1 urgency was always the same — their horrific Google results!

At this point in time, nobody accepts a date, new hire, roommate or even college applicant without first doing a Google search. Google, with its 5.6 billion searches a day and ownership of 92.19 percent of the search-engine market share worldwide, enjoys a virtual monopoly on all of our reputations. It used to be that our reputations developed organically and locally through firsthand encounters and normal word-of-mouth gossip. Now Google’s PageRank algorithms determine what — and how much — people around the world know about us.

In 2016, I pleaded with Google’s “Legal Removals” team to show mercy on 15 women I represented in a case against a porn company. My clients, all aged 18-22, had answered deceptive bikini-model ads and had become embroiled in a conspiracy to perform porn that resulted in some of them being raped before and during the shoots. These nonconsensual sex videos were then shared hundreds of thousands of times on popular porn sites.

The women were mercilessly exposed online — their names, schools, family members posted alongside the porn. The consequential harassment was horrific. Many victims changed their names, moved, were dumped, kicked out of their social organizations and fired from their jobs. One of our clients was 20 and a junior in college when she responded to the ad for bikini models and flew to San Diego to shoot the video.

After her video was posted online, she told us, “I had to change my major and career choice. I lost a lot of friends, and my family wouldn’t talk to me for a while. I have had nightmares about it and dreams that it never happened or that it was somehow erased completely. It was one of the worst things I have ever done and not just because it showed up on the Internet. I wish I could erase that memory out of my mind forever. I was spit on while making the video, and I have never felt more disrespected or devalued in my entire life.”

We sent affidavits to Google urging them to remove the videos.

Google’s policies dictate only two instances when they will remove content — child pornography and copyright-infringement requests.

The current policy says Google may remove nude or sexually explicit images that were shared without consent, but the company maintains sole discretion about when to remove nonconsensual pornography. If Google decides it will keep linking to a website that contains your nude images, victims are just out of luck. And there’s no appellate body. There is no law, only corporate policy, that protects (or fails to protect) victims’ most private information. Not even New York’s new revenge-porn laws help here because they are aimed at punishing the individual who nonconsensually shared the material and not the search engines that drive views.

Google knew these women had been tricked, held captive, sexually assaulted and humiliated and were suffering because of the exposure it was causing, but corporate interest dictated total indifference. To this day, Google will not remove those links from their search-engine results. The graphic evidence of abuse now haunts these women as they apply for jobs, use social media, seek roommates, date. Most of these women remain underemployed, terrified and unable to lead normal lives because Google won’t lift a finger on the basis of its cynical corporate policy.

In several other cases, porn sites have found a workaround for when Google removes a revenge-porn link from the search engine result. The site changes the URL. Even when the URL has the same root address and pornographic words with our clients’ names in the URL, Google won’t suppress the new URLs.

One of the few rules on the Internet is the sanctity of copyrights. Yet, when it comes to porn, Google sometimes defies its own terms of service and ignores even that. In one case, our 18-year-old client “Anna” was horribly exploited by older men three times her age who videoed themselves having violent sex with her. It wasn’t long before the videos began to populate the first five pages of her search-engine results. Over the next several years, the stalking, harassment and death threats from her “fans” became unbearable. My client moved and everybody in her family changed their names, yet somebody found her new name and posted that online. The video followed her because of Google.

Initially, Google refused to remove the video because they said she didn’t own the copyright and their revenge-porn policy, they say, doesn’t apply to what they call “regret porn.” So we helped her obtain the copyright through a lawful transfer from the original producer. Yet, Google surprised us with a new refusal — they didn’t believe she owns the copyright.

Shocked, Anna asked, “Why can’t we just sue the websites?” I explained federal law protects the websites that post the information revealing her identity and disseminating her video. Anna’s parents were thinking even bigger, “If they won’t remove the videos voluntarily, why can’t we sue Google?”

I explained to Anna’s mom, as I have to so many clients whose lives are rerouted because of negative Google results, that Google is immune from legal liability because of a federal law from 1996 called the Communications Decency Act Section 230, which effectively immunizes tech companies for content created by a third party. So long as a website or Google did not post or create the material, even if it’s illegal, they can still post it on their site or search engine and even profit from it.

During a congressional hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai in December 2018, Pichai said Google’s big objective was “to provide users with access to the world’s information.” While excellent for finding store hours and movie reviews online, the company’s limitless definition of “information” sweeps in pernicious websites devoted to fake news and conspiracy theories, publishing illegal nonconsensual pornography, accusing named individuals of extramarital affairs, sexually transmitted diseases and pedophilia; mug-shot sites that extort money from people — often individuals never charged with a crime — for the picture to be removed; and databases maintained by anti-abortion activists that publish intimate details about abortion providers including their medical licenses, transcripts and home addresses.

Still, at the hearing, Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said, “[If] you want positive search results, do positive things. If you want negative search results, don’t do negative things.” But it’s not that simple.

So long as anybody with an Internet connection can create content, and websites have no liability regarding the truthfulness of that information, our so-called “positive actions” can’t ensure “positive search results.” As I say at my firm, we are all a moment away from having our life overturned by somebody hell-bent on our destruction. If somebody wants to take us down, they use the Internet to spread inescapable lies. But even if we do something “negative,” to use Lieu’s term, should that mean we deserve to be connected to it for the rest of our lives?

Not too long ago, we could escape our pasts by moving, changing jobs and transferring schools. Because of Google, that’s now impossible. Google’s algorithm controls the ranking of everything anybody sees.

Many people accept the ranking of search-engine results as a naturally occurring phenomenon. But deliberate decisions go into the algorithms that decide who sees what. They are business decisions. They are value decisions. They are decisions made by people in an industry known for its sexism with a disproportionate number of men in leadership roles.

The vast majority of Google’s revenue comes from ads, thus requiring that its traffic stay high and that it not upset the industries — especially the always-profitable porn industry — that pay handsomely for ads.

It’s no coincidence that Google quietly removed their “don’t be evil” motto from its corporate code of conduct in May 2018. Its recent and past treatment of sexual privacy proves that Google is finally willing to embrace its policy of being evil.

Carrie Goldberg owns victims’ rights law firm C. A. Goldberg, PLLC and is the author of “Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls” (Penguin Random House), out now.

No comments:

Post a Comment