Revenge Porn Bill in New York Killed After Google Campaign

Advocates blamed the tech company for helping to essentially kill a bill that would have made nonconsensual dissemination of sexually explicit images a crime in New York.

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Jun 21 2018, 7:46pm

Photo by Jovo Jovanovic, via Stocksy.

Almost three years ago to the day, Google was praised for taking measures to tackle revenge porn from populating in its search results. That included the creation of a new reporting feature for victims trying to get their sexually explicit images published online without their consent removed. In a Google Search Help article on how to do that, the company writes, “We recognize that the non-consensual sharing of nude and sexually explicit images and videos is distressing.”

But on Thursday, advocates blamed the tech company for helping to essentially kill a bill in New York that would have made nonconsensual dissemination of sexually explicit images a crime. Currently, state law addresses the issue of sharing intimate images online if the subject isn’t aware the photo or video has been taken. This bill, which had passed the Assembly, would have protected people who willingly shared a nude photo with someone but did not give that person permission to put it online by making the act a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. (A similar law criminalizing revenge porn in New York City just went into effect in February.)

According to the New York Post, the Internet Association, a lobbying group representing Google and other web companies, stepped in yesterday to pressure lawmakers about language in the legislation that would have allowed victims to sue web companies for hosting those images. By the time the legislative session was adjourned last night, the bill had not gone up for a vote.

Carrie Goldberg is an attorney and leading expert on revenge porn who helped craft the bill. She told the New York Post: “It’s deeply disturbing that Google and tech lobbyists were quiet as a church mouse for the five years this bill has been percolating in Albany and then literally the morning it’s up for vote, they bulldoze in with coercive demands on our lawmakers to change the language. It’s a disgrace how weak our lawmakers look for bowing down to these tech corporate overlords.”

She added: “Big Tech, especially Google, created the revenge porn problem. And now, just as we were about to enable victims to demand removal of their most intimate material from the internet via this law, Google renews its abuse.”

In a statement shared with Business Insider, John Olsen, a spokesperson for Internet Association said that they “share the goals of New York State policymakers who want to rid the internet of non-consensual sexual imagery. We already work to prevent bad actors from using platforms to engage in this terrible activity. We will continue working with lawmakers who are committed to solving this problem." (A spokesperson for Google declined to comment, though did share a link to the company’s policy on revenge porn.)

It should go without saying why sharing nude photos online without a person’s consent should be illegal. It’s humiliating and demeaning; for some victims, the thought of their most vulnerable moments being shared so publicly has led to serious emotional distress and psychological trauma. And yet the issue is widespread: A 2016 report found that one in 25 Americans has either been threatened with or actually had an explicit image shared online; additionally, queer people are far more likely than straight people to have to deal with this issue.

Mary Anne Franks is the vice president and legislative and tech policy director of Cyber Civil Rights Institute (CCRI). In 2014, the organization worked with Google to help create its reporting feature for victims of revenge porn. Today, she tells Broadly, they’re “profoundly disappointed to see Google standing with revenge porn perpetrators.”

Franks began working with Assemblyman Edward Braunstein on New York's bill back in 2013. That original version, she says, was “one of the strongest revenge porn laws in the country. For five years, revenge porn apologists and corporate lobbyists fought to keep the bill from passage. When they didn't succeed in defeating Assemblyman Braunstein's determined efforts to pass a bill, they focused on watering the bill down as much as possible instead. Thanks to their tactics, the proposed bill is a dim shadow of the original draft. … By requiring both intent to cause ‘material harm’ to the victim and ‘a reasonable belief that such harm will occur,’ the bill is toothless against the operators of revenge porn sites and secret nude photo-trading groups.”

She adds: “That Google has used its outsized power to kill even this feeble protection for the victims of this horrific form of abuse speaks very badly of the corporation, and New York's legislature should be ashamed of itself for obeying the dictates of a corporation rather than serving the people of New York.”