Is Google helping sales of 'blood ivory'?
A wildlife group is pressuring the search giant over ads promoting illegal sales of African ivory and products from other endangered wildlife.
The slogan "let the buyer beware" surely applies to anything purchased online -- and it sometimes applies to a website that helps you find stuff as well. Google (GOOG) has landed in the uncomfortable position of apparently enabling the sellers of items made from endangered wildlife species.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is calling on Google to remove thousands of ads from its Google Japan shopping site, including ads that offer to sell whale and elephant ivory products. In a press statement, the EIA -- a nonprofit advocacy group with offices in Washington, D.C., and London -- notes the ads are contrary to Google's own policies.
The organization says about 80% of the questionable ads are for "hanko," traditional Japanese signature stamps, often inlaid with ivory, used for official documents.
"While elephants are being mass slaughtered across Africa to produce ivory trinkets, it is shocking to discover that Google, with the massive resources it has at its disposal, is failing to enforce its own policies designed to help protect endangered elephants and whales," said EIA President Allan Thornton.
In an emailed response to The Associated Press, Google confirmed that "ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google. As soon as we detect ads that violate our advertising policies, we remove them."
The global ivory trade was outlawed in 1989 by the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The group is currently meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, and looking for ways to combat a still-thriving black market in elephant ivory, which is now fueled by a growing middle class in Asia and elsewhere.
Part of the problem is the relative ease of online transactions. "The Internet is anonymous, it’s open 24 hours a day for business, and selling illegal ivory online is a low-risk, high-profit activity for criminals," Tania McCrea-Steele of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
An IFAW investigation last year found nearly 18,000 ivory products listed on more than a dozen websites in China.
"In recent years China has been implicated in more large-scale ivory seizures than any other non-African country," said a 2012 National Geographic article titled "Blood Ivory."
"For the first time in generations," it continued, "many Chinese can afford to reach forward into a wealthy future, and they can also afford to look back into their own vibrant past," with its long tradition of ivory sculpture, religious icons and other items.
As for African elephants, which numbered about 5 million in the mid-20th century, the killing continues.
The Born Free wildlife advocacy group says the overall African elephant population has dropped by 30% over the past 20 years alone. And from around 1.3 million elephants in 1979, less than 400,000 are believed alive now.
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