During the beginning of 2022, a pair of Google policy workers engaged with a group of women who had been preyed upon in a deception that led to explicit videos of them being shared online—this even included appearing in Google search results. These women were just a few of the many young individuals who fell victim to ads purporting to scout swimsuit models, only to be coerced into participating in adult videos that were distributed by the now-defunct website GirlsDoPorn. The closure of the site occurred in 2020, and subsequently, one producer, a financial officer, and a videographer pleaded guilty for their involvement in sex trafficking according to reports. However, the videos continued to surface on Google search results quicker than the victims could lodge requests for their removal.

Accompanied by a lawyer and a security specialist, the women proposed numerous suggestions on how Google could better conceal the criminal and degrading videos. These recommendations, shared by five participants or those briefed on the virtual meeting, entailed a plea for Google search to blacklist websites dedicated to GirlsDoPorn and videos bearing its watermark. They also put forth the idea of leveraging the 25-terabyte hard drive maintained by the women’s cybersecurity expert, Charles DeBarber, to create a unique identifier for each clip and prevent their resurgence in search results indefinitely.

The pair of Google staff members present at the meeting aspired to leverage the insights from the session to potentially secure additional resources from higher management. Nevertheless, the victims’ lawyer, Brian Holm, departed with skepticism. He remarked that the policy team was restricted in its influence within Google and faced a challenging situation.

Holm’s initial intuition has proven accurate over the following two years—none of the proposals discussed in the meeting have been implemented, and the problematic videos persist in search results.

According to WIRED, discussions with former Google workers and advocacy groups that have engaged with the company affirm that while Google has introduced changes enabling survivors of image-based sexual exploitation, such as those affected by the GirlsDoPorn scheme, to more seamlessly delete unwanted search outcomes, there is discontent over the failure of Google’s leadership to greenlight initiatives like the hard drive method, which they argue is indispensable in fully safeguarding the privacy of numerous victims globally, particularly women.

Insiders disclose undisclosed internal discussions, which include Google’s rationale for refraining from utilizing a tool within the industry known as StopNCII that exchanges data on nonconsensual intimate images (NCII) as well as Google’s neglect in enforcing prerequisites for pornographic websites to validate consent for search traffic. Google’s internal research unit has released recommendations on actions that tech firms can take against NCII, with a mention of utilizing StopNCII.

These sources contend that such initiatives would help mitigate a growing issue, partly exacerbated by the increasing accessibility of artificial intelligence tools that generate explicit deepfake content, including ones featuring GirlsDoPorn victims. Notably, cases reported to the UK’s Revenge Porn hotline more than doubled in the previous year, reaching approximately 19,000 cases, with a parallel surge in incidents involving synthetic content. About half of the surveyed 2,000+ Britons expressed concerns about being targeted by deepfake content. The White House, in May, urged expedited actions by legislators and corporations to mitigate NCII at large. Subsequently, in June, Google united with seven other entities and nine organizations in a statement announcing the establishment of a collaborative working group to synchronize responses.

Presently, victims might opt to pursue legal actions against offenders or file claims against platforms hosting illicit material, but the success of these routes is not guaranteed, and they can be financially burdensome due to legal expenses. Convincing Google to eliminate undesirable search outcomes remains arguably the most pragmatic approach and aligns with the overarching aim of preventing objectionable content from reaching the view of acquaintances, potential employers, landlords, or romantic prospects—individuals who are likely to resort to a Google search to gather information.

A spokesperson from Google, who chose to remain anonymous to avoid intimidation from perpetrators, opted not to comment on the discussion with GirlsDoPorn victims. However, she affirmed that addressing what the company labels as nonconsensual explicit imagery (NCEI) remains a priority and emphasized that Google’s measures go beyond the minimum legal obligations. She stated, “Over time, we have extensively invested in cutting-edge policies and safeguards to aid individuals affected by this detrimental content.” She further added, “Various teams within Google are consistently engaged in fortifying our protections and thoughtfully addressing emerging challenges to enhance the safeguarding of individuals.”