A conservation group claims that Google has something in common with illicit ivory traders in China and Thailand: It says the Internet search giant is helping fuel a dramatic surge in ivory demand in Asia that is killing African elephants at record levels.
The Environmental Investigation Agency, a conservation advocacy group, said in a statement yesterday that there are about 10,000 ads on Google Japan’s shopping site that promote the sale of ivory.
About 80 percent of the ads are for hanko, small wooden stamps used in Japan to affix signature seals to official documents. The rest are carvings and other small objects.
Hanko are used for everything from renting a house to opening a bank account. The stamps are typically inlaid with ivory lettering.
The agency said Japan’s hanko sales are a “major demand driver for elephant ivory [and] have contributed to the widescale resumption of elephant poaching across Africa.”
“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,” Google said in an e-mail to media.
The agency said it wrote a letter to Google CEO Larry Page on Feb. 22 urging the firm to pull the ads because they violate Google’s own policies. It said Google had not responded.
“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,” said Allan Thorton, the US-based president of the environmental group.
Curbing the trade in so-called “blood ivory” is at the top of the agenda of the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which is meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, this week to discuss how to protect the planet’s biodiversity by regulating the legal trade of flora and fauna and clamping down on smuggling.
About 70 years ago, up to 5 million elephants roamed sub-Saharan Africa. Today, just several hundred thousand remain.
Over the past few years, as Asian economies have grown and demand for ivory has risen, the slaughter of elephants has reached its worst level in more than two decades. Last year alone, about 32,000 elephants were killed in Africa, the Born Free Foundation said, adding that black-market ivory sells for approximately US$1,300 per 500g.
The convention banned the international ivory trade in 1989, but did not address domestic markets.
Google’s policies say it “doesn’t allow the promotion of products obtained from endangered or threatened species,” like elephant tusks, rhino horns and products made from whales, sharks or dolphins.
Thorton said the policies were laudable, “but sadly these are not being enforced and that’s devastating.”