Google Project Tackles Illicit Drug Networks

Dennis Faas's picture

Google has announced it will sponsor a conference aimed at reducing illegal drug and human trafficking. The conference is part of Google Ideas, a project designed to examine how technology can help solve major world problems.

The project's first major work came in 2011, when it held the Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) in Dublin, Ireland.

SAVE brought together 84 former extremists, ranging from gang members to violent nationalist and religious extremists, along with victims of gangs and terrorism.

Virtual Community Created to Prevent Violence

The SAVE conference led to the formation of an online network designed to help bring together these people and others like them in the future. Members of the network can share ideas and appeal for help from local anti-violence projects. (Source:

Ironically, networks themselves will be the focus of the next Google Ideas project. Examples include drug cartel networks, sex trafficking networks, illegal arms rings and the unlicensed trade in human organs.

The 2012 summit in Los Angeles will be titled Illicit Networks: Forces in Opposition (INFO). As with last year's event, INFO will bring together people who've been affected by illicit networks, along with law enforcement officials and technology experts. (Source:

The thinking behind INFO is that, although the various networks are involved in different types of crime, there may be similarities in the way they are organized.

Conference Examines Crooks' Use of Technology

The upcoming INFO conference will specifically look at how criminals use technology to communicate, and how they make it harder for police to bring offenders and ringleaders to justice.

While nobody is doubting Google's sincerity, there is an unfortunate irony to the project: last year the search giant was fined an astronomical $500 million for showing advertisements about Canadian pharmaceutical exporters to US web users.

Sales by those exporters to US customers are illegal, because the foreign drugs aren't subject to U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) licensing and safety requirements.

The fine was so large because US officials found Google staff had carried the advertising for at least six years, despite knowing it was illegal.

As a result, the fine was based not only on the money Google made from carrying the ads, but also on the estimated profits of the drug exporters.

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