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Facebook, Google, others target online wildlife trafficking

The Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online boasts a roster of major tech firms. The goal: Fight poachers by stopping e-trade in illegal animal products.

A Kenyan wildlife services officer guards a pile of 15 tons of elephant ivory, which is being burned to prevent its sale and discourage poaching.
A Kenyan wildlife services officer guards a pile of 15 tons of elephant ivory, which is being burned to prevent its sale and discourage poaching. A coalition of major tech companies has pledged to fight online trafficking in ivory and other illegal animal products.
Carl De Souza/Getty Images

If you've seen that video of the starving polar bear, you know the internet is an invaluable tool for raising awareness about the plight of wildlife.

Unfortunately, the net has also become a key tool for poachers.

Over 20,000 African elephants are illegally slaughtered each year so their tusks can be sold as ivory trinkets, and nearly three rhinos are poached a day so their horns can be sold for aphrodisiacs and other products, according to the World Wildlife Fund. And the internet makes the sale of these illegal goods a lot easier.

That's why Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Pinterest, Alibaba, Baidu and 15 other tech companies from around the globe have joined with the WWF, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Traffic, a nonprofit that monitors trade in wildlife products, to create the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online.

"Bringing these industry giants together is the best shot at systematically closing the open web to wildlife traffickers," Crawford Allan, the WWF's senior director of wildlife crime and traffic, said in a statement Wednesday. "Criminals are making a killing from selling rare species and products made from their parts. Inconsistent policies and enforcement across the web invariably create a 'whack-a-mole' effect, where ads may be removed from one site just to pop up somewhere else."

Each of the coalition's companies will create policies and solutions targeting wildlife trafficking on the net. The overall goal is to work together to collectively reduce wildlife trafficking across their sites by 80 percent over the next two years.

"It is a critical time to ensure that social media and e-commerce platforms cannot be exploited by the loopholes to detection created by wildlife traffickers," the WWF said in a statement.

The unveiling of the coalition arrives amid skyrocketing awareness of how the internet is being exploited by bad actors. The recent presidential elections in the US have thrown light on efforts to use social media as a propaganda tool to undermine democracy. Last week the US House of Representatives passed a bill that takes aim at online sex trafficking. And last month a new study found that cybercrime is hurting businesses to the tune of $600 billion, largely because the net makes crime easier than ever before.

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