An undercover investigation by BBC News Arabic has accused Facebook, Google and Apple of enabling online slave markets. The investigation brought to light the booming black market for domestic workers in the Persian Gulf which has been fueled by apps, hashtags and private messages on the tech giant’s platforms. The workers were bought and sold as a commodity.
The BBC investigation says that the trade took place on Instagram (owned by Facebook). Traders used algorithm-boosted hashtags while negotiating sales via private messages. There were listings on apps in Google’s Google Play Store and the Apple App Store according to the reports.
A Facebook spokesperson has said that following the investigation they have banned the hashtag خادمات للتنازل [housemaids] and also removed 703 violating accounts. The person said that they are constantly improving their technology and working closely with law enforcement agencies around the world to help them identify and remove these types of content. They want to encourage people to report content or accounts believed to be dangerous.
The spokesperson added, “We do not allow content or behavior on Instagram that may lead to human exploitation.” And said that their policies are being developed in consultation with expert organizations, including the UN, and thus does allow people to post content or accounts related to domestic servitude. They work with organizations around the world like Polaris and the National Human Trafficking Hotline to provide resources and assist victims and survivors of human trafficking.
The plight of immigrant domestic workers in the Gulf have sparked international controversy. In 2018, a ban was implemented on Filipino workers heading to Kuwait amid a dispute sparked by complaints of the abuse of Filipina housemaids and workers in the Persian Gulf country. But it was lifted in May.