Google plans to take on Mexican drug cartels
The tech giant’s slogan might well be «Don’t Be Evil», but lately Google has been more proactive in applying its technological clout and anti-evil principles to areas outside of its core commercial interests. In April 2012, Google Ideas launched the Against Violent Extremism site, which is trying to generate positive discussions between former terrorists and their victims.
At the Illicit Networks: Forces in Opposition Summit (abbreviated to the Info Summit), Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said that he has recently visited Ciudad Juarez on the US-Mexican border, a city racked by drug-related violence, and was struck by how hopeless people there seemed to feel. He said: «They were looking for a universal hammer to protect them. For me, as a visitor, the answer was obvious. It was technology.»
He argued that the same decentralised networks that have made the internet such a powerful tool can be used to help «tilt the favour back towards the victims». Smugglers are comfortable using technology such as GPS to make their work easier — so why not give ordinary people the advantages of technology too?
«A connected world is a free world,» said Schmidt. «Connections protect us. Suppliers will learn how to prevent being exploited by illicit markets, and as the supply goes down those illicit markets will be diminished.» In simple terms, that means giving people a chance of reporting illicit activity without fear of being caught. It also means improving real-time information sharing between intelligence agencies, and also mining the vast amounts of data on the web to uncover the bank accounts and personal information of the top drug kingpins.
The Info Summit in Los Angeles was set up as a joint project between Google, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Tribeca Film Festival, and was first announced by Google earlier this month. They said: «We believe that technology has the power to expose and dismantle global criminal networks, which depend on secrecy and discretion in order to function. And for the past few months, we’ve been working with people fighting on the front line to gain a better understanding of what drives these networks and how they function.»
It’s part of the overall Google Ideas project, which was set up by the search giant in October 2010 as a self-labelled «think/do tank». The hope is that, in the same way Google became so huge by thinking about tech in new and different ways, they can look at some of the most extreme problems facing people around the world today — from drug trafficking to failed states — and find new ways to tackle them.
Ciudad Juarez, the city on the US-Mexican border that Schmidt visited, is certainly somewhere that could use some new methods to tackle its problems. While the homicide rate has dropped from its 2009 high of 130 murders per 100,000 people (which at the time was a good 25 percent higher than any other city in the world at the time), the city is still considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Infamously, between 1993 and 2003 around 4000 women were abducted and murdered by culprits unknown, and to this day the city see daily violence between drug cartels and the Mexican authorities. An estimated 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006.
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