It is estimated that there are about 25 million victims of human trafficking globally, with more and more of them being exploited online. However, technologies such as Spotlight can support the prosecution, prevention, and protection of sex trafficking victims, particularly children. Spotlight analyses escort ads in real-time by using intelligent image and word analysis.
Spotlight was developed by a U.S-based NGO called Thorn. The technology was developed following a Thorn survey in 2012 which found that 75% of child sex-trafficking survivors had been sold online, most of them through escort websites. Given the sheer volume of the adverts, it would be difficult for law enforcement agents to catch traffickers and rescue children by identifying and investigating all escort ads that seem to feature minors. There are over 150,000 new escort ads being posted online every day in the U.S.
By cooperating with law enforcement agencies, risk profiles were developed for Spotlight. It continually scans for new escort ads that match these risk profiles, which involve images of children, slang, code words and other such aspects.
In the last three years, Thorn has helped identify over 9,380 child victims of sex trafficking advertised for sex services on different online platforms and has also helped law enforcement officials in the U.S. and Canada identify nearly 11,000 traffickers. This is an average of eight child sex trafficking victims identified every day.
Spotlight is only one of the technologies mentioned in a study analysing more than 300 technological initiatives which can be strategically used to combat trafficking in human beings (THB). The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Tech Against Trafficking have issued research that examines how technology is being misused to facilitate trafficking, and then how technology can be leveraged to combat this.
The research also addresses ethical considerations, data protection issues, and the need to respect rights in the use of technology.
A strong emphasis has been put on fighting human trafficking through market-based interventions, data aggregation, and analysis tools, which can identify significant trends in the THB marketplaces and can engage a large number of THB actors at the same time. The research also highlights tools that can impact fighting THB for labor exploitation in global supply chains, including block-chain technology. These tools are designed to scale up responses and prevention of THB on a worldwide scale.
One can read the full study here.