Technology: A Trap or an Opportunity?

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Technology: A Trap or an Opportunity?

A UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate in computer science has devised the first automated technique to recognize pseudonymous adult ads related to human trafficking syndicates by linking the ads to public information from Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency. With an objective to establish connections between the ads that sell victims for sex on marketplace websites such as Craigslist and Backpage, the study is a pioneering move towards developing a suite of advanced tools that would eventually refine analysis and help law enforcement agencies and non-profit institutions find trafficked victims.

Advanced technology possesses the craft and adequacy to overcome the dominance of traffickers over their victims. While early tools of technology aided the traffickers, now experts wonder how technology can be used to turn the tide against the traffickers, while combating modern slavery and rescue victims.

Rippling Effect

Today, modern slavery is a prominent global threat – and world’s top notch police agencies, Interpol and Europol are gearing up to take on the traffickers. According to Europol, there’s been a 14% increase in cross-border trafficking cases in 2017 with around 50 critical on-going operations battling the crime.

In the last year, Interpol too nabbed at least 60 potential traffickers and rescued around 850 victims in major crackdowns in Central America and West Africa.

Interestingly, every organization, non-governmental body and government is leveraging technology for eradicating modern slavery and trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. Recently, Blockchain’s digital ledger technology has been tried and tested to protect children in Moldova and a few laborers in Coca-Cola’s sugar supply chains. Coca-Cola and the U.S State Department teamed up together in a first of its kind of forced labor project using blockchain for ensuring workers’ protection, while Thailand resorted to high-tech satellites for tackling the same issue amongst their fishermen community within the flourishing seafood industry.

But of course, technology is a double-edged sword – Technology corroborates an industry involving 40 million people and generates an annual profit of $150 billion. Enticing people with fake jobs posted on Facebook, running ads to buy sex on marketplace websites, tracking slaves through webcam and smartphones – modern slave drivers are using a plethora of high-end digital tools for strengthening their claws on potential victims. In a flick of an eye, the victims are being sold virtually. They are even transported, recruited and monitored in just days without drawing any immediate attention.

A Chain of Control

On a positive note, nearly 600 trafficking routes have been identified – in every region of the world – an increase of almost a quarter between 2007 and 2014, according to the latest U.N. statistics.

The security experts at Facebook, parent of recently acquired WhatsApp are pulling content related to trafficking, tirelessly, which is then shared with civil society, U.N Office on Drugs and Crime and several law enforcements agencies for the purpose of reporting illegal activities, including trafficking. Similarly, Microsoft is found funding research programs to understand the ways criminals misuse tech, creates software to identify and prevent exploitation of children for sex and associates with police and various agencies to discuss crimes and future prosecutions.

Even, financial institutions, including banks across the globe have joined hands with law enforcement agencies. Traffickers use different accounts to transfer small amounts of money worldwide through banks – by employing unprecedented sophisticated systems in terms of money laundering. Thus, banks implement cutting edge machine learning algorithms to look beyond the ordinaries and evaluate what goes beyond the normal transactions and how suspects access their accounts.

In the last few years, the concept of gamification too received a fresh boost of energy – it has changed how we educate and encourage activity from people. It is something that has become more relevant and useful with the advance of technology. It has become imperative, if we want to make an impact, we need to improvise our tactics and innovate the way we do it. If traffickers are using technology to ravage thousands of innocent children’s lives, we must devise smarter solutions and work harder with the same technology for good.

Right Way to Address Trafficking

With a similar vision, we launched Missing: Game for a Cause to raise awareness about trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. The Game for a Cause is a role-playing game, which puts you in the shoes of a trafficked victim. For the first time ever, the frustrating experience of trafficking came alive in front of a worldwide digital audience, changing the entire perspective of a social stigma as big as this forever.

In 9 months, it received ½ a million organic downloads across 70 countries, and also won NASSCOM Indie game of the year!

However, another game Missing: The Complete Saga is in the development phase – it’s the sequel to our prototype we launched in 2016. The new game is a reality-based role playing game set in the rural Indian countryside.

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