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Combating Human Trafficking with Big Data: Today’s Plot Twist

April 11, 2018 1 comment

When the government shuts down websites that serve the sex industry, the activity doesn’t stop—it just moves. All things considered, it’s constructive for the government to keep shutting things down. It does slow down illegal activity, at least for a while.  But on the other hand, it also slows down law enforcement, who rely on those sites for leads to help rescue victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking—when the victim is forced to participate or is under age—is different from consensual sex work. Georgia Tech PhD student Julia Deeb-Swihart uses machine learning, network analysis, and techniques from information visualization to create tools to help law enforcement combat trafficking. As the activity moves, our research moves to follow it.

New legislation passed last month gives the government greater authority to prosecute websites that facilitate trafficking, and has the bad guys scared. But give them credit for being clever. Hiding in plain site is the Facebook group “best automotive reviews.” The main purpose of the page is to tell customers of a sex worker review site what the new URL is, each time the site moves. But in the mean time, people have been discussing their automotive needs, like these posts:

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It’s certainly a new challenge for machine learning to detect those posts! The technical challenge of the week. But wherever they go, we’ll keep chasing them.

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