Technology design for addressing human trafficking

danah boyd sez, "Researchers who focus on technology's role in human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of minors teamed up to create a short primer for technologists who are trying to do the right thing. This high-level overview is intended to shed light on some of the most salient misconceptions about human trafficking and provide some key insights that will be useful for anyone who is trying to build tools to intervene. This document is to help those who are trying to create innovative solutions recognize pitfalls that they can address in the design of their systems."

Curbing commercial sexual exploitation of children and promoting the rights and safety of children should be a top priority for all members of society. Yet, all too often, myths and public misunderstandings – particularly about technology’s role in CSEC – and a lack of empirical data about the scope of the problem drive political and legal agendas, however well intentioned. These same myths and misunderstandings have the potential to inadvertently affect how technologists approach the problem. As researchers, we feel it’s important to take an evidence based and data-driven approach toward technological interventions so that they are effective, efficient, and limit the additional harm done to victims. With this goal in mind, we offer a series of key findings that should be a part of any serious discussion about using technology to address CSEC in a networked world. We hope that this information is useful for technologists seeking to build innovative solutions. We would be happy to offer more detailed information and data to any technologist seeking to learn more.

Addressing Human Trafficking: Guidelines for Technological Interventions [blog post]

How to Responsibly Create Technological Interventions to Address the Domestic Sex Trafficking of Minors (paper, PDF)

(Thanks, danah!)


  1. Liam. I just agree… Larry`s story is unimaginable… on tuesday I
    bought a new Alfa Romeo sincee geting a check for $6252 this-past/four
    weeks and-over, 10 grand this past month. it’s actualy the nicest-work
    Ive had. I began this eight months/ago and almost immediately began to
    make minimum $83… per/hr. I went to this website……….. ZOO80.ℂom

  2. “technologists who are trying to do the right thing.” And what, precisely, is that?

    No one is favor of human trafficking, abuse of minors (sexual or otherwise), wife-beating, bride-burning, serial arsonists, etc. So, as technologists, what do we do? What IS the “right thing”?

    We’ve seen how attempts to “regulate the Internet” lead to wrongheaded legislation–stories like this are a staple on Boing Boing. Using an “evidence based and data-driven approach toward technological interventions” sounds a lot like “let’s create a database of ‘the bad guys’,” and who are they? When is technology a useful tool to help enforce existing laws, and when does it become counterproductive or worse?

    The author is well intentioned, but…I live in Asia. The most important tech advance I’ve seen recently in this area is long-overdue media coverage of gang-rapes of Delhi. There were no “big data solutions” involved, but there was media coverage of protests with women AND MEN participating. There’s a start towards culture-change, and that’s key.

    When the police commander of District X in Country Y receives an envelope of cash (with the implicit or explicit understanding that NOT accepting the payment will have serious consequence for said cop and/or his family), the transaction will go through. What database or Twitter feed will alter that transaction? Journalists who attempt to report higher levels of corruption may end up as a statistic on Reporters Without Borders (

    Transparency is good, WikiLeaks is good, citizen-protests are good, courageous journalists are good. Expecting “technologists doing the right thing” to assist law enforcement in specific, corruption-driven crimes (note these are CRIMES–the enforcement is the issue, the perpetrators are often well known at local levels) is, IMHO, not an effective strategy.

    Open for discussion…

  3. That’s a lot of typing for very little information.  The only actual technology suggestions are Social Workers Should be Monitoring Social Media, and giant databases to help predict trouble.

    One would hope that police agencies are already collaborating data to help find offenders before they offend again, but that’s not technological, that’s social.  It involves technology in the most basic sense, and most corporation already have powerful datamining technology, they just need to borrow / purchase it, and tweak it a bit.

    Social Workers SHOULD be monitoring Social Media, but again, that could be done from an internet cafe, not exactly on the leading edge of technology.

    They could probably get Google and Facebook to help them with this for relatively cheap.

    Most of the other issues are social, and while valid, not novel, or related to technology at all.

    It doesn’t even talk about things that might actually affect the Trafficking part, like, say, systems to make sure that shipping containers are inspected consistently., system for tracking document forgery, etc.

    1.  I agree: most issues are social and unrelated to technology.

      Container-sized scanners and RFID tags are already used in global supply chains. But read anything on the global arms trade, for example, and you’ll learn that forged end-user certificates and transshipments to other destinations ensure that RPGs and AK-47s get into the hands of those who pay.

      Trafficking has likely never been more profitable. Nowadays there’s fake pharmaceutical drugs and similar products. There’s more financial incentive than ever for officials to look the other way.

      And never forget that pocketing the cash may be the safest thing for them to do. People who traffick weapons/drugs/humans aren’t amused by customs officials who don’t see things their way.

  4. It’s true though, that we need solid data. Most people who are screaming about stopping trafficking in their country have no idea if there is any. Also, qv “rescue industry”.

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