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What is the Role of Technology in Human Trafficking?

December 7, 2011

Networked technologies – including the internet, mobile phones, and social media – alter how information flows and how people communicate. There is little doubt that technology is increasingly playing a role in the practices and processes surrounding human trafficking: the illegal trade of people for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of modern-day slavery. Yet, little is known about costs and benefits of technology’s role. We do not know if there are more human trafficking victims as a result of technology, nor do we know if law enforcement can identify perpetrators better as a result of the traces that they leave. One thing that we do know is that technology makes many aspects of human trafficking more visible and more traceable, for better and for worse. Focusing on whether technology is good or bad misses the point; it is here to stay and it is imperative that we understand the role that it is playing. More importantly, we need to develop innovative ways of using technology to address the horrors of human trafficking.

To date, as researchers at USC have highlighted, there is little empirical research into the role that technology plays in human trafficking, let alone the commercial sexual exploitation of children. As a result, new interventions and policies are being driven by intuition, speculation, and extrapolation from highly publicized incidents. There’s no doubt that all forms human trafficking and modern day slavery are horrible, but if we actually want to help those that are victimized, we need to recognize that this is a complex issue and work to understand how the puzzle pieces fits together. My team at Microsoft Research is trying to untangle technology’s role in different facets of the human trafficking ecosystem, fully recognizing how complicated and messy it is. This is why we need your help.

Thanks to the generous support of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Research, I’m proud to announce a pool of grant money for researchers who can help us understand critical elements of the puzzle. Please forward this far and wide because we’re hoping to find scholars with the skills, domain knowledge, and passion to really help us interrogate how technology is used in human trafficking. We need anthropologists, communications scholars, computer scientists, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, etc.

In order to help contextualize our RFP, we have prepared a framework document meant to map out one slice of the human trafficking ecosystem: “Human Trafficking and Technology: A framework for understanding the role of technology in the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S.” This document is meant to articulate some of the complex issues and hard questions that we face in trying to understand technology’s role in one aspect of human trafficking. If you’re interested in this space, please be critical and challenge our thinking.

We are also looking to identify scholars who are working in this space, including graduate students and postdocs and researchers whose work is not yet published. Even if you’re not looking for grant money, please drop us a line if you’re grappling with technology’s role in human trafficking.

On a more personal note, I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to work for an organization that is willing to sponsor this line of inquiry. It’s amazing to work with colleagues who are all deeply passionate about really understanding this horrible practice in order to do what’s right. We’re all deeply committed to the importance of research and grounding our decisions in research. And we’re all deeply grateful to all of those out there who are determined to end the violence and oppression that comes with commercial sexual exploitation and modern day slavery.

Thank you! And we look forward to hearing from you!

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Image Source: Brandon Christopher Warren, Flickr

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2011 12:56 pm

    Thank you so much for this article and information. The National Association of Human Trafficking Victim Advocates http://www.stopslavery2012.com will assemble a group to make a significant proposal for this RFP.

    We welcome anyone interested in helping us with our mission to call us today at 888-206-3264.

    peace,
    phil

    OUR MISSION:
    “Stir society’s conscience to ACTION against human trafficking and provide material support to first-responders, victim-advocates and survivors.”

  2. December 23, 2011 2:05 am

    Thank you so much for this article and the precious information. I am also a social networking professional from past few years and currently joined the fight against human trafficking by supporting a Technology Based Solution for Human Trafficking named as http://freedomnow.org/.

    In relation to internet and social networking, during my research i have found that the world has converged into a Social-Hide Park, where every one has got an access and the freedom to say about any thing. And when it is used for causes like human trafficking, it makes people aware of the greatest socioeconomic and multicultural threat to human race i.e. Human Trafficking aka Modern Day Slavery.

    As we see, the world has changed when the concept of Artificial intelligence has actually introduced in terms of personal computer aka smart machines, which are capable of performing thousands of task in just blink of an eye. And the internet made us connected to people around the world and learn from each other.

    But the next revolutionary change which is changing the world is the phenomena of “Emotional Intelligence”, and that’s all because of Social Networking Sites. Which has made us enable to reach to people’s emotions as well, so we can be able to feel the exact problem from a distance. And that’s how we are able to share it with others, talk it on different platforms etc.

    Social networking is the future and if we use is positively by using all our intentions to bring change, we really are capable of doing it. I can prove that!

  3. August 27, 2012 6:56 pm

    The idea of your blog is refreshingly fresh, I’m without doubt that the people who will find your blogs will appreciate your content and thoughts.

  4. November 17, 2012 5:55 am

    In so many ways, I am more angered by the so called generic
    spammer” than by the out and out spammer. Why? you ask, Because at least the spammer is more open and honest about their intentions!
    We can spot what they are doing. The so called
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