Google's Plan To Fight Human Trafficking With Big Data

A collection of tech and data companies are working together to track, map, and fight the criminal underworld that ships people around the world.

Google announced this week that it’s giving a $3 million Global Impact Award (part of a series of grants given to nonprofits changing the world with technology) to help three anti-trafficking organizations—Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International—create a Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network. While these organizations operate effective trafficking hotlines across the world, they don’t share their information. That’s the kind of big-data problem that Google can help with.

Nine months ago, Google Ideas convened a summit on exposing, mapping, and disrupting illicit networks—the kind that organize human trafficking. This is a big problem that’s often hidden from public discourse; last year, over 20 million people were trafficked across the globe, generating over $32 billion in profits.

During the summit, participants realized that this large network of human trafficking is the one that ties all the others—organ harvesting, narco-trafficking, the illegal arms trade—together. In order to break up these illicit networks, advocates would have to find a way to deal with the trafficking problem.

"We brought together the best engineers in the world, and through that collaboration, those brainstorms came the idea that there are a lot of hotlines operating around the world in silos. There is a technical gap between all these different organizations," explains Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas. Google’s first step: mapping the ecosystem of organizations running hotlines and figuring out how to enable them to "do it more effectively and in a more data-oriented way."

The Polaris Project, which runs the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, already uses data from over 72,000 calls to keep track of trafficking trends in the U.S. As a result of the new partnership with Liberty Asia and La Strada International, these organizations will be able to track global trends as well.

Google will provide technical guidance for the Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, while Palantir Technologies (who we’ve seen using data to fight hunger and to help post-Sandy recovery) will donate an analytics platform, and Salesforce.com will help scale Polaris’s call-tracking infrastructure for international use. "This will help us identify who’s vulnerable and provide more effective services for them," says Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google Giving. "It will help us go beyond that to trace these transmission pathways, understand the choke points, and move into the position of preventing [trafficking]."

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  • normajeana

    Arial, you might want to mention that all the 'statistics' you cite above are 'guestimates' and not factual statistics. And of those 72,000 polaris project phone calls? Well, most of those were for information and not actual cases of human trafficking- and those are calls that they received over a period of a few years. In 2011, the number of calls that referenced potential human trafficking victims was 773. Not that there were 773 victims, but the calls they received REFERENCED a POTENTIAL victim.
    In 2011, there were a REPORTED (by the victim) 243,800  VIOLENT RAPES AND SEXUAL ASSAULTS. So when you tell people there were 72,000 calls most of which did not relate to a real human being victim over a period of several years, while there are at least a quarter million REAL victims of violent rape and sexual assault who ASKED FOR HELP but did not get it (cops managed to arrest a mere 14,943 rapists in 2011), you might want to tell THOSE victims why it is that the mostly non existent victims of 'sex trafficking' (adult prostitutes who choose this work are included in the 'estimates' of human trafficking victims) are MORE worthy of the time and attention and MONEY thrown at this hysteria (much like the hysteria a century ago about the 'social evil' of masturbation) than they are... You can find the stats of FBI data at policeprostitutionandpolitics.... as well as links to the real problems of violence that rape victims face while all you with a prostitution abolitionist agenda work yourselves up about how all us adult women who have chosen sex work to earn a living are all 'victims.' What an utterly patronizing, condescending  view of women you have.

    suchanlee- The 'greater good' would be to help REAL victims who have asked for help and leave consenting adults alone. Not one single victim of human trafficking is helped by arresting consenting adult sex workers or their non violent, non abusive clients, employers and associates.

  • suchanlee

    it is great to see tech companies use their technology for the greater good