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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 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]."