HuffPost Live: fighting human trafficking through better data analysis

Human trafficking is a global problem involving the deception, enslavement, labor and sexual exploitation of vulnerable people. While human traffickers are avid users of technologies like social networking sites to find and target victims, technology is also playing an important role in enabling anti-trafficking organizations to combat the problem. The fight against human trafficking is one of the current priorities of Palantir’s Philanthropic Engineering Team, a team dedicated to solving important problems that face our world through donations of our technology and expertise. On 10 July, our Philanthropy Engineering lead, Jason Payne, participated in a Huffington Post webcast on how technology is being used to combat human trafficking. The webcast featured a panel made up of experts from Palantir, Google, Polaris Project, and CNN.

Anti-human trafficking organizations currently use our software to address the problem in two ways: to respond to victims’ needs in real time, and to analyze the aggregated incident data to understand the reach of trafficking networks. Victims of human trafficking call into hotlines created to help them escape from slavery. Closely watched and controlled, these victims often only have minutes while hiding from their minders to contact the organizations set up to help them. Using our analytical software platform, the anti-human trafficking non-profit organizations Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International can cull data from reported trafficking events, search for nearby service providers, and quickly identify the best way to help based on the caller’s local region—all while the caller is still on the line. These organizations can also map patterns from the aggregated data to reveal trends. For example, analysts can see exactly how trafficking incidents shift with the seasons. Insights like this are exactly what law enforcement officials and policymakers need to address the systemic issues involved in human trafficking.

One of our partners in this effort, Google Giving, donated $3 million dollars to Polaris, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International so that they can expand and develop their existing human trafficking hotline efforts. As Google’s Jacqueline Fuller said about their motivation, “Traffickers are very good at using technology to enslave women and to traffic children, but we need to empower the good guys on the front lines to do the same.”

As with every Palantir project, privacy and civil liberties protections are never just an afterthought. Jason stressed the importance of these protections during the webcast. “We’ve worked very closely with Polaris (as well as the other organizations in this alliance we’re building) to do Privacy Impact Assessments to ensure that if and when data is shared between organizations… that the privacy and civil liberties of these individuals are protected.”

Understanding, tackling and preventing human trafficking requires a global understanding of the problem, the victims, and the traffickers. “We know that trafficking victims are children and adults, men and women. When we think about human trafficking we need to think about everything—including supply chains,” added Margaret Howard, a trafficking survivor herself. In order to get at the whole picture, our technology provides more than just visualizations of the data flowing in from hotlines. Our platform seamlessly fuses all of the data surrounding the problem, while at the same time providing robust, fine-grained access controls to ensure privacy when sharing. While human traffickers increasingly utilize technology to recruit and enslave their victims, we and our partners can leverage technology and data to fight back and make a difference in defeating them.

If you missed it, the webcast can be found here: HuffPost Live: Tech and Human Trafficking.

For more information about human trafficking in the US, to report a tip, or to get help, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).