By: Jacqueline Collins
As the growing problem of child sex trafficking has gained more attention from law enforcement and researchers, scientists have begun using artificial intelligence in order to find children and young women who are victims of this illegal practice. United States researchers from Temple University, George Washington University and Adobe launched an application in 2016 that collected photographs of hotels that could be matched with photographs used in online advertisements created by sex traffickers. These photographs collected through the application are contained in a database, called Hotels-50K.
While the original application and database made up of the collected photographs is for law enforcement use and view only, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an additional application became open to the public and allows people from all over the world to download it and upload photographs of hotel rooms that they see in online sex trafficking advertisements. So far, over 50,000 hotels are contained within the database that has been collected from the use of this application, called TraffickCam. Out of the 50,000 hotels that are included in the database, 13,900 of them have corresponding photographs that came from people submitting them through the application. The artificial intelligence system uses algorithms in order to match up photographs found on websites like Expedia, with photographs that have been submitted by people trying to help fight sex trafficking.
While this is a significant step towards saving victims of sex trafficking, law enforcement agencies have admitted that it is uncertain if the database has directly saved anyone from the practice. With more people learning about the existence of the application, however, more people may become involved, increasing the number of hotels depicted on the database. One thing that was made clear by researchers and law enforcement is that they do not intend to use the information on this database in order to identify victims in the images. In fact, when they receive an image including a victim, the first thing that they do is delete the victim from the photograph, in order to protect the victim and reduce the likelihood that her picture will be sent back and forth online. Overall, although the direct results are unclear as to whether this database has saved any victims, researchers and law enforcement insist that there is a good-hearted motive behind it, and the goal is to save people who have fallen victim to sex trafficking.
Dan Robitzski, Scientists are using AI to Find Hotel Rooms Being used for Child Sex Trafficking, Futurism (Feb. 11, 2019), https://futurism.com/ai-identify-child-trafficking-hotel-rooms.
Donna Lu, AI has helped rescue children trafficked for sexual exploitation, NewScientist (Feb. 12, 2019), https://www.newscientist.com/article/2193727-ai-has-helped-rescue-children-trafficked-for-sexual-exploitation/.
Jason Fields, Scientists use AI to help children sold for sex in hotels, Reuters (Feb. 11, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trafficking-ai/scientists-use-ai-to-help-children-sold-for-sex-in-hotels-idUSKCN1Q018K.
Katyanna Quach, How AI can help halt human sex trafficking – by identifying victim’s hotel rooms from pics, The Register (Feb. 5, 2019), https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/02/05/ai_human_trafficking/.