Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

AI and Blockchain Team Up to Track Down Sex Traffickers

Bitcoin saw massive growth due to its popularity among criminals. However, the technology that makes it possible could be what drives criminals away from the cryptocurrency, thanks to artificial intelligence.

Blockchain is the public, decentralized, distributed transaction ledger that is used to monitor Bitcoin transactions. And while the blocks on the ledger chain don't contain personally identifying information, it's still possible to identify who made specific transactions given a little bit of additional information. And thanks to the digital revolution forcing the sex trafficking industry to adapt to the times, researchers have learned how to find and use that little bit of additional information to stop sex traffickers on some of the largest online platforms.

Let AI Do the Gross Stuff

Luckily for law enforcement and sex trafficking victims, a UC Berkeley doctoral student has developed an AI program that uses machine learning to detect which online sex trafficking ads were written by the same author, and then a second program uses the Blockchain to determine which blocks are associated to each of the illegal ads. Basically, the big sex traffickers will have multiple ads for multiple victims.

The AI component of reviewing the illegal ads is rather important as there are so many ads on some sites that it would require massive teams to actually review all the ads in a timely fashion. Also, some ads are rather disturbing and can cause even the most callous individuals to suffer traumatic experiences. Thankfully, until Skynet is sentient, the AI probably won't mind seeing all the gross ads.

Blockchain to Change the Game

So far this technology has been successfully deployed on Backpage.com, a site that is notorious for hosting sex trafficking ads. The site's reputation for sex trafficking was so bad that credit card companies stopped processing their payments in 2015, which left Bitcoin as the only option for advertisers to pay for their ads. Even after Backpage shut down the section of the site that hosted those ads, the sex traffickers just started posting their ads in other sections of the site.

However, using the time stamp for the ad, combined with the cost of the ad (which is easily discernible), the another program can match up the ad with Bitcoin block on the Blockchain that was used to pay for the ad. From there, the individual paying for the ad can be identified via various means (which has left many Bitcoin users wondering about how well the cryptocurrency can actually protect their anonymity).

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