Facebook and the New York Attorney General have formed a prolific crime-fighting partnership. The two have teamed up to find missing children and curb illegal gun sales. Now the Batman and Robin of Gotham justice are working on a new plan to battle online sex trafficking.
The latest partnership hopes to use Facebook's mountains of user and ad data to identify human traffickers and child victims of sex trafficking.
Facebook has never been a company to shy away from police assistance. What you do on Facebook can be criminal, and Facebook has been willing to hand user data over to police (though not as willing to give it to criminal defendants). As for the latest initiative, Facebook's director of state public policy Will Castleberry said the social media company "is pleased to be working with Attorney General [Eric T.] Schneiderman on his efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking."
According to the Attorney General's press release, that work will "leverage technology to identify victims of sex trafficking in online advertisements for commercial sex, and pursue the traffickers that engage in this practice of modern day slavery. The initiative will focus, in particular, on identifying child victims of sex trafficking, including those who are reported as missing."
Specifically, Facebook will "develop algorithms that will identify evidence of trafficking in these online advertisements, including pattern analysis of ad language, phone numbers, images, and other data, as well as identification of missing children who appear in advertisements for commercial sex."
The Human Toll of Trafficking
The use of Facebook's data and analytical methods to crack down on human trafficking is welcome news to law enforcement and human rights advocates. Though most people may associate human trafficking with movies and crime dramas, illegal sex trafficking is all too real, even in America's suburbs. And child sex trafficking is especially damaging.
Privacy advocates may worry about its methods, but if Facebook's latest crime-fighting efforts can be as effective as its last, we'll all be better off for it.