An app for stopping crime – TraffickCam An app for stopping crime – TraffickCam

We start to get used to that there are apps existing literally for everything. There are apps to do sports, to loose weight, for messaging your friends, for taking, editing and sharing photos. They are all undoubtedly useful, but you might didn’t know that some developers aimed for an even higher goal: to help the society work better by reducing the amount of crime. TraffickCam is a freshly launched smartphone app that invites its users to help the work of the police. Here it is how.
Sex trafficking unfortunately is a booming industry. Adult women are the most common victims but many children as well. The criminals force their victims to do sex work, like prostitution – of course without their own will. The problem cannot be stopped within national borders as trafficking is a cross-border phenomenon – it requires international cooperation. For those who think that it is the job of the authorities to deal with crime and there is nothing we, uninitiated people can do, here is the news: you are wrong.

TraffickCam provides a super easy way to give at least a little assistance to the police in finding the criminals. Sex traffickers in many cases take and post photos online of their victims – they use it as kind of an advertisement. And here is the thing: these photos are usually taken in hotel rooms which means they give a clue for investigators. The only difficulty is to find out which hotel is that and where it is. That’s where the role of TraffickCam users come. The app invites people to take photos of their hotel rooms when they travel somewhere thus investigators gain a bigger and bigger database of potential crime scenes. These pictures can be used as evidences in finding the traffickers. Yes, this is how easy you can assist. You don’t believe that your one photo can count? Well, just remember that many small acts can make up for a huge help.

Inside the Research: Developing TraffickCam

Using the potential of smartphones in crime situations started already years ago. Still, TraffickCam is unique in its genre as all other applications are mostly launched by local police departments – like Palo Alto Police Department – and work only on a very narrow local level and to announce a crime. Though it is true they also allow users to take photos, videos, or voice records as an evidence and there are examples on non-local ones as well – like Community Against Crime. But these applications are more for the case when a crime is happening in the moment and not for supporting a bigger investigation in long term. In London, there was a bit similar initiative, called Facewatch ID in 2012 which invited locals to help trace London riot suspects. But again: it worked only in a city, and not on a national, or what would be even better: on a global level.

TraffickCam invites you to assist investigation through a very simple act: just take four photos of the room you are staying at. Moreover, it is free to use. And you can never know when your photos will be the ones that make possible to arrest a suspect. The idea is very smart as the app provides an uncountable amount of civil investigators for the authorities. The only weakness of the app is that it operates only at a national level – only in the USA. And this is actually a relatively big defect because as we mentioned earlier, sex trafficking is a cross-border problem, it does not stay inside of one country.

Nevertheless, the initiative is clever and shows the way for development. If more and more countries would make an effort to use technology this way – instead of concentrating on the (financially) more profitable entertaining media – then it would be possible to build up a cross-country cooperation to fight off crime.


PBS NOVA: How Artificial Intelligence Can Stop Sex Trafficking

PBS NOVA: How Artificial Intelligence Can Stop Sex Trafficking

Tracking Down Traffickers
For Matt Osborne, finding exploited children typically starts with a walk on the beach, and it ends with hands cuffed behind his back. It’s almost always the same—Osborne and a few friends travel somewhere that’s known for sex tourism and walk along the beach or hang in area nightclubs, not to look for girls but to be seen themselves. A group of white American men is easy to spot in heavily-touristed resort towns in Asia, Central America, and South America, so it doesn’t take long to make a connection.

“They approach us,” Osborne says. “At first, everything is innocuous. Want to go jet ski or parasailing? Buy a margarita or beer? They offer us drugs, and the conversation always turns to girls. And if you let them talk long enough and say, ‘What else do you have? What else do you have?’ Then sooner or later, they always offer us young girls.”

For Osborne, that’s where the real work begins. A former CIA analyst, Osborne is senior vice president for rescue and rehabilitation at Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a California-based nonprofit that extracts children from sex trafficking rings across the globe. Working undercover with local law enforcement officials, Osborne’s team makes contact with a pimp and arranges to have kids, usually girls, brought to a party packed with male operatives posing as wealthy American buyers and middlemen while female operatives pose as their girlfriends. Traffickers and victims are searched for weapons upon arrival and “girlfriends” take the kids to a back room under the pretense of dressing them in lingerie for the party, though the costume change never actually happens. Meanwhile, a few male operatives finish the financial transaction, with Osborne’s team secretly recording the entire process.

Once the right evidence is gathered, Osborne gives the signal, local cops rush in, and everyone, operatives and victims included, is handcuffed and taken away. After questioning, victims are released to their parents or family, if that’s a safe option. If it’s not, they go to pre-vetted shelters where they receive food, medical treatment, and psychological counseling, sometimes on OUR’s dime, while Osborne’s team quietly slips out of the country. Local authorities often take sole credit for the bust. Osborne’s team regroups to do it all again somewhere else.

“It is the most gut-wrenching thing to have to look into these girls’ eyes and have to pretend that I’m sizing them up,” Osborne says. “I see in their eyes, the eyes of my 14 year-old and my 11 year-old. We’ve rescued girls younger than that.”

Since OUR’s launch in late 2013, the nonprofit says it has assisted in rescue operations for 571 victims (180 of whom were minors) in 12 countries and assisted in arrests for 250 suspected traffickers. The organization only extracts when invited to do so by local governments and works with local prosecutors, law enforcement, and the U.S. embassy for months before an operation to carefully choreograph how a bust will go down and what evidence is required for conviction. Sometimes aiding a trafficking case means posing as buyers. Other times it means providing financial, technological, or training resources in cash-strapped countries where neither is accessible.

“It’s very, very difficult a lot of times to gain convictions because each country’s trafficking laws are different,” Osborne says, though he adds that having a trafficking transaction captured in high-definition audio and video can significantly help prosecutors. “Some countries don’t even know what their trafficking laws are because they’ve never pursued these types of cases.”

OUR and an increasing number of researchers across the U.S. are building technologies to improve capture and conviction rates and help law enforcement go after trafficking kingpins. Working in partnership with the cybercrime analytics company Delitor, Inc., OUR is developing proprietary software to track trafficker travel routes and help law enforcement determine if an escort ad was posted by an organized trafficking ring.
ID Via Machine Learning
Following a trafficker’s online footprints is tough, says Wade Shen, a program manager for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in part because traffickers are good at evading commercial web indexing bots that search engines like Google use to catalogue the web. Traffickers post escort ads on both sites that are low-priority for indexing bots and on anonymous “deep web” sites that aren’t indexed by bots at all. Ads are often altered or removed after ten to 15 minutes, contact information changes frequently, and posts use a variety of non-standard writing formats to make them less searchable.

Shen is part of a multi-million dollar effort to develop better ways of mining the web to track illegal activity. Starting work in 2015, DARPA’s Memex program is a partnership of 17 contracting teams building tools that can collect content ignored by or unavailable to commercial search engines, analyze that content for hidden patterns, and build models to predict behavior. Focusing on trafficking for its first year, Memex has debuted 50 software programs and tools aimed at enhancing online search capabilities, some of which law enforcement officials are currently using to find leads and build cases against traffickers. Memex has also analyzed more than 100 million escort ads and uncovered new indicators that can help agents separate organized trafficking rings from adult prostitutes working solo. One of those indicators is price data, Shen says, a factor enforcement agents historically haven’t used to build cases.

If the prices listed in an ad increase or decrease depending how safe or physically dangerous the advertised sex acts or situation is, “then it’s much more likely that they are an independent contractor,” Shen says, adding that traffickers who aren’t personally taking on risks like catching a sexually-transmitted disease through unprotected sex tend to use less variable pricing structures. When combined with other information, such as the number of ads uploaded by a single person and the number of escorts represented in the same ad, “you can actually start to model behavior of rings of human traffickers.”

Identifying pimps is a small piece of the problem. Gathering enough evidence to prove sex trafficking and get a conviction is often a much bigger obstacle. The United Nations’ International Labour Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are victims of forced sexual exploitation. In the US, nearly 2,700 sex trafficking cases have been reported in the first half of 2016—roughly 15 cases every day—according to statistics gathered by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. If the second half of the year is comparable, 2016 will see a nearly 30% increase in cases over the previous year. Prosecuting those cases is difficult in the U.S. and almost impossible in other countries. A 2014 report by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime collected data from 128 countries and found that while more than 90% of reporting nations criminalized human trafficking (including labor trafficking), 40% reported less than 10 convictions per year. Nineteen countries did not have any convictions between 2010 and 2012.
Vital Tools
Tim Hoppock, a detective with the Austin Police Department in Texas, has worked in the Human Trafficking and Vice Unit for three years. The department makes roughly one arrest per month but Hoppock says that getting convictions is often a challenge. To get a first-degree felony conviction, which comes with sentences of up to life in prison along with a lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender, Texas requires prosecutors to prove that a victim is either under age 18 or is an adult that has been continuously trafficked for at least 30 days and engaged in forced labor or sex at least twice in that period. It can take months of gathering evidence and corroborating victims’ stories to prove uninterrupted trafficking over that time, and once evidence is assembled, cases can potentially get derailed or dropped if victims leave town, won’t testify, or are unreliable on the stand. Charges can also be pled down and sentences negotiated, Hoppock says, meaning that traffickers may be tried for a second-degree felony even though they were picked up for a first-degree crime.

“These cases are difficult from start to finish,” Hoppock says. “Even the prosecutors aren’t very comfortable with our cases because they’re so few and far between.”

Human trafficking cases can live or die based on how quickly detectives gather evidence. Several emerging technologies aim to speed up that process, including Traffic Jam, a software program launched in 2013 that combs through escort ads and uses machine learning to find patterns that can connect ads across multiple geographic locations to the same organization or pimp. In addition to tracking standard search metrics like contact information and search terms in escort descriptions, Traffic Jam can also identify similar photos that appear across different ads as well as stylistic markers like spelling errors and writing patterns that often follow an ad writer wherever they post. Instead of manually finding a few ads, waiting for a subpoena, then going back for more, Hoppock says that Traffic Jam fast-tracks the process by pulling a more comprehensive list of ads from across the country, including ones he wouldn’t immediately recognize as having a shared author.

“If I punch in a phone number into Traffic Jam and it gives me one ad with that number but it links to 50 ads on a different phone number that I previously didn’t know about, that can help me identify new victims,” he says. “It can definitely help me corroborate a victim’s story about where they’ve been and for how long.”

Marinus Analytics, the company that makes Traffic Jam, reports that the program is used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada, and has aided in rescue operations for at least 300 victims. They’re not the only player in the field. In the past two years, several programs aimed at mining escort ads have emerged including Spotlight—produced by the Ashton Kutcher/Demi Moore-founded nonprofit, Thorn—and DIG, an open source Memex-backed project that catalogues about 5,000 webpages every hour and transforms that content into a searchable database of escort ads.

Ad-mining algorithms require data and lots of it. To train machines to identify information across varying formats—to understand, for instance, that an “eight” in a phone number could also be written as “8” or “e1ght”—researchers need thousands of examples of different ways each piece of information could be written. To get enough training data, DIG uses Amazon Mechanical Turk to recruit people to read escort ads and highlight key information like eye color, hair color, and the working name of people featured in escort ads.

Since trafficker ads already use a variety of writing formats and are designed to evade search methods, getting clean data is the project’s biggest obstacle, says Pedro Szekely, the University of Southern California computer scientist who co-founded DIG. “We’re dealing with data where people are actively lying to go undetected, where people are doing a lot of spam,” Szekely says. “Just teasing out what is real data and what is bad data is already a big challenge.”
Data Hidden in Photos
Mining ads isn’t the only way that computer scientists are tackling traffickers. Released last year, Microsoft’s free PhotoDNA tool goes through pictures uploaded to social media and photo-sharing services, and identifies images depicting sexual abuse. Using a process called hash-matching—which involves dividing images into a grid and assigning numerical “hash” values for individual pieces—PhotoDNA compares the hash set of the pulled image from hash sets derived from a series of known illegal images provided by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. Taking a completely different approach, TraffickCam, a program created last year, is building a crowdsourced database of hotel room images law enforcement officials can use to determine where photos from escort ads were taken, and how traffickers are moving victims. Anyone can download TraffickCam’s smartphone app and upload interior photos of hotel rooms to the program’s collection of 1.5 million images.

At Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Biometrics Center, director Marios Savvides is focused on victim identification, a problem that’s particularly tough when victims are young.

“If a baby is abducted, for example at the age of two or three, at the age of five or six, even their parents won’t be able to identify them facially,” Savvides says. “How do you identify those victims?”

Children’s faces change as they grow up, but their eyes, specifically their irises, generally don’t. Savvides has developed a long-range iris scanner that captures data from up to 40 feet away. Originally designed to help soldiers ID people in combat zones, Savvides hopes to one day apply the technology to trafficking cases, potentially by allowing law enforcement to install scanners at major transit hubs to identify victims from a distance. Successful iris identification requires cops to have a picture of the victim’s iris. Instead of waiting for tragedy to strike, Savvides is modifying smartphone cameras to enable them to capture high-resolution iris photos. An accompanying app would allow parents to upload photos of their children’s eyes in case law enforcement needs them now or later.
A Never Ending Battle
Regardless of how good new trafficking programs and technologies get, there are obstacles to putting them into widespread use, says Wade Shen from DARPA Memex.

“Somebody has to actually invest in the maintenance and upkeep of collection platforms and tools,” he says. “Software we think of as a living thing, and if people aren’t updating it and maintaining it and keeping it running on platforms, it will eventually die.”

Shen doesn’t believe that new technologies will end trafficking entirely, but they are a step in that direction.

“It will of course change the tactics traffickers use, but that’s a good thing,” he says. “We want to raise their costs.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Futurity: Upload hotel photos to help fight sex trafficking

Futurity: Upload hotel photos to help fight sex trafficking

During the past decade, law enforcement agencies across the country have confronted the alarming trend of sex trafficking. The crimes often take place in hotel rooms, with perpetrators widely sharing photos of the victims online.

Researchers are using science to fight back, developing a high-tech approach to combat the sex trafficking trade.

With a nonprofit organization called the Exchange Initiative, researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Engineering & Applied Science have designed a new, web-based application that helps fight sex trafficking by targeting the places where the crimes usually occur.

“My lab works to create new ways of understanding and using images collected by webcams and smartphones,” says Robert Pless, professor of computer science and engineering. “Sex trafficking criminals take advantage of new technologies, especially image-sharing to advertise and coordinate illegal acts.

“In this project, we are working to build new technologies tools to fight sex trafficking—first, by making tools so everyone can contribute data to fight these horrible crimes; and second, by creating new image-analysis tools so law enforcement can best use these images in investigations.”

Citizen crime-fighting
The app, called TraffickCam, allows travelers to upload images of their hotel rooms to a database. Law enforcement officers can search the database to pinpoint where a particular photo was taken, in order to track down where a victim has been. Developed by Pless and research associate/doctoral candidate Abby Stylianou to maximize the accuracy and usefulness of the imagery, TraffickCam is a user-friendly, high-tech approach that allows citizens to fight one of the fastest-growing and most heinous crimes in our country today.

“This is an issue that people care about and feel kind of helpless, that there’s nothing that they can do,” Stylianou says. “It’s been really, really nice for us to provide this sense of empowerment. Just by taking four pictures of your hotel room, you can do something to legitimately make a difference in such an important issue.”

TraffickCam is simple to download and use, and is available on both iPhones and Androids. Once installed, it allows travelers to easily take photos of their hotel rooms, provide an exact location, then upload the photos to the database, which is only accessible by law enforcement officers.

An unsolved crime

Stylianou and Pless first combined crime-fighting and computer engineering back in 2013. St. Louis-area investigators who had hoped to exhume an unidentified child murder victim for further testing realized the girl’s grave had been mismarked some 30 years prior.

“They wanted to exhume her to do modern forensic analysis to try to figure out who she was, where she came from, but they couldn’t find her grave,” Stylianou says. “We were able to ultimately identify the location of her gravesite using computer vision techniques.”

After assisting on that case, Stylianou was invited to attend the FBI Citizen’s Academy, where she first learned about the epidemic of sex trafficking.

“The same week we discussed sex trafficking in the academy, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story about an idea generated by a local group called the Exchange Initiative to create an application,” she says. “The thought was to take pictures of hotel rooms that law enforcement could then search through, to figure out where victims of sex trafficking were being photographed.

“That’s actually how we got involved in building TraffickCam,” Stylianou says.

1.5 million photos

Since its launch earlier this summer, the app has been downloaded 100,000 times and has amassed 1.5 million photos of hotel rooms around the world. Pless and Stylianou are now working with the St. Louis County Police Department to bring them up to speed with TraffickCam’s search engine.

It’s hoped that other law enforcement agencies will soon follow, so the app can start making a dent in the sex trafficking trade in St. Louis and beyond. And as the app continues to grow, the researchers say the innovations at the intersection of engineering and social justice will do the same.

“A lot of people have a vision of computer science as a bunch of people typing on computers and just trying to make better databases,” Pless says. “What excites me about computer science—and computer vision in particular—is that it’s actually trying to interact with the real world, and therefore solve a lot of real-world problems.”

Washington Post: An incredibly simple way your phone may help save sex trafficked children

Washington Post: An incredibly simple way your phone may help save sex trafficked children

by Colby Itkowitz

Human traffickers commonly advertise children for sex using explicit pictures taken from inside hotel rooms. These photos are easy to find on the Internet. The challenge for law enforcement is figuring out where the photos were taken.

That’s where the general public may now be able to help by taking pictures of their hotel rooms when traveling.

The concept is simple. A hotel guest takes photos of the room from as many as four different angles and uploads them through an app. The photos, tagged with their specific location, are then added to a massive database of rooms that law enforcement can compare against photos they find on the Internet of children.

Developed by researchers at Washington University in conjunction with the Exchange Initiative, a nonprofit working on solutions for ending sex trafficking, the TraffickCam app aims to help police narrow down a list of possible locations where the trafficker took the photo of a child being sold for sex. Then, the police can upload that photo to the app and compare it against the photos uploaded by the traveling public.

“For the first time anyone can help make a difference,” said Molly Hackett, principal of the Exchange Initiative. “We’re looking for millions of photos. I’m not sure if there’s anything else out there that anyone can do to help.”

The app launched June 20 and already has been downloaded more than 56,000 times. Hackett estimated it’s getting around 1,700 new photos a day from hotel-goers.

Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA, the American offshoot of an international nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual exploitation of children, said kids are often bought and sold in hotel rooms from high-end to budget motels.

“The takeaway is that it’s a phenomenon in the United States, and most people don’t think that’s true. They think it’s happening somewhere else,” she said. “The whole industry is off the streets, so those transactions have to happen someplace. Very frequently it’s in a hotel room.”

She said the TraffickCam app, which is available for iOS and Android, isn’t going to solve the problem, but it’s one more tool that could help.

There’s dispute over how many children are sex trafficked in America, but Sgt. Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police said anecdotally he’s seen the numbers increase over the past 15 years. The Internet has made it easier for traffickers to recruit people who want to sexually exploit minors, he said.

Kavanaugh is testing the TraffickCam app from the law enforcement side to see how well photos he uploads match to the database. So far it has had 85 percent accuracy rate in the first 20 photos matched, Hackett said.
The app should be fully operational for police to start by the end of the month.

Kavanaugh is optimistic that the app will work as intended. But he also thinks involving the general public in the process will be beneficial for generally raising awareness. Much as public perception of domestic violence has shifted away from blaming the woman for not leaving to understanding that she is a victim of a serious crime, he said he hopes the same will be true for perceptions of child sex trafficking, or what is often called modern-day slavery.

In the past, minors who have been paid for sex often have been treated as criminals instead of victims.

“When we started this work they were all seen as bad kids who behaved badly. There has been a shift afoot,” Smolenski said. “A 14-year-old in prostitution is not a bad kid, they’ve had a really hard knock at life. They’re really being exploited by someone who has power and money.”

Washington Post © July 2016

Tech Crunch: You can help stop human trafficking with the TraffickCam app

Tech Crunch: You can help stop human trafficking with the TraffickCam app

By Haje Jan Kamps

In a world where the phrase “oh god, not another app” often springs to mind, along with “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you want to make a world a better place” TraffickCam is a blast of icy-fresh air.

TraffickCam is an app developed by the Exchange Initiative, an organization fighting back against sex trafficking.

Most victims are recruited between the ages 12-14
The goal of the new app is to build a national database of photos of the insides of hotel rooms to help law enforcement match images posted by sex traffickers to locations, in an effort to map out the routes and methods used by traffickers. The app will also be useful to help locate victims — and the people who put them in their predicament.

Available for both iOS and Android, the app is unlikely to win any design awards, but that isn’t the point; the app makers are solving a tremendous problem and any tools available to help resolve some of this will be welcomed with open arms by the organizations fighting the good fight.

Picking a fight with sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that forces children and adults to engage in sexual acts, for money, against their will. Which is bad enough in itself, but UNICEF points out that the problem is much bigger than you might think; at least 300,000 American children, and more than 1.2m children worldwide are trafficked each years. And when we say children, that’s where the horror deepens: most victims are recruited between the ages 12-14.

The app, then, is a crowd-sourced data gathering tool which can be used to match known locations to photos confiscated from or shared by the perpetrators. Features such as patterns in the carpeting, furniture, room accessories and window views can be analyzed, and according to the app’s creators, testing shows that the app is 85 percent accurate in identifying the correct hotel in the top 20 matches.

145,000 hotel rooms so far

“Law enforcement is always looking for new and innovative ways to recover victims, locate suspects and investigate criminal activity,” said Sergeant Adam Kavanagh, St. Louis County Police Department and Supervisor of the St. Louis County Multi-Jurisdictional Human Trafficking Task Force.

Today, the organization’s database contains 1.5 million photos from more than 145,000 hotels in every major metropolitan area of the U.S., a combination of photos taken by early users of the TraffickCam smartphone app and from publicly available sources of hotel room images.

You can help

Personally, I think this is a great opportunity for the travel industry and the accompanying startup ecosystem to work together to help. Room 77, for example, are building a huge VR library of hotel room images, and companies like Travelocity, Hotel Tonight, Foursquare and Tripadvisor could easily leverage their app install base to encourage its customers to take photos of rooms as they check in. Come on, guys, let’s put that big data treasure trove to good use.

The idea for the app came up when the organization found an image of a motel room, knew what city it was taken in, but had no way of knowing which motel the photo was taken in.

“We connected the vice squad with our associates in that city, but it took three days to find the girl,” said Molly Hackett at the Exchange Initiative. “That seemed way too long, given today’s technology.”

So, if you do a lot of traveling, install the app and. You can help make the world a better place, one potential crime scene at the time.

techcrunch © June 2016

Fast Company: You’ve Been Deputized: Help The Police Nab Sex Traffickers

Fast Company: You’ve Been Deputized: Help The Police Nab Sex Traffickers

By Ben Paynter

The problem with Internet-based sex trafficking is that police can often see their victims being advertised but not actually locate them in the real world. Instead, they’re left with an image of person trapped in some anonymous hotel room. The result is both devastating and incredibly hard to track.

TraffickCam, a free mobile app to fight sex trafficking, aims to nab more flesh peddlers and free captives by enlisting the public to make those hotel rooms more recognizable. Travelers just have to download the app and take a few pictures of where they’re staying after they check in—ideally when the room isn’t cluttered by luggage. Those shots are then geotagged and uploaded to a national visual database that logs things such as carpet patterns, furniture, decor, and what’s outside the windows. When the next prostitution ad goes live, police can immediately cross-check it for matches, giving them clues about victims’ locations.

UNICEF estimates 1.5 million people are being trafficked for either sex or labor in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia, but finding those people and stopping those crimes has proven difficult. That’s where TraffickCam could help: A 2015 International Labour Organization report notes that authorities could identify only about 8,500 victims in the entire western hemisphere. Out of 944 prosecutions, roughly half ended in conviction.

The system was developed through a partnership between Exchange Initiative, the social justice arm of Nix Conference & Meeting Management, a national trade show and conference planning group, and researchers at Washington University’s Media and Machines Lab. Its current database has 1.5 million pictures from 145,000 hotels representing every major metro and an 85% accuracy rate for returning the correct match within the first 20 search results. That should improve as more people share photos, which don’t include your personal data.

Why not just ask hotels to submit their own photos? First off, the less reputable ones likely wouldn’t contribute. Second, the database’s algorithm matches for a much larger variety of data points than a manager shooting essentially uniform stock images could provide. The key is to capture the variety of subtle changes that can occur at different day times, light settings, or with various window shade configurations among other things.

Molly Hackett, the principal of Exchange Initiative and Nix, says her group realized the need for such a clearinghouse after receiving calls from law enforcement officers asking for help identifying where some people were being held. (They also lobby against sex trafficking by asking hotel managers to sign a Meeting Planners Code of Conduct recognized by ECPAT-USA, a group against the sexual exploitation of children.) “It was kind of a shot in the dark,” she says. “As an investigator, you don’t tend to stay in hotel rooms in your own city.” That disconnect costs investigators precious time. But the right search engine could solve a case in milliseconds. The police access side of the portal is currently being tested in St. Louis County, Missouri. It’s expected to roll out nationally in September.

Fast Company © June 2016

India Today: With TraffickCam, fight against trafficking could become easier.

India Today: With TraffickCam, fight against trafficking could become easier.

By Hemul Goel

A vacation often leaves our phones full of pictures that have no meaning besides clogging our phone’s already-full memory. However, with TraffickCam, the pictures of your hotel room might be able to help save the life of a victim of sex trafficking.

With traffickers posting pictures of their victims in hotel rooms for online advertisements, TraffickCam helps law enforcement track the identity of the hotel the picture has been posted from. All you have to do is download the app–available for iPhone, iPad and Android–and upload four pictures of your hotel room and its number.

The internet has only made sex trafficking easier, however, if the police can identify the site of the victim’s exploitation, the possibility of a trafficker being caught increases manifold.
According to the description of the app on iTunes, “The purpose of TraffickCam is to create a database of hotel room images that an investigator can efficiently search, in order to find other images that were taken in the same location as an image that is part of an investigation.”
The app has already acquired over 1.5 million photos of hotels from around the world. © June 2016

Huffington Post: You Could Help Save A Trafficking Victim’s Life With Your Hotel Room Pic

Huffington Post: You Could Help Save A Trafficking Victim’s Life With Your Hotel Room Pic

Just snapping a photo of your hotel room the next time you go on vacation could help save a trafficking victim.

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime, and victims who are exploited for sex aren’t just getting victimized in unsuspecting homes and closed off backrooms.


Hotels are optimal spots for traffickers to exploit their victims because they can pay for the rooms in cash and change locations on a nightly basis without being detected.

From 2007 to last year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Polaris’s BeFree texting helpline received 1,434 reports of human trafficking in hotels and motels.

That’s why TraffickCam, a new app, is urging vacationers to upload pictures of their hotel rooms. The goal is to create a database of hotel rooms to match up against photos that pimps post online.

Traffickers often upload photos of their victims in hotel rooms as a form of advertisement, assuming authorities will be unlikely to identify where the picture was taken. TraffickCam hopes to change that.

Patterns in the carpeting, furniture, room accessories and window views are matched up against the database of photos submitted by travelers in order to provide law enforcement with a list of potential hotels where the image could’ve been taken, according to a company press release. Early testing showed that the app is 85 percent accurate in identifying hotels

Developed last year by social action organization Exchange Initiative and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the database already has 1.5 million photos from more than 145,000 hotels in every major metropolitan area of the U.S.

Molly Hackett, principal of the Exchange Initiative and Nix – a group that combats the exploitation of children — said there was one case in particular, which inspired her to move forward with the app.

The groups were working with law enforcement to identify a hotel room where a child was photographed and being trafficked.

“Our pivotal moment for developing the app came when we couldn’t identify a motel room. We connected the vice squad with our associates in that city, but it took three days to find the girl,” Hackett said in a statement. “That seemed way too long, given today’s technology.”

TraffickCam is continuing to work on expanding its database and is collecting donations in order to do so. Learn more about the app and what you can do here.

Need help? In the U.S., contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center(NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888.

Huffington Post © June 2016

LIP TV 2: TraffickCam App Takes on Human Trafficking

LIP TV 2: TraffickCam App Takes on Human Trafficking

A new app named TraffickCam is attempting to fight human trafficking with crowdsourced photos of hotel rooms. TraffickCam asks its users to take four photos of the insides of hotel rooms they’re staying in. The goal is to create a national database that will help authorities to identify where images posted online by sex traffickers were taken. We look at the effort to combat human trafficking on the Lip News with Jo Ankier, Elliot Hill and Mark Sovel.

KMOV-TV St. Louis: New app aims to stop human trafficking

KMOV-TV St. Louis: New app aims to stop human trafficking

By Rachel Sudduth

Local creators are working towards a way to stop sex trafficking, with a new app called Traffick Cam.

Creators of the app say local residents have the opportunity to help stop sex traffickers.

Molly Hackett, one of the creators, a conference planner out of Maplewood, says she got the idea for the app because her job position allows her to work in various hotel rooms.

Traffick Cam allows app users to upload photos of hotel rooms that may have been used in trafficking cases. It’s an easier way for law enforcement to identify suspects and hopefully lead to an arrest.

“It feels like a great opportunity for people not only to feel like they’re involved with it, but to be involved and to continue a conversation with sex trafficking across the country,” said Hackett.

The app is set to be available by September.

KMOV-TV © June 2016