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You can help stop human trafficking with the TraffickCam app

TechCrunch TechCrunch 25/06/2016 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.

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