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Anti-Human Trafficking Technology Done Right

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Human Trafficking App Analysis
Traffik Analysis Hub (TAHub)

At Zero Trafficking, we follow technology used to eradicate human trafficking and were intrigued with Corinne Redfern and Emily Ding’s article, “Anti-Human Trafficking Apps Were Meant To Save Lives. They’re Failing,” jointly published in partnership between WIRED and THE Fuller Project, Feb 16, 2021. Key takeaways include:

  • There are a growing number of anti-trafficking apps worldwide, yet most are struggling to get off the ground - and studies show hardly any benefit those who need help the most

  • Few apps factor the experiences of trafficking survivors into their development and design, despite evidence that that’s often what makes the difference between what works and what does not

  • The majority of the apps are designed to identify and rescue people who are being trafficked. But many experts believe crowdsourcing reports of exploitation is unhelpful and problematic

An analysis of nearly 100 anti-trafficking apps by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Tech Against Trafficking, “Leveraging Innovation To Fight Trafficking In Human Beings: A Comprehensive Analysis Of Technology Tools,” Vienna, May 2020, reveals additional problems such as duplication of efforts and an inefficient distribution of funds, as non-profit organizations and research teams develop tools without investing resources in building their user base, sharing expertise or prioritizing survivor experience.

The OSCE analysis conclusions show:

  • Technology can be beneficial to countering trafficking in human beings by assisting in their detection, apprehension and prosecution but can also be used by traffickers and others who profit from exploitation to further their illicit activities, e.g. to recruit or exert further control over victims, to promote deceptive recruitment practices, and to launder and hide profits

  • The importance of multi-sectoral collaboration, e.g. in the case of victims’ identification, each stakeholder has a role to play: NGOs provide law enforcement agencies with valuable information about trafficking derived from their frequent contact with victims and the research they conduct; technology companies offer expertise and engineering resources; and government agencies provide data, resources, political and policy support, and avenues for application

  • Governments have multiple roles to play in the promotion of technology-based solutions to trafficking, from encouraging business engagement and functional collaborations, to the funding or co-funding of initiatives, e.g. a key stimulus to business investment in such solutions was legislation in California and the United Kingdom requiring large companies to report their efforts to identify and address exploitative labor practices in their supply chains

  • Emphasis now needs to be placed on moving beyond the cycle of developing and piloting new initiatives, and toward expanding the coverage of those existing initiatives that are showing results

  • Technology-based solutions must be rooted in an understanding of on-the-ground realities, from the technology that is being used by the majority of target users in their daily lives and the types of issues that may be important to them, to the likelihood that they will provide accurate data, without which responses may do more harm than good

  • Combating human trafficking with technology tools is a constant process of updating, adjusting and innovating solutions while anticipating likely counter-responses and building these considerations into their project design

OSCE general recommendations for those who are funding, developing and implementing technology-based solutions include:

  • Be clear about the purpose of these solutions and why such solutions are preferable to alternatives

  • Ensure that these solutions are fit for the intended purpose, taking into account issues regarding access, coverage and literacy

  • Address issues of privacy, safety, trust and retaliation risks

  • Only collect actionable data

  • Align their work with other ongoing initiatives

  • Consider whether a suitable application is already available before developing a new one

  • Keep up to date with changes in both technology and the human trafficking context

  • Ensure the active engagement and participation of the target group in the development process

  • Test assumptions and measure outcomes

Collectively, the above takeaways, conclusions, and recommendations provide a framework for doing anti-human trafficking technology right.

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