Fighting Trafficking on the Go: TraffickCam

Happy Wednesday, dear friends! Did you see my announcement on Instagram about our new series here at the blog? I’m so excited to be launching an activist resource portal with all of the information, step-by-step guides, connections, and templates to be an effective, world-changing advocate! This will come in the form of many different mediums in the upcoming months – interviews, blog posts, free e-books, and hopefully courses! Today, we’re starting off with a blog post about one of my favorite activist apps ever – TraffickCam!

Growing up, one of my favorite parts of traveling were those first moments of arrival at our destination – often hotel rooms. I would eagerly slide in the key to the room, open the door, and explore the space that would be our temporary home. I would always get a thrill of excitement as I opened every drawer, examined every room, and jumped on the pristinely made beds. In fact, I still experience these moments of joy today when traveling. For many of us, hotels are the hallmark of exciting family vacations, drab business trips, and relaxing getaways. For others, however, hotels have starkly different connotations.

Sex traffickers regularly advertise people for sex online using explicit images taken inside of hotel rooms. In fact, 63% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised online. These images are easily accessed on the Internet and, for investigators, such photos contain critical clues about the location of these children. The problem, however, is that the sheer amount of photos proves almost impossible for them to analyze in a short period of time. TraffickCam is changing that.

TraffickCam is a free phone app that travelers can use to upload photos of their hotel rooms to an enormous database of hotel room images. These images are linked to a specific location using the phone’s GPS. Law enforcement officials then securely upload images of sexually explicit advertisements that are part of an investigation and TraffickCam compares these images to the thousands of hotel room images in their database. The data points in the images play a critical role in matching the hotel rooms. By comparing key features in the advertisements and in traveler images such as window views, furniture, and carpet patterns, TraffickCam provides law enforcement officials with the location of  hotels where the photo may have been taken.

The database streamlines investigations into cyber-sex trafficking and provides both law enforcement and travelers with a simple, effective way to combat human trafficking.

TraffickCam was developed by the Exchange Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to providing organizations and law enforcement with resources, tools, and networks to eradicate sex trafficking, in collaboration with researchers at Washington State University who used their background in computer vision to enable people to combat human trafficking.

Since its launch in June 2016, travelers have uploaded over 2.9 million images of 157,000 hotels around the world. According to early testing by law enforcement in St. Louis, Missouri, TraffickCam is 85% accurate in identifying the correct hotel in the top 20 matches.

Travelers all around the world can help combat sex trafficking by turning on their phone’s GPS, taking four photos of their hotel rooms from different angles, and uploading them to TraffickCam’s database. The app is easy to use and secure – no information other than the image’s location is stored. In addition, the app uses GPS verification to confirm the user’s location, ensuring that traffickers can’t manipulate the data.

TraffickCam is available for free on both Android and iOS platforms and online. You can be a part of the eradication of cyber sex trafficking by downloading the app and snapping a few photos on your next trip. In addition, a matching gift to the Exchange Initiative means that every dollar donated is doubled, up to $100,000, to help end sex trafficking. Consider downloading, donating, and following TraffickCam on Facebook and Twitter to support their programs that effectively work to eradicate modern day slavery.

Snap a pic and spread the word!  

Originally written for dressember.org/blog – check it out!