Students Design Technology Tools to Tackle Human Trafficking

© UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Bogota (Colombia), 27 October 2020  A group of students from Colombia has taken the top prize in the first-ever global technology competition to develop data-based solutions to combat human trafficking. The online event was organized by Pasos Libres, a Colombian organization that aims to prevent human trafficking through innovative technologies, together with technology company IBM and with the support of anti-trafficking experts from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The winners were the four-person team “Aleph Mind”, composed of students from Universidad de los Andes and Universidad Nacional de Colombia. They were among the 158 participants from 13 countries who took part in the DataJam.

Aleph Mind’s winning solution “The Witness” is a technological tool that can analyze connections between different internet pages where human trafficking networks could be operating.

It can trawl the surface and deep web to collect, process and classify data, to identify sites that post the same or similar images and information that is related to suspected trafficking rings.

With this kind of knowledge, investigators could get more insight into where and how the criminal networks operate, making it easier to locate the perpetrators and identify and help the victims.

"Aleph Mind is more motivated than ever because we consider that society needs profound changes, and these must be generated from all areas of knowledge,” says Laura Rodriguez, Aleph Mind team leader and computer and systems engineering student.

The top prize included access to online marketing, design and programming courses and the opportunity to work with the Traffik Analysis Hub, a global data hub that shares information about human trafficking across all industries and sectors.

“We feel fortunate to have the support of Pasos Libres, IBM and the Traffik Analysis Hub to materialize this valuable idea to positively impact the lives of millions who are victims of human trafficking in the world," says Ms Rodriguez.  

The 34 competing teams from around the world consisted of IT specialists, crime prevention experts, criminal justice practitioners and representatives from businesses and the financial sector. They had eight days to create a technical solution to tackle human trafficking.

During the competition, participants had access to IBM technologies and specialized lectures, workshops, and training materials.

Crime prevention experts from UNODC provided training on human trafficking and law enforcement and were available to mentor participants throughout the competition

“Competitions like this DataJam show the enormous potential of harnessing the innovative power of young people to combat human trafficking world-wide,” says UNODC Associate Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, Martin Hemmi.

“This kind of partnership also shows the importance of public institutions working together with NGOs like Pasos Libres and companies like IBM to tackle human trafficking,” he says.

UNODC was among the panel of judges who selected the winning entries, which will be developed further with the support of IBM, Pasos Libres and the Traffik Analysis Hub.

Other winning solutions included a tool that calculates people's vulnerability to human trafficking by analyzing publicly available information on social media, a system to predict and estimate the potential number of human trafficking cases by region and one that pinpoints forced labour hotspots based on social media chatter.

More information here about DataJam 2020 and the winning entries.