Technology and the internet are both vital tools in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. For example, smartphones and data packages provided in a study by the University of Bristol assisted modern slavery survivors by giving them access to educational resources, translation, navigation and communication tools and allowed them to maintain connections to support networks.
This demonstrates some examples of the positives of technology, however there can be some ways that human traffickers exploit technology to their advantage.
Here are some examples:
Social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram are increasingly being used as tools for exploitation. Many people now use social media to search for employment opportunities and view it as a reliable source of information. This plays into traffickers’ hands as they can use the platforms to directly access their victims, posing as recruiters or legitimate businesses. Direct access to their victims creates all sorts of issues but most importantly, they can establish trust with the individuals, especially younger people. From there they have a better chance to lure them into exploitative situations.
There are also concerns with the technical features of social media platforms. For example, WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption on messaging which makes it difficult for law enforcement to monitor and collect evidence due to legal and technical issues. Some social media apps such as Snapchat have geolocation features, allowing traffickers to track their targets’ locations. This puts victims at a huge risk of exploitation both before they have been trafficked and if they manage to get free.
Artificial intelligence is another great example of technology that has been used to help combat modern slavery but it’s also being used for it. The data analysis from AI can be used to identify potential victims online who are vulnerable for many different reasons such as financial and emotional trouble.
Traffickers can also use the data analysis from AI to identify the most profitable locations, routes and recruitment strategies available to them. From here they can maximise their efforts and also evade law enforcement by spotting the trends in their analysis and adapting to avoid detection.
Digital payment methods such as prepaid cards and cryptocurrencies have become ideal ways for traffickers to make transactions related to their victims as it enables them to anonymity. In a US Government Accountability Report, Polaris reported that virtual currency was the second-most accepted payment on 40 online sex trafficking platforms. Showing the payment method is clearly growing in its popularity for traffickers.
Despite knowing some of the key ways traffickers can exploit technology to their advantage, it can be difficult to keep on top of this and govern their approaches. The Inter-agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) suggested some of the enabling factors for this exploitation, which include:
While there are many risks and avenues for exploitation with technology and modern slavery, it is something that should be used to advantage when fighting against traffickers. If users are made aware of the risks and the proper measures are put in place then technology will be a vital tool in this defence.
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