Big Data for good-Technology and data have transformed the way we live, work and play. So far, the outcomes have been mixed. While we are undoubtedly more connected and better informed, we’re simultaneously more anxious about the pace of change and our personal privacy. And rightly so. Last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal showed us just how easily our personal data can be amassed, extracted and exploited for political gain. Looked at another way, though, technology and data have the potential, if harnessed for good, to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing global challenges – including climate change, global pandemics and human trafficking.
Data on its own is not the answer. Never in human history have we had access to so much data. The challenge is that most of it sits in silos, leaving us with an incomplete picture of complex social issues. Take human trafficking as an example. Around 172 countries form part of the chain of exploitation, while more than 40 million people are enslaved per year. It’s a daunting picture. The only way to drill down into what’s really going on, and to develop intervention strategies, is for data to be shared.
Let’s see what happens when two quite simple principles – harnessing data for good and data-sharing – are put into action to tackle human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a $150 billion global business hiding in plain sight. Very few of us are aware of the statistics, to say nothing of the fact that it’s likely happening right in our own backyards. And until recently, it was next to impossible to track and assess the entire trafficking supply chain – from the financing to the brokers to the victims and the buyers. Data-sharing has upended all of this.
For the past 13 years, Stop the Traffik, a non-profit, has used the power of people and technology to combat human trafficking. It recently asked the Edelman Predictive Intelligence Centre, a team of data and behavioural scientists focused on leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) for marketing and communications, to come on board. We’ve built the organization a human-trafficking prevention model that relies on data-sharing between numerous sources, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and financial institutions, alongside crowdsourced and open-sourced data. IBM’s data hub and visualization platform consolidates the intelligence and produces insights about illicit trafficking operations such as market supply and demand, trafficking routes and financial flows.