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  • Writer's pictureTony Paul

Countering Human Trafficking Using Web Data Extraction

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Web data extraction is the sniper gun that every law enforcement agency should use to counter human trafficking. Read on to know why and how.

So we are talking about Human Trafficking today. Laws have been administered, discussions have been scrutinized, gigantic versus have been told even pseudo actions draped in the disguise of “workable measures” have been taken about it.

But then, why worldwide 21 million people are still the victims of Human Trafficking?

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Developing nations are often considered as a land where crime blooms more than the developed nations. It is time to re-evaluate our presumptions. You will be surprised to know that since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received reports of 14,588 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.

The problem is, we have become stagnant in our approach to resolve it. Stagnancy never cures,

it breeds the problem. Over the years we have restated the issue of human trafficking and somewhere in the discourse, we have lagged behind in our perspective towards solutions.

Now, believe it or not, Data Analytics can be our knight in the shining armor, yes it is the ultimate solution. Let me tell you how! The twisted phenomenon about technology is that it’s usage boxes it as boon or bane. We aren’t dealing with 18th-century criminals who use tinted glass vans to nab their prey and flee away. We are talking about really smart criminals. The modern day criminals who use latest technologies to select their targets and establish an impenetrable nexus.

How are they using technology?

The ascend of data trade through portable web innovations has given more chances to traffickers to target casualties all the more proficiently; through a screen, with the snap of a catch.

The thing about online information exchange is that a lot of data can be accessed by traffickers through social media, websites, anonymizing apps etc. We often give our personal information across various platforms. But we can never be 100% sure about the credibility of the recipients. This, in turn, acts as a catalyst for them to detect potentially vulnerable people i.e. they prey on weaknesses.

Often people are lured through these pseudo online job advertisements, For instance in Denmark, law enforcement authorities noted suspicious advertisements for nannies, waitresses, and dancers on web sites in Latvia and Lithuania. The traffickers used Internet sites to post advertisements for jobs in Western Europe. Once the victim has been fooled he/she is forcefully made to succumb to the demands of the traffickers. Extracting online job advertisements and analyzing it with cases that match with human trafficking can provide valuable insights.

Even migrants are often soft targets for traffickers, they target their disconnection and mobility.

Now imagine, if we could just twirl this stumbling block into an opportunity.

As Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance points out: “All sorts of electronic and digital fingerprints are left when a crime is committed.” The very size and scale of the data can be used to curb it.

Now, let’s counter human trafficking with data:-

Regardless of the way that human trafficking is comprehended to be a widely discussed social issue, lack of information and knowledge into the issue still exists.

Data Analytics can possibly clarify slants in complex social information and advise future approach.

Now one of the major hindrances towards tackling human trafficking is that it’s hard to track the movements of the traffickers.

The use of analytics and big data has provided a chance to better understand the complex nexus of human trafficking and integrate information resources for understanding their pattern of movement to combat it.

Here’s how it has been successfully used-

Polaris Project exemplifies the effectiveness of using data analytics. Polaris is an anti-trafficking NGO that runs a US-based human trafficking hotline (National Human Trafficking Resource Center), teamed up with Palantir, a software and data analysis company. Their central objective was to upgrade the existing mechanisms to curb human trafficking using data analytics. The first step was to assimilate data from phone calls, company contacts, legal service providers, and every other part of their organization on one simple platform.

Within a few weeks, Palantir had created software that streamlined Polaris’ network of resources into a single dashboard for call specialists to use. Using open data and insights from hotline, Polaris could analyze migration patterns and strategize attacks on human trafficking nexus. is a non-profit spin-off of the startup It provides data analytic potential to nonprofit organizations. Thus, upgrading the existing technology along with making a social impact at the same time. One of the first projects undertaken by them was to curb Human Trafficking.

Read Palantir’s acquisition of kimonolabs , a web data extraction company.

In 2014 “Thorn: Digital Defenders” introduced the “Spotlight Tool”. It is designed to aggregate data from online commercial advertisements. In a crime like Human Trafficking where it’s always a race against time, agencies using Spotlight have witnessed a 43% reduction in their investigation time.

Eric Schles, is a person who needs to be appreciated for his efforts in trying to eradicate human trafficking. Using Python, he developed a series of tools to aid detectives to identify potential sex trafficking victims, by analyzing publicly available information on commercial sex websites. One of the prominent tool Schles developed was a geographic information system (GIS) for visualizing sex trafficking data using the open source D3 reporting framework.

Above examples is a concrete personification of the effectiveness of using data analytics for eradicating human trafficking. Maximizing the potential of using data should be the guiding perspective for our future. As Todd Park once said “Data by itself is useless. Data is only useful if you apply it.” Application of the insights gained by data analytics will someday set us free from the shackles of human trafficking.

There are many ways to analyze the data, however, how do you get the data? Web scraping at scale is the answer. Need help? Get in touch.



Do you want to offload the dull, complex, and labour-intensive web scraping task to an expert?

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