Google battles human trafficking with global hotline

Coordinating with three anti-trafficking organizations, the Web giant aims to use data collected by helplines around the world to fight modern-day slavery.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

It's estimated that more than 20 million people worldwide are currently victims of human trafficking. Put in perspective, that's nearly the equivalent of the entire population of Australia.

In an effort to combat human trafficking and provide help for victims, Google has launched a new joint project with three advocacy organizations -- Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International. Dubbed the Human Trafficking Hotline Network, this project aims to create a consolidated global hotline connected to a data-driven network.

Here's more on the project from a blog post by Google Ideas director Jared Cohen and Google Giving director Jacquelline Fuller:

Human trafficking, the narcotics trade and weapons smuggling all have one major thing in common: Their ill-gotten proceeds feed conflict, instability and repression worldwide. Out of all of these, human trafficking is perhaps the most devastating, enslaving nearly 21 million people and generating at least $32 billion of illicit profits every year. At last summer's Google Ideas summit on mapping, disrupting and exposing illicit networks, it became clear that connecting anti-trafficking helplines in a global data sharing collaboration could help identify illicit patterns and provide victims anywhere in the world with more effective support.

The idea is to fight highly sophisticated and tech-savvy traffickers with some technical know-how of its own. According to Google, there are helplines around the globe, but most are working in isolation. The goal of this project is to connect the data from these helplines to identify trafficking hotspots and help advocates better understand how to respond.

For example, the main hotline in the U.S. is operated by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. The Polaris Project has worked with the center for more than five years and has taken 72,000 calls, connected 8,300 survivors to services and support, and reported 3,000 cases of human trafficking to law enforcement. However, there are more than 65 different hotlines like this around the world, according to Google. If all of their data could be collected in one spot, it could be a game changer for battling human trafficking.

A couple of other tech companies have also gotten involved in the hotline project. Palantir Technologies will help by donating its data integration and analytics platform and Salesforce.com will support Polaris Project's hotline center by scaling its call-tracking infrastructure internationally.

"Together, these partners will not only be able to help more trafficking survivors, but will also move the global conversation forward by dramatically increasing the amount of useful data being shared," Cohen and Fuller wrote. "Appropriate data can tell the anti-trafficking community which campaigns are most effective at reducing slavery, what sectors are undergoing global spikes in slavery, or if the reduction of slavery in one country coincides with an increase right across the border."

Google awarded each of the three organizations a $3 million Global Impact Award to work on coordinating the project. So far, the Web giant has given $14.5 million in grants to fight human trafficking.