Analytics

How data mining can help chase sex traffickers

Shutterstock image (by fotogestoeber): virus infection spreading out in a network. 

New automated data linkage and mining techniques could help law enforcement more quickly and efficiently find online sex traffickers by linking data from online advertisements to public information from Bitcoin.

The techniques mine data from online sex ads and virtual currency payments for those services, according to a paper presented at the SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining on Aug. 16.

The vast pool of online ads makes manual exploration and analysis a tall task for law enforcement or outside groups. Discerning whether an ad is soliciting for a victim of human trafficking or is an "independent sex worker" isn't easy either, said the research team.

The techniques developed by computer scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, UC San Diego and New York University are designed to discern the true authors of online sex ads based on the writing style. They rely on machine learning that purports to detect unique authorship with 96 percent accuracy. That information is key in identifying the person buying the ad, according to the paper.

The researchers combined that technique with another that picks up leakage from the Bitcoin "mempool" blockchain and sex ad sites and refers the data back to Bitcoin public wallets and transactions to further identify and quantify the ad purchaser.

The group worked for a month using the techniques on the notorious Backpage sex ad site to demonstrate how an analyst could use them to link payments, ads and ad authors.

The researchers said they are currently collaborating with multiple non-governmental organizations that track human trafficking and law enforcement officers to deploy the tools. They said they plan to share the tools and data with those groups, as well as make them publicly available.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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