Facebook will help track down child-sex victims under a partnership announced by New York’s AG.
Facebook’s software is a whiz at finding friends and picking out faces in photos. Now, the company will use its expertise to help find bad guys and rescue young victims of sex-trafficking operations.
On Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Facebook FB0.11%
engineers will help his office use “innovative data and analytical methods” to combat online child sex operations.
The plan involves the use of algorithms to scour internet ads,
according to a press release describing the initiative. Specifically,
the algorithms will look for patterns in images, text, phone numbers,
and other data that turns up on sites where commercial sex is sold.
“Facebook is pleased to be working with Attorney General Schneiderman
on his efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking. We look
forward to helping the Attorney General and his staff bring attention to
this important issue,” said Facebook’s director of state public policy.
Facebook declined to further provide details, but a likely guess is the project will draw on Facebook’s massive database of “faceprints”
to identify victims who appear in the sex ads. Faceprints serve as
distinct digital identifiers, similar to a fingerprint, that are based
on the unique contours of a person’s face. Facebook uses the technology
to suggest tags for people when users post a photos.
In the case of sex-trafficking victims, law enforcement agencies
could cross-check images of their faces to discover their identities—and
possibly pictures of the people who are controlling them.
Update: Following the publication of this story, a Facebook spokesperson provided the following statement:
“Facebook is not providing the Attorney General’s office access to
its facial recognition software or conducting any facial recognition on
its platform as part of this agreement. Instead, Facebook will provide
technical assistance to Schneiderman’s staff – at their request – in
adopting existing, commercially available technology, that may help find
trafficking victims online.”
In its release describing the initiative, the Attorney General’s
office cited examples of pimps and sex trafficking rings who posted
pictures of minors on websites like Backpage and Craigslist, describing
the practice as “modern day slavery.”
The Attorney General’s office announced the Facebook partnership as part of a two-day summit on human trafficking
that is taking place in Manhattan on Thursday and Friday. Facebook and
Schneiderman have colloborated in the past, most recently on a project
to send AMBER Alerts to the NewsFeeds of social network users when a
child goes missing.