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Applying Machine Learning in the Fight Against Child Exploitation
Author: Rob Metcalf
 |  Published: May 28, 2014
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Sometimes the good guys do win, and this month’s recognition of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, for applying innovative technology to combat the sexual exploitation of children was a moment to celebrate. It’s also a call to double down and push forward.

Digital Reasoning and Thorn

Thorn was founded to devise smart, digital strategies for protecting children from harmful and illegal activities, such as sex trafficking, pornography and sex tourism. Two years ago, Thorn approached Digital Reasoning to help answer a question: “Can publicly available online data be used to more rapidly identify and rescue child sex trafficking victims who are being sold online?” 

Thorn’s research had shown that child sex trafficking victims were primarily advertised and sold in online environments – but with falsified names and ages. The large amount and highly inconsistent nature of the data made it very difficult for law enforcement to detect illegal activity. Digital Reasoning’s expertise in analysis of human communication and machine learning presented the possibility of a breakthrough solution.

Smart Data and Law Enforcement

In working together, Thorn, Digital Reasoning and other technology partners demonstrated that public online data, when analyzed through the lens of smart technology, does include subtle clues that can help identify minors. While algorithms analyze thousands of pages, law enforcement officers focus precious attention on the most likely violations. More importantly, the technology learns from real world investigations and gets smarter (i.e. makes better selections) the more often it is used.

As a member of the Technology Task Force, Digital Reasoning has been honored to support Thorn’s mission.  It’s humbling to play a small part in turning the tide on a massive problem, and it’s emotional to think about changing just one life, much less the thousands of lives that the scale of this endeavor promises to impact.  It’s also a reminder that technology is morally neutral—that it can be used for good or evil—and that those of entrusted with unique resources have the obligation to build a world reflective of our values. We’re thankful for Thorn for providing us that opportunity.

For more information on Thorn and to learn how you can join this very important mission, visit www.wearethorn.org

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Rob Metcalf is the president and COO at Digital Reasoning. Digital Reasoning’s vision is to deliver trusted cognitive computing for a better world. Rob Metcalf brings over a decade of experience in leading technology and information services businesses around the world. Rob earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and his AB from Princeton University. Rob is a frequent speaker on content analytics for various government and finance conferences and forums.

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