Innovation That Matters

Crowdsourced photo database fights sex trafficking

Nonprofit & Social Cause

TraffickCam asks travelers to take photos of their hotel rooms, so police can use the data to cross-reference against suspicious images taken by sex traffickers.

According to the US State Department, up to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Sex traffickers often post pictures of their victims in hotel rooms online as advertisements, so TraffickCam was created as a crowdsourced database that could help police departments track them down. The initiative invites frequent traveller to take and upload pictures of their hotel rooms, which can then be cross-referenced against suspicious images. If matches are found, the images can be used as evidence to help prosecute the sex traffickers by determining the location they were taken at.

The project was created by the Exchange Initiative with help from programming researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis. Any travelers who want to contribute simply take four pictures of their hotel room, ideally capturing the entire room, the bathroom, the foot of the bed and details such as carpeting and furniture. Then, they upload them via the website, with the hotel name and room number, and the location will be added to the database. When the police are investigating a trafficking incident, they can use TraffickCam’s algorithm to compare the crime scenes with the images in the database and find possible matches.

The developers have already assembled over 1.5 millions photographs and St. Louis County Police Department has begun using the resource. Could other image databases be crowdsourced in this way, to help police investigate crimes?



Download PDF