Google – crime buster in the future?

Google Ideas intends to use technology and data to disrupt criminal networks. New kinds of apps, tools and ideas to do so are being developed. Here is a video on what they are doing that I’m certain you will find interesting: 

Google’s think tank is a laudable and innovative idea that Microsoft, Yahoo and other search engines should join forces with. Long term it could actually prove to have a sizeable impact on organised crime by forcing them to communicate face to face only.

Google Ideas aim to, as they put it: “explore the role that technology can play in tackling some of the toughest human challenges”. They commission new research that examine the issues from a new point of view. Preventing free software tools such as TOR from enabling onion routing, i.e. enabling its users to communicate anonymously on the Internet, would be a good start.

Can technology solve the problem of trafficking?

Criminal organisations, or maffias if you wish, are smuggling people, drugs, arms and sex slaves. By bringing together government officials, tech leaders, researchers and victims Google Ideas intend to explore how online resources can best be used to tackle the huge problem of trafficking.

A multi trillion dollar global problem

No country in the world escapes the problem of criminal gangs having severe human and financial consequences. If you think the West is exempt, think again. Have seen women that I’m sure are sex slaves in Sweden. The fact that they are Asian and not Swedish is irrelevant. This kind of trafficking unfortunately goes on everywhere. Have you ever seen beggars that stay in the same place day after day? They are frequently owned by traffickers.

Hundreds of thousands of people die every year and people’s lives are ruined because of criminal gangs. Not least women and children in poor countries who are sold, frequently by their own families, into sex slavery. Can’t help wondering if the problem of trafficking would have been tackled already if it wasn’t mainly children in the developing world but in the West as well that were sold into prostitution?

Can Google Ideas have an impact on greed and fear?

Am sure that the majority of people would like to root out organised crime. However, the biggest problem is corruption in all countries. There are always greedy people in authority who protect the criminals. In the future hopefully the unique identifying codes Google is developing will become a tool to discover who some of them are? Hacking software such as TOR would be another way.

Am sure Google Ideas can make a difference. But in order to really succeed  corrupt officials have to be stopped. People who claim to work against trafficking when in reality they are profiting from it. From what I understand, traditional maffia methods also come into play here since they are very effective when it comes to preventing any trafficker going to trial or being convicted. People in authority are no different from the rest of us when it comes to being told that if we go ahead with something someone close to us will be killed.

It’s a bit early to tell how Google Ideas will work out. Personally don’t think it will have much of an impact short term but may make a huge difference in the long run. It is also fantastic PR for Google and is bound to generate a lot of good will for the search engine giant.

What is your opinion? Do you agree with me that Google Ideas is a laudable and innovative initiative? What impact, if any, can they have on trafficking? Is it really possible to make a difference when poverty makes people sell their own children? What can Google do to find and expose corrupt officials that obviously don’t correspond in ways that can be traced? When sex slave traffickers use the internet they advertise for au pairs, waitresses or models and the girls who respond suddenly find themselves working as prostitutes. How can Google tackle that? Forbid all such online adverts? Do you believe it will ever be possible to make trafficking a thing of the past? If so how can it be done? Will those who use technology for good eventually win over the ones that abuse it? Or will organised crime find new ways and get the upper hand? 

Video: EconomistMagazine – You Tube

22 thoughts on “Google – crime buster in the future?

  1. This just shows that technology can be harnessed to potentially improve the world on levels we never thought it could address. Even if it doesn't end up being overly effective, Google's efforts are certainly a step in the right direction.
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  2. Really excellent post Catarina – Like many of the others who commented, I wasn't aware of Google's efforts. Human trafficking is the most despicable of crimes in the world today as far as I'm concerned. I'm reading Amanda Craig's book Hearts & Minds , at the moment, which deals with it. Modern slavery, particularly for women sold into prostitution is the worst of all, and I think many people are unaware of how prevalent it is. In the UK it is mainly eastern European women who blend in more easily. Clearly the systems in place are failing, so any help that can be given has to be a good thing. Awareness for the general public would go a long way -I think even the johns are not nec. aware they are going to prostitute slaves.
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    1. Thank you A.K. Also read a book about sex slavery recently. You also have plenty of Asian women and men who are sex slaves in the UK. You are so right that the general public don't know what's going on and, from what I understand, if they are many don't care since it's not their child or sister. It's also easier to ignore the problem. How often have you heard people say that they are not interested in an issue they feel they can't do anything about?:-)

  3. It is a good initiative Catarina and I guess the results will depend on the commitment of governments and agencies coming together to stop trafficking.
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  4. I applaud Google for engaging in the possibility and starting the discussion. Awareness that there may be a collective way to disrupt corrupt and terrorist acts is the first step in working towards any concrete action, tool or event. If Google can gain a foothold, others will quickly follow. It's still early, but I am encouraged and hopeful that this will develop serious legs.
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  5. Interesting video and blog, Catarina – I, too, was unaware of Google's efforts in this field, but it makes sense, given its proven technology for finding information. Of course, it will need the willing participation of police forces and politicians everywhere for this to work properly. Although I can see it contributing to crime prevention in many Western countries, there are still far too many countries around the world where corruption is the norm.

    What we need as well are more drives to name and shame those who are corrupt and show that this is not acceptable to the vast majority of people around the world.

    1. Agree with you that a name and shame campaign would be a good idea Guy.
      The most corrupt countries in the world are Burma and Somalia and organised crime can do whatever they want there. But there are corrupt officials in all Western countries, including the UK.

      Seems like Interpool and other organisatons are already cooperating with Google Ideas. But how well authorities will be cooperating depends on where the corrupt officials are.

  6. Catarina — Very informative video. I wasn't aware of Google's initiative. Just today The New York Times carried a major story about a 13-year-old girl in Afghanistan who was sold in an arranged marriage. She was expected to prostitute herself and when she refused she was beaten and kept tied up in a windowless basement. The news was that her husband's family was sentenced to 10 years in prison, an almost unheard-of sentence. But Afghan charities are fearful that these reforms will go away once America leaves the country. I applaud Google's mission but we need to be aware that the technology for doing good can always be used by the bad guys.
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    1. Glad you agree with me that it's a laudable initiative, Jeannette. Millions of women are sold into slavery every year. Interesting to hear that Afghanistan jails people for trafficking. Hope it lasts, but that's, as you say, a question mark.

  7. I think it would be a waste of time to try to prevent users from communicating anonymously on the internet simply because the better the rat trap the smarter the rat becomes. And, consider how that would impact organizations who are working for good anonymously. At the same time anything Google can contribute to stop the horror of human trafficking would be wonderful. Wherever there are sex slaves or slaves of any kind you can be sure there is a corrupt government.
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    1. True, Catherine. But don't forget that we have sex slaves in all Western countries, including the US. Unfortunately greed and hence corrupt officials exist in all countries.

  8. Like what you said, Catarina, it is too early to tell right now if Google Ideas will be a success. They have the means and capability to do it, which is what makes it promising. Of course, crime will never be eradicated. And there is also the possibility that these tools might also have a negative effect among us honest and innocent citizens. Still, it is a noble goal that is promising. I, for one, am crossing my fingers that it will be a success. Maybe crime won't be eradicated completely, but at least it could make authorities have additional resources to regulate and minimize this.
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    1. As you say, fingers crossed Adeline! Trafficking is a huge problem in your country. So any improvement will be welcome. Every time I see a young Asian girl with an older European man I wonder what's going on there. From what I understand those men have frequently bought the girl from her parents and she is their slave. But what can I do, walk up and ask her?

  9. I think that Google is making a commendable effort. If nothing else, it is good PR for them as you stated. As with all projects like this there is always a way around it. Hackers find ways around everything. As for human trafficking and slavery… although it may not be as prevalent in the US, it is here. I wish I could say it is not. I hope that this effort by Google yields good results. Perhaps they can manage to stay a step ahead of the bad guys and keep those good results flowing. Only time will tell. Great post Catarina!
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