Carnegie Mellon University researchers develop algorithm to identify human trafficking patterns

SUMMER HILL, Pa. — In most crimes, the hardest part is finding the person responsible. For human trafficking, just finding the victims can be a challenge.

That’s where data researchers at Carnegie Mellon University hope to help.

“It’s just so validating to know that you’re working on something that could really touch people’s lives,” said Ph.D. student Catalina Vajiac, who’s working on the project.

Researchers developed an algorithm that combs through online escort ads searching for patterns. Vajiac explained that it can be used to identify people being trafficked against their will.

“They’re going to use almost the same advertisement and change the information per victim,” Vajiac stated. “That’s really the insight between analyzing text and finding ads that look similar but they’re using different people.”

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That could be incredibly useful for those tasked with finding the traffickers. FBI supervisory special agent Tim Wolford wouldn’t comment directly on techniques the agency uses to fight human trafficking. However, he didn’t shy away from the impact algorithms like this could have.

“It could really be used in helping us identify other victims and help us connecting some of those dots to find out who the traffickers are as well,” agent Wolford said.