IBM and banks back data project to fight human trafficking


Western Union, Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group are backing a new project that uses IBM’s Watson technology to tap into financial data to help track and combat human trafficking.

Despite an increased awareness of human trafficking, efforts to manually track and counter the issue through legislation, preventative measures and enforcement, modern slavery is still pervasive in almost all communities.

IBM is aiming to bring its AI and machine learning prowess to the table, using data in the fight against a forced-labour industry which is estimated to be worth $150 billion.

Working with Western Union, Barclays, Lloyds, Europol, University College London, the Stop the Traffik charity, and telco Liberty Global, Big Blue has created an international data hub specifically designed to arm analysts with better information to tackle the traffickers.

Using Watson Natural Language Understanding, the hub has been trained by the IBM Ireland Lab with search terms for human trafficking incidents, such as exploitation type and demographic details.

The hub uses machine learning and structured data from contributors to identify the characteristics of human trafficking incidents (eg means of transport and recruitment). Analysts will also be able to visually analyse the enriched data and combine it with additional sources to identify trafficking networks, patterns and hotspots.

IBM Watson Discovery is specifically trained on human trafficking terms and by using machine learning capabilities, ingests open sources of data at scale from multiple sources – such as thousands of daily public news feeds.

Among the areas tracked will be how money moves around the world, which will be compared with the ways that traffickers are known to operate in order to flag suspicious activity.

Paul Horlick, director, financial intelligence unit, Barclays Financial Crime, says: “This initiative is a huge step forward in bringing together information from across multiple sectors, including NGOs, law enforcement partners and financial services, where we can take a truly intelligence-led approach to proactively tackling human trafficking.”

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