The Role of Technology in Human Trafficking—RFP

Networked technologies – including the internet, mobile phones, and social media – alter how information flows and how people communicate.  There is little doubt that technology is increasingly playing a role in the practices and processes surrounding human trafficking: the illegal trade of people for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of modern-day slavery.  Yet, little is known about costs and benefits of technology's role.  We do not know if there are more human trafficking victims as a result of technology, nor do we know if law enforcement can identify perpetrators better as a result of the traces that they leave.  One thing that we do know is that technology makes many aspects of human trafficking more visible and more traceable, for better and for worse.  Focusing on whether technology is good or bad misses the point; it is here to stay and it is imperative that we understand the role that it is playing.  More importantly, we need to develop innovative ways of using technology to address the horrors of human trafficking.  

To date, there is little empirical research into the role that technology plays in human trafficking. As a result, new interventions and policies are being driven by intuition, speculation, and extrapolation from highly publicized incidents. There's no doubt that all forms human trafficking and modern day slavery are horrible, but if we actually want to help those that are victimized, we need to recognize that this is a complex issue and work to understand how the puzzle pieces fits together.  My team at Microsoft Research is trying to untangle technology's role in different facets of the human trafficking ecosystem, fully recognizing how complicated and messy it is.  This is why we need your help.

Thanks to the generous support of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Research, I'm proud to announce a pool of grant money for researchers who can help us understand critical elements of the puzzle. Please forward this far and wide because we're hoping to find scholars with the skills, domain knowledge, and passion to really help us interrogate how technology is used in human trafficking.  We need anthropologists, communications scholars, computer scientists, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, etc.

* Request for proposals: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/focus/education/human-...
* Deadline for proposals: February 17, 2012
* Notification of results: March 23, 2012
* Initial pool of money: $150,000
* Framing document: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/focus/education/htfram...
* Email for more information: httech@microsoft.com

We are also looking to identify scholars who are working in this space, including graduate students and postdocs and researchers whose work is not yet published.  Even if you're not looking for grant money, please drop us a line if you're grappling with technology's role in human trafficking.  

We look forward to your feedback, critiques, ideas, and proposals.