Human Trafficking Hotline Network
Human trafficking, the narcotics trade and weapons smuggling all feed conflict, instability and repression worldwide. Human trafficking networks are widespread in all countries, regardless of their state of development. It is estimated that nearly 21 million people are enslaved in forced labor and trafficking situations across the world today, and the industry generates at least $32 billion of illicit profits every year. Local efforts on the ground provide vital help to victims in need, but resources and information are siloed from organization to organization, and region to region. Hotlines are a particularly powerful tool for connecting victims to resources, and while there are dozens of independent hotlines worldwide, trafficking is a global issue that requires better cross-border coordination.
At the Google Ideas INFO Summit, a working lab brought together experts, technologists and survivors of human trafficking to tackle the question of what if local, regional and national anti-trafficking helplines across the globe were all connected in a data-driven network that helped disrupt the web of human trafficking?
Since the summit, Google Ideas continued to work with Polaris Project, Liberty Asia and La Strada International to build an international information-sharing collaboration between anti-human trafficking hotlines and nonprofits. The initiative will enable easier case coordination and victim protection across borders through the development of a shared platform for information exchange. The project is funded by a Global Impact Award.
An initial collaboration with Palantir to analyze Polaris Project’s data has revealed some interesting and valuable insights, such as the seasonal trends in trafficking within door-door sales crews, or the prevalence of trafficking into the sex trade along the major truck routes in the US. Through future collaboration with many more hotlines, the integrated system will hopefully provide insights and protection for hundreds and thousands of potential victims around the world.
Network Against Violent Extremism
Violent extremism is a challenge faced by every geography and demographic and across many ideologies: extreme right- or left-wing, nationalist, and religious, among others. While some who join violent groups stay in them for life, many if not most eventually leave. Given their credibility and unusual personal stories, survivors and 'formers' — former extremists who have publicly or privately renounced violence — are valuable sources of experience who can help reduce tension and conflict in their local communities.
From research and findings that emerged at the Summit Against Violent Extremism, hosted by Google Ideas, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Tribeca Film Institute in March 2011, it was clear that technology has a huge potential to provide solutions for counter-radicalization. At the Summit more than 80 former violent extremists and survivors came together with more than 100 additional attendees, non-profit organizations, academia, technology companies, government, media and the private sector, to start scoping out technology initiatives.
A shared conclusion from the summit was that there needed to be a way to continue building the network of people and organizations working on counter-radicalization efforts, particularly for ‘formers’ and survivors of counter radicalization.
In April, 2012 Google Ideas worked with Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the Gen Next Foundation, and rehabstudio to launch 'againstviolentextremism.org'. The online network aims to provide a platform for former violent extremists and survivors of violence to connect with each other to share ideas, collaborate, and identify investment, partners and resources to find ways of amplifying their initiatives and message to a wider audience.
Since launch, more than 700 members have joined the AVE network, including more than 100 formers, who together have launched more than 30 diverse projects.
Mapping out and visualizing the connections between people and groups can dramatically improve our understanding of the affiliations and key nodes of influence between them. For example, when uprisings occur in repressive societies, people’s loyalties can sometimes change. Mapping these shifts can provide insights into political trends.
Soon after the uprising in Syria broke out in March 2011, a steady stream of soldiers, military leadership, and government officials began to defect to the opposition. When the defections started to occur, people turned to social media to tell their stories. In many cases, defectors uploaded personal videos to the Internet to announce their change in loyalties. The associated information with these videos provided the metadata needed to map and track the defections: including the defector’s name, description, date of defection and relationship to the organization.
Google Ideas, Al Jazeera, MayNinth, Movements.org and Potato partnered to develop an interactive data visualization that used these videos and their associated data to map the disparate video reports of defections from the Syrian regime.
In addition to providing a historical accounting of the defections, the map shows patterns and trends in support. It reveals that the once coherent network of political, familial and military actors unraveled as the conflict persisted. As relationship mapping tools improve, they can be expected to bring greater transparency to trace shifts in power, loyalty or patterns of corruption.
Fragile, unstable parts of the world are among the most difficult for people to freely express their opinions. Governments may have the will to engage their citizens but due to violence or other challenges have no ability to effectively assess the public’s perspective. As even the most fragile states come online, the Internet and cloud-based tools are creating new opportunities for citizen engagement.
In 2011, Somalia began to redraft a new constitution. This provided an opportunity to explore how simple online tools might improve the ability for citizens to be engaged and influence their country’s governing principles. In partnership with the Somali service, Africa Division of Voice of America (VOA), Google Ideas worked with existing, freely available Google products to pilot a simple, cloud-based surveying tool that would allow VOA to organize the first phone-based constitutional survey in the nation, surveying Somalis on their opinions on key constitutional issues.
The surveying tool was built using Google App Engine and Google Apps and provided a dashboard to make phone calls over the Internet. Through this simple technology integration, the surveying was more efficient than what would otherwise have been a manual process. The final results were presented using Google Chart Tools. This polling tool has been open sourced to enable any other organization to repurpose it for similar efforts.
Using this relatively simple combination of products, the VOA was able to survey more than 3,000 Somalis on a range of issues, from the roles of Sharia law, to the responsibility to include women in government, to the the right level of state centralization. The results were broadcast and discussed on a VOA radio program in Somalia dedicated to the project, published online for the diaspora community, and shared with the drafters of the constitution. The constitution was successfully ratified in August 2012, and included several edits influenced by the survey results. This project proved that relatively simple, existing technologies can be leveraged to increase political engagement, without putting citizens at increased risk.
In this case, the results also gave Somalis a snapshot of how they see themselves as a nation in the twenty-first century. For example, 87 percent strongly agreed that Sharia law should be the basis of the civil and criminal code.
Global illicit networks — from drug smuggling and arms dealing to human trafficking and organ harvesting — affect millions of people across the world, generating over $2.1 trillion every year. Existing, publicly available information about illicit networks is often not presented in a format that allows the patterns of trade to be easily understood. Applying the power of data visualization to this information can enable a greater understanding of the underlying mechanics of these networks, which in turn can lead to much more targeted and effective efforts to counter them.
As part of the Google Ideas INFO Summit we worked with the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and Igarapé Institute to explore how data visualization could map an existing set of arms trade data. Many arms and ammunition supplies are originally created for legitimate purposes, but through global trade networks end up in illicit trade. A better understanding of the legal flow of arms and ammunition around the world would hopefully inform how the licit and illicit sides of the arms trade are connected. For further background on the global small arms and ammunition trade, watch the panel on ‘Disrupting Illicit Arms’ at the INFO summit.
Google Ideas collaborated with the Google Data Arts Team to create an interactive visualization of data from NISAT. The dataset included more than one million data points representing the import and export of arms and ammunition around the world between 250 states and territories.
The project was built using the open source WebGL Globe, which uses WebGL, a technology that allows accelerated graphics processing in web browsers like Google Chrome, to render the globe and interactive 3D graphics. Users may select a year between 1992 and 2010 using a navigable histogram, click a country to see specific arms transactions through that nation, and limit the display to only certain data, such as imports or civilian weapons.
By mapping the data in this way, users may see how, for example, the global trade in ammunition rivals the global trade in actual weapons, and how the arms trade relates to specific conflicts worldwide. You can download the source code here, or see more examples of the WebGL Globe.