In September 2023, Europol organized the EMPACT Hackathon, bringing together over 100 law enforcement officers, data scientists, and experts from across Europe to focus on developing innovative tools to identify and track human traffickers who exploit online platforms for recruiting victims. The event targeted intelligence gaps in the most commonly reported forms of human trafficking, sexual and labor exploitation.
Participants had access to extensive datasets from various online sources, such as social media platforms and dating apps, enabling them to gain new insights into the operations of online traffickers and ways to identify potential victims.
A major accomplishment of the hackathon was the creation of an automated tool that uses machine learning to detect and track human trafficking victims on social media platforms. This tool analyzes behavioral patterns and language use to identify traffickers and their victims while tracking their movements across different social media platforms.
Additionally, a new database of human trafficking victims and suspects was developed, searchable by various criteria such as name, age, nationality, and type of trafficking involved. Law enforcement agencies can use this database to identify potential victims and suspects and monitor the movement of trafficking networks.
The event also involved an extensive investigation into 371 online platforms, including social media, dating sites, web forums, marketplaces, and online applications. Authorities scrutinized 325 communication devices and focused on 26 platforms suspected of involvement in human trafficking. Their efforts led to the identification and verification that five online platforms were engaged in human trafficking, with additional attention given to inspecting 10 online platforms associated with child sexual abuse (CSAM).
Europol deemed the EMPACT hackathon a success, and the solutions developed during the event are now under evaluation. These innovations represent a significant step forward in the fight against human trafficking, a growing problem in the digital age. Technology, including tools developed in such hackathons, plays a crucial role in addressing this global issue.