Using Technical Solutions to Keep Children Safe

By Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety, and Guy Rosen, VP of Product Management

Tomorrow is International Missing Children’s Day, a day on which we remember missing and abducted children, and celebrate those who have been recovered. In 2017, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center entered 464,324 cases into its Missing Person File for those under the age of 18. Of the nearly 25,000 runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2017, one in seven were likely victims of child sex trafficking. And that’s just in the US. Around the world, even with under reporting, the numbers are equally staggering.

These statistics remind us of the work we must do across industries and in partnership with all those dedicated to finding missing and exploited children. At Facebook, our work on child safety has spanned over 10 years.

Just this week, we hosted our third annual child safety hackathon at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. The two-day event was our biggest yet, bringing together nearly 100 engineers and data scientists from across industry to develop technological solutions to safeguard children. It is, hands down, one of our favorite weeks at Facebook.

This year’s hackathon focused on solutions to help combat child sex trafficking, and included our long-standing partners NCMEC, Thorn, the Internet Watch Foundation, Stop the Traffik, A21 and Polaris. All code and prototypes developed at this year’s event are donated to these NGO partners to help them in their work to protect kids.

For us, what’s especially exciting is the cross-industry collaboration that comes to life at the hackathon. Engineers and data scientists who work for big companies and small join forces to help build solutions that impact the entire online community. And the relationships formed at the hackathon extend well beyond the two-day event – we have, for example, seen the engineers continue to assist the participating NGOs in building out technologies developed at the hack and support them with other technical needs.

This year’s winning prototype, dubbed “Spotting Trends,” makes use of clustering analysis and information that is associated with known child sex traffickers to help ensure that these individuals are not able to resurface elsewhere on the internet.

Among the other prototypes developed are projects that improve efficiency for people working to identify and rescue children by making it easier to rapidly sort through images and data and prioritize cases.

And the success and real-world application of the prototype that took home top prize in 2016 – a child finder that matches online photos with those available in NCMEC’s database of missing children — confirms the benefit of using technology to help tackle these challenging issues. Technology of this sort has the potential to reduce law enforcement’s response time, getting children who may be vulnerable help faster and more efficiently. Cristian Canton Ferrer, an engineering manager at Facebook, may have summarized the child finder best when he said, “People affected = 1; Magnitude of change = enormous; Lasting impact of the change = forever.”

This year’s hackathon may be over, but our commitment to combatting child sex trafficking and keeping children safe is ongoing. We continue to meet with and learn from leading NGOs in child safety and collaborate across industry to build cutting edge technology to protect children. And we remain dedicated to multi-stakeholder international initiatives like the WePROTECT Global Alliance and to working with other industry leaders to ensure that smaller companies with fewer resources can easily adopt industry best practices and access technologies like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA.

One missing child is one too many. We are committed to doing more to ensure that those working to find and rescue children have the best technology has to offer. As we make progress on child safety issues, we will keep providing updates – here and on our Safety Page.


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