Good Tech, Bad Tech: Policing Sex Trafficking with Big Data
Technology is often highlighted in popular discourse as a causal factor in significantly increasing sex trafficking. However, there is a paucity of robust empirical evidence on sex trafficking and the extent to which technology facilitates it. This has not prevented the proliferation of beliefs that technology is essential for disrupting or even ending sex trafficking. Big data analytics and anti-trafficking software are used in this context to produce knowledge and intelligence on sex trafficking. This paper explores the challenges and limitations of understanding exploitation through algorithms and online data. It also highlights the key dimensions of exploitation ignored in big data-oriented research on sex trafficking. By doing so, the paper seeks to advance our theoretical understanding of the trafficking–technology nexus, and it is argued that sex trafficking must be reframed along a continuum of exploitation that is sensitive to the social context of exploitation within the sex market.
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