Twin Cities tech community helps improve software to combat sex trafficking

The event was organized by CWT, formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a Twin Cities company that has been active in the anti-trafficking community.

Software engineers, technology experts, and computer programmers from major Twin Cities companies volunteered their weekend to help improve a child sex trafficking database available to law enforcement across the country. 

The database is called Spotlight. It is run by a non-profit called Thorn, an organization co-founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

Spotlight is a database that collects thousands of images, mainly advertisements, posted online across the country. Through technology and software algorithms, Spotlight can identify which images or solicitation advertisements might be connected to child sex trafficking.

“The biggest single thing that Spotlight has been able to do is mine that whole sea of online advertisements out there and bring sensibility to how we look at that data,” Lt. Grant Snyder with the Minneapolis Police Department said. 

Lt. Snyder says this technology allows police to get to the spaces where traffickers are targeting perpetrators or looking for victims. He said getting help from the technology community to make this program as effective as possible helps them identify and help victims. 

Volunteers work to strengthen tools for officers to take on child sex traffickers in the Twin Cities.

“Law enforcement officers, investigators, we don’t think like programmers. We don’t think like hackers or software engineers or people who are actually able to imagine all of the things we’re missing,” Lt. Snyder said. 

Thorn, the nonprofit that runs Spotlight, offers the database to thousands of law enforcement agencies for free. Sarah Potts, the Director of Partnerships for Thorn, says by tapping into tech communities across the world, they are able to create the most efficient program possible.

“What’s incredible is that the people who are working here aren’t just working to protect their kids. The solutions and ideas they have today are going to help protect kids across the entire country,” Potts said. 

A computer sticker shows the name of the non-profit Thorn which runs the database.

She said the people who are volunteering their time in the Twin Cities this weekend are working on some possible new features to the program. 
“We’ve already been blown away by what we’ve seen,” Potts said.

The event was organized by CWT, formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a Twin Cities company that has been active in the anti-trafficking community. 

“This is a really unique opportunity to bring the twin cities tech community together for a really good cause,” chief information officer for CWT, John Pelant said. 

For more information on Thorn and Spotlight, click here.

For useful resources on the exploitation of children online, click here.