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Rebecca Portnoff: A Doctoral Candidate from US Fights Human Trafficking Using Algorithms

Rebecca Portnoff has developed two algorithms aimed to fight human trafficking

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Ethnic Uighur Muslim boy stands inside a police van in Khlong Hoi Khong of southern Songkhla province, Thailand. He was in a group of 200 people rescued from a human trafficking camp
Ethnic Uighur Muslim boy stands inside a police van in Khlong Hoi Khong of southern Songkhla province, Thailand. He was in a group of 200 people rescued from a human trafficking camp. VOA
  • The new research uses an algorithm that analyzes writing styles to identify authors and could be applied to online trafficking ads
  • A second algorithm can use time stamps to trace ad payments to accounts known as wallets at Bitcoin

A U.S. researcher Rebecca Portnoff says that she has developed automated ways to identify links between online sex trafficking ads and the digital currency Bitcoin, techniques that may help locate children being sold for sex.

Law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups could use the methods to investigate Backpage.com, an online classified advertising site where sex ads can be found, according to a statement by the University of California Berkeley, where the research was based.

About 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of human trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, according to anti-trafficking groups.

Most sex trafficking victims are children, and most are advertised or sold online, according to a U.S. Senate subcommittee report released this year.

Algorithms do the digging

The new research uses an algorithm that analyzes writing styles to identify authors and could be applied to online trafficking ads, Rebecca Portnoff, its lead author, said Thursday.

A second algorithm can use time stamps to trace ad payments to accounts, known as wallets, at Bitcoin, a web-based digital currency that allows money to move quickly and anonymously.

Comparing time stamps of ad purchases on Bitcoin and time stamps and information on Backpage ads could help identify who is paying for them, said Rebecca Portnoff, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in computer science who developed the techniques as part of her dissertation.

“Where previously you might have five different phone numbers that you had no idea were connected when you can see that they all came from the same wallets, that the same person paid for them, that’s a concrete sign that these five phone numbers are all related to each other,” Rebecca Portnoff said.

Rebecca Portnoff added, “I knew this was an issue that law enforcement was especially interested in.”

ALSO READ: Human Trafficking is one of the most derogatory Criminal Activities, should be Nipped in the Bud

Boost for law enforcement

Having automated style and time stamp analyses to identify sex ads by authors and Bitcoin owners is significant, said Damon McCoy, a New York University Tandon School of Engineering assistant professor of computer science and engineering and a co-author of the research.

“Any technique that can surface commonalities between ads and potentially shed light on the owners is a big boost for those working to curb exploitation,” McCoy said in a statement.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has said more than 70 percent of the reports it gets of trafficked children involve Backpage, based in Dallas, Texas.

Backpage did not respond to a request for comment.

The findings will be published by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, UC Berkeley said.

It said the work was funded by the Amazon Web Services Cloud Credits for Research Program, the technology, and security firm Giant Oak, Google, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. (VOA)

Next Story

Apple Updates its Video Creation App With Animoji and Memoji Support

Clips 2.1 is available as a free update on the App Store and is compatible with iPhone 6s and iPhone SE or later, iPad Air 2 or later and iPod touch (7th generation)

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Apple
The Clips app by Appe is a video editing app that lets users combine video clips, images, and photos with voice-based titles, stickers, music and more to create unique videos that can be shared on social media platforms. Pixabay

Free video creation app of Apple named “Clips” has been updated for the iPhone and the iPad with new Animoji and Memoji support.

This update includes animated stickers and emoji that can “follow the movements of a user’s face” in videos captured with device front-facing cameras.

“Users can now easily share personal video messages, slideshows, school projects and mini movies with more personality than ever. Animated stickers and emoji can now follow the movements of a user’s face for fun selfie videos using the front-facing camera on iPhone and iPad,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.

The new update also introduces new stickers featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, along with a new winter-themed poster. Using Animoji and Memoji in Clips requires a device with a TrueDepth camera.

Apple
Free video creation app of Apple named “Clips” has been updated for the iPhone and the iPad with new Animoji and Memoji support. Pixabay

The Clips app is a video editing app that lets users combine video clips, images, and photos with voice-based titles, stickers, music and more to create unique videos that can be shared on social media platforms.

Clips 2.1 is available as a free update on the App Store and is compatible with iPhone 6s and iPhone SE or later, iPad Air 2 or later and iPod touch (7th generation), running iOS 13 or later and iPadOS 13 or later.

ALSO READ: YouTube India to Focus on Regional Languages For Driving Creator Growth

New Animoji and Memoji features, along with the Selfie Scenes feature, require iPhone or iPad Pro with TrueDepth camera. (IANS)