Man using mobile phone

Can Apps Prevent Human Trafficking?

There is evidence that mobile phones, social media, instant messaging, and other modern forms of communication have given human traffickers new tools with which to recruit, coordinate, and smuggle. But can technology – and smartphone apps in particular – help prevent vulnerable people avoid or even escape the traffickers' clutches?

BRUSSELS – Technology, the saying goes, is a double-edged sword. But when it comes to human trafficking, that has yet to be proven. There is evidence that mobile phones, social media, instant messaging, and other modern forms of communication have given traffickers new tools for recruitment, coercion, and exploitation. But can technology – and apps in particular – help prevent vulnerable people from being lured and help victims?

Apps have penetrated nearly every area of modern life, from the consumption of news and entertainment to the management of health and finances. The European Union’s Human Trafficking Directive encourages the use of the Internet for “research and education programs…aimed at raising awareness and reducing the risk of people, especially children, becoming victims of trafficking in human beings.” Apps seem like a natural tool for raising awareness, providing information on destination countries, and offering opportunities to report human trafficking.

Indeed, developers have already created apps that can do just that. For example, Travel Safely, an application developed by the Romanian Ministry of External Affairs, was designed to provide Romanian nationals with information while they are abroad. Users can learn about conditions in the country to which they are traveling, including whether any travel alerts are in place. They can also use the app to alert the nearest Romanian consular mission in case of emergency, as well as quickly find out what to do in case of accident, illness, or the loss of documents. By opening a clear channel of communication, the app can help a trafficked person reach safety quickly.

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