Fighting sex trafficking: behind the app helping the FBI bust pimps

In her college dorm room on a Saturday night, 21-year-old Emily Kennedy trawls through hundreds of online ads offering up women for sex.

The ads are posted publicly online, and they’re endless. Emily’s trying to find patterns in ads posted by pimps in the illegal sex trade - consistent phone numbers, spelling mistakes, syntax, phrasing; any clues to link handfuls of ads together. It’s 2011.

By 2016, those nights spent at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have paid off.

Emily’s senior thesis research has become the basis for Traffic Jam, a piece of software that finds patterns in ads posted by pimps. Those patterns now help detectives - even in agencies like the FBI - to figure out who’s behind each post.

Traffic Jam has helped detectives rescue hundreds of victims of human trafficking in the US, Emily Kennedy tells Hack.

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