A chatbot in Seattle is taking on human trafficking

We often boast about all the benefits of technology and the countless ways in which it is improving the lives of ordinary people. After all, this is a tech blog and Smartcom is a tech company. That is not to say that tech and the internet is without its dangers. It is for this reason that we’ve created the Teenage Contract, which is a contract we believe parents should let their teenagers sign before giving them their own smartphones or tablets.

Lucky for us, for every villain who is trying to use technology for bad, there are countless others who are using the same tech to fight back.

One such example is the chatbot currently used in Seattle to try and combat human trafficking and the underage sex trade.

According to its creators, one of the goals of the chatbot is to remind men that what they are doing is wrong and hopefully change their moral compass.

Ads to purchase underage girls are run in places on the web that are notorious for attracting men that engage inappropriately with underage girls. When someone clicks on the ad, they start chatting to what they presume to be a 15-year old girl. The chatbot would then ask the person if they are fine with their age. If the person responds “yes”, they receive a message that reads: “You’ve been talking to a chatbot, and buying sex is a crime that harms women the world over.”

The message is meant to remind the perpetrator that just because you are on the internet, it does not mean you are anonymous. There is always someone watching, and you can get caught.

According to Seattle law enforcement officials, when they place a fake ad on the internet, they get up to 250 responses within the first two hours. It is impossible to monitor all of these, hence the importance of having an automatic system like a chatbot.

One of the creators, Robert Beiser, explained that they worked with actual survivors of this trade to find out how a typical conversation would go. The key was to ensure that the person on the other side doesn’t realise that they are not talking to an actual person. The bot will have an entire conversation before displaying the message that warns the perpetrator. It will even ask men to send a selfie.

With the backing of Microsoft, it is believed that the bot will get even smarter.

The creators hope that this technology will eventually help women and girls all over to the world, not only by acting as a warning, but also by helping police with the actual arrest of child traffickers.


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