Europol introduce crowdsourcing to catch child abusers

LeakofNations: “The criminal intelligence branch of the European Union, known as Europol, have started a campaign called #TraceAnObject which uses social media crowdsourcing to detect potentially-identifying objects in material that depicts child abuse….

Investigative crowdsourcing has gained traction in academic and journalistic circles in recent years, but this represents the first case of government bureaus relying on social media people-power to conduct more effective analysis.

Journalists are increasingly relying on a combination of high-end computing to organise terabytes of data and internet cloud hubs that allow a consortium of journalists from around the world to share their analysis of the material. In the Panama Papers scoop the Australian software Nuix was used to analyse, extract, and index documents into an encrypted central hub in which thousands of journalists from 80 countries were able to post their workings and assist others in a forum-type setting. This model was remarkably efficient; over 11.5 million documents, dating back to the 1970’s, were analysed in less than a year.

The website Zooinverse has achieved huge success in creating public participation on academic projects, producing the pioneering game Foldit, where participants play with digital models of proteins. The Oxford University-based organisation has now engaged over 1 million volunteers, and has has significant successes in astronomy, ecology, cell biology, humanities, and climate science.

The most complex investigations still require thousands of hours of straightforward tasks that cannot be computerised. The citizen science website Planet Four studies conditions on Mars, and needs volunteers to compare photographs and detect blotches on Mars’ surface – enabling anyone to feel like Elon Musk, regardless of their educational background.

Child abuse is something that incites anger in most people. Crowdsourcing is an opportunity to take the donkey-work away from slow bureaucratic offices and allow ordinary citizens, many of whom felt powerless to protect children from these vile crimes, to genuinely progress cases that will make children safer.

Zooinverse proves that the public are hungry for this kind of work; the ICIJ project model of a central cloud forum shows that crowdsourcing across international borders allows data to be interpreted more efficiently. Europol’s latest idea could well be a huge success.

Even the most basic object could potentially provide vital clues to the culprit’s identity. The most significant items released so far include a school uniform complete with ID card necktie, and a group of snow-covered lodges….(More) (see also #TraceAnObject).