Tech Startup Helping Cops Track Sex Workers Online
"Big data" and "sex trafficking." That it took so long for someone to combine these buzz terms into one money-making venture is just one of several mysteries surrounding Rescue Forensics, a new startup.
The "big" in the Memphis-based company? Rescue Forensics claims it "archives massive quantities of data from classified advertisement sites specializing in commercial sex ads." It gathers a lot of text, and even more nude and semi-nude photos. Then it turns all that over to the cops.
Rescue Forensics has said it's "making it harder for bad guys to hide on the internet." And while it's hard to quantify that claim, the company certainly achieved some success in attracting investors: Paul Graham's influential Y Combinator incubator selected Rescue Forensics for funding, after which TechCrunch dubbed the service the "software [that] eats sex trafficking." With Rescue Forensics, users can "#tracethetraffickers," as one of its own Facebook memes puts it.
From what I could learn, though, what Rescue Forensics appears to be selling is just one more tool to help cops track people engaged in sex work through their online activities.
Rescue Forensics purports to have brought on more than 100 law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (A spokesperson for one segment of DHS—Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE—said that as far as they could tell, they aren't using the software, while the FBI refused to comment on investigations.)