Google Ideas — Google’s think tank around human repression — has a mission statement to use data and technology to enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict and instability, explained Google Ideas Product Manager Justin Kosslyn at Gigaom’s Structure Data conference in New York on Wednesday. Essentially, they’re using data to do good.
When it comes to accessing this type of data from shady underground networks of human trafficking and violence cycles in conflict zones, it can be particularly hard to find, analyze and make this data actionable. But Kossyln says that one source of data that is particularly illuminating — as well as helpful for victims of these crimes — is hot lines. Hotlines can help victims directly, generate data points that yield insights and also create a positive feedback loop that builds trust in communities.
He’s a convert because the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, The Polaris Project, and startup Palantir have been able to help take 150+ structured variables for the over 20,000 calls the hotline gets a year to look at human trafficking trends. The Polaris Project uses this type of data to drive national insights and policy. Google Ideas worked with the partners to package their technology and get it out to other human trafficking support groups around the world.
At the end of the day, data can also be used for ill — it’s just a tool. For example, New Yorker staff writer Patrick Keefe worked on a reporting project where he uncovered the sophisticated data analytics, accounting practices and insurance programs that the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel uses. But Google Ideas’ Kosslyn said that he thinks it’s important to get these data tools out there in the hands of those doing good, specifically so that they can combat those doing evil.
Photo by Jakub Mosur. Article updated to correct Kosslyn’s position to Product Manager, not Project Manager.