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Microsoft employees built the bot in a philanthropic initiative called Project Intercept, in collaboration with nonprofits that hope it can reduce demand for sex workers, and the incentives for criminals to coerce people into the sex trade.
The technology is not a product of Microsoft itself.
“Wasting their time and delivering a deterrence message could change their perspective on what they’re doing.”Project Intercept was started in 2012 by two Microsoft employees after seeing a documentary about sex trafficking, .
“I thought we should be able to use the things that we work with every day to help,” says Greg, a senior product manager at Microsoft, who asked not to disclose his last name to avoid recriminations from people involved in the sex trade.
Those working with the new tools hope the software can help with that problem, too, by allowing groups to test different messages and approaches at large scale, and gauge which are most effective.
“The hope is to get this activity down and protect a lot of people,” says Beiser.
But if a would-be buyer signals an intent to purchase sex, the bot pivots sharply into a stern message.“Buying sex from anyone is illegal and can cause serious long term harm to the victim, as well as further the cycle of human trafficking,” goes one such message.
“Details of this incident will be reviewed further and you may be contacted by law enforcement for questioning.” The warning can vary based on the conversation, if, for example, a potential buyer expresses an interest in someone underage.
The new tools arrive as nonprofits and law enforcement devote more attention to stifling the demand that leads to sex trafficking.
While you may believe you could easily figure out that the email from your grandma who is desperately asking you for money is not really an email from your grandma, not all phishing scams are that obvious and many people fall for them.
In fact, a 2015 survey done by Intel Security covering 1Now, Netsafe, a non-profit organization in New Zealand with a focus on online safety, is fighting back.
Roe-Sepowitz says that while education and deterrence make sense, it’s been hard to prove what tactics are most effective.
When detectives in Phoenix used fake ads to surprise people looking to buy sex, nearly half of callers who were contacted by a cop later called another spoof ad.