INESC TEC researcher proposes tool to support criminal investigations

The paper “A Social Media Tool for Domain-Specific Information Retrieval – A Case Study in Human Trafficking”, by Tito Griné and Carla Teixeira Lopes, researchers at INESC TEC, received the “Best Paper Award”, at the 7th Workshop on Data Science for Social Good. The event took place within the framework of the European Conference on Machine Learning and Principles and Practice of Knowledge Discovery in Databases 2022. The work proposes a new strategy to extract information from the web, using social networks as a starting point, in order to support criminal investigations, namely concerning human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The way each person uses the Internet, and more specifically, their activity on social networks, leaves a digital footprint that, when analysed, is able to generate relevant information in the context of criminal investigations. This is the motto of Tito Griné’s research work, which suggests an open-source intelligence tool (OSINT) that aims to help authorities efficiently access and use data that is scattered on the web.

“The approach we propose depends on two main assumptions. The first is that people who actively use the web tend to reveal their online presence through social networks and the second is that the greater the involvement/experience of a person in each domain, the more likely they are to share content and information related to said subject”, explained Tito Griné. In this sense, according to the researcher, “the idea is to identify profiles involved in a given area of interest and analyse shared links in these profiles, trying to determine which ones contain relevant information for those profiles”, he stated.

Tito Griné carried out a case study, through the social network Twitter: using the tool he developed, the researcher identified profiles related to the sex industry, “in an attempt to show its usefulness in investigations of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, having obtained promising results”.

Following the Best Paper Award, Tito Griné hopes that his work becomes the motto for future research, and that the authorities can benefit from it, as a complementary and facilitator of the criminal investigation process.

The paper is part of Tito Griné’s thesis work in the Master’s in Informatics and Computing Engineering (Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto) and is available on the Repository of the University of Porto.

The INESC TEC researchers mentioned in this news piece are associated with INESC TEC and UP-FEUP.

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