…also known to Microsoft employees as the Digital Crimes Unit, where I’ve been working the last few weeks!
The last few weeks I’ve been working on a project called Photo Missing Child, which is a facial recognition program designed to help find trafficked children. It’s live now, and you can check it out at this site: Photo Missing Child. Essentially, how it works is parents can upload photos of their missing children to a database, and the app searches for a match. Photos are also submitted by volunteers who snap pictures of children they suspect were trafficked and post the last known location along with their personal contact info in the app. That way, if two photos match, they can figure out how to bring the child home again.
The technology that goes into the app is really quite amazing, and it actually won two prizes at the Hackathon in Shanghai. Sadly, I have no more than an elementary understanding of how it works, so I’ll just get into the stuff that I actually know about. Justin, the other intern, and I have been working on a promotional video that will be shown to NGOs and possibly government authorities. Photo Missing Child is based in Shanghai, so I was there for about week working on the ground with the team there. The video raises awareness about human trafficking in general and also demonstrates how Microsoft’s app can help law enforcement and other organizations return children to their families and catch perpetrators. Tim, our boss, really liked it, so the video may even be used in Beijing.
Human trafficking, unfortunately, is one of those issues in China that is difficult to address because it come a little too close to criticizing the government. China’s one child policy is often blamed for causing the demand for trafficked women and children. As a result, the Chinese government can be very unfriendly towards NGOs or other organizations working on the issue. Another obstacle is the fact that people are highly reluctant to talk about sex trafficking, particularly when it involves children. The subject is virtually taboo. Of course, no one likes to admit that such horrific crimes actually occur in their country. Much of the silence around the subject also stems from the more conservative attitudes towards sex in Asia.
As a result, Justin and I had to fight pretty hard to make a video that we felt accurately reflected the depth of the problems that we were working on. It was definitely a learning experience; I felt like I walked away with a much better understanding of modern Chinese culture and what is required to work productively here. There is a real cultural gap. It isn’t insurmountable, but it exists and it goes deeper that I first imagined. It’s something that really affects the workplace, even though Microsoft is very much an American company.
It will be interesting to see what our guests next week think about it. Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit is hosting a congressional delegation, and I will be responsible for giving them a tour. I’m actually very interested in hearing their perspective on digital crimes and cybersecurity, especially since it’s become such a hot topic recently. With Presidents Obama and Xi meeting in September, I imagine that both governments will be gearing up for some heavy discussion. I’m curious to hear what both parties have to say come September.
I’m afraid I have no photos this time as my phone was stolen in Shanghai, but I’ll be sure to post some when I get the chance. Til next time!
Megan Ye is a double major in Public Policy Studies and Economics and will graduate with the class of 2017.