USAID Seeks Anti-Trafficking App

The U.S. Agency for International Development launched a contest earlier this week asking tech entrepreneurs from Russia and other former-Soviet states to develop a smartphone app that will reduce human trafficking.

The app should also raise awareness of trafficking and provide services to survivors, according to an announcement.

The former Soviet states are a hub for trafficking, which includes forced labor and often forced prostitution. If the app proves successful in former Soviet states, the agency hopes to roll out similar apps in other regions, a USAID official said.

The creators of the winning app will get $15,000 in prize money put up by the Demi and Ashton Foundation, an anti-trafficking organization set up by actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. The agency is accepting entries through Aug. 8. Entrants must be from a former Soviet state but may live elsewhere.

USAID has been ramping up its targeting of mobile and smartphones, which are much more prevalent in most developing countries than computers or even televisions.

The aid agency's Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, or MAMA program, unveiled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May, for instance, sends health tips to pregnant women and young mothers in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa by text message or automated call. Women who sign up for the program can enter personal information so the tips are targeted at their stage of pregnancy or the ages of their children.

A service specifically designed for internet-enabled smartphones would necessarily have a much narrower reach.

About 82 percent of Russians use cell phones, according to a December study by the Pew Research Center, but only 44 percent use the internet. The survey did not report on Russian smartphone adoption.