Hackers Find Missing People For Fun | Freethink Digital Detectives


– [Interviewer] What
do you think happened? (sighs) – [Nathalie] I have a father
that is missing since 1988 on Father’s Day. – [Narrator] Every year, hundreds of thousands
of people go missing. People like Nathalie’s father. – [Nathalie] The police told
us the only thing we can do is report him missing. I was so upset. – [Narrator] There aren’t enough resources for the police to find everyone, so people like Nathalie are left to search for their missing
people on their own. But now a group called Trace
Labs brings together hackers from around the world to use their skills to find real missing people. They’ve turned it into a game, where participants find
clues in exchange for points, and it’s working to help find them. (mysterious music) (phone rings) – [Nathalie] One night my best
friend called me and said, hey Natalie, did you
heard about Trace Labs? They look for missing
person, it’s hackers. I said, what? So, I wrote a email to Robert Sell. I said can you help me? And he said yes. – [Rob] I think because
I’m in search and rescue, I get to see things
that most people don’t. I get to see all the
people that go missing, and as I was paying attention to that, I noticed that there’s a lot
of people that go missing that we never look for. I always wondered who is
looking for those people if I’m not? And sometimes it’s nobody. (mysterious music) – [Narrator] The person
behind Trace Labs is Rob Sell. He’s a tracker for search and rescue, and a computer security professional. – [Rob] Trace Labs
became really a blending of those two passions. – [Narrator] As a tracker, Rob looks for little clues and details that paint a bigger picture about a person’s direction
of travel, their speed, or state of mind. Trace Labs takes the same
approach to online searching, finding little details about
a person’s online activity can add up and help lead investigators to their current location. – [Rob] We’re addressing all
those people that go missing that nobody’s looking for right now. (sirens scream) (intense music) – [Narrator] Rob started Trace Labs as a way to educate people and get them involved in the process of open-source intelligence
gathering, or OSINT. – [Rob] When you go to
a typical conference, a security conference, there’s so many different
things you can do, you can learn how to hack a car, how to hack a voting machine, whatever you wanna do is there, yet that effort is wasted in a way, because it’s not used for anything else. What we do is we take all that effort and we put it into something that’s actually gonna benefit society. Good morning, how you doin’? – [Student] Good how are you? – Not bad, Rob Sell,
nice to meet you Chris. – [Narrator] Rob organizes events like this Capture the Flag game, where participants use OSINT techniques to collect data that could be used to help find missing people. – [Rob] So open-source intelligence, it’s information that you would
find online on the subject. – [Narrator] As participants
gather useful information, they’re awarded points
towards winning prizes. Even seemingly trivial
data can be important in tracking someone down. – [Rob] Quite often, we’ll see a person will get
put into human trafficking, so we’ll look for their picture, because usually we can see their tattoo or some sort of sign on their body where we can identify them. Contestants that come in
will say, wait a minute, are these real missing people? And you can see their mind
change, where it’s like, wow, we’re actually changing people’s lives. – [Narrator] For this event,
Rob has brought together numerous hackers and
security professionals, all working to find whatever data they can about these missing people. – [Rob] We collect information
on those missing persons, and then give that to law enforcement to help them to locate
those missing persons. – [Narrator] Nathalie’s father is listed among several other missing people the contestants are looking for. He’s been missing for over 30 years. – [Rob] So, those are gonna be tough, and you may get very
little information on them at the end of the day, but I think any little bit that we get that we can submit to law
enforcement could help. So, when you think of
your digital footprint being out there, there’s
a concern there sometimes, but in this case, we’re using it to actually
locate those people, so the more we have of you, digitally, the better off we are in some ways, right? – People are actually helping out while they’re having fun, right? – [Rob] Yes. – Although it’s a serious issue– – Right.
– It’s a great initiative. – Yeah. – [Narrator] In the years
since Rob started Trace Labs, they’ve provided law enforcement with data on dozens of cases, even information about the
current whereabouts of people. – [Rob] What these people
here are doing today is really helping law enforcement
to locate those people, and that’s something the
families can really appreciate. (mysterious music) – [Narrator] After two days, the team finds no new
information on Nathalie’s father. But groups like Trace Labs mean you don’t have to search on your own. He’s still listed, and
contestants are still looking for any data they can find. Sharing that burden for even a day or two can make all the difference in the world. – [Rob] We’ve gamified
something very serious, which on the face of
it doesn’t sound good, but it was the only way for
us to achieve our objective of crowd-sourcing hundreds of people, and bringing them in
for that focused effort to locate that child or elderly person or whoever it might be. Anywhere I can push that envelope and allow us to do better, I
feel pretty good about that. So, hopefully this
inspires people to do that. – [Nathalie] Just to know
that Trace Labs, stranger, they would do research for
my father, I was touched. I don’t think I’m gonna
stop looking for him. I will never stop. (light music) Thanks for watching! If you like this video, don’t forget to subscribe to Freethink for more great videos every week.

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