Free Minds & Free Markets

Are You a Woman Traveling Alone? Marriott Might Be Watching You.

How big hotel chains became arms of the surveillance state.

(Page 4 of 4)

One Memex-funded program alone, called DIG, can index 5,000 web pages per hour and turn the content into a searchable database. "To get enough training data, DIG uses [the crowdsourcing marketplace] Amazon Mechanical Turk to recruit people to read escort ads and highlight key information like eye color, hair color, and the working name of people featured in escort ads," reported PBS. As of 2017, it was being used by more than 200 law enforcement agencies.

DOD's $67 Million Cache of Escort Ads

Between 2014 and 2017, DARPA spent $67 million on the adult-ad indexing program. Is it worth it?

Certainly not from an anti-trafficking standpoint. A 2018 paper from NASA JPL researchers said that in the past year, "DIG, along with other trafficking detection tools from Memex, has led to at least three trafficking prosecutions."


The results are indicative of the flawed focus of so-called anti-trafficking campaigns. How many victimized people could have been helped with $67 million going to emergency shelters and other services that address material needs?

Instead, the federal government is paying the nation's top scientific minds to pretend it's possible to build an algorithm for sniffing out evildoers if we can just input the right code words, images, emojis, and clues. Those minds then work on things like figuring out how to use bots to scrape content from password-protected websites and forums, building up "the ability to rapidly and automatically monitor [online] gun transactions" and use "object recognition and computer vision" to tell if guns are automatic or semi-automatic, or creating "an approach to identify users across website forums using indirect features derived from metadata on each of the websites."

In other words, the tools developed using escort ads aren't going to stay in the realm of saving trafficking victims or even uncovering consensual but illegal advertisements for sex.

Meanwhile, DHS is deputizing private sector snitches. Hotels, airlines, and others are subjecting staff to training sessions that are pointless at best, destructive at worst. And nobody is worrying about the conditions facing hospitality staff employees, who have historically faced high levels of labor trafficking and sexual abuse themselves. At the same time, this approach makes hotels less amenable to guests, especially single women, by treating them with unwarranted suspicion.

As Marriott gets kudos for "donating" its training course to other hotels, and as ECPAT and its allies push for laws mandating a wasteful corporate branding exercise in even more states, remember: Hiding within this goodwill-garnering campaign are a straight-to-ICE pipeline, crackdowns on consenting adults, the creation of advanced new spying tools, and nonprofit cronyism, all of which inevitably comes at the expense of activities that could actually benefit sex-crime victims. This isn't a recipe for good hospitality or good work against exploitation and abuse.

*CORRECTION: This piece initially stated incorrectly that the Department of Homeland Security is a part of the Department of Justice. It is a separate cabinet agency.

Photo Credit: Album / Fine Art Images/Newscom

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  • Ken Shultz||

    "Marriott deleted the tweet without explanation. A spokesperson for the company later told Reason that the tweet was "inaccurate" and that "there is nothing in the training that advises hotel workers to look for young women traveling alone," while crediting the company's training program for removing young people from "dangerous situations." Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) tweeted that his office would be looking into the incident."

    So, we're talking about a twitter storm here, not an actual case of discrimination against a woman for traveling alone.

    And Justin Amash has promised to spend his time investigating a Twitter storm.

    Are you trying to make Justin Amash look like an idiot?

  • Eddy||

    Maybe he wanted to investigate why Marriott initially seemed to agree with the accusation and then deleted its tweet.

    The fact that their seeming admission came through Twitter shouldn't distract from the fact that they made the admission.

    Maybe it was a low-level staffer who didn't know what (s)he was talking about. Or maybe they're trying to cover up something. Who on earth knows?

    Can guests still view porn on Marriot TVs, or have the stopped that practice?

  • Eddy||

    Oh, wait, the single-woman thing may not have been Marriott at all, if not, then please don't sue, I'm just reacting to what I saw on the Internet.

  • gormadoc||

    I'm pretty sure they were just responding to the last sentence: 'They are training employees how to "spot an escort".' and took that in an unintended positive manner, not necessarily speaking on the specifics.

  • Conchfritters||

    What the holy fuck is going on - a woman drinking by herself is being sex trafficked? The next time my wife travels alone and stays at a Marriott I'll know she's safe because the staff is already watching her closely, and they think she's a hooker.

  • Longtobefree||

    Give her a bug detection device to find the cameras in her room - - - -

  • Rich||

    This operation is really quite sexist. Men traveling alone could be trafficked male prostitutes.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    You could play out that fantasy...

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The next time my wife travels alone and stays at a Marriott I'll know she's safe because the staff is already watching her closely, and they think she's a hooker.


    Please continue.

  • The Iconoclast||

    The next time my wife travels alone and stays at a Marriott I'll know she's safe because the staff is already watching her closely, and they think she's a hooker.

    Genuine LOL...

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    The original tweet accusing Marriott conflated two separate issues: Marriott's Employee "Sex-Trafficking Awareness" Training and a bar in NYC where allegedly a woman was told she couldn't sit at the bar because the owner was cracking down on hookers.

    Everyone read that as Marriott was banning or watching (or whatever) women travelling alone.

    One more reason not to take what you read on Twitter seriously.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The entire Sex Trafficking panic would be a great deal more believable if the idiots pushing it were concerned about those areas of the world where it actually happens; anywhere Muslims control, for example.

    But, no. This isn't about women being forced into Prostitution. This is about Liberal Left women who are scared that if men have access to sex-for-money they might have to abandon their Feminist 'men are pigs' stance and actually study to be pleasant company, unless they want to die alone.

  • Qsl||

    Yeah, this pretty much reads like an internal spat between two different cliques of feminism, and unless it ends in a pillow fight or pistols at dawn, I really can't be bothered.

    Regardless, feminism has made clear women are more than capable of solving their own problems, and any attempt to interfere is clear and present patriarchy.

    But good to know they think of each other as whores.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Definitely agree with the Feminist bad company comment.

    Women tend to be behind many of the Vice laws unconstitutionally implemented in the USA- Prohibition, Sex registries, Sex trafficking laws, etc.

  • Wanderer||

    A short and funny answer that fully captures the issue

  • Rich||

    it is nearly certain to ensnare more innocents than it helps.

    "How can we help those innocents if we don't ensnare them first?"

  • IamNotEvil||

    If you've been ensnared by this you are not innocent. We'll figure out what you're not innocent of later but for now it's best we ensnare you to prevent any future crimes.

    Government 101

  • Longtobefree||

    You know who else kept an eye out for women travelling alone?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    The Big Bad Wolf?

  • SIV||

    The YWCA?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Handsome Ted Bundy?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Donald Trump, paging Stormy Daniels?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Muslim morality police?

  • Deconstructed Potato||


  • Robert||


  • Earth Skeptic||

    This is awesome! I see Huge potential if we combine the Marriott-TSA program with Title IX. Just think what we could do on campus, cracking down on young solo women, in addition to castigating all males. We could call it the Puritan Program (too lazy to invent an acronym), where everybody not on the enforcement side is a deviant of some sort.

  • SQRLSY One||

    " addition to castigating all males."

    No, correction, make that "in addition to castRATing all males."

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Hotels are reacting partly to legal pressure. Chains have recently been hit with a spate of lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable for any prostitution on the premises. "There are advocacy groups that are really pushing this issue, saying here are lists of red flags," Philadelphia attorney Charles Spitz told Business Insurance in 2017. "If you knew these red flags were raised, it will be hard to argue that you did not know."

    Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Tom Dart, who previously mounted aggressive national campaigns against Craigslist and Backpage over prostitution ads posted to those sites, has started focusing his energy on eradicating sex work at hotels. "You name a hotel and I guarantee we've made an arrest or we could," Dart told Business Insurance.

    Lawyers, guns, and money ruin everything.

  • H. Farnham||

    "Lawyers, guns, and money ruin everything"

    I don't know about that. I enjoy hunting, and it is much more enjoyable with guns. Now, if I had a whole lot of money, I could afford to hunt with guns on my own desert island. Take it one step further and ship in a group of unsuspecting lawyers to act as prey in a "most dangerous game" situation.

    Point... countered.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Or hunting lawyers for bounty.

  • Ragnarredbeard||

    I would vote for you if you ran on that platform.

  • Longtobefree||

    ". . . or we could . . "

    Did he just admit to accepting payoff from some hotels?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Well, hotels do rent private spaces with beds. If that is not enabling prostitution, then what is?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    "Lawyers, guns, and money ruin everything"

    Warren Zevon notwithstanding.

  • Number 2||

    What spate of lawsuits are we talking about? Can we please have a citation to cases in the United States in which hotels were somehow held liable for "sex trafficking" taking place there, or in which hotels were held to be legally responsible for what customers do in their bedrooms?

    Admittedly, this is not my area of practice, but this is the first I am hearing of a "spate" of lawsuits against hotels for allegedly enabling sex traffic.

  • KHP54||

    "Some say there is a spate of lawsuits..."

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Meanwhile, DHS is deputizing private sector snitches. Hotels, airlines, and others are subjecting staff to training sessions that are pointless at best, destructive at worst

    Why do Stasi officers make such good taxi drivers?

    You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live.

  • Longtobefree||

    And where you ha better be asking to go - - - -

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "'s an effort based on panic, profiling, and stereotypes, and it is nearly certain to ensnare more innocents than it helps."

    Now listen; no sweet you girl ever dreams of growing up to be a prostitute. And what kind of retrograde misogynist would wish that on someone? If it just saves ONE girl from a life of moral horror, it's worth it; amIright?

    So no woman may go into a bar alone; the old Puritanism is dead, long live the new Puritanism. It's for your own good.

  • RoyMo||

    It was always for your own girl, a woman kept barefoot and pregnant will have a much easier time going to heaven or getting reincarnated as a man next go round.

  • SQRLSY One||

    If you want to engage in loveless sex, coerced or not coerced, you're not very likely to find it at big chain hotels.

    If you want to engage in loveless COERCED sex, you are FAR better likely to be lucky by working for a contractor-prison for illegal sub-humans, and get PAID for doing it! Paid to get laid! Paid by Government Almighty itself, all in the name of suppressing the illegal sub-humans!!!

    ICE Let Sexual Assault Reports Slide At Migrant Detention Centers Run By Contractors: Inspector General

    (Pops popcorn, prepares for assault by Trumpistas who say that anything from HuffPost must be a total lie).

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    illegal sub-humans

    Keep at it, one day someone might think you're not deranged.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Enjoying my popcorn! Hope you are enjoying sucking the schlong of Der Ding-Ding, AKA Der TrumpfenFuhrer!

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    It's even funnier that me pointing out a stupid phrase you continually use makes me a Trump sucker or something.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    You better not be doing this at a Marriott.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The campaign "essentially leverages the U.S. populace to act as [human intelligence] collection sources for suspicious activities throughout the country."

    Creating a nation of snitches. That'll end well.

  • awildseaking||

    I think that's a really disturbing legal trend for courts to rule that not noticing crimes before/as they happen = criminal liability. It essentially forces everyone into a surveillance state to protect yourself from malicious prosecution.

  • MoreFreedom||

    The Institute For Justice got involved regarding a motel seized because of illegal activity that occurred there from people who rented rooms, but for drug crimes. From the website:

    Seeking to circumvent state law and cash in on the profits, the Tewksbury Police Department teamed up with the United States Department of Justice to take and sell the Caswell's property because a tiny fraction of people staying there during the past 14 years were arrested for drug crimes. Keep in mind, the Caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property. And during those 14 years, the government pointed to a mere fifteen arrests—out of more than 200,000 rooms rented during that time by the Caswell

    You're right it's a bad trend. Especially regarding victimless crimes. Regarding Nolan's article, I don't see a big problem with what Marriott is doing; they have a security obligation to their customers, but can't use force which requires the police to be involved. Nolan didn't provide a single example of some woman who was offended for being treated like a hooker, but Nolan seems to be offended about it. I do agree with Nolan that the government is wasteful in their anti-prostitution pursuits.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Though the efforts are couched in anti-trafficking terms, the federal government is actually developing knowledge and tools that can very efficiently surveil, archive, and interpret all sorts of digital content and metadata.

    Which is the whole point, of course. They're just using the "sex trafficking" moral panic du jour as an excuse to do what they've always wanted to do anyway.

  • GryFalcon||

    Parents can no longer seek medical treatment for our child for fear of "mandatory reporters", not because parents do anything wrong, but because the definition of medical child abuse is so vague that anyone can decide we are "bad parents". The only way a parent can be sure that their kid will not be kidnapped by the State is to avoid State agents -- doctors.

    When we get in our car, the GPS built into almost all cars now reports our location. Toll stations snap pictures of our license plates. Cops scan our license tags as we pass, while the gps in our phone records our location.

    As I sit typing this, the metadata is recorded and analyzed in a massive installation managed by The State.

    We have arrived at the dystopian future long predicted in such fictional accounts as 1984 and Brazil.

    Meanwhile we do nothing when...
    A psychiatrist reports to the campus police that a man is a danger to others. So, he dons a joker costume and shoots up a theater.
    Parents call police to express concern about their son, and the police tell them, "Take the car keys and hide the guns". So, he commits a mass shooting.
    Russia calls the US and says, "I think that man is a terrorist". So, he commits the Boston marathon bombing.

    If our government cannot act on information this specific, then how does sifting through our mail or spying on our hotel stays help?

    We need less spying and better response.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Agreed and well written!

    "Meanwhile we do nothing when..."

    Please add to your list, when we have a deranged rabble-rouser with his or her hands on the controls for mass murder as we cannot imagine! I have repeatedly warned the authorities about such a case, and nothing ever gets done! Maybe if more of us start sending alerts in about this dangerous character... PLEASE help me "see something, say something" about the following character, at a known address that he frequents:

    Satan J. Trump
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
    Washington, D.C. 20500

  • Trainer||

    We have arrived at the dystopian future long predicted...

    And so many of us went there willingly, even begging for it.

  • ||

    And the law enforcement on the scene of the Florida shooting didn't even go in and try to stop it. They just camped outside.

    And at the Garland TX shooting, an undercover FBI agent was following the shooter after having encouraged him to do it. ("Tear up Texas.") They abandoned the shooter and tried to avoid getting caught while the security at the scene gunned the shooter down.

  • GryFalcon||

    A great deal of sex trafficking is operated through CPS. If you want to end sex trafficking, end CPS.

  • GryFalcon||

    So, what do they do to people they have concluded are sex traffickers?

    This reminds me of the hotel staff that called police on a black guest.

    Which raises a good point. How does this policy of stereotyping and discriminatory behavior affect minorities staying in Marriotts?

  • Longtobefree||

    I'm not sure this is a good idea.
    From this article it seems you can make more money at a hotel than at home.

  • Aaron Wetzel||

    I really wonder if Marriott is watching me in every travel I have. lol

  • M.L.||

    Reason is in favor of prostitution, right? That's what this weird article is all about? A world with no restrictions on prostitution will be very ugly indeed.

    Prostitution entails sex trafficking. People are easily manipulated and controlled, as a general rule. Especially young girls, and especially when you throw in some abuse and maybe some drug addiction. There won't be any exercise of agency for the most part, just exploitation on a massive scale. The grand deception and cover-up at work is to hold up an idealized version of having sex for money as a wonderful and beneficial exercise of agency, and pretend that is the norm. The world is like this already, but countervailing forces keep it in check.

  • Qsl||

    Problem is you can make this argument about nearly ANYONE, from soldiers to Reason editors, so why single out prostitutes for special treatment?

    And much like drug prohibition, outlawing prostitution ensures shady characters will be the mainstay of operators. Show me the sex trafficking rings in Nevada. It just ain't there.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Yeah, in Nevada those rings are about as easy to find as bootleggers and numbers-runners.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    This was meant as a response to a different comment.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Reason is in favor of prostitution, right?

    No, dumbass. Libertarians are in favor of freedom, which necessarily includes things that people shouldn't do, like smoking, voting for leftards, or banging hookers. One thing we do object to is having our tax money spent on hookers and blow.

    Prostitution entails sex trafficking.

    It does in the current prohibitionist environment, yes. Get government out of the bedroom (or hotel room), and let hookers avail themselves of the legal protections that any other line of work entails, and you can expect that to change.


  • BruceMajors||

    When downtown DC was just being gentrified in its latest wave, right before reason magazine moved to DC, women,and I think it was mainly women, not guys including gay guys, walking about in the wee hours until the crack of dawn in the Logan Circle neighborhood, especially if they were wearing sexy outfits or had a lot of makeup on, were detained by the police and told to either take a black plastic garbage bag and pick up litter or get in the wagon for a trip to jail. This was a way of driving street walkers out of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

    I don't know that any legal action was taken. It worked. Now to find a streetwalker you have to walk away from 13th and P Streets NW all the way over to 11th and M Streets NW, nearer the new Convention Center (or the CATO Institute). There are plenty of ladies (?) there every morning up until around 7 am waving at every car driving by.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    What kind of sad individual would object to a ladies in sexy outfits waving hello as you drive by? Who is harmed by that?

  • JWatts||

    Ugly women

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    its easy to get around all these prostitution laws, just videotape it all and say you are making a 'porno movie'..presto! suddenly paying someone to have sex is totally legal.

  • Truthteller1||

    This article would fall under the umbrella of fake news.

  • Rossami||

    So you're saying that Marriot didn't write that post (then take it down without a credible explanation)? You're saying that DHS isn't waging a propaganda campaign against consensual sex workers?

  • Uncle Jay||

    Oh, so that's where all the porn comes from.
    I was wondering...

  • Henry Baker||

    I've got a one-word solution to this fascist shit: Arson.

  • A. Kirkland Idiott||

    Anthony Weiner? Bill Clinton? Mark Sanford?

  • Desmond Ravenstone||

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I don't get why people and companies conflate all sex work with forced prostitution. Do they also conflate all unpaid work (volunteering) with slavery? Do they conflate going to visit someone in their home with being kidnapped? Seems to me that would call for the same level of idiocy.

  • Tionico||

    Hmmm I musst be a sex worker then, because I've been backing into parking spaces for nearly fifty years.

    WHen gummit decides they've got a burr under their saddle blanket they can really come up with some stoooopud stuff.

  • Joe_C||

    So you're the guy who makes me wait an extra 30 seconds when I'm trying to find a spot in a packed parking garage? You have to back up at some point regardless.

  • BarkingSpider||'re in the hotel business and not the surveillance business. That being said whether true or not (I believe true) I"ll play it safe by spending my money elsewhere. I don't pay money to be spied on!

  • Joe_C||

    You did read this, right? Unfortunately, it's not just Marriott.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    And with all money spent to on surveillance of people who travel about, they still can't use e-verify to make sure employers aren't hiring unauthorized aliens.

    Yeah. Right.

  • Johnimo||

    I don't know about you, but I feel SO much safer.

  • wGraves||

    This surveillance by the state has been going on in France since the French Revolution. If you stay in a Hotel, you are required to leave your passport with the desk on the first night of your stay. The police record information from the passports routinely. If you live in an apartment building, there is often an elderly 'concierge' who keeps an eye on anyone deemed to be participating in unusual activity. These people are a part of the national network. In a hotel, you are required to leave your room key with the desk whenever you leave the building.

  • loki||

    Does bringing home a paycheck to keep the wife happy count as sex trafficking?

  • operagost||

    Sounds like they're harassing a lot of women waiting for dates, and a LOT of women on business trips.

  • Stevecsd||

    I also noticed the article reported that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is running that MEMEX program. DARPA is a Department of Defense agency. How is it legal to set up a program to spy on civilians? Maybe we can attack it from this angle. Also, NASA JPL, which is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, did the analysis paper on this program. What business does NASA JPL have in analyzing a Department of Defense agency's project? NASA is supposed to be a space program. Mission creep all over the place.

  • Stevecsd||

    I also noticed the article reported that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is running that MEMEX program. DARPA is a Department of Defense agency. How is it legal to set up a program to spy on civilians? Maybe we can attack it from this angle. Also, NASA JPL, which is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, did the analysis paper on this program. What business does NASA JPL have in analyzing a Department of Defense agency's project? NASA is supposed to be a space program. Mission creep all over the place.

  • mswen||

    Do you know what might actually help fight sex-trafficking? Ask prostitutes, strippers, and other sex workers to help. Women talk. They support each other. They could encourage actual victims to go to places where they could get help, and let the police know about traffickers. But, of course, that might legitimize these professions. And we can't have that.

  • Marijuana Packaging MD||

    Yeah, the caswells themselves have worked closely with law enforcement officials to prevent and report crime on their property.


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