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LAPD Uses Controversial Data Surveillance Tool to Create Massive Database of People

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  • Controversial data gathering company Palantir Technologies went public Wednesday. Leading up to this move, many reports detailed why the group is so heavily criticized.
  • One of the biggest reports came from BuzzFeed News, which obtained documents that show how officers in the Los Angeles Police Department are trained to use Palantir Gotham.
  • This tool allows officers to create a database of people who may or may not be suspected of crimes, and then search that database by name, race, gender, tattoos, people they know, and more.
  • Within the last few weeks, both Amnesty International and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also lodged concerns of their own about Palantir, ranging from human rights violations to a lack of transparency with the public.

BuzzFeed News Report

As Palantir Technologies went public on Wednesday, so did numerous reports detailing why the data gathering and analysis company is so controversial.

One of the biggest reports came from BuzzFeed News, which obtained documents revealing how the Los Angeles Police Department used Palantir Gotham, a highly contentious law enforcement tool, to create a sweeping database. According to their report, this includes information like the names of those who have been arrested, convicted, or suspected of a crime, but goes much further. 

“Maybe a police officer was told a person knew a suspected gang member. Maybe an officer spoke to a person who lived near a crime “hot spot,” or was in the area when a crime happened. Maybe a police officer simply had a hunch. The context is immaterial,” reporter Caroline Haskins wrote. “Once the LAPD adds a name to Palantir’s database, that person becomes a data point in a massive police surveillance system.”

The LAPD uses this system in effort to quickly search for and find criminals, but it has unsurprisingly faced backlash from those who see Palantir as a privacy overreach. Some believe that, especially as the country is having conversations about shrinking police budgets, tools like this cost taxpayers too much money. Others believe the lack of transparency between the public and police departments about using Planatair and other forms of data surveillance is dangerous. 

According to BuzzFeed News, LAPD’s use of Palantir has little to no public oversight or regulation. The program “helped the LAPD construct a vast database that indiscriminately lists the names, addresses, phone numbers, license plates, friendships, romances, jobs of Angelenos — the guilty, innocent, and those in between.”

The LAPD has been using Palantir for ten years, and between 2015 and 2016, paid for it via money it received from the federal government, but it’s unclear if that is always how it has been funded. 

Palantir collects information from multiple sources, including the DMV and photos collected at traffic lights and toll booths. The database has one billion pictures of license plates from those locations so that police can see where and when your car was photographed, then click to learn more about you.

On top of this, the report notes that dozens of California police departments, sheriff’s offices, airport police, universities and school districts signed onto data sharing agreements with the LAPD between 2012 and 2017. As a result, these places have had to send daily copies of their police records, licence plate readings, and dispatch information to the LAPD so officers can put that data into Palantir. 

A document of user metrics obtained by BuzzFeed shows that as of 2017, there are 5,000 registered LAPD user accounts on Palantir, which is over 40% of the department’s officers. In 2016, LAPD ran more than 60,000 searches in support of more than 10,000 cases. 

The outlet also obtained training documents that detail specifically how officers are being instructed to use Palantir. Police can search for people not only by name, but by race, gender, gang membership, tattoos, scars, friends and family. These searches will return a list of names along with associated addresses, emails, vehicles, warrants, mugshots, surveillance pictures, and even personal connections like friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers. 

Criticisms of Palantir and Policing

One of the largest criticisms of Palantir comes from those who fear it will exacerbate the racism that already exists in policing. 

“The federal government shouldn’t be spending money on unproven surveillance software or crime prediction programs that target Black and Hispanic Americans and don’t actually reduce crime,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or.) said. 

Many of these concerns here are backed up by sociologist Sarah Brayne, who studied and observed how the LAPD uses data surveillance over the course of seven years. In July, she wrote about Palantir and the LAPD for the Los Angeles Times and said officers had built a “sprawling database of information.”

“In the digital age, data are a form of capital. If only the police and tech companies have access to the data and analytic software, independent evaluation of how this capital is being leveraged in law enforcement is impossible,” Brayne wrote. She also believed that there can easily be racial bias issues in the application of these tools

“Analytic software also can exacerbate inequalities under the veneer of objectivity,” she said. “Surveillance tools such as license plate readers are deployed based on past department crime statistics, which means that “predictive policing” data systems disproportionately point to Black and brown people and neighborhoods for heavier policing and future data gathering.”

Controversies as Palantir Goes Public

Palantir was started by its CEO Alex Karp and a handful of other founders, including Peter Thiel. In addition to being used by the LAPD, it has also been used by the New York Police Department, the CIA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and most recently, by the Department of Health and Human Services for data processing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BuzzFeed’s report exposing its use in the LAPD is just the latest piece of criticism it has faced heading into its move to go public. Amnesty International put out a release accusing Palantir of human rights abuses, specifically citing its relationship with ICE. 

“Palantir touts its ethical commitments, saying it will never work with regimes that abuse human rights abroad. This is deeply ironic, given the company’s willingness stateside to work directly with ICE, which has used its technology to execute harmful policies that target migrants and asylum-seekers,” wrote Michael Kleinman, the Director of Amnesty International’s Silicon Valley Initiative.

According to Amnesty International, ICE has used Palantir to arrest parents and caregivers of unaccompanied children and to plan mass riads, leading to children being separated from their caregivers. Palantir allows ICE to identify, share information on, investigate, and track migrants and asylum seekers, which aids operations like these. 

Palantir also faced criticism earlier this month from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Ny.) who wrote the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing her concerns about Palantir going public. In a letter, she claimed that the company was not transparent enough with the public. 

“Palantir reports several pieces of information about its company – and omits others – that we believe require further disclosure and examination, as they present material risks of which potential investors should be aware and national security concerns of which the public should be aware,” she wrote. 

Ocasio-Cortez highlighted several areas of concern, including the fact that Palantir has worked with foreign governments known to engage in corrupt practices and human rights violations, their failure to provide adequate information about one of its board members, and the potential data security implications of its relationship with HHS could have. 

“Palantir must provide greater transparency to potential investors about the data protections or lack thereof associated with its government contracts, and further information about the U.S. and non-U.S. government entities for which it is working on data related to the COVID-19 crisis,” she wrote. “This is of paramount importance to investors and the public, as Palantir Chief Operating Office Shyam Sankar recently characterized the company’s work for multiple governments to manage and process data in response to the COVID-19 crisis as the new “driving thrust of the company.”

See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Business Insider) (Washington Post)

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NFL Says Teams Could Be Forced To Forfeit Games If Unvaccinated Players Cause COVID-19 Outbreaks

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Neither team will be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that faces the outbreak must also cover all expenses for the opposing team.


NFL Issues Strong Warning to the Unvaccinated

The National Football League announced Thursday that if a game is canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players on a certain team, that team will be forced to forfeit the match. 

Additionally, the league said players on both teams will not be paid for any forfeited games, and the team that causes the game to be canceled will also be forced to cover all expenses for the opposing team. It could also face disciplinary action from the Commissioner’s Office. 

As NFL.com writer Kevin Patra noted, this is “the clearest line the NFL has drawn to date and the most substantial incentive yet for owners, teams and coaches to pressure players to get vaccinated.”

While the league has not mandated that its players and staff get vaccinated, in its Thursday memo, it said that “nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs.” It also noted that 75% of players “are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.”

The NFL added that vaccinated players or staff who test positive and are asymptomatic will be allowed to return to work following two negative tests 24 hours apart. For unvaccinated players and staff who test positive, the NFL is deferring to its 2020 rules: 10-day isolation.

Rescheduling Vs. Canceling

Unvaccinated players — regardless of whether they test positive or not — will also be subject to more stringent protocols, including daily testing, mask-wearing, and travel restrictions.

That said, there is one potential loophole for teams that find themselves subject to outbreaks, though it could still be a longshot. The NFL will allow games to be rescheduled as long as they fit within the timeframe of its regular season.

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the NFL made clear in its memo. 

Still, the NFL may not be as flexible as it was during 2020. For example, while it was able to reschedule all of its postponed games during that season, it did so by moving some to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

What Players Are Saying 

Currently-unvaccinated players were quick to speak out against the memo on Thursday.

“Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @NFL,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.

Source: @deandrehopkins

Those advocating for players to get vaccinated have argued that not vaccinating yourself while engaging in a high-contact sport could still result in hurting teammates. In fact, several athletes have reported lingering effects following COVID-19 diagnoses, and some worry that long-term lung issues could cut their careers short. 

Similar to Hopkins, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”

Las Vegas Raiders running back even compared this year’s season to “playing in jail” in a now-deleted tweet, saying, “read the rules-know em like you know your plays.”

Meanwhile, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he hopes his team is “headed toward 100%” vaccination following the memo. 

See what others are saying: (NFL) (ESPN) (The Hill)

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California Sues Activision Blizzard Over “Frat Boy” Culture and Rampant Sexual Harassment

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The lawsuit details how certain executives at the company assaulted and harassed female employees and how one woman ultimately committed suicide after having a nude photo of herself leaked around the office. 


The Lawsuit’s Disturbing Harassment Details

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has lobbed a massive gender discrimination lawsuit against video game developer Blizzard Entertainment and its parent company Activision Blizzard, accusing the two of creating a culture of “constant sexual harassment.”

The details of the suit, which was launched Wednesday following two years of investigations, are disturbing. In some instances, it describes not just allegations of sexual harassment but also of sexual assault. 

For example, DFEH claims Blizzard’s workplaces are seeped in “frat boy” culture and said female employees have been “subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, groping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment.” 

The suit cites specific instances of harassment through the accounts of female employees, including one who said random male employees would approach her at her worksite and comment on her breasts. 

Other female employees working on the World of Warcraft team alleged that male employees and even supervisors would hit on them and make derogatory comments about rape.

In the most tragic outcome cited in the lawsuit, DFEH said one female employee committed suicide on a company trip after having a sexual relationship with a male supervisor who had brought along a butt plug and lubricant. According to the suit, she had also faced harassment at a holiday party when male co-workers began passing around a photo of her vagina. 

DFEH Names Involved Executives

The allegations go straight to the top of Blizzard Entertainment’s chain of command. 

In fact, the suit claims President J. Allen Brack both knew about this behavior and enabled it. 

On top of that, an unnamed former Chief Technology Officer was allegedly seen “groping inebriated female employees at company events.”

The suit also specifically names Alex Afrasiabi, World of Warcraft’s senior creative director, saying he was “permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions.”

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Female Employees Face Retaliation and Gender Discrimination

It’s not just that nothing was being done when female employees reported these instances, according to the DFEH. The agency also said those women faced retaliation, including being deprived of work, unwillingly transferred to other departments, and even being laid off at higher rates than male employees. 

Separately, another employee alleged she was told she couldn’t be promoted as a manager because “she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much,” even though she had already assumed some of the responsibilities of a manager. 

Other employees who had actually gotten pregnant said they were given negative evaluations while on maternity leave.

In 2019, it was reported by multiple outlets that Blizzard was offering third-party fertility and pregnancy tracking services to employees but was also receiving that anonymized data back.

Blizzard Denounces Lawsuit

In response, Blizzard has called California’s lawsuit “irresponsible” and from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

Blizzard has also defended its workplace, saying, “Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams.”

Others Speak Up

Since this lawsuit came out, at least five former employees have publicly corroborated several of its details.

That includes one woman who wrote on Twitter, “I left Blizzard after my boss gaslit me so badly my hair started falling out. My profit sharing, which I relied on to make ends meet, was docked due to “underperforming”, and when I went to HR to fight it with proof against his claims, I was told “maybe you are underperforming.”

“The fucked up part? I HATED leaving. Blizzard was my dream job and I loved the work I did there.”

Others, such as gamer Alanah Pearce, have recounted their own experiences working in gaming as a result of the allegations. 

“It’s jarring to me to see so many people on Twitter, who are around the industry, who are like gaming fans who don’t work in the industry, and go ‘Oh my, God, this is horrific.’ When my reaction is, ‘Oh, so it’s normal…” Pearce said in a Twitch stream uploaded to YouTube Thursday.

“Even when I worked in Tech before, the stories that I fucking have — just the shit that they did to me… Iike I was repeatedly grabbed and groped at work functions, and I would complain — like to their faces — I’d be like, ‘Don’t fucking touch me,’ and then, they would be like, ‘Haha, of course. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,’ and then they would do it again because me reacting negatively to it was what made it funny to them.”

Pearce went on to recount other very disturbing details about her time at that job, saying she eventually decided one day to not go back altogether.

“But if you see this shit, and you see ‘bros being bros’ and being like, ‘Who can fuck this girl first?’ Just please fucking say something. It’s so much harder for women to say something,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Kotaku) (Bloomberg Law)

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Art Museums To Sue PornHub for Launching App That Creates Erotic Versions of Masterpieces

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PornHub’s efforts are certainly a creative way to get more people interested in art. 


PornHub Recreates Art Through Its Own Vision

Did Italian Renaissance painter Titian ever believe that his masterpiece “Venus of Urbino” would be interpreted or re-envisioned as a pornographic masturbation scene?

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it has now, and the museum that owns the original — the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy — is not pleasured, to say the least. 

The recreation is just one of several others featured on a new (NSFW) interactive website and app called “Show Me the Nudes,” which was recently launched by PornHub. The app itself functions as an audio tour for multiple world-renowned art museums, including the Louvre, The Met, the National Gallery in London, and several others.

Adult film star Asa Akira provides commentary and a brief bit of art history for multiple pieces featured on the site. More notably, however, the site also highlights one select work from each museum by recreating it as a pornographic clip, which features actors from the adult entertainment troupe My Sweet Apple. 

“Time to ditch those boring self-tour recordings and enjoy every single brushstroke of these erotic masterpieces with me,” Akira said while promoting the site.

Indeed, PornHub’s descriptions for the works would not be considered boring by most. In its summary of “Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters” — which features the titular Gabrielle pinching her nude sister’s nipple — the site writes, “There’s something theatrical about the scene, with both women starting nonchalantly back at us from what feels like a stage, giving it some early cam girl energy.”

Louvre and Uffizi To Sue

As Daily Beast writer Barbie Latza Nadeau put it, “There is little doubt that the clever app will bring these masterpieces to a whole new audience by marrying two worlds that might not generally engage.”

That said, the extra attention seems to be actively unwanted by the Louvre and the Uffizi, both of which are now planning to sue PornHub for rights infringement and ask a court to force the website offline. 

“In Italy, the cultural heritage code provides that in order to use images of a museum, compressed works for commercial purposes, it is necessary to have the permission, which regulates the methods and sets the relative fee to be paid,” a Uffizi spokesperson told Daily Beast. “All this obviously if the museum grants the authorization which, for example, would hardly have been issued in this case.”

See what others are saying: (Daily Beast) (Complex) (New York Post)

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