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New software scans computers for pornographic images loaded by employees

2 min read

More than 60 percent of the 500 largest U.S. companies have disciplined or fired employees for displaying, storing, or transmitting pornography or other improper images, according to a survey released last summer by Delta Consulting, in Atlanta. Many firms block access to pornographic Web sites, partly because pornography sent around the workplace can expose companies to sexual harassment lawsuits or charges of permitting a "hostile work environment." Other firms may limit their employees' Web surfing to a few preapproved sites.

But those two tactics do nothing to address images brought in as e-mail attachments, or those on CDs and USB storage devices, or, for that matter, MP3 players and cellphones, or those just e-mailed in by friends. PixAlert, a Dublin, Ireland, start-up, claims to be the first with software that can find pornographic digital pictures no matter how they enter the office PC. The program doesn't try to monitor pornography's myriad pathways into the workplace. Instead, it relies on the commonsense notion that the images aren't a problem until they're viewed, and when they're viewed they are patterns of pixels onscreen. The right algorithms can analyze those patterns.

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How Police Exploited the Capitol Riot’s Digital Records

Forensic technology is powerful, but is it worth the privacy trade-offs?

11 min read
 Illustration of the silhouette of a person with upraised arm holding a cellphone in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Superimposed on the head is a green matrix, which represents data points used for facial recognition
Gabriel Zimmer

The group of well-dressed young men who gathered on the outskirts of Baltimore on the night of 5 January 2021 hardly looked like extremists. But the next day, prosecutors allege, they would all breach the United States Capitol during the deadly insurrection. Several would loot and destroy media equipment, and one would assault a policeman.

No strangers to protest, the men, members of the America First movement, diligently donned masks to obscure their faces. None boasted of their exploits on social media, and none of their friends or family would come forward to denounce them. But on 5 January, they made one piping hot, family-size mistake: They shared a pizza.

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