The LAPD Faces Criticism For Using a Surveillance App To Target Predominantly Black Neighborhoods

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
The LAPD Faces Criticism For Using a Surveillance App To Target Predominantly Black Neighborhoods
Evan Xie

The LAPD is facing criticism from privacy groups after SweepWizard — an app it used to conduct multi-agency raids last fall — exposed the personal data of thousands of suspects and details of police operations. Earlier this month Wired reported that LAPD and the regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force used a free trial version of the app to conduct multi-agency raids on sex offenders. While the app led to the arrest of 141 suspects, it also revealed sensitive details on police operations that could have put the entire mission at risk.


“LAPD has a long history of using free trials of surveillance technologies to experiment on our communities, especially in Skid Row and other Black and brown neighborhoods,” said Tiff Guerra, a researcher with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

In 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that the LAPD ended its relationship with controversial predictive policing program PredPol. Though Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore claimed the decision was due to financial constraints, community activists argued that Moore’s decision only came after they pressured the department to discontinue the program.

Guerra also cited the police department’s use of social media surveillance tools like Dataminr and Skopenow, which officers use to regularly monitor the online activity of suspects as well as search for certain terms.

“Every day, LAPD generates and collects sensitive data about our locations, associations, appearance, interests, and relationships. LAPD tracks and maintains this data regardless of whether a person is suspected of any crime,” they said.

Guerra added that ODIN Intelligence — the company behind SweepWizard — sells another app that uses gait and facial recognition to track homeless communities. Known as the Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS, the app lets users create a profile for each unhoused resident that includes their photo and personal data, including prior arrests, temporary housing history and contact information for family members and parole officers. The app’s facial recognition feature allows police to identify unhoused persons by searching for a match in the larger database.

None of this is particularly new. Law enforcement agencies have regularly used third-party surveillance tech — such as location-tracking and social media monitoring apps — to spy on suspects. But digital privacy groups say that the marketplace for such police tech faces few restrictions. “There are many privacy and safety harms caused by police using third party surveillance technologies including wrongful arrests, over-policing, and data breaches like this one. The marketplace for police tech is unregulated and full of poorly designed and poorly implemented software,” said Jake Wiener, counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Wiener also stressed that the police shouldn’t have used a free trial version of an app on “live cases”, as the LAPD did with SweepWizard. “Unfortunately, free trials are a common sales technique in the police tech market, and often lead to individual officers using tech without the knowledge or approval of supervisors,” said Wiener.

ODIN Intelligence — the company that developed SweepWizard and other police surveillance apps — regularly held a “Sex Offender Supervision Officer Bootcamp” to train officers on how to use the SweepWizard app. Screenshots of the app posted on the bootcamp’s website indicate that the third-party app allowed police to input personal details on targets, including address, date of birth, social security number and a photo. The app also includes a section for officers, which allows the user to assign specific targets to officers by name.

Wiener said that storing sensitive information such as addresses, identifying details and social security numbers is a “substantial privacy risk” and likely isn’t necessary to make the app work.

Following the Wired story’s publication, TechCrunch reported that an unidentified hacker on Sunday exfiltrated data from the website for ODIN Intelligence. The hackers defaced the website, leaving behind a message that claimed that “all data and backups” on the company’s servers had been shredded. The company’s website was quickly taken offline, and remains so as of Wednesday afternoon.

The LAPD is currently investigating what caused the SweepWizard breach, and has suspended use of the app. dot.LA has reached out to the LAPD for an update on its investigation, but has yet to hear back.

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🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

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Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

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Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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