Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers One Of The Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With The FBI

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers One Of The Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With The FBI

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

Family Tree DNA, one of the largest private genetic testing companies whose home-testing kits enable people to trace their ancestry and locate relatives, is working with the FBI and allowing agents to search its vast genealogy database in an effort to solve violent crime cases, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Federal and local law enforcement have used public genealogy databases for more than two years to solve cold cases, including the landmark capture of the suspected Golden State Killer, but the cooperation with Family Tree DNA and the FBI marks the first time a private firm has agreed to voluntarily allow law enforcement access to its database.

While the FBI does not have the ability to freely browse genetic profiles in the library, the move is sure to raise privacy concerns about law enforcement gaining the ability to look for DNA matches, or more likely, relatives linked by uploaded user data.

For law enforcement officials, the access could be the key to unlocking murders and rapes that have gone cold for years, opening up what many argue is the greatest investigative tactic since the advent of DNA identification. For privacy advocates, the FBI’s new ability to match the genetic profiles from a private company could set a dangerous precedent in a world where DNA test kits have become as common as a Christmas stocking stuffer.

The Houston-based company, which touts itself as a pioneer in the genetic testing industry and the first to offer a direct-to-consumer test kit, disclosed its relationship with the FBI to BuzzFeed News on Thursday, saying in a statement that allowing access “would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever.”

While Family Tree does not have a contract with the FBI, the firm has agreed to test DNA samples and upload the profiles to its database on a case-by-case basis since last fall, a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Its work with the FBI is “a very new development, which started with one case last year and morphed,” she said. To date, the company has cooperated with the FBI on fewer than 10 cases.

The Family Tree database is free to access and can be used by anyone with a DNA profile to upload, not just paying customers.

For detectives across the country desperate for leads, investigative genealogy has become the newest frontier for law enforcement agencies. By uploading DNA collected from a crime scene to genealogy databases, detectives have been able to locate distant relatives of suspected serial killers and rapists. Then, assembling a genealogical tree from that information, they have worked to identify suspects of crimes.

Until now, investigators have limited their searches to public and free databases, where genealogy enthusiasts had willingly uploaded the data knowing it could be accessible to anyone.

Now, under the previously undisclosed cooperation with Family Tree, the FBI has gained access to more than a million DNA profiles from the company, most of which were uploaded before the company’s customers had any knowledge of its relationship with the FBI.

Despite the concerns over privacy, officials at Family Tree touted their work with the FBI.

“Without realizing it [Family Tree DNA founder and CEO Bennett Greenspan] had inadvertently created a platform that, nearly two decades later, would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever,” the company said in a statement.

Officials at Family Tree said customers could decide to opt out of any familial matching, which would prevent their profiles from being searchable by the FBI. But by doing so, customers would also be unable to use one of the key features of the service: finding possible relatives through DNA testing.

For people who used the service not knowing the FBI had access to it, the news was concerning.

“All in all, I feel violated, I feel they have violated my trust as a customer,” Leah Larkin, a genetic genealogist based in Livermore, California, told BuzzFeed News. “I’ve got to decide whether I want to opt out of matching or delete my kits.”

Larkin, one of the administrators of a Facebook genealogy group with about 50,000 members, predicted that enthusiasts will be split, from those who will be fine with law enforcement gaining access to their DNA profiles to others who will be outraged by the invasion of privacy.

“I think it’s going to cause a lot of uproar,” she said. “We’re going to get the full spectrum.”

Law enforcement’s use of public databases had already caused concern from privacy advocates who noted that although users submit their DNA profiles willingly, relatives identified by their genetic code have not.

“We are nearing a de-facto national DNA database,” Natalie Ram, an assistant law professor at the University of Baltimore who specializes in bioethics and criminal justice, told BuzzFeed News. “We don’t choose our genetic relatives, and I cannot sever my genetic relation to them. There’s nothing voluntary about that.”

Others aired similar concerns.

“I would be very against Family Tree DNA allowing law enforcement to have open access to their DNA database,” Debbie Kennett, a British genealogy enthusiast and honorary research associate at University College London said. “I don’t think it’s right for law enforcement to use a database without the informed consent of the consumer.”

In December 2018, the company changed its terms of service to allow law enforcement to use the database to identify suspects of “a violent crime,” such as homicide or sexual assault, and to identify the remains of a victim.

In a statement, Greenspan, the president and founder of Gene by Gene, Family Tree’s parent company, said the firm would not be violating its terms of privacy to its customers, despite the FBI’s access.

“We came to the conclusion that if law enforcement created accounts, with the same level of access to the database as the standard FamilyTreeDNA user, they would not be violating user privacy and confidentiality,” Greenspan said.

In a statement, company officials told BuzzFeed News that despite the FBI’s access to the database, agents would not be able to obtain more information than what is accessible to normal users of the service.

“In order for the FBI to obtain any additional information, they would have to provide a valid court-order such as a subpoena or search warrant,” Greenspan said.

Family Tree had already faced a warrant for information during the search for the Golden State Killer when its parent company was served a federal subpoena in March 2017 for “limited information” on an account. That profile, in the end, did not lead to the arrest, but shows law enforcement has been willing to take bold steps.

Under the arrangement, the company has also agreed to test DNA evidence for the FBI in its private laboratory.

Law enforcement had been toying with investigative genealogy for more than a year, but the practice gained international attention in April 2018 when detectives used the technique, scanning a public database, to find a distant relative that led to the eventual arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer, who killed 13 people and raped dozens of others.

The DNA-matching technique was an untested long shot then, and immediately raised questions about privacy, ethics, and legal implications in criminal investigations, yet law enforcement officials have been eager to learn and adopt it.

The FBI, in particular, quietly assembled a small but active unit focused on employing the method to crack some of the nation’s most difficult cases.

Led by an attorney in the FBI’s Los Angeles office, Steve Kramer, the FBI’s Investigative Genealogy Unit has since been deployed across the country, aiding police departments in utilizing the technique and instructing officers on how to employ the new tools.

“This is the new great big revolution in law enforcement,” Paul Holes, a retired investigator with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, who led the team that cracked the Golden State Killer case, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s the first big one since the implementation of DNA 20-some years ago.”

In the last nine months, police in Maryland, Washington, California, and Florida have solved cases using the method after consulting with the FBI’s Investigative Genealogy Unit, a federal law enforcement official told BuzzFeed News.

Those familiar with the technique also argue that despite privacy concerns, few would be opposed to helping catch a homicide or rape suspect.

In one informal survey conducted by genealogist Maurice Gleeson, of people involved in genealogy in the US and Europe, 85% of respondents said they were comfortable with law enforcement using their DNA profiles to catch a serial killer or rapist. Ninety-six percent of those who participated in the survey had taken a DNA test.

The FBI declined to offer details regarding how many cases the new unit has participated in, or the makeup of the team.

“We obviously assisted other investigations that have had successful results,” Laura Eimiller, spokesperson for the FBI’s office in Los Angeles, told BuzzFeed News.

The agency declined to comment on its cooperation with Family Tree.

According to the company, it currently has 1,021,774 records in its database. By comparison, Ancestry.com is believed to have a database of about 10 million profiles, while 23andMe counts about 5 million accounts.

Still, Family Tree touts one of the largest Y-DNA databases in the world, which can specifically trace a person’s patrilineal ancestry, and can be a valuable tool for investigators.

Like other DNA testing companies, Family Tree has touted its protection of customer privacy. Earlier this year, the company was ranked by US News as the best kit for “research and strict privacy,” and PC World named it the best kit for privacy.

Greenspan, in the statement, said that won’t change despite the FBI’s involvement.

“Working with law enforcement to process DNA samples from the scene of a violent crime or identifying an unknown victim does not change our policy never to sell or barter our customers’ private information with a third party,” Greenspan said. “Our policy remains fully intact and in force.”

Peter Aldhous contributed reporting to this story.

Read More

Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers YouTube’s Biggest Stars are Selling Kids on a Gambling Site

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers YouTube’s Biggest Stars are Selling Kids on a Gambling Site

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

Untold riches are promised on Mystery Brand, a website that sells prize-filled “mystery boxes.” If you buy one of the digital boxes, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, you might only get a fidget spinner—or you might get a luxury sports car.

For just $100, users can win a box filled with rare Supreme streetwear. For only $12.99, they can win a Lamborghini, or even a $250 million mega-mansion billed as “the most expensive Los Angeles realty.”

Or at least that’s what some top YouTubers have been telling their young fans about the gambling site—with the video stars apparently seeing that as a gamble worth taking, especially after a dip in YouTube advertising rates.  

Over the past week, hugely popular YouTube stars like Jake Paul and Bryan “Ricegum” Le have encouraged their fans to spend money on Mystery Brand, a previously little-known site that appears to be based in Poland.

In their videos, Paul and Le show themselves betting hundreds of dollars on the site for a chance to open a digital “box.” At first, they win only low-value prizes like fidget spinners or Converse sneakers. By the end of the video, though, they have won thousands of dollars worth of tech and clothing, like rare pairs of sneakers or Apple AirPods.  

If they like the prize, the YouTube stars have it shipped to their house.

“Go to MysteryBrand.net if you want to win some Mystery Boxes!” Paul says in his video, surrounded by his winnings from the site.

Le, whose YouTube channel has more than 10 million subscribers, encourages his fans to spend money at Mystery Brand in his own video, “How I got AirPods for $4.”

“Open the boxes,” Le says. “Get something good.”

The contents of the boxes aren’t the only mysterious thing about Mystery Brand.

The $250 million “Most Expensive Los Angeles Realty” house, for example, is just a picture of a Bel Air mansion listed for $188 million. It’s not owned by Mystery Brand, which initially listed the supposed odds of winning the mansion—0.0000018 percent—before removing those odds.

Other prizes are just as strange. Some boxes offer prizes with names like “Icicle – site balance” or “Ginger man site balance,” illustrated with stock imagery but without any further description.

Mystery Brand’s terms of service appear to say that underage users are ineligible to receive prizes, or even their money back, as the site will “invalidate all the operations that were carried out by a person who has not attained the age of majority and to refuse to issue a winning product without any refund of spend value.”

Mystery Brand users might not even receive the items they believed they have won, according to another part of the terms of service.

“During using the services of the website You may encounter circumstances in which Your won items will not be received,” the document reads.

It’s not clear who owns Mystery Brand or where it’s based, although the site’s terms of service say it’s “subject to the laws and jurisdiction of Poland.”

Despite that, Mystery Brand has teamed up with YouTube stars like Paul and Le, whose channels are aimed at children.

Paul, for example, has acknowledged that the bulk of his fanbase is between 8 and 15 years old. In October, he was accused of violating FCC rules against marketing to children with his frequent calls for kids to buy his merchandise.

Le and Paul aren’t the only child-focused YouTube channels that are promoting Mystery Brand. Guava Juice, a popular kids’ channel with its own line of toys, also made a video promoting spending money on Mystery Brand.

Morgan “Morgz” Hudson, a teenage British YouTube prankster who has said in the past that his videos are aimed at kids, posted his own Mystery Brand video with an affiliate link to the site, meaning he’ll receive money when his fans spend money on Mystery Box.

All four YouTube channels, as well as Mystery Brand, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The sponsored videos have also been filleted by rival YouTubers, with one detractor claiming that Le and Paul were “finished.”

In Le’s video, he wins a pair of Off-White Nike Air Max 97’s on the site. But when Le later opens the box that he supposedly received from Mystery Brand, he pulls out a different, more valuable pair of shoes. On Reddit, Mystery Brand customers have complained that they never received prizes they won on the site.

Daniel Keem, a YouTube drama vlogger who goes by the handle “Keemstar,” claimed on Twitter on Tuesday that he had turned down $100,000 to promote Mystery Brand on his own channel.

“I was offered $100k to do the same & almost took the cash. (But didn’t),” Keem tweeted. “So I can’t go that hard on them.”

Read More

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired The 21 (and Counting) Biggest Facebook Scandals of 2018

Hexbyte Tech News Wired The 21 (and Counting) Biggest Facebook Scandals of 2018

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Every January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces a personal challenge he will undertake in the year ahead. In 2016, he committed to running 365 miles before the year was up. In 2017, he milked cows and rode tractors as part of his resolution to meet more people outside the Silicon Valley bubble. Last January, he took a different tack. After a year in which Facebook was accused of amplifying fake news and allowing Russian trolls to deceive American voters in the run-up to the 2016 election, Zuckerberg decided that for his personal challenge in 2018, he would go ahead and fix Facebook.

He just might not have realized how much he’d be asked to fix.

As the months progressed, Facebook turned into a hydra, with new scandals sprouting almost weekly. Its stock price tanked, and internal morale plummeted. Twelve months later, Facebook has certainly changed, but it’s hardly fixed. In 2018, the social giant juggled so many crises, you probably forgot half of them. Here’s a refresher.

February 2018: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Russian trolls reveals the role Facebook played in Russia’s plot—and so much more.

The Mueller indictment in February laid out exactly how 13 employees of Russia’s Internet Research Agency created fake US personas on Instagram and Facebook to pit Americans against each other before the election. Facebook’s only saving grace? Other tech giants like Twitter and YouTube were name-checked, too.

March 2018: The United Nations cites Facebook’s role in the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

Of all of Facebook’s crises, it problems in Myanmar have arguably had the most dire consequences. The company has been blamed for enabling the spread of fake news about Rohingya Muslims, who are being systematically slaughtered. Facebook has since kicked some of the worst offenders off the platform and updated its content policy that prohibits credible threats of violence, to include misinformation that incites violence. The company also issued a report documenting its human rights failures in the country. But Facebook’s global problems aren’t limited to Myanmar. Following anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the country ordered internet providers and mobile phone carriers to shut down both Facebook and WhatsApp. Government officials in Papua New Guinea have considered the same.

March 2018: Cambridge Analytica story makes front page news

This was the big one. The New York Times and The Guardian/Observer dropped simultaneous, bombshell reports about how the political data firm Cambridge Analytica misappropriated the data of tens of millions of Americans without their knowledge before the 2016 election. Facebook later said Cambridge Analytica accessed up to 87 million users’ data. What’s more, they weren’t the only ones. Until 2015, Facebook gave developers broad access to user data, and the company has spent the past year trying to answer for where all that data went. Now, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress, and international courts are also investigating. The UK’s Information Commissioner, meanwhile, has fined Facebook for breaching the country’s data protection law.

April 2018: Zuckerberg testifies before Congress

After the Cambridge Analytica story broke, Facebook’s CEO was called to Washington to answer for his company’s actions. For the most part, Zuckerberg walked away unscathed. The Senate primarily used its time to ask Zuckerberg for IT help, while House members accused Facebook of censoring conservatives like the pro-Trump personalities Diamond & Silk.

May 2018: House Democrats release thousands of Russian troll ads, leading to new revelations

The document dump unleashed a new wave of inquiry into the Russian activity. Among WIRED’s findings: Russia-linked pages were targeting a sketchy music Chrome extension called FaceMusic at teenage girls. The Daily Beast later determined that the extension was infected with malware.

May 2018: Facebook’s political ad archive launches—with complications

Facebook launched its political advertising archive to bring some transparency to the still unregulated world of digital political ads. But almost as soon as it launched, problems arose. News organizations protested the inclusion of political articles in the archive. Advertisers posting gay-themed ads, including one for a gay comedy show, were forced to register as political advertisers because their ads pertained to LBGT issues. Bush’s Beans accidentally ended up in there because the brand includes the name of a political dynasty. Reporters at VICE demonstrated how vulnerable Facebook’s vetting process for political advertisers was to abuse, creating ads with disclaimers that said the ads were paid for by various US Senators. And WIRED showed how opaque even this stab at transparency still is, by telling the story of an obscure concealed-carry company that became one of 2018’s top 10 political advertisers on Facebook.

June 2018: Facebook’s data deals with device manufacturers emerge

After the Cambridge Analytica debacle, the nation was on edge about all the information Facebook was giving away. Then the New York Times broke the news that the company also struck deals with device manufacturers like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Blackberry, through which it shared Facebook users’ personal data.

July 2018: Facebook tells Congress it had special data arrangements with dozens of companies, including a Russian internet giant

Facebook followed up on Zuckerberg’s trip to Washington in a series of written responses to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Buried deep in more than 700 pages of responses, Facebook noted that it gave dozens of companies extended access to users’ friends data, even after it publicly cut off that access in 2015. Among the companies that received an extension: Russian internet giant Mail.ru, whose main investor had been Alisher Usmanov, a businessman with ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Usmanov relinquished control of the company in October, according to reports.)

July 2018: Facebook finds more fake accounts likely linked to Russians

Facebook shut down 32 accounts and pages that had some ties to the initial batch of IRA accounts, though the company couldn’t link them to Russia definitively. The new findings revealed how far these bad actors were going to cover their tracks.

July 2018: Facebook stock plummets after earnings report

Facebook stock tanked after the Cambridge Analytica news, but rose steadily from there. That is, until July when, in its second quarter earnings report, Facebook predicted revenue growth would slow down through the end of 2019. The company’s value took another sharp downward turn and has fallen steadily since then—along with the rest of the market.

August 2018: Facebook finally bans Alex Jones.

Sometimes, it takes a village. After Apple pulled the plug on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ podcasts, Facebook removed four pages affiliated with Jones for violating its policies on hate speech. Hours later, YouTube did the same, and finally, after initially resisting, Twitter shut down Jones’ account. For weeks, the companies had faced mounting criticism over providing Jones a platform to spread disinformation and hateful content. But the suspensions also amplified cries from the far right that Silicon Valley is biased against conservatives.

August 2018: Facebook shuts down network of Iranian troll accounts and pages

It wasn’t just the Russians. In August, Facebook removed a network of inauthentic accounts and pages linked to Iranian state media. The group was spotted by the cybersecurity firm FireEye. Months later, in October, Facebook spotted another network of 82 accounts, pages and groups linked to Iran that were posing as US and UK citizens. This time, the playbook deployed by the trolls bore a striking resemblance to the tactics used by the IRA.

August 2018: Facebook’s internal “political diversity” debate heats up

In August, The New York Times reported on a memo circulating at Facebook, skewering the company for its “intolerant” liberal culture. Months later, the author of that memo, Brian Amerige, spoke to WIRED about Facebook’s brewing internal culture wars.

September 2018: The ACLU says Facebook ads let employers favor men over women

The ACLU filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over Facebook’s ad targeting tools, which enable employers posting job ads to target people by gender. Facebook has faced similar charges in the past for allowing housing ads to exclude certain ethnicities. In August, the Justice Department backed a lawsuit against Facebook over this practice.

September 2018: Instagram founders quit.

“You don’t leave a job because everything’s awesome,” former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told WIRED weeks after he and his co-founder Mike Krieger announced they’d be stepping down from the company. The departure reportedly stemmed from frustrations around Facebook’s growing influence over the photo-sharing platform. Systrom and Krieger’s exit added to the list of founders who have departed Facebook since 2017, including WhatsApp founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum, as well as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

September 2018: Facebook gets hacked big time

Hackers exploited a series of bugs to access the Facebook profiles of some 30 million accounts. The breach enabled the hackers to take over the accounts as if they were their own, and potentially gain access to third party apps that use Facebook login. (Facebook says it found no evidence that third parties were compromised.) Facebook has said it’s working with the FBI to identify the perpetrators.

October 2018: Facebook faces lawsuit over inflated video view metric

In 2016, Facebook confirmed it had been inflating the average time users spent watching videos on the platform, an error that infuriated advertisers and publishers that had participated in the great media “pivot to video” around the same time. Now, a lawsuit alleges that Facebook knew about the miscalculation long before it came clean about it. Facebook says the allegations are “without merit.”

November 2018: A New York Times investigation alleges Facebook covered up the Russia scandal and ordered opposition research on George Soros

In perhaps the first story to cast chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg unfavorably, The Times explains how Sandberg worked to keep quiet evidence of Russian interference on the platform during the 2016 election. According to the report, she chastised the company’s cybersecurity officer, Alex Stamos, for investigating it without permission, yelled at him for disclosing too much information to a select group of board members, and voted against specifically naming Russia in an April 2017 white paper Facebook published on foreign interference. The story also detailed Facebook’s work with a public relations firm called Definers Public Affairs, which sought to undermine anti-Facebook groups by linking them to billionaire—and far-right boogeyman—George Soros.

December 2018: Facebook’s internal communications go public through a lawsuit over a defunct bikini app

In 2015, the developer of an app that allowed people to find Facebook users’ bathing suit photos sued Facebook in California for damages. The app, which was called Pikinis and was developed by a company called Six4Three, was forced to shut down because Facebook had changed its privacy settings, prohibiting app developers from hoovering up their users’ friends data without their knowledge, and therefore making Pikinis inoperable. The lawsuit was going along quietly until Thanksgiving weekend, when lawmakers in the UK seized a trove of documents that had been ordered sealed in California from Pikinis’ creator. In December, British parliamentarians published 250 pages worth of internal Facebook emails and other files, including personal emails from Zuckerberg himself. The emails appeared to show Facebook offering major advertisers special access to user data, deals some view as a contravention of Facebook’s promise not to sell data. Facebook, for its part, has said the emails lack context and maintains that it never sold user data. Now, the founder of Six4Three, Ted Kramer, is facing his own legal troubles for handing the documents over to British MPs.

December 2018: Facebook bug exposes 6.8 million users’ photos to third-party developers

With weeks to go before the New Year, Facebook announced another monster screwup. Thanks to a bug in its photo API, up to 1,500 apps may have had access to users’ photos, whether they shared those photos or not. The bug, which was introduced on September 13, impacted people who use Facebook Login to access apps. It was finally found and patched on September 25. But Facebook waited more than two months to disclose that fact to the public. It’s unclear how regulators will view this delay, particularly in the European Union where the General Data Protection Act mandates data breach disclosures within 72 hours. That’s a question for 2019.

December 2018: Another Times investigation finds Facebook shared lots of personal user data with large companies

Just when it seemed no more scandals could break, on December 18, the New York Times published an investigation that found the company shared troves of personal user data with more than 150 companies—including major players like Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify—long after Facebook said it had cut off access to that kind of information. The big takeaway from this latest news seems to be: despite Facebook’s claims that users have “complete control” over their data, the company has, throughout its history, traded on data access in order to grow the business.

The year isn’t over yet. Who knows what else we’ll find out before the ball drops?

Read More

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired At DefCon, the Biggest Election Threat Is Lack of Funding

Hexbyte Tech News Wired At DefCon, the Biggest Election Threat Is Lack of Funding

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Mark Ovaska/The New York Times/Redux

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Mark Ovaska/The New York Times/Redux

Now in its second year, the Voting Machine Hacking Village at the DefCon security conference in Las Vegas features a new set of voting machines—all of which will actually be used in the 2018 midterm elections—for attendees to analyze and attack. But as eager attendees get to work familiarizing themselves with the devices and revealing their weaknesses, another call has emerged from the Village as well: Finding bugs is great. But you also need the money to fix them.

Election officials can’t act on findings about voting machine and voting infrastructure vulnerabilities, DefCon speakers noted on Friday, if they don’t have the money to replace obsolete equipment, invest in network improvements, launch post-election audit programs, and hire cybersecurity staff. Some progress has come, but not enough, and too slowly.

Read More

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired When ‘Fornite”s Biggest Stars Congregated Under the LA Sun

Hexbyte Tech News Wired When ‘Fornite”s Biggest Stars Congregated Under the LA Sun

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

When photographer Nathaniel Wood decided to shoot a pro-am Fortnite tournament at E3 in Los Angeles this week, he assumed the result would look like so many other esports events: tightly framed portraits of competitors, lit by the glow of their monitors. What he got instead was an open-air stadium underneath a sunny Los Angeles sky.

Good thing that Wood is used to parachuting into unexpected conditions and improvising. His experience covering events helps, sure, but be real: it’s the hours he’s spent playing Fortnite with his brother. “I realized very quickly I had to make the best of it and get some shots that no one else has seen,” says Wood, who traded telephoto portrait lenses for wider ones, taking a more documentary approach. And instead of monitor glow, he relied on a powerful, hard flash to overpower the sun.

And what he came away with are snapshots not of digital culture, but of esports’ real-life vitality: starstruck fans getting photo ops with celebrities, cosplayers dressed up as Fortnite characters, and spectators’ eyes squinting out the sun to catch the action on two Jumbotrons.

Hosting the competition outdoors was particularly apt, considering how Fortnite is one of those rare games that help shed the stereotype that gamers are exclusively indoor creatures relegated to sitting behind RGB-lit mechanical keyboards.

“Drake’s not out here playing League of Legends,” says Wood, referring to a popular but inscrutable strategy game that was an esports staple. “He’s playing Fortnite with Ninja.” Ninja, of course, is a popular game streamer who claims he earns around $500,000 a month playing Fortnite for his 8.4 million Twitch followers and 13 million YouTube subscribers. Combined, that’s more than the average viewership of the NBA Finals in any of the past three years.

That’s the future that Wood’s photos offer a glimpse into: one in which gaming is increasingly social, even among mainstream celebrities, and in which participation doesn’t necessarily require playing the game. Fortnite generated $296 million in revenue in April, according to analysis by SuperData Research—and across all viewing platforms, the Fortnite Pro-Am garnered more than 3 million views.

Yes, the game’s blue-haired superstar Ninja was there. No, he didn’t play with Drake this time. His celebrity partner this time was EDM producer Marshmello, who played with his helmet on the entire time. Apparently that didn’t impair their performance; they won. Their $1 million winnings were a full third of the prize pool, all of which went to charity. And that’s only the beginning: Epic Games, Fortnite‘s developer, is committing $100 million in purse for the first year of competitive play kicking off later this fall.

So maybe avoid the heat waves this summer by staying in and honing your mouse and keyboard chops. Sun’s out, virtual guns out.


More Great WIRED Stories

Read More