Onfido, the AI-based ID verification platform, raises $100M led by TPG

Contactless transactions have become a major priority at a time when people all around the world are minimising their contact with others outside their households to slow down the often-insidious spread of the novel coronavirus. But if a lot of the consumer focus lately has been on things like payments or deliveries, that’s overlooking the fact that the “contactless” paradigm has been a big trend for years already.

Today, a London-based startup building tools to enable virtual identity verification — that is, a way of verifying you without requiring in-person, face-to-face interactions — is announcing a big round of funding.

Onfido, which uses AI to “read” a person’s identity documents and then uses facial recognition and other datapoints to verify that a person is who she or he says they are online — customers for its tech include major banks, government bodies, and businesses doing recruitment: any organization running parts of its processes virtually — is today announcing that it has raised $100 million.

It plans to use the money in a few ways. First, to expand its existing business, which has been growing especially strong in the US. Second, to fill out its ambition of building an alternative “identity verification” layer of the internet to replace credit bureaus, Facebook logins and other established channels. And third, to work on a new set of use cases that are now being talked about even more because of the pandemic, ranging from virtual voting and passport/visa applications through to secure ways of carrying out contact tracing to track the spread of a virus without compromising user privacy.

Ultimately, across all three, the aim is to solve what it sees as a long-standing problem on the internet and digital platforms overall: verifying people are who they say they are, and doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise a user’s privacy and security.

“Identity is broken and needs fixing,” Husayn Kassai, the CEO and co-founder, said in an internet. “That’s been a large part of our focus, and as time goes on, our processes in digitisation, privacy and security have been proven out in parallel with how the world is shifting.”

The round is being led by TPG Growth, the deep-pocketed firm that has backed the likes of Airbnb and Uber (which both run the kinds of businesses that need the kind of identity verification services that Onfido builds) over the years with billions of dollars of investment.

Onfido is not disclosing its valuation with this round but Kassai confirmed that it is definitely an upround. Onfido has now raised $200 million in total, with its last round — $50 million almost exactly a year ago — including Microsoft, Salesforce and SBI (once a SoftBank affiliate, now apparently separate) among the investors.

Kassai said that he started raising this round in January, just as the novel coronavirus was kicking off in China and eventually everywhere else around the world. The final stages of this deal were all done virtually. Between then and now, he said that business — already growing at a healthy clip — has picked up a new, urgent set of verticals that need to consider faster and safer ways to identify and verify users.

Onfido’s business up to now had largely been focused on helping rapidly scaling businesses like transportation-on-demand companies to help add on more drivers to their books while making sure they pass all their safety and other checks. More recently, organizations in healthcare, remittance and payments and non-profits verifying people who want to volunteer in relief efforts have emerged as key customers. These have respectively spiked 4x, 1.3x and 6x in recent weeks. The idea is that organizations using Onfido can speed up the time it takes to identify people to get them enrolled into healthcare services, or sending money, or helping those in need.

“About 750,000 people have volunteered to help the NHS in the UK,” he said, referring to the effort that the UK government set up to get more people to deliver medications and food, and help out hospitals in non-clinical capacities. “That’s great, but why wait for weeks to be verified? If you can sign up for a bank in moments why do you have to wait a week [or more] to help in a health crisis?”

While Onfido continues to build out this aspect of its business — R&D based in London, with a lot of the business team in California — Kassai said it is also working on trials of new kinds of identity and verification services that are still in development.

In essence, these are concepts for verifying without physical presence that have been considered for a while now for other reasons — be they more convenience for users, or cost-cutting, or to keep better digital track records of a process — that have taken on a new sense of urgency during the current pandemic.

Specifically, there are trials underway for working on secure, virtual voting; helping to verify people for passport and visa applications remotely; and ways of doing contact tracing of users for those trying to track and contain outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, or whatever virus comes next on the horizon.

The idea with these, Kassai said, is that there needs to be a way of identifying users without requiring them to share personal or other sensitive details every time, and that’s where the company’s ambition in building an “identity layer” comes in: if a company like Onfido can verify a user once, and then discard the information, it can then simply have a record of the person and not require documents or other personal information each time.

This is the theory, at least. There will be a number of regulated industries that will still have to hold on to personal information. But at a time when security breaches have chipped away at our various personal details and led to a vast wave on online crime — identity fraud is the most commonly committed crime in the US, Onfido points out, and one of the fastest growing in the world, with $2 trillion of related money laundering resulting from that — this could be a compelling idea to consider.

“Onfido’s use of AI to develop market leading tech is extraordinary,” said Mike Zappert Partner of TPG Growth, in a statement. “There is enormous demand for secure and simple identity verification and authentication across major sectors and we see Onfido becoming the new standard for digital access. Their team has done a remarkable job in a relatively short period of time, and we look forward to partnering with them to continue their momentum into new use cases and geographies.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/15/onfido-the-ai-based-id-verification-platform-raises-100m-led-by-tpg/

Now Is A Good Time To Relearn How To Play

The world is suddenly uncertain and a lot of us are just sitting at home watching the Coronavirus pandemic play out on our screens. For most of us, there’s nothing we can do to slow the spread of the virus so there is going to be a lot of downtime in our future. If you’re an American or a product of America’s culture (like me!) you’re probably noticing pressure to use this time to be “productive”. Maybe you even have a list of things you’d like to finish while you’re homebound. This is a post about how you should do that.

A few months ago I took up watercolor painting. I had dabbled in oil painting a few years ago but I really hadn’t even drawn or doodled since my high school art class days. Painting went about how you’d expect for a beginner: at first I was mediocre, and then I improved. Most days if I spend time painting, I notice how good it feels to slow down and enjoy how it feels to have a hobby you just do for leisure. There is no race to run, no one to grade my skills, no deadline for becoming a painting master. I just paint what I feel like painting, for the purpose of the pleasure I feel when I do it.

I didn’t expect that taking up a new hobby would accomplish anything. I was just looking for a way to fill my time. I started painting a lot of self-portraits and I’ve noticed it’s helped my body image get a lot healthier. When I’m trying to paint a realistic looking portrait, I have to look at lines and colors and shapes. I realize how differently shaped people’s faces, bodies, and features are. I’m not looking to judge what I see, I am curious about how to observe and transport it onto a sheet of paper.

My brain figured out a way to make my time productive without me having to do anything. I didn’t know I needed to work on my body image, or that painting self-portraits would help me do just that. When we do anything that challenges us and gives us time for reflection, we move forward. Unstructured ‘play’ time helps my mind relax and have time to think through stressors and problems I’m having in a way that more visually active activities like watching TV or scrolling through the internet do not allow. Things bubble up to the surface. I learn about my values and goals. I learn what I’m like under pressure and what causes me to give up on a challenge versus push through.

A few years ago I quit the gym. I was never a workout fanatic but I liked to go and take classes. I loved planning for the gym even more. The problem was that I had such an all or nothing approach to working out that it really wasn’t fun for me. Everything related to working out was about counting and burning calories and pushing myself to show up every day and meet all the goals I was tracking. I never just went and then did what I felt like doing. As I focused on recovery from an eating disorder, I realized I had to take a break from working out altogether as I was no longer capable of doing it without focusing on numbers or weight loss. I would have never thought that someone could go to the gym for pleasure. But humans thrive when we are challenged, even our bodies love that temporary stress of a challenging workout. Now that my brain is functioning a little better (thanks therapy!) I’ve been able to dip my toes into working out in a healthy way. I do what is pleasurable for me.

Most days what feels good for me is just walking my dog around the park near my house. Other times it’s doing a video on YouTube or walking up and down my stairs. I am always paying attention to how it makes me feel. By following what feels good to me I am learning to listen to my intuition. I have the space to listen to what my body is hungry for rather than having a need to do a prescribed workout every day because it happens to be part of a 30 day challenge or because it will burn the amount of calories I ate for dinner.

The more I slow down enough to do things like this — because I am curious about them or because it pleases me — the more I feel I am remembering a very human part of me that has become numbed by constant stimulation. I feel more confident because I’m trusting myself. I know now that I am an authority about what is good for me. I don’t need to follow someone else’s plan or have a goal. I don’t have to steer the river. Wherever my find myself, if I listen enough to take the next right step, I will get to where I want to go.

The global pandemic we are in right now is a challenge, to say the least, which means that it is also an opportunity. For most of us, we are being asked to slow down and stay home. I wonder if you can use this time to engage your curiosity and try to remember what it was like to be a kid and do things just because they felt good. What would it feel like to just idly play?

You only need a pen and paper to let your mind wander. Maybe you just need to journal or doodle. Maybe you used to knit and it’s time to explore that again. Try to be willing to trust yourself, that you don’t have to have a plan or an intention, it’s enough just to do something for leisure and pleasure. Maybe this is the right time to binge read all of John Douglas’ books and become an expert on the criminal mind. Whatever the most authentic part of you has been craving, I hope you indulge while you’re social distancing. You deserve to do things just because they feel good (you know, things that don’t harm yourself or others), and you’ll get a lot of useful information about your wants and needs in the process.

Related

Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/christine-stockton/2020/03/now-is-a-good-time-to-relearn-how-to-play

Has the Coronavirus Killed the Techlash?

Hi, all, and welcome back to Plaintext. The dumbest thing that happened to me this week was that during an open Zoom session in which Sarah Frier and I were talking about our books, some retromingent troll took over screen sharing to bomb us with images that would turn the stomach of an 8chan-er. People, be kind. And turn off screen sharing in public meetings. Also, make sure you keep getting this newsletter by subscribing to WIRED. Even if you don’t, though, our deep coronavirus coverage is free. It’s our way of being kind.

The Plain View

Mark Zuckerberg sounded tired. Conducting a press call on Wednesday, Zuckerberg, who is normally chipper when announcing fixes to problems, seemed subdued when announcing a series of moves designed to provide coronavirus information and suppress misinformation, on his platform. I guess he’s entitled to exhaustion, leading a company of 45,000 employees, most of whom (including himself) are now WFH, and dealing with problems like a potential rise in toxic content because his contracted content moderators can’t do their jobs.

Despite his downbeat demeanor, Zuckerberg has at least one thing to celebrate: Facebook has gotten rare kudos for its responses to the pandemic, and perhaps even more significantly, more people are using it for the kinds of meaningful interactions that Zuckerberg has been promoting for a long time.

Could this be a turning point? For more than three years, Facebook has been unable to switch the narrative for some—namely, the press, Congress, regulatory bodies, and Sacha Baron Cohen—as being a toxic force in society. The company is the poster child for what is known as the “techlash,” or the reaction to the overoptimistic, and arguably naive, embrace of tech founders and their creations as idealistic digital revolutionaries. Now that our lives are dominated by these giants, we see them as greedy exploiters of personal data and anticompetitive behemoths who have generally degraded society. Before the pandemic, there was every expectation that those companies would be reined in, if not split apart.

But the deus ex machina of an overwhelming public health crisis has changed things. The pandemic may have the effect of a justifiable war waged by an embattled president with low popularity. While Big Tech’s misdeeds are still apparent, their actual deeds now matter more to us. We’re using Facebook to comfort ourselves while physically bunkered and social distancing. Google is being conscripted as the potential hub of one of our greatest needs—Covid-19 testing. Our personal supply chain—literally the only way many of us are getting food and vital supplies—is Amazon.

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Who knew the techlash was susceptible to a virus?

The pandemic does not make any of the complaints about the tech giants less valid. They are still drivers of surveillance capitalism who duck their fair share of taxes and abuse their power in the marketplace. We in the press must still cover them aggressively and skeptically. And we still need a reckoning that protects the privacy of citizens, levels the competitive playing field, and holds these giants to account. But the momentum for that reckoning doesn’t seem sustainable at a moment when, to prop up our diminished lives, we are desperately dependent on what they've built. And glad that they built it.

Time Travel

In a rare 2013 interview with then-Google CEO Larry Page, he addressed regulation and how it could have potentially killed the company:

“Consider our own history. When we started Google, it wasn't really obvious that what we were doing wouldn't get regulated away. Remember, at the time, people were arguing that making a copy of a file in a computer's memory was a violation of copyright. We put the whole web on our servers, so if that were true, bye-bye search engines. The Internet's been pretty great for society, and I think that 10 or 20 years from now, we'll look back and say we were a millimeter away from regulating it out of existence.”

Ask Me One Thing

Shelly writes, “With Elon Musk's new brain chip coming out this year, what will be done regarding ethics, law, etc.? Are we prepared for this?”

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Thanks, Shelly, and I’m sure you’re not asking this just because you’ve written a sci-fi thriller with this question at the heart of it. I think that the brain-machine interface is a genuine contender for the data platform of the future, though it may take a very long time. Look, we’re all kind of cyborgs already, with our omnipresent phones—they just haven’t been hooked up for the final mile. But I believe we should proceed with extreme caution when applying neural context to law, particularly criminal justice. I defer to Bob Dylan on this: “If my thought dreams could be seen/They’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” Spare me the blade!

You can submit questions to mail@wired.com. Write ASK LEVY in the subject line.

End Times Chronicle

I think this prize goes to the tweet sent by the governor of Utah on Wednesday, reporting that the coronavirus hotline was down because the state health lab was hit by a 5.7-magnitude earthquake outside of Salt Lake City.

Last but Not Least

This weekend, a tweet about a preprint on the use of the revolutionary gene-editing tool Crispr to fight coronavirus got my attention. When I looked into it I found a promising long-term approach, but no panacea.

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Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant has been warning us about pandemics—in books, TED talks, and the movie Contagion—for decades. Here’s what he’s saying now that the nightmare has arrived.

Brilliant is optimistic that an antiviral might prove effective against Covid-19. The buzz in Silicon Valley is that chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria, might be the one. Adam Rogers explores.

That’s it for today. See you next week, though it will probably feel like a month has passed by then.

Don't miss future subscriber-only editions of this column. Subscribe to WIRED (50% off for Plaintext readers) today.


Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/plaintext-has-the-coronavirus-killed-the-techlash/

FBI asks for Yellowstone photos to help find Lori Vallow’s 2 missing kids

Read more: https://www.foxnews.com/us/fbi-asks-for-yellowstone-photos-to-help-find-lori-vallows-2-missing-kids

Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai sentenced to ten years in Chinese jail

Hong Kong (CNN)A Chinese court has sentenced Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai to 10 years in prison for “providing intelligence” overseas, in a case that is likely to reignite international criticism of Beijing’s treatment of its critics.

Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who went missing in late 2015, before resurfacing in Chinese police custody. Known as the Causeway Bay Books disappearances, all five of those missing were linked to a Hong Kong bookstore owned by publisher Mighty Current, best known for gossipy titles about China’s ruling elite, including President Xi Jinping.
Gui, who was the owner of bookstore, disappeared while visiting his holiday home in Thailand. He later reappeared on Chinese state television, confessing to an alleged drunk-driving incident more than a decade earlier. According to state news agency Xinhua, Gui was sentenced to two years in jail but left before the sentence could be carried out.
    His televised confession later became a symbol of what human rights advocates say is the Beijing government’s increasingly repressive measures to clampdown on dissent — including overseas abductions, televised confessions, and ignoring consular rights even for those with foreign citizenship.
    He briefly reappeared in 2017, only to be seized a few months later in January 2018 by Chinese agents aboard a train while with Swedish diplomats.
    According to his daughter, Angela Gui, he had been diagnosed with progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS and was on his way to see a Swedish doctor at the embassy in Beijing.
    “At one of the stops before Beijing, there were about 10 men in plainclothes that came in, and said they were from the police — and just grabbed him and took him away. After that, I have not heard anything,” she said at the time.
    China eventually confirmed Gui had been detained in February 2018, saying he had broken Chinese law.
    The detention of Gui, who was born in eastern China but became a naturalized Swedish citizen in the early 1990s, has led to increased tension between the two countries, with China publicly warning Sweden not to interfere in the case. The Swedish government has yet to comment on Tuesday’s ruling.
      The Ningbo court document noted that Gui had requested the restoration of his Chinese citizenship in 2018, presumably while in jail.
      His case has alarmed many overseas Chinese, especially those critical of the Beijing government, who have acquired foreign citizenship. Despite its own law that bans dual citizenship, Chinese officials have insisted someone like Gui is considered “a Chinese national first and foremost.”

      Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/25/asia/gui-minhai-china-hong-kong-sentence-intl-hnk/index.html

      Clive Cussler, prolific author and sea explorer, dead at 88

      (CNN)Clive Cussler, the bestselling author and sea explorer, died on Monday, his family announced in a Facebook post.

      In the Facebook post, wife Janet Horvath said it had been a privilege to be with the author over the years.
      “I want to thank you, his fans and friends for all the support, for all the good times and all the adventures you have shared with him,” she wrote. “He was the kindest, most gentle man I ever met. I have always loved him and always will. I know, his adventures will continue.”
        In his lifetime, Cussler was known for his books about underwater shipwreck discoveries — both fiction and nonfiction.
        He published more than 50 during his career, two of which were later made into movies — “Raise the Titanic,” released in 1980, and “Sahara,” in 2005. His books were published in more than 40 languages in over 100 countries, according to his website.
        But Cussler wasn’t just a novelist. He was so passionate about maritime discoveries, he even started a nonprofit dedicated to them — National Underwater and Marine Agency — a volunteer foundation dedicated to “preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts,” the website reads.
        Most of the financial support for the organization came from book royalties, the website says.
        The organization has located more than 60 significant shipwrecks.
        Cussler was credited with leading an expedition that in 1995 located the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship. The Hunley, which was found off Charleston, South Carolina, was a Confederate submarine during the Civil War. It was later raised and is undergoing conservation.
        The Friends of the Hunley paid tribute to Cussler on Wednesday.
        “His love of adventure will be missed by all. Today we honor a life well-lived. Godspeed sailor,” the organization said.
          Cussler spoke with CNN in 2002 about his books and maritime searches. What explains his passion, he was asked.
          “The mystery, of course, the intrigue and the history. I’m a history nut. I never say anything, but I got a Ph.D. in maritime history,” Cussler said. “But it’s the challenge, I think. Because if you are successful, it’s a great feeling of achievement. In my case, if it’s lost, I’ll look for it.”

          Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/us/clive-cussler-dead-trnd/index.html

          True Grit author Charles Portis dies aged 86

          Landmark western authors most famous novel gave John Wayne an Oscar-winning role, and inspired the Coen brothers

          Charles Portis, the reclusive author of the western True Grit, in which a 14-year-old girl sets out to avenge her fathers murder, has died at the age of 86.

          Portiss brother Jonathan told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the writer died on Monday in a hospice in Little Rock, Arkansas. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease.

          Stephen King said that Portis was a true American original, while the governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson said he will be remembered for generations to come. And we are proud of the way he showcased our beautiful state.

          Born and educated in Arkansas, Portis served as a sergeant in the US Marine Corps during the Korean war before becoming a journalist, writing for papers including the New York Herald Tribune. He left journalism in 1964 to write full-time, publishing his first novel, Norwood, in 1966. About a Texan who sets out for New York, meeting his true love, the second shortest midget in show business and a chicken on the way, it was described by Entertainment Weekly as a glimpse of how a 20th-century Mark Twain might write.

          True Grit followed in 1968, telling of how 14-year-old Mattie recruits deputy marshal Rooster Cogburn, a man she believes to have grit like her, to help find the man who shot her father. People do not give it credence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her fathers blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day, it opens, with typical deadpan humour. A film version followed in 1969, starring John Wayne in an Academy Award-winning performance. A second version in 2010, starring Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, was directed by the Coen Brothers.

          He had this great amount of success with True Grit. I think it didnt sit well with him, Jonathan Portis told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He didnt like to attract attention. He was comfortable around his friends, but shy around strangers. He preferred to go as an unknown person because he was a people watcher. He would hear snatches of conversations or see people who had a particular look and he would take note of that. Youd see them in his books.

          Donna Tartt described True Grit as a masterpiece in a foreword to a recent edition of the novel, adding that no living southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the south as artfully as Portis does. When the book was first published, Roald Dahl declared it: The best novel to come my way for a very long time. What a writer!

          Portis wrote three more novels: The Dog of the South, published in 1979, Masters of Atlantis (1985) and Gringos (1991). He went on writing short fiction, non-fiction and a play, and won multiple lifetime achievement awards over the last decade.

          Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/18/true-grit-author-charles-portis-dies-aged-86

          All ‘The Witcher’ content you can gobble up once you finish the Netflix series

          The Witcher is no longer only for gamers and fantasy-book buffs.

          Thanks to Netflixs adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowskis beloved novels, a new group has joined the fandom. As fans new and old plow their way through season one, however, many are thirsting for more.

          Thankfully, Geralts story has been around a long time. Since the first Witcher book hit shelves in 1990, heaps of content has followed. From the books to video games, comics, card games, and more, the world of The Witcher is vast.

          Youve finished binging The Witcher.Now what?

          With season two at least a year away, viewers can pass the time with the rest of The Witcher world.

          Fans of reading can enjoy Sapkowskis full series, along with several graphic novels. Gamers can play through three award-winning Witcher video games. Lovers of YouTube explainers can binge dozens of videos digging into the lore, characters, and more.

          There might just be enough Witchercontent out there to get you to 2021.

          The Witcher books

          Lets begin with the books that started it all.

          Over two decades, Sapkowski released eight separate books chronicling Geralts adventures. The series begins with The Last Wish, a collection of six short stories that precede the main novels.Sword of Destiny follows a similar format, featuring several stories involving major The Witcher characters. Fans can enjoy Season of Storms, a sidequel, at any point, but it may work best as the third book in the series. Then readers will get into the meat of Geralts story with Blood of Elves.

          The next four booksTime of Contempt,Baptism of Fire,The Tower of the Swallow, and The Lady of the Lakeall follow Geralt and Ciri. Filled with magic, creative beasts, a war-torn continent, and an overarching question of morality, this series is absolutely worth a read. Thankfully, it is available in essentially every format, including on Audible.

          The Witcher comics

          In the mid-90s, Geralt moved to a new format with a series of six comic books. Then, in 2013, Dark Horse Comics announced a series titled The Witcher based on the video games. Dark Horse made the series in conjunction with developer CD Projekt Red.

          The original serieswhich Maciej Parowski, Bogusaw Polch and Sapkowski adaptedis much harder to come by. This is likely because an entirely Polish team created it, and it didnt reach the prominence of Geralts other stories. Still, if you are willing to do the legwork to track it down, its almost certainly worth enjoying for hardcore fans.

          The Road With No Return begins the Polish series, followed by Geralt, The Lesser Evil, The Last Wish, The Bounds of ReasonandBetrayal.The Dark Horse series has four story arcs and 19 issues so far, beginning with House of Glass. Fox Children came next, followed byCurse of CrowsandOf Flesh and Flame.

          The Witcher video games

          The Witcher video games were, for many, an introduction to Geralts world. While Sapkowskis books have experienced a revival thanks to the storys newfound popularity, the games have long known massive fame.

          The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has won more Game of the Year awards than any other game. Many consider it the greatest video game ever made. Its predecessors are fantastic entries as well, but if you only play oneWitchergame, make it the third.

          Despite the third installments overwhelming fame, each Witcher game has been received well. It would take far too long to list all of the awards each game won, but suffice to say most gamers will find something to love in every Witchertitle.

          You can purchase The Witcher games through the officialWitcheronline store or the Steam store. You can find the second and third games through the Microsoft store, but the first title is a bit harder to come by. Several expansions and add-ons also exist, so long as youre willing to shell out the extra cash. Particularly considering the massive, rich world of The Witcher 3, youll loose full days playing these fantastic games.

          The Witcher card game

          Buried in the intriguing storyline, complex gameplay, and stunning world of The Witcher 3 is a shockingly popular card game. While traversing the world as Geralt, players will occasionally come across towns and cities. There, you can engage in a simple card game called Gwenta game within the game, if you will.

          The Witcher 3 is not the first game to slide a simple secondary game into its main story, but it may be the most successful. Games likeAssassins Creedand Red Dead Redemption 2have used a similar formula, but no in-game entertainment has come close to gathering the following Gwent has. You can find the card game in a variety of formats, from digital to physical.

          YouTube explainers

          Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of Geralt and Sapkowskis rich world, people have been dissecting theWitcher story for years. That means YouTube is absolutely littered with Witcher breakdowns, character explainers, deep dives, and in-depth looks at the magic systems.

          If youre looking about the characters, magic systems, or beasts in the wide Witcher world, YouTube has something for you. A few dedicated experts have been beefing up theirWitcher knowledge for years and would love nothing more than to share it with you.

          Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/the-witcher-books-comics-games/

          Supreme Court to discuss same-sex wedding, contraceptives, electoral college, 2nd Amendment and Iran cases

          Washington (CNN)Supreme Court justices are meeting behind closed doors on Friday to discuss several cases on high-profile issues including religious freedom and a same-sex wedding flower arrangement, assault weapons limits, access to contraceptives, and so-called “faithless electors” in presidential elections.

          It comes ahead of what will be a momentous Supreme Court session in the midst of the presidential election. Already, justices are poised to rule on the future of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. And they’ll hear cases in March on President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the release of his financial information to congressional and New York investigators.
          The court will likely announce as soon as Monday which cases it will and won’t consider.
            Here are some of the top cases on Friday’s list:

            Arlene’s Flowers and same-sex wedding

            Justice will again consider whether to hear the case of a Washington state florist who declined to make an arrangement for the wedding of a same-sex couple, a move that could eventually result in a broader ruling on religious freedom.
            Last June, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner, Barronelle Stutzman, who refused in 2013 to make a floral arrangement for client Robert Ingersoll’s same-sex wedding, citing religious views that are at odds with the wedding.
            That decision came after the US Supreme Court on appeal sent the case back down to the state in 2018 to be considered in light of its Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, in which a 7-2 court sided that same year with a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple in a ruling carefully tailored to the case at hand.
            “Absent this Court’s review, government officials will keep dragging ‘reasonable and sincere people’ of faith like Barronelle through the courts … imposing ruinous judgments, and barring them from their professions simply because they hold disfavored views about marriage,” Stutzman’s lawyers wrote to the high court last September.
            “Only this Court can resolve the numerous First Amendment conflicts these issues have created … and set precedent that will protect people across the political spectrum in present and future cultural debates.”
            CNN Supreme Court analyst Steve Vladeck said this week that the case could give the court an opportunity to issue an opinion on the broader issues it “dodged” two years ago in Masterpiece Cakeshop.
            “In its narrow holding, the justices dodged a broader decision about when the religious beliefs of the owners of a secular business require an exemption from local and state anti-discrimination laws, such as laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
            “But this case is one of many in the pipeline asking the Court to take up and resolve that issue — especially now that Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh has replaced Justice (Anthony) Kennedy, which may portend a majority that’s more inclined to side with the business owners in these disputes,” Vladeck added.
            Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is representing the state in the case, told CNN the issue is “well settled in courts all across our country at every level.”
            “You cannot violate a civil rights statue under the guise of religious liberty,” he said in an interview. “The Supreme Court could take it if they want to, but it’s not like there’s some big dispute going on out there.”
            Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, the group representing Stutzman, said the court “has an opportunity to resolve many important legal issues left unanswered” following Masterpiece Cakeshop.
            “A denial will finalize a flawed Washington court ruling that strips away Americans’ right to live and work according to our deepest beliefs,” she told CNN. “That hurts Americans no matter their religious beliefs.”

            ‘Faithless electors’

            Three presidential electors in Washington state who voted for Colin Powell in 2016 rather than Hillary Clinton and were fined under state law want the US Supreme Court to take up their appeal and decide whether a state can bind an elector to vote for the state’s popular vote winner.
            “The issue is undeniably important: presidential elections in the Electoral College will be increasingly close, and could literally turn upon whether electors have a constitutionally protected discretion,” Lawrence Lessig, a lawyer for the so-called “faithless electors,” told the justices in court papers.
            Overall, 10 of the 538 presidential electors in 2016 voted or attempted to vote for someone other than their pledged candidate, Lessig noted.
            In May, the Washington state Supreme Court held that the state could regulate the vote of an elector either directly or indirectly. But in August, a federal appeals court ruled that a similar Colorado law was unconstitutional.
            “There is nothing in the federal Constitution” that allows a state to remove an elector or nullify his vote, a three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals held. “The states may not interfere with the electors’ exercise of discretion in voting for the President and Vice President.”
            Most states currently require some kind of a pledge from an elector to vote for the party’s candidate.
            The Washington state challenge is brought by Peter Bret Chiafalo, Levi Jennet Guerra and Esther Virginia John, who were nominated as presidential electors for the Washington Democratic Party for the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine received the most popular votes in the state for president and vice president, respectively.
            The three electors voted for Powell for president. For vice president, Guerra voted for Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, John voted for Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Chiafalo voted for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

              What is the Electoral College?

            Little Sisters of the Poor back at the Court

            The court could also consider case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious order for women, petitioning the court to affirm religious exemptions under the Affordable Care Act’s long controversial requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans cover birth control as a preventive service.
            The petition asks the court to consider whether the group can bring the case, as well as the broader question of whether the federal government can legally provide religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate. It cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which was designed to prohibit the federal government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion.
            The petition continues a long-standing battle between the nuns — bolstered by friendly policies from the Trump administration — and proponents of the contraceptive mandate previously in the federal government and now in the states.
            The Little Sisters challenged the mandate before the court in March 2016, seeking an exemption similar to what has been provided to houses of worship such as churches. Although the Obama administration offered them an accommodation meant to respect their religious objections, they and other groups said it was not good enough because it would still make them complicit in providing the coverage.
            The court later issued an order asking both sides to consider an alternative and address the question of whether “contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners employees, through petitioner’s insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners.” Both the Obama administration and religious groups, including the Little Sisters, said they were open to a compromise, and that May, the court issued a unanimous ruling not to decide the case on the merits, but instead sent the case back down to the lower courts for opposing parties to work out.
            But the landscape has changed under the Trump administration, which issued two final rules in 2018, including providing an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities that object to such coverage based on religious beliefs. In January, Pennsylvania and California went to court to challenge the new rules, with federal judges in both states then halting them from going into effect.
            After the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal level ruling against the Little Sisters in July, the nuns are now looking for the Supreme Court to affirm their exception.
            The Third Circuit’s “decision and the resulting patch-work of injunctions and counter-injunctions cries out for this Court’s review,” the petition reads. “Religious liberty is too important for it to be accommodated only as a last resort.”
            Mark Rienzi, a lawyer representing the Little Sisters, told CNN that the justices have “made it pretty clear that they do think this is a big, substantive, important thing to get resolved.”
            “The shocking thing here is that the parties did come to a deal (in 2016), and yet now states are suing, saying that the federal government can’t give this exemption,” Rienzi said.
            “If they don’t take it now, it’s just going to fester and continue, and I don’t think that’s in anybody interest or the court’s interest,” he continued, adding that he thought all nine justices would look favorably on the petition “because they all take the First Amendment and religious liberties seriously.”
            Jacklin Rhoads, a spokesperson for the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, told CNN in a statement that “two federal courts have blocked the Trump Administration’s rules because they would allow virtually any employer to deny women access to contraception for any reason—including the belief that women should not be in the workforce.”
            “Both courts made clear that their rulings will have no impact on the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have a separate court-ordered injunction exempting them from the contraceptive mandate,” she added. “Any suggestion to the contrary is false and we have no reason to believe the Supreme Court will rule differently.”
            The court has opted to turn down the Little Sisters before. In June, the court declined to take up a case brought by the Little Sisters challenging lower court opinions that blocked the administration’s efforts to weaken the mandate.

            Iran terrorism judgment lawsuit

            In the final days of 2018, Congress once again sided with the families of US Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut bombings, passing a bill that made explicit that courts were permitted to seize assets outside of the United States.
            Shortly after Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law on December 20, the Justice Department filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to erase a decision made by the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals, effectively stripping the precedent from the books so that other future cases would be unable to rely on it to seize assets outside the United States.
            “It now would be appropriate to grant the certiorari petitions, vacate the judgment below, and remand to the court of appeals for further consideration in light of the NDAA,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote.
            The families of Marines killed in the attacks — for which the US has faulted Iran — have spent more than a decade trying to collect a judgment they won against Iran in 2007. But seizing the assets to fulfill the judgment has been difficult.
            In the middle of the bond dispute is Clearstream Banking, a Luxembourg-based clearinghouse that has served as an intermediary for sovereign bonds held by Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank, with offices in New York.
            The US government — in particular the State Department — has a long history of resisting the ability of civil litigants to seize money from sovereign governments, even those like Iran. But the law passed by Trump effectively makes clear that courts have the power to seize assets for judgments inside and outside of the United States.
            In their rebuttal, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that despite the change in the law by Congress late last year, it does not in any way impair the Second Circuit’s decision, and that the Supreme Court should deny the government’s petition.
            “This Court should reject the new suggestion of the United States. The legislation does not in any way call into question the correctness of the decision below; instead, it provides an independent ground for affirming its judgment,” the attorneys wrote in a brief.
            Ultimately, the court can make one of three decisions: 1) Dismiss the petition, 2) Deny the US government’s petition or 3) Send the case back to the lower court to erase the precedent.

            ‘Copycat’ assault weapons ban

            The court is already faced with a major 2nd Amendment case concerning a New York gun law that regulates where licensed handgun owners can take a locked and unloaded handgun. In that case, the law has been changed since the justices agreed to hear the challenge, and they are now considering whether or not to render the case moot.
            The new case it could take up concerns a Massachusetts provision that prohibits the sale and possession of assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices except by a law enforcement officer or law enforcement retiree who is “not otherwise prohibited from receiving such a weapon or feeding device from such agency upon retirement.”
            Following a 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, state Attorney General Maura Healey issued a notice to gun manufacturers and retailers in the state that her office “is stepping up enforcement of the state’s assault weapons ban, including a crackdown on the sale of copycat weapons,” which are assault weapons with minor design differences. Despite being covered under the ban, 10,000 such weapons were sold in the state in 2015, her office said. In response to the notice, four gun owners, two retailers and a firearms advocacy group filed suit challenging Healey’s enforcement of the ban.
            The challenge was rejected last year by a federal appeals court, which sided with a previous ruling that dismissed the lawsuit. “This case concerns an issue of paramount importance,” the appeals court wrote in its decision. “In the wake of increasingly frequent acts of mass violence committed with semiautomatic assault weapons and LCMs, the interests of state and local governments in regulating the possession and use of such weapons are entitled to great weight.”
            But in their writ of certiorari asking the court to hear the case, lawyers for the petitioners wrote that the state’s “bans are inconsistent with the Second Amendment’s text, history, and tradition and must be overturned.”
            The National Rifle Association argued the court should review the case, saying that its “intervention is imperative” because the state’s provision deprives citizens “of their constitutional right to keep and bear protected arms.”
              In a brief submitted last year, Massachusetts urged the court not to agree to hear the case, touting the decision of the appeals court.
              “Massachusetts has permissibly chosen to prohibit a narrowly defined group of weapons used disproportionally in (mass shootings), while at the same time ensuring that law-abiding residents have access to a host of other firearms for self-defense and other lawful activities,” the brief states.

              Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/10/politics/supreme-court-arlenes-flowers-firearms-contraceptives-electoral-college/index.html

              Colton Underwood Is Writing A Book & You Already Know The Title | Betches

              Ernest Hemingway. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Virginia Woolf. All influential authors who you probably studied in high school. And now, you can add a new name to this list of greats: Colton Underwood. That’s right, everyone’s second favorite virgin Bachelor is writing a book coming out March 31. And before you have to ask, yes, the title is of course a reference to his virginity. Imagine being a professional athlete, the lead on a hit reality TV show, and still having your defining characteristic to the American public be reduced to your sexuality? *Looks in the mirror to confirm I am still, in fact, a woman* hahahah right, I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be judged solely on who I choose to have sex with or not!

              Congrats to Colton for going the way of book-writing, rather than simply relying on sponsored Instagrams to keep him afloat. A more noble endeavor, for sure. Colton Underwood’s book is going to be titled The First Time, and yes, upon learning that my eyes rolled all the way back into my head, where they are temporarily stuck. Mostly I just hate how determined anyone connected to The Bachelor franchise is to taking the one defining characteristic that ABC predetermines for them and then bludgeoning the public over the head with it for the next 3-5 years. Like, you know that after this, Peter is going to come out with a book called like, Gone With The Windmill. Damn, that’s actually good. I should sell that to Peter. Brb.

              Anyway, according to Gallery Books, in The First Time, “Underwood tells his compelling life story, which is at times unpredictable, humorous, and inspiring. As the Bachelor of the hit show’s 23rd season, Underwood reveals the highs and lows that have made him who he is today: growing up in Indiana, struggling with self-image and bullying, two time all American and three years in the NFL, and of course, his journey to find love.” Which is all well and good, but how is that any different from the numerous montages and scenes we got about Colton’s life and upbringing as a contestant on The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, and finally, the lead on The Bachelor? If this is just a rehashing of the sh*t I’ve already seen, I’m going to be upset and demand my money back. (Who am I kidding, I’m not spending money on this.)

              Gallery also insists, “behind the spectacle is a human being, one who will candidly share the memories of his quest for the love of his life– and the aftermath of making it work.” I think I speak for all of us when I say that if Colton doesn’t give us the details on his relationship with Cassie and how that’s going, and explicitly spell out in plain English (no euphemisms) if he is a virgin or not, I don’t want this book. No? I’m the only one who still cares about his virginity? You’re lying. We’ve all been classically conditioned like slightly perverted Pavlovian dogs to be overly concerned with this. I just want it all to end. As I’m sure Colton does as well, so he can move on with his life. Someone, please, release us from this prison!

              For all of my mostly exaggerated outrage, who even f*cking cares. I would be surprised if Colton actually put fingers to keyboard and wrote this whole book himself and didn’t just have a ghostwriter, so like, whatever. I’m sure the book will be fine. Don’t get me wrong, Colton seems like a cool guy and he has his moments of humor on Twitter and stuff, but that’s a far cry from writing a whole-ass book. Just ask my mom, who still doesn’t grasp the concept that just because I write some dumb thoughts on social media, it doesn’t make me a novelist. But, I’m hopeful that Colton will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Andi Dorfman and actually reveal some sh*t about what went down behind the scenes on The Bachelor. I expect no less than one whole chapter on the fence, and an entire section about Tia. (I actually totally forgot about Colton’s relationship with Tia until this very sentence and had a That’s So Raven-esque flashback to how miserable that narrative made everybody. Okay, you’re right, ABC, I’ll take the virginity one instead. I won’t complain anymore!)

              If nothing else, if you preorder The First Time now, Colton will buy you a coffee.

              Does this mean I can say I went on a coffee date with The Bachelor? Probably not, I’m going to say it anyway.

              Read more: https://betches.com/?p=76803