Israel’s recent attack on Gaza left 258 Palestinians dead, including 67 children. The brutal offensive, along with its ongoing effort to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem and further entrench its illegal occupation of the West Bank – where it operates a system of “apartheid” – has raised new questions for British corporations that have become entangled with Israel’s violations of human rights and international law.
These questions must now be answered by the online retailer ASOS, a London stock exchange company that not only boasts annual sales of US$2.4 billion, but also a deep commitment to anti-racism, as reflected in its stated promise of “fashion with integrity.”
ASOS not only boasts annual sales of US$2.4 billion, but also a deep commitment to anti-racism.
Despite this noble pledge, when you extract data from ASOS’ production description pages using the “export HAR feature” in the Chrome browser’s developer toolkit, you find the retailer’s website references “SDKs” (software development kits) belonging to several Israeli security tech companies. Namely, Forter, Secure Touch, and Zeekit, each of which emerged from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Israeli intelligence community.
Forter offers online retailers a “real-time frictionless fraud and abuse prevention platform” by searching for irregularities among purchase transactions. The company boasts a number of blue-chip businesses as its clients, including Nordstrom, Priceline, Instacart, Kiwi.com, and ASOS.
Forter was founded in 2014 by Michael Reitblat, Liron Damri, and Alon Shemesh, all of whom are graduates of the IDF’s Unit 8200. Interestingly, the Unit – a signals intelligence agency – has worked closely with the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States in carrying out espionage activities in the Middle East, as revealed in the Edward Snowden leaks.
Seven years ago, 43 Israeli military intelligence reservists signed a letter accusing Unit 8200 of being a front to carry out the “political persecution” of Palestinians in the occupied territories. The letter stated that the Unit gathers up information from Palestinian civilians, such as medical conditions, finances, sexual orientation, marital fidelity, and other data that might “be used to blackmail individuals into becoming informants against their own people.”
SecuredTouch was also founded in 2014 by former members of Unit 8200, including the former head of Israel’s cybersecurity division.
The company provides its clients, like ASOS, behavioral biometric solutions to automatically identify trusted customers from online frauds. It does this by analyzing how the customer is interacting with the device they have used to log into their ASOS account, and discerning whether there are any other behavior anomalies.
ASOS has also partnered with Zeekit, which provides its clients an augmented reality software that allows customers to try on clothing virtually before purchasing online.
According to an Israeli news organization, the software is the “brain child” of 38-year-old Yael Vizel, who was the first woman to command the Israeli Air Force Telecommunications Officers course.
The partnerships between ASOS and Israeli security tech companies that have ties to Israeli military and intelligence units raise a number of ethical concerns.
These partnerships between ASOS and Israeli security tech companies that have ties to Israeli military and intelligence units raise a number of ethical concerns. The fact that these companies have been used extensively to carry out mass surveillance and political blackmail in the occupied Palestinian Territories is particularly alarming. Thus, whether or not these companies have collated or used behavioral biometrics collected from their customers’ devices without their explicit knowledge or consent should be disclosed.
Last year in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the US, ASOS announced that it “would be examining every area” of the company, from the charities it backs to the partners it collaborates with.
I have requested the company provide a comment on the following questions:
-Why does ASOS collaborate with companies that are affiliated with and founded by senior former members of the Israeli military and intelligence agencies?
-Are ASOS customers in the UK aware their biometric behavioral data is being collected and stored by Israeli security tech companies?
-Have ASOS customers given consent to having their online behaviors monitored by these Israeli security tech companies?
ASOS is yet to respond in kind.
I have also asked ASOS why it did not publicly condemn Israel’s bombing campaign against Gaza last month, nor the violent raid on al-Aqsa Mosque that preceded it, or the ongoing violent expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. This is quite peculiar given the company has forthrightly championed an array of social justice causes, including Stop Asian Hate, Black History Month, Anti-Modern-Day Slavery, and other initiatives that speak to racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, and religious discrimination.
In May, ASOS launched the Fashion CEO Agenda, which aims to “uphold standards for the respect of universal human rights for all people employed along the value chain.”
ASOS has made no comment regarding the deaths of Palestinian children under Israeli bombardment or the cruel displacement of families.
So, it’s all the more striking that ASOS has made no comment regarding the deaths of Palestinian children under Israeli bombardment or the cruel displacement of families in the Palestinian Territories. The company is supposed to be committed to supporting philanthropic initiatives and its own registered charity organization – ASOS Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for disadvantaged communities around the world.
At the very least, ASOS customers deserve an answer as to why it has partnered with security tech firms that are domiciled in an apartheid state. It would appear these partnerships and collaborations blatantly run counter to its stated commitment of distributing “fashion with integrity.”