Report: Blizzard Once Slapped With ‘Misogyny Tax’

Report: Blizzard Once Slapped With ‘Misogyny Tax’
Screenshot: Activision Blizzard

A cybersecurity company whose security researcher had once been harassed by Blizzard employees at a hacking conference charged the game developer a 50 per cent “misogyny tax” when it sought a quote for security services, according to a new report from Waypoint.

The researcher, Emily Mitchell, told Waypoint that she approached the Blizzard booth during the annual Black Hat USA cybersecurity conference in 2015 to see if the major video game company had any open positions. Her shirt, which referenced a security process known as “penetration testing,” prompted two unnamed Blizzard employees to ask her questions laced with misogyny and sexual double entendre.

“One of them asked me when was the last time I was personally penetrated, if I liked being penetrated, and how often I got penetrated,” Mitchell said. “I was furious and felt humiliated, so I took the free swag and left.”

Two years later, Blizzard approached cybersecurity firm Sagitta HPC (now known as Terahash) to request a quote on one of Sagitta HPC’s password-cracking boxes. Mitchell, who was Sagitta HPC’s chief operating officer at the time, saw Blizzard’s request and immediately remembered what occured at Black Hat USA 2015. After learning of the incident from Mitchell, Sagitta HPC founder and chief executive officer Jeremi M. Gosney responded to Blizzard’s inquiry with a lengthy message decrying her treatment at the hands of Blizzard’s employees.

“[R]ather than dismiss you and tell you that we will not do business with you, we’d like to give Blizzard the opportunity to redeem themselves,” Gosney wrote. (He eventually shared the email on Twitter with Blizzard’s name redacted.) “We are committed to combating inequality, and I am calling on Blizzard to do the same. As you may or may not know, today is International Women’s Day. And in honour of this day, we are attaching a few conditions if Blizzard wishes to do business with us.”

These conditions included a 50 per cent “misogyny tax” on any business Sagitta HPC did with Blizzard (to be used as a donation to three different organisations devoted to support girls and women in the tech industry), Blizzard becoming a Gold-level sponsor of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, and a formal letter of apology from Blizzard executives to Mitchell in which they’d further dedicate themselves to supporting equality for women and sexual harassment training.

The list of sponsors from that year’s the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference indicates that while Blizzard itself didn’t support the event, parent company Activision came in as a Silver-level corporate partner. Kotaku contacted Gosney for more information on the events surrounding his email to Blizzard, but didn’t hear back before publication.

“[Blizzard] made it clear that they were not interested in agreeing to any of our terms, just a lot of empty promises that they were taking the report ‘seriously,’ that it would be investigated internally, and assured me that they do conduct sexual harassment training,” Mitchell told Waypoint. “Ultimately it felt like they were more interested in gauging their own legal exposure and placating me.”

In 2017, the organisers of Black Hat USA, the Las Vegas hacking conference at which Mitchell was originally accosted, promised her that they would not allow Blizzard back as a sponsor for future events. As far as Kotaku can tell from historical information, neither Blizzard nor Activision have had a presence at the cybersecurity event since the year Blizzard staff harassed Mitchell.

Read More: Inside Blizzard Developers’ Infamous Bill “Cosby Suite”

Activision Blizzard is already in the gaming community’s crosshairs since last week’s bombshell revelation that the state of California is suing the company for a workplace culture that fostered years of abuse, harassment, and violence against female employees. The lawsuit specifically mentions the actions of former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, references to whom Blizzard plans to remove from the MMO, and events that took place in Afrasiabi’s hotel room at BlizzCon 2013, known colloquially among a group of male employees as the “Cosby Suite.”

In the wake of this publicity, Waypoint also learned of a 2018 incident in which an Activision IT worker set up a camera in one of the Eden Prairie, Minnesota campus’ unisex bathrooms and recorded employees using the toilet. That worker, Tony Ray Nixon, was fired by Activision and ultimately pleaded guilty to an “Interference with Privacy” charge.

“Once this incident was reported to us, the Company began an investigation, promptly removed all unauthorised cameras, and notified the authorities,” Activision Blizzard told Waypoint. “The authorities conducted a thorough investigation, with the full cooperation of the Company. As soon as the authorities and Company identified the perpetrator, he was terminated for his abhorrent conduct. The Company provided crisis counselors to employees, onsite and virtually, and increased security.”

A large group of Activision Blizzard employees participated in an organised walkout earlier this week in protest of the company’s history of inaction in the face of intolerable harassment against women and minorities. The group’s demands included an end to forced arbitration for Activision Blizzard staff and a more diverse, worker-oriented approach to interviewing, recruiting, and hiring processes within the massive corporation.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick eventually addressed these concerns, calling earlier responses to the incidents in question “tone deaf,” but failing to impress the employees already planning the day-long work stoppage. The company has also hired a law firm known for previous union-busting efforts to help investigate the damning allegations, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in Activision Blizzard’s good intentions.

“This is the beginning of an enduring movement in favour of better labour conditions for all employees, especially women, in particular women of colour and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalised groups,” the employee coalition wrote in a follow-up statement. “We expect a prompt response and a commitment to action from leadership on the points enumerated above, and look forward to maintaining a constructive dialogue on how to build a better Activision Blizzard for all employees.”

Comments

  • Holy shit, that security company’s got some boss-ass energy. I’d love to see that become the norm. Industry people are people, too, and if anything they may be able to exert even more influence than consumers, in some aspects. It’d be nice to see those aspects tapped.

  • Hold up. This person was wearing a shirt that depicted a sexual double entendre and then got mad when some (who I can only assume given the line of work they are in) socially awkward nerds made comments about it she took their free swag and left? I’m betting if she found them attractive she would have played along instead. It is not hard to say I find that comment offensive then walk away. If she was so furious then why did she still take their swag?

    The next part sounds really unprofessional by any standard. Why would any company want to do business with these people after grandstanding online and trying to charge extra?

      • I know people have been looking for a legitimate reason to hate on Blizzard for a while now but you have to be rational about it. The comments she received offended her, fair enough, tell them it was out of line or walk away and make a complaint. She acted poorly by holding a grudge and using her position to attack a whole company for the actions of literally two bottom feeders. Unprofessional by any standards.

        I think junkies who break into houses are absolute scum. Still, if they are a victim of a crime I will support them as a victim and investigate the offence without allowing my personal feelings to influence the outcome. Imagine if I turned around and told them it was karma for their previous crimes and they will need to confess to all their outstanding matters before I take a statement.

    • So she ‘asked for it’ because what she was wearing? Its nice when the dinosaurs show themselves, using their own words. I bet you think just because a woman wears a shirt showing a bit of cleavage that gives you permission to perv? Grow up dude. I have a female friend who wears shirts like the ones mentioned hear. They make her smile, they make her friends smile, but you know what doesnt make her smile is when people she doesnt know, creep out and cant control themselves and decide to make a humourous piece of clothing suddenly a social justifucation to make her life hell.

      Do you like making woman’s life hell, cos you cant control yourself?

      • Nice strawman. Were these female friends of yours the ones you silently sat by and watched being harassed without saying or doing anything about?

        • Not a straw man, it is exactly what you said.

          As for the second half of your comment just shows how desperate to weave a fantasy that simply isn’t there. There is a difference between being powerful enough to fight and CHANGE a long held ingrained establishment of sexual harassment (that went back forty years) and realistically doing what you can do on a personal level to choose not to be part of it and supporting those who are directly affected by it.

          But I willing to guess that distinction doesn’t matter to you, because where is the trolling fun in that.

          • Not exactly what I said at all. You build up these fantasies in your mind so you can pretend you are fighting the injustice of the world. You wear a shirt with writing on it because you want people to comment on it. I used to wear a shirt that said “I’m with stupid” written on it and made sure it pointed to whoever I was walking with. It got a rise because that is the intention of the shirt. Wearing a shirt with a double entendre is going to attract comments of that nature. Getting shitty because you weren’t attracted to the person who made the comment doesn’t give you the right to abuse your position later to shame a company and attempt to extort them for more money. You file a complaint at the time and decline the service professionally if you don’t want to work with them.

            I won’t even dignify your correlation to low cut shirts with a proper response. That is a completely different situation and you made that comparison in bad faith.

    • I get where you’re coming from… And I’d actually be on board with you if it was just the one comment, but if the point was repeatedly pushed as stated I really don’t buy it.

      The shirt might be a little bit of a setup sure, though given the particular event in question it’d probably be an incredibly tame joke in crowds like that. Double entendre or not.

      It doesn’t read as some socially awkward mishap either. People just don’t get through life apparently being THAT socially awkward without being pulled aside real early on, or having someone just fuckin’ backhand them at some point and teach them a real hard lesson.

      If it went down as stated, it absolutely reeks of someone who knew what they were doing.

      I was also going to argue that no decent sized company on the planet is going to send anyone that they’d absolutely know to be socially awkward to a convention as a rep in any form, but you know… Who fucking knows what Blizzard would do given recent information coming out.

      • I see your point and my comment probably pushed the narrative further than I originally intended. By all means the guys knew what they were doing, I only mean they were so socially awkward they didn’t know how to do it without coming off as over-the-top creepy.

        I still stand by my comment on her and her employer’s actions later on being unprofessional which I went further into reason why on some other reply.

    • Ah good ol’ S. “All women are sluts”, so you can decide unilaterally the intention why one of them wears a t-shirt (or does anything really) and then justify sexual harassment to them.

      Also wow at the double standards: Some dudes make unwanted advances on a woman acting as a representative of a company wanting to do business? “Ah, some silly comments by some nerds that the stuck-up lady couldn’t humour.” Said lady places conditions on said business when they finally go back to her? ‘The UNPROFFESSIONALISM of it all!!!!” I can almost hear the trembling vibrato and the shaking of jowls and spittle flying, such is your indignation!

      Are you ok, pal? Just checking in because you are usually able to hide better your raging sexism.

      • You’re projecting again. If you are going to quote me then use what I said, don’t make up things to suit your narrative. I have no skeletons in my closest but history would suggest you do given how much you seem to white knight imaginary injustices.

        • Just paraphrasing; since I know you argue in bad faith, might as well go overboard. But sure, let’s use your actual quotes to see how exaggerated my paraphrasing was:

          “This person was wearing a shirt that depicted a sexual double entendre”
          As reported, it references an industry-relevant procedure. You decided that it was a double entendre on your own.

          “You wear a shirt with writing on it because you want people to comment on it. I used to wear a shirt that said “I’m with stupid” written on it and made sure it pointed to whoever I was walking with. It got a rise because that is the intention of the shirt. Wearing a shirt with a double entendre is going to attract comments of that nature.”
          Because you are a desperately attention-seeking troll that needs a daily dose of getting a rise from people, you assume that everybody who wears a t-shirt does it for those reasons. Not all people are so validation starved.

          “Getting shitty because you weren’t attracted to the person who made the comment”
          And the crown jewel: here you assume that her wilful intention for wearing that t-shirt was to invite sexual advances, but only from certain types. Incel rhetoric 101.

          So, assumption on top of assumption from which you extract convenient conclusions. I honestly don’t see how my paraphrasing misses the mark: you are almost literally saying that she’s wearing a t-shirt with the express intention of inviting sex, and as such, sexual advances on her should be seen not as harassment but as logical, intended developments.

          But sure, the main issue here is my paraphrasing, not your blatant sexism or double standards which you don’t even try to contest. As I said, bad-faith. If I didn’t paraphrase, you’d have picked on my wording or assumed my intentions or another of the tired strategies in your two-page textbook. Anything but the obvious bigotry as though both you and us didn’t know you intentionally display for the lulz and then try to pretend you didn’t. Might as well go for broke.

          • That’s a lot of words to say you didn’t actually read the article. You are blatantly lying if you disagree “penetration testing” isn’t a double entendre. You claim I need that daily dose yet I rarely post here and certainly not daily so another lie. Another obvious lie is claiming attraction to someone doesn’t influence whether you find a comment flattering or creepy. You are right about one thing though, I wasn’t saying she was wearing the shirt to invite sex. You know exactly what I said had truth in it but you just want to argue in bad faith as always. Same three stooges in these comment sections with the same bad takes as usual. Keep fighting your imaginary crusade.

        • I don’t disagree that “Penetration Testing” /might/ be a double entendre. The problem is when you not only assume that it is but then use that assumption to draw conclusions. And when every time your assumptions about what women do veer the same way, well that’s called a pattern that demonstrates your bigotry. (But we have previously established that you believe that such assumptions and stereotypes are not in your mind but are the “truth” or “reality”, so feel free to disregard this point.)

          “You claim I need that daily dose yet I rarely post here and certainly not daily so another lie.”

          My bad, you might not do it daily, who knows. That said, my comment regarding your behaviour was not based on your Kotaku posting but on your own admission of liking to get a raise of people (both in real life and online).

          “Another obvious lie is claiming attraction to someone doesn’t influence whether you find a comment flattering or creepy.”

          Yep, again you claim that your mental stereotype is the “truth” and anything else is a lie. Understand this: Same as with female streamers using more screen real state and every other time you have made sexist generalisations, nobody is arguing that such things do not happen. The issue is believing that EVERY SINGLE person you can lump in the same group as those who do it do the same and for exactly the same reasons.

          So, are there women who wear sexually provocative slogans with the intention to attract male attention and who will rebuff advances from men who they don’t like? Absolutely. Are ALL women like that? NO. So when you decide to draw standards on your own, you end up justifying sexual harassment just because there’s a chance that it was “requested”.

          To reiterate: when you take a subgroup and project their actions/motivations/desires onto a bigger group to justify discriminating behaviour against them all you are being a bigot. This is not some “woke” newfangled definition, is the dictionary’s.

          “You know exactly what I said had truth”

          I honestly don’t know what else could you be saying. You said that the shirt is a double entendre. You said that it was purposefully worn to get reactions. You said that she herself reacted poorly because she didn’t like the guys. You then excuse the behaviour of the men based on that. So do show my “bad faith” and clarify what other syllogistic inference could be made from those statements if not that she was asking for sexual advances but only from “eligible” males.

  • // and assured me that they do conduct sexual harassment training //
    One of those, ‘That is not what that means.’ moments right there.

    Because given the sheer scope of bullshit coming out recently, one might get the distinct impression that they have indeed been training some employees to sexually harass others.

    • That’s ridiculous, they have very strict procedures to ensure everyone is treated equally, like private internal investigation, mediation and generation of all HR/PR documents as necessary or beneficial, ensuring accuser and accused can return to work with no further problems or repercussions…..hold on a second.

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