Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

October 2013 Archives

It's About Time! FAA is Letting Us Use Electronics in Flight!

Is there anything more annoying than a flight attendant forcing you to pause that episode of Avengers right before Hulk takes on Loki? It's for your own safety, they said. Your iPad will interfere with the flight computers, they protested.

It was all crap. We knew it. They did too. And this summer, we passed along the rumor that the FAA was considering loosening their restrictions on electronics during takeoff and landing. The rumor is turning to reality, and by next year, you should be able to keep that tablet, laptop, or smartphone (in airplane mode, of course) running nonstop.

Per the FAA's press release, here are ten things to know about using your electronic devices on flights, with helpful annotation:

After NSA Killed Diplomacy, USA FREEDOM Act Proposes Reforms

Q: How do you get two of the most ardent supporters of a surveillance state to reverse course?

A: Grant blanket powers to a government agency and act surprised when they surveil 36 world leaders.

Over the last few months, we've seen reform proposals come from Congressional leaders, such as a bill backed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rand Paul (R-KY). The biggest opposition came from Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who proposed a series of mild reforms and argued that NSA data collection was a necessary evil.

Planning for Planned Obsolescence: Extend Gadgets' Useful Life

An article by The New York Times, "Cracking the Apple Trap," hasn't even been published in print yet, but is already stirring up discussion over planned obsolescence, thanks to the online version of the article going live this morning.

The short version? Apple is forcing upgrades by designing their products to fail after two years. While the tech blogs are (rightly) mocking the article (all batteries die over time, operating system upgrades will, of course make your gadget run slower), that doesn't change the harsh reality for consumers on a budget: that $600 iPhone will perform poorly after two or three years.

Planned obsolescence isn't an Apple-only conspiracy -- it's an industry reality caused by wear-and-tear and innovation. Still, if you want to eke out the longest life possible for your gadgets, here are a few things to keep in mind.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Should consumers be able to avoid paying state sales tax simply because they make purchases on the Internet?

Some legislators think not, believing that state coffers should not be deprived of sales tax revenue from online purchases. Consequently, they have enacted some laws designed to capture such revenue.

However, according to the Chicago Tribune, a recent law passed in the Land of Lincoln attempting to tax online purchases was just ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Tablet Buyers' Guide; Free Tablet Data Plans

Tablet choices, much like the purchase of a new car, can present a confusing series of options. What size screen do you pick? Apple or Android? What about storage capacity upgrades? And do you need cellular data?

Speaking of cellular data, while it would be nice to have an always-on connection, much like your smartphone, who needs the extra expense? (How about free?)

If you're selecting a tablet for yourself, for your firm, or for a family member, here are the choices you'll have to make, plus the low-down on low-cost data.

Obamacare has had its share of opponents from day one, but lately it seems like it's its own worst enemy. Since its launch, Healthcare.gov has been plagued by technical glitches. What first was deemed "traffic overload," with 8.6 million people visiting the site in the first 3 days, is now being characterized as a bit more serious, reports Motherboard.

5 Notes on the Patent Troll Crushing 'Innovation Act' Bill

Finally, some bipartisan legislation, with a decent chance of passing, that addresses the issue of abusive patent trolls. Congress cooperating? And doing something useful? (Can I get an amen?!?)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, whose name oddly enough makes me crave Starbucks, introduced the blandly-named, but bipartisan supported, "Innovation Act," a bill that incorporates provisions from a number of prior attempts at patent reform litigation. (Tip to lawmakers: if you really want to attract attention, call it something like "The Patent Troll Extermination Act of 2013.")

For those not interested in perusing lengthy legislation, here are five things to know about the bill:

Google Hangouts Plus Voice Equals Free Second Phone Line

You want a business line, but there's no way in Hades that you're going to fork over wads of cash to the local phone company. And you shouldn't. We've already covered how you can have a free landline using Google Voice and an ObiHai box, and that solution carried the added benefit of allowing you to access your Google Voice texts and voicemails from your computer.

Google Voice is so vital to my everyday life that it was one of the reasons why I switched back to Android after a couple of years in Apple's ecosystem. Using an Android phone, I can make calls from my GV number and send and receive texts using the app, which equates to having two lines, one business and one personal, on a single phone. On an iPhone, texting with the app was easy, while making calls from your separate GV phone number was awkward at best.

This might help.

5 Things Unveiled by Apple at Today's Big Keynote

Looking for a tech upgrade? Are you one of the majority of tablet-toting lawyers who prefer Apple products? Today was a big day in the tech industry, with Apple revamping much of their lineup of MacBook and Mac Pros, iPads thin and mini, and much of their software.

If you have any interest in faster laptops, thinner tablets, or free Mac OS software, read on.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Facebook has decided to let teenagers share their posts even more broadly.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook users between the ages of 13 and 17 will be able to set their posts as "public," meaning that they can be viewed by anyone on Facebook, not just friends and friends of friends.

This shift in policy appears designed to allow Facebook to compete even better against other social media sites that allow for teen public posts, such as Twitter, but what will it mean for teens?

Is T-Mobile the Best Choice for International Lawyers?

Earlier this year, T-Mobile, as part of its "Un-Carrier" strategy, did away with long-term carrier contracts and device subsidies on its calling plans. Instead of being locked into two-year deals, all plans are month-to-month, at a lower rate than their competitors, with unlimited talk and text.

The end of device subsidies somewhat negates these benefits, as the cost of an iPhone 5S or Galaxy Note 3, paid in installments over two years, brings T-Mobile's price to near that of its competitors. (Though it is nice to be able to quit, pay off the remaining balance on the phone, and avoid early termination fees. Their "JUMP" program, which allows frequent phone upgrades for the gadget-obsessed, is a nice feature as well.)

It's T-Mobile's newest feature, however, that make them worth a longer look: free international data.

Should Lawyers Use Square Cash?

Square has unveiled its newest product Square Cash, a service which allows users to send mobile payments from debit card to debit card using only email, but should lawyers use it?

This question has considerable impact for solo practitioners and small firms, whose client base may consist of many small clients who are often behind on their payments.

Lawyers using Square Cash won't have to wait for checks in the mail, but other features of this payment service make using it for lawyers' fees questionable.

OS Updates: Windows 8.1, Ubuntu Linux 13.10 and Ubuntu Phone

October 17th isn't the sexiest date on the calendar. One might expect announcements from two of the leading desktop operating system makers to come on some other day than a middle-of-the-month Thursday.

And yet, today was the launch date for updates to both Windows 8 and Ubuntu 13, and the changes, while minimal, are worth the upgrades.

Gadget Docket: New iPads, MacBooks, Nexus Phone and Smartwatch?

October is set to be a busy month for gadget freaks. We were all pretty excited by last month's new iPhone releases, but over the next two weeks, the biggest names in Silicon Valley are set to release a bevy of products, from tablets to phones to laptops, in time for the holiday season.

What are the biggest products lawyers should keep an eye out for?

3 Reasons Why We're Excited for Intel's Bay Trail Processors

Quickly, name the three most important specifications for an electronic device.

If you said "battery life," "processing power," and "price," the words "Bay Trail" may be the most important tech terms you'll hear this year. For years, Intel's budget Atom processor served as its "good enough" solution for those on a shoestring, netbook-toting budget. You could take notes, answer emails, surf the web, and make on-the-road edits to your legal briefs, albeit with the occasional lag or hiccup.

With the new Atom processors, codenamed "Bay Trail," Intel focused on two things: battery life and going beyond "good enough." And if the initial reviews of these $300 machines are any indication, Bay Trail could be your next on the road or for the kids machine.

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Cyber crime is not new. And despite grappling with it now for years, the cost of cyber crime continues to increase. This has been made plain by the 2013 Cost of Cyber Crime Study by the Ponemon Institute that was sponsored by Hewlett-Packard.

What do we learn from this study? Well, for starters, the annual cost of cyber crime is a staggering $11.56 million per U.S. organization. This represents a 26 percent increase from the $8.9 million figure from last year.

Google Endorsements: Opting-Out of Latest Ad Attack on Privacy

Facebook did it first. They took users' posts, reviews, and "Likes" and began to use them (without permission, or the ability to opt-out) in advertisements for products. Did you say nice things about Chipotle on their page? Your profile picture and review may have ended up in one of these "sponsored stories."

Of course, that resulted in a class action lawsuit (with a settlement that is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit), as well as an FTC inquiry. Legal woes won't stop the $9.5 billion business of social advertising, however. Google plans to do the same thing, beginning on November 11th, reports The New York Times.

We can hear you now: "What the hell is unstructured data?" Basically, it's any data that's not in a database. Think email, documents on a shared drive, social media, info on mobile devices -- you know, just 90% of the data out in the universe according to IDC.

Even scarier, according to IDC, unstructured data is growing at a rate of 50% per year. Yikes.

Why should you care? You're a hot shot attorney. Here's why: If your company, or a company you represent, is involved in litigation, guess who gets to go through all those files and pay for discovery? Not so cocky anymore, huh?

FCC's Robocall and Text Message Rules Get Stronger

We all hate telemarketers. And despite the efforts of the FCC and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, many of us end up having conversations exactly like this with strangers trying to talk to us about laundry detergent and time shares.

If the prior regulations didn't cramp the telemarketers' style, these should. Beginning on October 16, 2013, any commercial phone calls made via auto-dialers or prerecorded messages will have to comply with new FCC regulations, with one of their main defenses eliminated.

4 Changes You Should Make to Ensure Secure and Speedy Web Browsing

On Friday, The Guardian reported that the NSA is not only using malware, but they are tapping into U.S. telecom providers' networks (with permission) and redirecting some users to malware via "man in the middle" attacks, similar to the way China censors its Internet. These attacks are directed at users of Tor, the anonymous Internet browser. Less complicated attacks are likely being used on less security conscious individuals as well.

When a hacker redirects your Internet traffic onto a spoof website, gets you to download something malicious, and then spies on you, we call that "illegal." When the NSA does it, we call it "national security."

Democrats Split Over NSA Reforms; Proposed Changes

Unsurprisingly, our elected officials are split over the NSA surveillance program. They're split over everything, aren't they? The only semi-surprise is that the splits cross party lines, with one prominent Democrat, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy calling for abolishment of NSA call-tracking, while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein passionately advocates for keeping the program, with a few minor reforms.

Add proposed legislation reforming the program, introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rand Paul (R-KY), and a near-passage of a bill killing the program earlier this year, and it seems that change is coming. It remains to be seen what those changes will be, however.

California Criminalizes 'Revenge Porn'

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

In my most recent blog, I reported on the phenomenon of "revenge porn," the unfortunate practice by former lovers, boyfriends, and husbands of posting nude and sexual photos and videos of women with whom they had been intimate.

Now, according to Reuters, California Gov. Jerry Brown has just signed a unique state law that criminalizes revenge porn.

3 Ways to Stay Up-To-Date With Supreme Court News

Over the past year, the Supreme Court has issued an array of groundbreaking decisions, impacting discrimination in jury selection, Obamacare's contraception mandate, public union dues, immigration reform, and much more. And that's not to mention the recent historic decisions impacting the Affordable Care Act and legalizing same-sex marriage.

A single opinion by the Court, as the co-equal third branch of the government, can have immediate and long-lasting implications, and while in the old days, one would have to wait for newspaper articles or published volumes to hear the latest from The Nine, today, there is no delay.

While we thought the problems that existed between Galileo and the Pope were long gone, we are still faced with the same division between science and religion.

Yes, the Technologist Blog is supposed to talk about technological advancements as they relate to the law, or make the legal profession more efficient, but now Kansas has flipped the switch and sent us back to Bizarro World with its new lawsuit.

Sloppiness, Social Media Led to Silk Road Founder's Capture

Rule #1 of staying anonymous on the Internet: never use your real name.

Yesterday, we brought you the tale of Captain Jack Sparrow Dread Pirate Roberts, a/k/a Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of The Silk Road, a website on the anonymous Tor network where users buy and sell drugs, firearms, and services, such as hacking and murders for hire.

Ulbricht was indicted yesterday on drug conspiracy charges and for multiple murder for hire plots. Yesterday, we recounted the alleged attempt to hire a hit man to kill a user that threatened to leak the identities of Silk Road users. Today, in another indictment, it is alleged that he tried to hire an undercover officer to torture and kill an ex-employee to recover stolen money and to prevent him from cutting a deal.

How does the founder of a site dedicated to anonymous drug transactions get caught? From the indictment, it all came back to a single identifier: rossulbricht@gmail.com.

Real Life 'Breaking Bad'? Silk Road Founder Indicted, Site Seized

The Silk Road is no more. For those unfamiliar with the infamous online drug and illegal services marketplace, it was part of the hidden Internet, accessible only through Tor, which we tinkered with last month. Now, the site has been taken down, and its alleged founder, Ross Ulbrict, has been indicted on drug conspiracy, hacking, and murder for hire charges.

With the reveal of Dread Pirate Roberts (Ulbrict's online moniker), this begs the ever-present question: is there ever actual anonymity on the Internet, even with the use of Tor and Bitcoins?

Facebook Graph Update Gets Creepier; Tweak Your Privacy Settings

Why do we still have Facebook? Every week, it seems, it chips further away at our privacy. Shortly after getting to a tussle with the FTC over their new overly-expansive privacy policy, the company releases an updated Graph Search. Now you can quickly search through every post you, your friends, and even much of the public have ever written!

Yeah. Whether you call 'em "Timeline Posts," "status updates," or "editing someone's wall," they're now searchable, so long as the user's privacy settings haven't been amped up.

Down With Revenge Porn Sites

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Smartphones now provide the ability for users impulsively to take photographs and videos of life as it happens. And lovers in the midst of passion at times record their amorous activities with the intent of keeping revealing photos and videos private. What happens, though, when love dies, but the photos and videos remain? Do they stay private?

Unfortunately, often times the answer is "no."