Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

November 2013 Archives

Black Friday: Tech Specs to Look For When Buying an Office Computer

If you're like most people who have friends and hobbies, terms like "Haswell" and Intel Atom Z3740D mean absolutely nothing to you. That's fair. Fortunately for you, I have neither friends nor hobbies, so I'll be your tech spec translator for this Black Friday.

And make no mistake about it: your tech choices are important -- buy the wrong computer and your paralegals will beat their heads against their monitors in frustration, or you'll end up "upgrading" yet again, next year.

Senators Ask Solicitor General To Clear Up Past Lies to SCOTUS

Newsflash: The National Security Agency lied.

Okay, actual newsflash: they didn't just lie to We The People. They lied to the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice, and by extension, to the Supreme Court.

Nine months ago, the court decided Clapper v. Amnesty International, denying standing to the plaintiffs because it was totally speculative (and paranoid) that they were being spied on by the government. Except they were. We all were. And the Supreme Court's decision relied, in part, on two misrepresentations by the Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, which were in turn caused by misinformation from the NSA.

Happy LegalTechGiving!

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

It is that time of year again. Soon, we will have turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, and pumpkin pie on our plates, if we are fortunate. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect with gratitude on those aspects of our lives for which we are thankful.

Black Friday Tech Shopping: No Lines or Ruined Holidays

Remember when Black Friday was fun? You'd wake up at 4 a.m., head to the Walmart in Rockbridge County, and because it was Lexington, Virginia, your only competition for big ticket items were a few dozen housewives. Yep, there weren't enough people in Rockbridge County to cause a tramplin', let alone to sell out of fancy bed sheets or video games.

Of course, most of the country doesn't live in an idyllic countryside paradise (nor do I, anymore). And with retailers bumping up Black Friday earlier and earlier (seriously, some of them have already started, while others are opening their doors at 7p.m. on Thanksgiving -- it's disgusting), you may be worried about scoring deals without ruining the holiday.

We hear you. Whether you're splurging for family, or trying to upgrade the firm's hardware, here are some tips for bargain hunting, saving the holiday, and wasting a ton of money.

If you never thought the day would come when you could invest in Monopoly money then you may be in for a big surprise -- sort of. In what is a huge symbolic shift, the Federal Government held hearings this week on Bitcoin, and so far, the DOJ has described Bitcoin as a "legal means of exchange," reports Bloomberg.

FISC Orders DOJ to Turn Over Documents; DOJ Refuses

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a secretive place, but earlier this year, likely because of that whole government-is-spying-on-everyone scandal that still, somehow, hasn't blown over, they decided to be more transparent. They ordered the Department of Justice to turn over their prior rulings which interpreted Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

Yesterday, the DOC politely declined. What was the court's response?

Brilliant: RICO Now Being Used Against Cybercriminals

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was enacted in order to battle organized crime, specifically the mafia. But as of late, it has become quite the versatile tool, being employed in combating gang crime in Chicago and even more intriguingly, cyber crime.

Now, the government has its test case, in the form of a pudgy-faced, relatively low-level criminal named David Ray Camez. Though Camez is already serving a seven-year state prison term, federal RICO charges could lengthen that sentence greatly. Most of his co-defendants have already taken plea deals. He refuses, however, arguing that there was no organization -- only individual criminals selling on a website akin to craigslist or eBay.

Google Pays Pocket Change for Violating Safari Users' Privacy

Remember that time Google wrote cookies to deliberately circumvent privacy settings in Safari users' browsers and to track user activity?

No? No big deal. Sure, it was hugely invasive, but if the settlements are any indication, no one seems to be particularly concerned. The Internet giant, which had $14.9 billion in revenue last quarter, will pay about $17 million to 37 states as part of a settlement in ongoing litigation over the issue. According to The Associated Press, it would take the company about three hours to generate enough revenue to cover the tab.

To Counter NSA Snooping, Yahoo, Others Encrypting User Data

Every week, there is a new NSA revelation. First, they were only collecting phone call metadata from a single cell phone carrier. At last count, they were tapping into email services and sniffing data from the pipelines between major tech companies' servers.

To prevent this latter scenario from continuing, Yahoo announced on its Tumblr blog yesterday that it would encrypt their email service, all user data that travels between its servers (regardless of service), as well as all data that goes to and from end-users. In theory, this should greatly reduce the amount of snooping without a court order.

NSA Spying Doesn't Reach Supreme Court Docket ... Yet

Though many of us would have liked to see the nation's High Court tackle the issue, the National Security Agency's domestic spying activities will have to wait for another day before reaching the Supreme Court. Earlier today, the Court declined to hear the case.

While it was a bit of a disappointing outcome, it was foreseeable. The case, brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, was seeking a writ of mandamus, a remedy rarely granted.

Delaware has long been the go-to place for incorporating domestic corporations. But now, the state is seeking world domination Dr. Evil style.

Earlier this week, Delaware launched (with more success than HealthCare.gov) a global website highlighting the advantages of incorporating in Delaware for international companies, reports The News Journal of Wilmington. The website is available in nine languages in addition to English: Hebrew, Japanese, German, Chinese, Dutch, Arabic, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

One Card to Rule Them All? Turn Multiple Credit Cards Into One

It can be a pain to carry multiple credit and debit cards, especially if you prefer a money clip or slim-profile wallet. And credit card alternatives, such as tapping your phone to a dedicated reader, have failed to take off, probably because tapping phones is odd, merchants don't have the readers, and most importantly, how do you pay for your latte when your phone's battery dies, or worse yet, your phone is lost?

The startup darling of the day, which has garnered coverage from all of the tech blogs, is Coin, a device that stores eight credit cards in one device, which has a dynamic magnetic stripe. This would tackle the card consolidation issue, but the company faces competition from a less ambitious alternative: Wallaby.

Google Wins Again: Book-Scanning Project Is Fair Use

Imagine the world's most powerful library catalog. Not only can you search by title, author, or type of book, but you can search for actual text, such as books discussing the culture of rural West Virginia mountain people during the Revolutionary War.

Oh wait, we have that. It's called Google Books. You can run such a search, and you get snippets from such titles as "A History of Appalachia" or "West Virginia: A History." You can even read a paragraph or three to see if the book is a real snoozer. And if you want to read the entire thing, there are links for purchasing the book or finding it in a library.

Pretty brilliant, huh? So brilliant, in fact, that Google got sued by the Author's Guild, a group of copyright holders that claimed Google was trampling their rights. Today, Google prevailed.

Android KitKat Update; Moto G Is Perfect for Budget-Conscious

Last night, Google announced that the latest version of Android, "KitKat," would roll out to owners of Nexus 7 (Wi-Fi) and 10 tablets, with the update coming to Nexus 4 and 7 (with mobile data) in the near-term. Of course, "roll out" means we're hitting the "Check for Updates" button every twenty minutes, with no luck yet.

This, my friends, is why if you're going to Android, choosing one of Google's own Nexus devices is worth considering: quick updates.

Or, you could always go for a Motorola device. Why Motorola? Google bought 'em last year. The subsidiary's devices now come with near-stock Android (no more bloatware!) and receive timely updates from the mothership in Mountain View. Plus, the company announced the Moto G today, a sub-$200 contract-free phone that surprisingly packs above average specs.

Porn Troll Becomes ADA Website Troll, Sans Clients' Consent

Career change, or new shady scheme?

The last time we blogged about Prenda Law, they were ordered to pay $81,319.72 in defense attorneys' fees after they sent threatening demand letters (and filed frivolous boilerplate lawsuits) regarding porn copyright infringement. The letters were more extortion than legitimate litigation, threatening to reveal the recipient's porn proclivities to neighbors and relatives unless the recipient settled.

Prenda Law is all but dead after sanctions and criminal investigations. But according to TechDirt, one of the troll-firm's masterminds has now set his sights elsewhere: ADA access for the blind to websites.

Brilliant: Tech Giants Start Security Bug Bounty Programs

Quick analogy: Windows is to your computer like Open SSL, Open SSH, Bind, and other open-source packages are to the Internet as a whole.

Your computer runs on Windows, while web apps, servers, e-commerce sites, and pretty much the entire Internet, runs on these collections of open-source code. But while Microsoft, as the owner and vendor of Windows, is responsible for patching up security bugs in the consumer operating system, who is responsible for finding and fixing security bugs in these widely-used, free, open-source packages?

FCC to Release Mobile Data Speed Test App Because Yay, Redundancy

A First World Problem: my YouTube app took fifteen seconds to buffer before playing cat videos.

It seems like a silly thing to whine about. Mobile broadband speeds will vary, not just by carrier, but by reception, network load, and your device itself (LTE, HSPA+, 3G are all commonly in use, and provide less and less speed, respectively).

Still, the FCC wants to make sure that customers are getting what they pay for. Plus, with all of the merger talk over the last few years (AT&T's near-nuptials with T-Mobile, then T-Mobile's pairing with MetroPCS), the agency wants to know if we have a competition problem.

Office Web Apps Finally Catches Up To Google Docs' Collaboration

When I fiddled with Outlook Web Apps earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised at how far the once-useless browser versions of the ubiquitous office suite had become. As for Google Docs, while we use it here, and while it has exploded in popularity due to its collaborative editing abilities, how much development has gone into it over the last few years?

We heard that Office Web Apps had collaboration, so we gave it a shot. It was a miserable failure. Edits were locked, paragraph by paragraph. Odd error messages appeared. Basically, if you had any friends whatsoever, it was useless. But, as of today, it's fixed. And Microsoft is making us take a serious second-look at their online offering.

Just in case you wanted to sell drugs anonymously online, Silk Road 2.0 has risen from the dead, despite the FBI's takedown of the site just over one month ago, reports Forbes. But, like Obamacare, the new site is experiencing a few bumps and delays according to Motherboard.

Twitter Already Facing Two Possible Lawsuits Over the IPO

Hey, at least they didn't crash the stock market, like Facebook did.

In fact, Twitter's stock prices are booming. We covered the morning's hype on our In House blog, including the spike from the IPO offering at $26, opening at over $45, and peaking at around $50 per share. Pretty insane for a company that is losing money, even with all of those reasons for optimism.

The optimism may have been misplaced. And Twitter may be following Facebook in a different way: to the courtroom.

Caller ID By Google: You Need to Prepare for This

I just missed a call. By typing the phone number into Google, I was able to find out that it was almost certainly a spam call relating to some get rich quick scheme. Awesome. Thanks for wasting thirty-five seconds of my day.

In early 2014, Google may have a solution to this particular problem. They will be rolling out Caller ID by Google, which sounds both brilliant and invasive. For local businesses, Google will match their own data to the phone number to display the business's information on soon-to-be-released Android 4.4 phones. Hopefully, they can tag spam calls as well.

For you, however, they'll get their information, and caller ID photo, from a different place: your Google+ photo.

Tragedy of the Creative Commons: AOL Takes on Startup People+

I just created something incredibly useful. I want to share that with the world, and to allow the world to develop that idea into its full potential. Then again, I also want credit.

That's why we have the Creative Commons Attribution [CC BY] license. It allows me to protect my IP in the least restrictive way imaginable: anyone, anywhere, can use my creation for pretty much any purpose, so long as they provide attribution.

Great compromise, right? So why is AOL in a tizzy over startup People+ using their Creative Commons'd CrunchBase database?

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

Hacking attacks have been part of the Internet landscape, unfortunately, since the dawn of Cyberspace. Nevertheless, you might think that certain sites are sufficiently important and secure that they are immune to the effects of a hack attack.

But that is not necessarily the case. News accounts periodically report on hack attacks wreaking havoc on large commercial websites. And now even President Obama, the leader of the free world, is bearing the brunt of some recent hack attacks.

Using a Virtual Child to Catch Web Cam Predators; Is It Legal?

The battle against online child predators may have just gotten its most powerful tool, but already, it has us wondering: is this thing legal?

This morning, Terre des Hommes, an international organization operating out of the Netherlands, handed over the identities of 1,000 pedophiles to Interpol. The predators attempted to pay Sweetie, a ten-year-old girl in the Philippines, for a web cam sex show.

Sweetie, however, isn't real.

After Fifty-Seven False Alerts, Nexus 5 Drops; Should We Upgrade?

Way back in August, we had an inkling that the newest Nexus phone was on the way. Google cut the price of last year's flagship phone, the Nexus 4, and once it sold out, it never reappeared.

Then the new Nexus 5 went through FCC certification, which led to leaked images.

Then a man on Google's campus "accidently" held the new phone in a picture.

Then the manual leaked.

In fact, this might have been the most leaked phone of all time. The only mystery, for the last month, was when. Some said October 1. Others said October 15th (which just turned out to be some Google party in New York). Finally, rumors pointed to today.

On Tuesday, Google Glass Explorer Cecilia Abadie was pulled over for going over the 65 mph speed limit in San Diego. While the officer was writing up the ticket, he noticed Abadie was wearing Google Glass and added a second violation to her ticket for "using a video screen," reports The Washington Post.

She immediately posted the ticket on her Google+ profile and asked "Is #GoogleGlass ilegal [sic] while driving or is this cop wrong???"

Good question.