Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

January 2014 Archives

The Super Bowl is upon us and whatever your reasons for watching, there are lots; many tune it to watch the game, but some of us are in it purely for the food and the commercials. When else can you gorge yourself on nachos, pizza and chicken wings -- at the same time?

So for all you hardworking lawyers who are actually taking some time off for the biggest game of the year, we've put together a list of gadgets or apps that you'll want handy on Sunday.

3 Gadgets Worth Wasting Your Money On (Maybe)

What are you going to do with your cut of that massive settlement you just negotiated? Or your tax refund?

Vacation? Investment? How about blowing it on a useless yet fun gadget? Stimulate the new economy!

And if you don't already have a wish list, we've got a few suggestions:

NSA's Snooping on App Data? We're Shocked.

What do we know? Or, what do we think we know as of this second in time?

The National Security Agency are a bunch of privacy-invading geeks with supercomputers. App developers are mining data for advertising through pervasive permissions on your smartphones.

So is it any wonder, whatsoever, that the NSA is reportedly siphoning data off of these apps?

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

Unfortunately, warfare has been part of the human experience for centuries and even millennia. Historically, wars were fought on the ground between individuals. Often, in more recent times, mass physical destruction has been caused from a distance, with bombs dropping from planes and missiles launched from remote locations.

And now, in the Internet age, wars can be waged electronically by purposely disrupting mission-critical systems of a perceived enemy state. Damages caused by such disruptions could be quite high, but there are potential international mechanisms by which such damages could be awarded.

Courts' Sites Crashed: Troubleshooting When it Happens Again

On Friday, PACER stopped. And the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' website stopped. And many of the Circuit Courts of Appeals' sites crashed. It was a full-blown outage, first reported as a hack, then as a glitch, then again, as a hack.

Either way, somebody broke it.

Fortunately, it was Friday afternoon. Many of you probably didn't even notice. We barely did, and that was because we are on the West Coast, and were still open for business.

Still, a court site crash can be a major headache for you. What can you do about it next time?

The more and more I read about revenge porn in the news, the more I'm realizing what a nerd I am. Taking pictures in my clothing is not on my top ten fun things to do, so when I read about the millions of people (mostly women) who are taking nude photos of themselves, and delivering them electronically my mind - is - blown.

But hey, if someone wants to take a picture of their goodies, and send them to whomever they like, I support their right to do that. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that you have a lot of creepy guys who take advantage of these closet exhibitionists and make public what they intended to be private. Well, the law is finally catching up. A little.

MOOCs: Yale Debuting Free Online Constitutional Law Course

Ever think, "it would be great if more people understood Constitutional Law?" After all, what good are Constitutional rights if you don't know they exist?

Or have you ever been curious whether an Ivy League legal education differs from your JD?

Maybe you just want to brush up on ConLaw basics.

This morning, Yale announced that it would offer Constitutional Law online for free through Coursera. They aren't the first law school to offer free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but it's interesting to see more heavyweights joining the trend.

2014: The Year of TLD .Rebranding for Your Firm?

Dot com. It's been the most popular top-level domain since the advent of the Internet. Other TLDs, like .net, .org, and country-specific variants like .au, have come along, but none have reached the heights of .com.

But there's been a trend lately. Have you noticed the flood of startups with weird names, like Bit.ly, Write.ly, Twitter's shorter version (t.co), Overstock.com's O.co, which has become its own brand, Last.fm, and Tuition.io? Most of these are country-specific TLDs that have been repurposed (.fm is the Federated States of Micronesia), but this year, hijacked geo-TLDs won't be the only route to a better branding.

50 Twitter Accounts Lawyers Should Follow Religiously (Part II)

Last week, I made a very big list (subscribe here) of thirty Twitter accounts that every lawyer, legal professional, and law student should follow. Topics include the Supreme Court, legal news, law and technology, humor, and general blawging. I also promised that twenty more would follow, once I heard from the Tweeps. (Twopulace? Twopulation? Twyers?)

The rules for the list remain the same: no multiples from the same company, unless they are have distinct identities and voices. General topics get the nod over specialty handles.

Part I of the list was the collective and subjective opinions of a few cubicle-dwellers here in Sunnyvale. For Part II, I wanted to hear from you. Here are the user-submitted suggestions!

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

Google Glass brings the Internet right to your face. Indeed, it brings computer functionality to an eyeglass device. So now, you can frolic online literally while on the go.

Is that a good thing? Well, we already live our lives via all sorts of technology, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Do we need more? That can be debated in terms of the ramifications of living constantly in cyberspace instead of the here and now of the real world.

But what about safety? Do we want people operating motor vehicles and other types of machinery while potentially distracted by surfing the Web on eyeglass devices? Probably not in most instances. So, let's turn to a real situation, as opposed to theoretical hypotheticals.

Coffee is one of those things that people either love, or hate. Here at FindLaw, you will find many in the former category. There are those of us that take our coffee seriously (yes, I'm looking at you Mr. Peacock, with your own personal French press). So, when I came across an article in Ars Technica regarding a study on how caffeine affects memory, it got my wandering to a hot cup of joe.

So, I thought I'd do a "coffee tech" post on the best ways for you to get your fix. (Sidebar: Since I take my coffee seriously, I'm only writing about products that I actually have experience with.) Oh, and the study showed some improvement to memory -- though you really didn't need another excuse for that second cup, did you?

President Barack Obama's Speech Offers Mild NSA Reforms

This morning, President Barack Obama, in a long-awaited speech, addressed the topic that won't (and shouldn't) go away: NSA surveillance. Many were expecting the President to announce a package of significant reforms, such as ending or heavily reining in the bulk metadata collection program, and adding a privacy advocate to the one-sided secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court proceedings.

Instead, President Obama delivered a speech large on rhetoric and short on substance. After spending much of his speech reciting historical examples of intelligence programs that benefitted our country (all of which involved insurrection or spying on unfriendly foreign countries), and some that didn't (domestic surveillance of civil rights leaders), and denouncing the actions of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, he proceeded to make promises without plans, and reforms without impact.

Doing Your Taxes: 5 Apps to Dig Out and Track Tax Deductions

I won't wait till April.

I won't wait till April.

I won't wait till April.

Now that we have that out of the way, how can you harness the power of modern technology and smartphone apps to make this year's tax deadline suck ever-so-slightly less? For us disorganized procrastinators, we're going to have to dig though student loan bills, online purchases, charitable contributions, and other potential deductions that we failed to track throughout the past year. Plus, maybe, just maybe, we should change things up and start tracking those deductions as we go along.

Maybe.

It's time folks. Don't wait until April to do the digging. Your CPA, if you use one, will hate you.

Windows 9 Coming Already? Plus, End of XP is Near!

Windows 8 was released a mere 17 months ago. An update, codenamed "Windows Blue," and officially sanctioned as Windows 8.1, started rolling out four months ago.

And here we are, already desperate for Windows 9.

Is this a bad time to remind you that, if you are using Windows XP, that you'll soon be forced to upgrade?

50 Twitter Accounts Lawyers Should Follow Religiously (Part I)

The title says it all. If you're new to Twitter, or you're getting bored with your current feed, this is the list you need: Fifty accounts, covering the Supreme Court, legal news, law and technology, humor, and other blawging topics.

What are the ground rules for the list? No multiples from the same company, unless they are cover completely different topics. General legal topics get the nod over specialized accounts. Also, this list is based on my opinions and an informal straw poll. That means I forgot you. I apologize. Please don't rage tweet me.

You'll also notice that there are only 30 handles on this list. Want to be on Part II and help me round out the top 50? Tweet me, the curator of the list, or FindLaw for Legal Professionals, the corporate veil who sits next to me.

What Does It Take to Unmask an Anonymous Yelp Reviewer?

It is a truth (more or less) universally acknowledged that anonymous speech is protected by the First Amendment:

"Despite readers' curiosity and the public's interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose his or her true identity ... [T]he interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author's decision to remain anonymous ... is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

But commercial speech receives fewer protections than other types of speech, such as political speech.

What did it take to overcome the somewhat-limited First Amendment rights of anonymity in a Yelp! review? In a recent Virginia state appellate court decision, it took a business promising that it tried really hard to match the negative reviews with their customer records (to test veracity), as well as their good faith belief that the reviews were false and defamatory.

LinkedIn, the popular website that essentially works like the Facebook for professionals, is suing hackers -- but doesn't know the identity of the hackers.

The hackers -- whoever they are -- created thousands of fake LinkedIn accounts, through the use of bots, in order to access member accounts. According to the LinkedIn complaint, once accessed, the hackers copied and extracted information from member profile pages. The "scraping" scheme occurred just below detectable limits, leading people to believe the hackers were aware of LinkedIn's security thresholds, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

3 Practical and 1 Fun Thing From CES That Do Excite Us

Smartwatches and Ultra HD 4K televisions don't impress me much. Neither do smart toothbrushes or beds. What, then, has us all hot and bothered from the wave of CES announcements from Las Vegas? It's all about practicality. Well, mostly.

Our top three things that we've learned from spending way too much time on Cnet.com's CES coverage include:

'Cease and Desist' says Kanye West to Coinye

Kanye West's lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Coinye founders alleging that the virtual currency website infringed West's trademarks.

Coinye, or the virtual currency formerly known as Coinye West, was conceived by seven anonymous coders. For a man who loves to rant, West let his lawyer do the talking when he sent the letter requesting that the coders stop all activity relating to Coinye West or Coinye, reports The Wall Street Journal.

However, Coinye went ahead and launched its service anyway, but made some adjustments after the cease-and-desist letter was sent.

Do You Have Klout? Social Media Metric Measures Your 'Importance'

I am not an Internet legend, at least not yet. I have no viral posts or tweets. I am just another voice, with a few hundred Twitter followers.

And my Klout score, a middling 45, reflects that. A score in the mid-60s would make me part of the top 5 percent of the Internet cognoscenti. For comparison sake, FindLaw for Legal Professionals is a 61.

I'm a 45. I'm nobody. What would a mid-60s score mean? Influence. Freebies. Better treatment at casinos? Satisfied vanity?

CES: 5 Things We Couldn't Care Less About

CES: the Consumer Electronics Show.

After Hanukah, and Christmas, and Kwanza, and New Year's Day, comes an even bigger holiday for geeks: the biggest tech gadget trade show of the year.

Tablets. Smartphones. PCs. TVs. Car stereos. Pardon the drool, but this is announcement day for much of the year's biggest tech toys. Of course, not every announcement will be met with glee. Here are some of the things we couldn't care less about:

Next Big Practice Area: Privacy Class Action Lawsuits?

The truest words spoken in the aftermath of the massive Snapchat hack of 4.6 million users' data were, "I think Snapchat, if they haven't already done so, are going to need to hire some really good lawyers." Those words, spoken by Christoper Soghoian, a former privacy advisor to the Federal Trade Commission, are spot-on. The company's CEO, Evan Spiegal, addressed the ruckus with a s*** happens-type of response, reports Valleywag, which should do little to quell the rage of angry users.

And then my friends, there is Facebook, which, after their last twelve (rough estimate) lawsuits, probably have pretty good, and experienced, counsel. They were sued for scanning users' "private" messages for links, crawling through those links, and activating the "like" button on the resulting pages, reports Slate. For example, were I to send a copy of my latest post to my dear mother via a message, Facebook would send a robot to the post and "click" the like button on my behalf.

The issue is data mining, and security flaws, and security exploits, and privacy violations. It's also almost certainly going to be a hot practice area for tech-savvy class-action attorneys.

Antitrust Monitor Miffed With Apple, Files Declaration

Apple is allegedly doing its darnedest to obstruct its newest court-ordered monitor, a lawyer who is supposed to be probing for antitrust violations.

Beginning in October, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich was assigned to monitor the Silicon Valley company's business practices, but he is now complaining that his efforts are "largely being ignored," reports CNET.

This frustration is crystallized in the "Bromwich Declaration" which outlines Bromwich's grievances to the federal court.

$3 Billion Snapchat Was Hacked; Prepare For Self-Destroying Spam

Many people see Snapchat as one of the four horsemen of a coming tech-pocalyse, a bubble burst that will make the "Dot Com" collapse look like a minor ripple. It's an app, worth $3 billion or so, that does one simple thing: it allows you to send and receive self-destructing pictures to each other.

Typically, that means snapshots of naughty bits.

It's allegedly worth the money because of its immense popularity. Will this massive hack, of 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers, harm that popularity? Will users still send selfies when their service provider failed to patch a known security flaw that they knew about for months? And should you, avid Snapchatter, be worried?