Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

October 2014 Archives

Google Inbox: The Sweet, Sweet Lovechild of Gmail and Google Now

I like Google Now. Sure, it's a bit creepy that it does its voodoo magic (telling me my flight information, giving me sports scores, notifying me of updates on my favorite blogs, etc.) by scanning my email and tracking my online activities, but it sure is handy. In fact, Google Now is one of the big reasons why I still have an Android phone.

And Gmail? It revolutionized free email. And the one thing I miss since switching to Outlook as my daily provider is the handy Primary/Social/Promotional dividers in my inbox, which shove all of those annoying "You'll love our newest look!" and "Jimmy Johns wants to connect with you!" emails into their own special boxes.

But Google Inbox, the new task-oriented take on Gmail? It's like the two products made sweet, sweet love and this is their glorious, magnificent lovechild.

13 Legal Tech Stories Scarier Than Dracula or Wolfman

Think Verizon and the NSA shouldn't be in the same category as Wolfman and Frankenstein? Think again: Behind you! It's ... it's ... packet shaping!

So maybe James Clapper isn't as scary-looking as Lon Cheney in "Phantom of the Opera," but the implications of warrantless surveillance are terrifying. For Halloween, make sure you have the lights on as you read about these 13 (arguably) "frightening" legal issues facing technology today:

FTC Sues AT&T Over Bandwidth-Throttled 'Unlimited' Data Plans

That "unlimited" data plan your cell phone provider offers is probably anything but, and the FTC isn't happy about it -- so unhappy that it's filed a complaint in federal court.

See, back in 2007, when AT&T was the only carrier offering the iPhone, it enticed customers with promises of "unlimited" data. Because, really, how much data could people possibly use?

Turns out it was a lot. Previous "smart" phones had Internet capability, but those Web browsers were simple training-wheels browsers, and there was no other reason to use cell data other than for email. The iPhone, with its functional browser and applications, changed all that -- and then streaming video changed all that some more.

EFF: Tenn. School's Tech, Social Media Policies Are Unconstitutional

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sent quite a letter to the superintendent of schools in Williamson County, Tennessee, calling out the district's Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy for its restrictions on student speech online.

BYOT policies are becoming increasingly popular as schools realize it's in everyone's best interest to let kids bring their own electronic devices from home. But Williamson County's policies appear to be a little on the fatally overbroad side.

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

Practically every aspect of life now takes place in cyberspace in addition to in the traditional world we know. While at first blush that generally may sound like a good thing, warfare now also takes place online as part of real conflicts, and not just in the realm of computer games.

5 Cheap Gadgets Every Road-Warrior Lawyer Must Have

You already know that if you're going to be lawyering on the road, you're going to need a laptop -- preferably one with amazing battery life, like the Macbook Air. And you probably also already have a smartphone and perhaps a tablet.

None of those are cheap, nor are they the focus of this list. This list is all about accessorizing with little gadgets that will keep you as productive on the road as you are in the office.

Here are five cheap gadgets you may want to have handy:

Real-Time Cell Phone Tracking Needs a Warrant: Fla. Supreme Court

In an age where it seems like surveillance just keeps getting more surveill-ey, the Florida Supreme Court has hit the brakes on the common police practice of using live cell phone location data to track a person's movements in real time.

Police had obtained a both a pen register and a trap-and-trace order to track the numbers Shawn Tracey was calling on his cell phone. A month later, the order had expired, but nevertheless, police accessed the real-time cell site location information of Tracey's cell phone without a valid order.

3 High-Tech Ways to Get Paid by Your Client: Online, Mobile, NFC

In the old days, if your law office wanted to take credit cards, you would probably have to sign a years-long agreement with a credit card processor and pay exorbitant fees on each transaction. Heck, in even older days, you would have had to use one of those heavy metal machines that used carbon paper. (True story: I saw one of those in use at a restaurant the other day.)

Today? You can take payments online. You can use a reader the size of a nickel that plugs into your smartphone. Or if you're feeling super adventurous, you can try something really new, like Apple Pay or one of the other NFC (tap-your-phone) readers.

Here are a few options, from slightly more old-school to bleeding edge:

Mac Desktop Buyers' Guide Q4 2014: New Mac Minis and iMacs

Finally, with all of Apple's annual (or bi-annual, in the Mini's case) upgrades on the books, we have the entirety of the Apple product line in front of us. If you're looking up upgrade or replace your office computers, and you're already on the platform, or Mac-curious, you might wonder what your best options are: Mini, iMac, or iMac with Retina?

Even between those three product lines, there are countless customization options for Apple's desktop computers. Let this be your guide:

Facebook to DEA: Stop Impersonating People, Creating Fake Accounts

Wait, what? You mean somewhere in between Aunt Sally and George Takei, the Drug Enforcement Agency was on Facebook? Apparently so. Earlier this month, Buzzfeed reported about Sondra Prince, a real person, whose Facebook page was not her own.

Prince (real name: Sondra Arquiett) was arrested on the ground that she was part of a drug ring. She was sentenced to probation. Unbeknownst to her, DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen set up a Facebook profile using her name and photos in the hope that criminals would try to communicate with her.

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

The United Nations was born in the aftermath of the atrocities committed leading up to World War II. The United Nations Charter is plain in its support for the development of international human rights protection.

The most fundamental human right is the right not to be killed by another human being.

FBI's James Comey Returns for Another Assault on Encryption

Last week was quite a week for FBI Director James Comey, who appeared on "60 Minutes" and at the Brookings Institute to reiterate that the government just has to have the ability to crack the encryption on mobile devices. You'll recall that Apple and Google are supporting mobile operating systems with encryption that even they can't break.

Comey's not a fan. But his statements about the nature of privacy make one wonder why he should be trusted. Comey doesn't seem to trust any of us, operating under the assumption that someone who doesn't want the government rifling through their stuff must be up to no good.

With 'Apple SIM,' New iPads Can Connect to Different Carriers

I have one question for Apple after yesterday's presentation: How in the heck did you forget to mention Apple SIM?

The revolutionary new SIM card -- which was first pointed out by 9to5 Mac, was not mentioned in Apple's keynote, and which only began to make waves on the tech blogs later in the afternoon -- could revolutionize how you connect your tablet to cellular data.

How? It allows you to hop data networks when you don't have coverage, or when one carrier is offering a cheaper price, or when you travel to the UK. It is, in essence, a cross-carrier SIM card that supports AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile in the United States and EE in the United Kingdom, with hopefully more networks to come.

Apple's Big Day: Updates to OS X, iOS, iPads, iMacs, and Mac Mini

We're gadget geeks, so we wait around for every Apple event, but today's event promised big things for even all you normal folks with friends: upgraded Macs. Why is that important? Because Windows 8 is terrible, Windows 10 is a year away, and you might need to upgrade your computers now.

Or maybe you're one of the many folks who run Mac in your law office. Either way, today's event had a lot of new goodies of business users, as well as incremental upgrades for the company's iPad line.

Because we had a big day of writing about judges behaving badly planned, we followed Ars Technica's live blog. Here's what stood out to us:

Google Android, Nexus Updates: What's the Verdict?

Every year, like clockwork, Google updates Android with a new version. And every year, without fail, it introduced a new Nexus phone, along with a few other assorted Nexus-branded devices.

Why should you care? Because when it comes to the pure Android experience, Nexus devices are the way to go. They're the first devices to get updates, since they come straight from Google. And, in the past, the devices were far cheaper than their more mainstream counterparts from Samsung and Apple.

How did this year's line stack up? Mildly disappointing, at least in terms of new hardware. But for existing Android owners, the upcoming operating system update (Lollipop) represents a huge leap forward in terms of speed and battery life.

Dropbox Wasn't 'Hacked,' but Should You Worry Anyway?

OK, reality check: All those headlines and stories claiming Dropbox was "hacked" contain a false statement and a misleading omission, making them technically false (consult your local rules of professional responsibility).

Dropbox wasn't hacked. That's the false statement. According to Dropbox, the usernames and passwords posted on Pastebin were login credentials stolen from other services. The thieves then used those same credentials to attempt to log in to Dropbox accounts.

The second statement, which is misleading, is that the hacks aren't even new. Dropbox wouldn't say when the credentials were stolen, but in a statement said the passwords "have been expired for some time now." Dropbox, like every online service provider, has the ability to forcibly expire user passwords, making them useless for logging in. This is a common first line of defense when a provider knows it's been hacked and it prevents thieves from using the stolen passwords.

'The Snappening': Was Snapchat Really Hacked? Not Exactly

Over the weekend, the Internet was abuzz with rumors that Snapchat, the insanely popular ephemeral picture- and video-messaging app, was hacked and that users' pictures and videos would soon be released. While it may seem far-fetched that an app with self-destructing media would be hackable, you only need to look at the "fappening" (the iCloud celebrity photo hack) to see that "The Snappening" wasn't too unfathomable, especially since the company has been hacked (for usernames and passwords, not photos and videos) before.

Well, today we got our answer: Snapchat wasn't hacked, but isn't completely secure. And sadly, the fears of leaked user photos and videos were realized earlier today -- much of it technically being child pornography.

Here's a rundown of what actually happened:

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

World War I was supposed to be "war to end all wars." And the League of Nations and the subsequent United Nations were designed to keep countries at peace. But unfortunately, wars are still part of the international landscape, including the emerging threat of cyberwarfare.

As the UN prepares to celebrate its 69th anniversary October 24, let's take a look at how it and the League of Nations have tried -- and often failed -- to prevent conflict between nations.

Tesla Model D's Autopilot: What Are the Legal Implications?

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Tesla founder Elon Musk was asked about the legal implications of autopilot on the Tesla Model D, which will come to market throughout next year.

Musk was very careful to point out that there's a difference between "autonomous" driving and "autopilot." The former sounds more like what Google's driverless cars are seeking: "You can go to sleep and wake up at your destination," Musk explained. Autopilot, he said, is "what they have in airplanes. For example, we use the same term they use in airplanes, where there's still an expectation there will be a pilot. The onus is on the pilot to make sure that the autopilot is doing the right thing."

Google Asks SCOTUS to Rescue Android From Oracle, Fed. Cir.

Is Android a byproduct of copyright infringement? It's a heck of a question, one that has no easy answer.

Google used bits of Oracle's Java APIs when it built Android. APIs (application programming interfaces) are the tools used to carry out functions on a computer. No one disputes this. But Oracle claims that it had a copyright on its APIs, while Google argues that APIs aren't copyrightable at all.

So far, the lower courts have split. A district court agreed with Google that a "utilitarian and functional set of symbols" is the only "way to declare a given method functionality" and therefore cannot be copyrighted. The Federal Circuit, on the other hand, held that the APIs were copyrightable, but that a fair use defense might apply.

Google doesn't want to rely upon a possible fair use defense, so it has asked the Supreme Court to take the case, Reuters reports.

Attention NYC Lawyers: .nyc Domains Are Here; Waiting on .esq

New York, New York. A city so nice they named it twice. A "concrete jungle where dreams are made of." The largest city in a state with the most lawyers per capita in the country.

Now, anyone can be fakepracticearealawyer.com. But if you want to really show that New York City pride, yesterday's big domain name announcement should really excite you: .nyc domain names are available, and they are reserved for folks with NYC addresses only. How much cooler is fakepracticearea.nyc than a generic .com? How much more appealing is that to proud New Yorkers?

Twitter Sues DOJ Over National Security Letter Disclosures

For years, the Justice Department has been conducting surveillance on computer networks like Facebook, or sending National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain emails from Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Various national security laws (including the PATRIOT Act) prevent the companies that operate those networks from disclosing the fact that they've even received a NSL.

Twitter is fed up with this secrecy. Yesterday, Twitter sued the DOJ alleging "prior restraint" -- i.e., censorship -- in that Twitter is being forced to refrain from speaking about how many NSLs it's received.

Install Windows 10 Yet? Check the Disturbing Terms of Service

Geeks worldwide flocked to Microsoft's website last week to take part in the company's public beta of the next version of its ubiquitous operating system: Windows 10. However, word quickly spread that the Windows Technical Preview program's terms were far more invasive than the commercial variant, giving Microsoft surprisingly pervasive permission to collect and use your private data, including your keystrokes.

Is the uproar justified? And should you think twice about participating in the program? Let's take a look at the terms and the public's response.

The End of Grooveshark? But Not the End of Streaming Music Services

Grooveshark is an online music service that allows users to upload their own music and stream it. But it also allows users to add to their streaming library any song that someone else has already uploaded.

As you might expect, the music companies weren't too keen on this, and though Grooveshark obtained licenses for some of the music in its collection, it didn't obtain licenses for all of the music.

Enter this lawsuit against Grooveshark's owner, Escape Media Group Inc., where the music companies moved for summary judgment on direct and secondary infringement.

Shake for Android Is Here: Time to Burn My J.D.?

Last year, when Shake debuted, I quipped that we (lawyers) just got replaced by a contract-drafting app. Fortunately, our execution was stayed for a bit -- it took over a year for the app to make the leap from iOS (iPhone and iPad) to the wider world of desktops and Android devices.

Alas, the day of reckoning is at hand: The Android app dropped yesterday. Is it time to burn my bar card and Juris Doctorate? No, not in the least, and not just because there will always be criminals to defend and apps really don't do that (yet).

Shake is a good first step, an app with potential that could come in handy (right now) for a few folks, but it's nowhere near catching up to the dozens of online DIY legal form providers -- yet.

Cops Doled Out Dangerous Child Internet Safety Software: EFF

This just in from the hilarity department: Police departments nationwide have, for years, been spending taxpayer money to distribute what is essentially malware to unsuspecting parents who want to monitor their kids' online activity: a little program called ComputerCOP.

The extensive report comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Deeplinks Blog, which investigated ComputerCOP, a piece of "software" that has been around for 15 years. For the last few years, it has included a keylogger that transmits everything your child (or anyone using that computer) types, unencrypted, to a remote server, making it easy for any snooper on a wireless network to snatch up your sensitive data.

The Internet of Insecure Things: Hacking 'Smart Devices'

The "Internet of Things" is a fun buzz-phrase that describes non-computer devices with Internet connections, like your car, your refrigerator, or your thermostat. Unfortunately, companies that make such devices don't always have security in mind.

When we think of "Internet security," it's typically in the context of computers, maybe smartphones. But as more and more of our stuff starts surfing the Web, security becomes more of a problem.