Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

September 2015 Archives

If you wanted to know how your Model T was working, you would open the hood. If you want to see what's going on in your car today, you can still look under the hood -- but you can't look into the dozens of software programs that make you automobile go vroom. That private, encrypted software is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to circumvent measures meant to keep proprietary software private.

Now, those IP protections are coming under fire, following revelations that Volkswagen installed secret software to evade emissions tests and violate pollution regulations. Had inspectors been able to peak under the digital hood, they may have spotted the deception earlier.

Law firm "tech support" does a lot more than make sure your Internet is running and software is up to date. In today's firms, technology professionals are an essential part of eDiscovery practice, litigation support, cybersecurity, and -- in the rare firm -- legal innovation.

And these highly-skilled tech workers are in store for a significant raise as more firms realize their worth and demand begins to outstrip supply. It might just be time to give your tech team a raise -- or watch them move elsewhere.

Today's big tech companies are as bad as Standard Oil was a century ago. Tech platforms, like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are monopolies that abuse their market dominance, stifle innovation, and harm the public. They need to be broken up.

That, at least, is the argument former Sectary of Labor Robert Reich makes in last weekend's edition of The New York Times: dust off the antitrust laws and break up big tech. It's unlikely that Reich's advice will be heeded anytime soon -- as he notes, the FTC rejected staff recommendations and refused to prosecute Google for anti-competitive behavior. But new research shows that government regulation over the tech industry may be inevitable, if popular opinion is any indicator.

If Google search results are to comply with European law, they must do so globally, France's data protection authority has ruled. That means that Google must apply the EU's "right to be forgotten" to its search results throughout the world. After all, what good is being forgotten if another country's Google search could easily find your most embarrassing photos and memories?

The order comes after an informal appeal by Google which sought to limit the right to search results in the European Union. Google has strenuously disagreed with the ruling, saying it allows nations to impose their laws extraterritorially. If Google refuses to comply with France's order, however, they could face fines of over $1 billion.

Winning Cases by Telling a Story

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

Once upon a time, long ago but not too far away, there was a law firm associate who was working up a case for a senior trial partner with the hope of delivering a well-prepared pre-trial and trial plan.

The associate proudly presented all the miscellaneous supporting legal authorities and the various favorable facts. But what was the senior trial partner's response? "Stop!"

You know about patent trolls -- owners of questionable patents who file frequent frivolous lawsuits, often looking for a quick settlement from their corporate targets. We've seen patent trolls go after hapless wankers, giant companies like Apple and AT&T, and everyone who's ever used a firewall.

Now, Patexia, an intellectual property company that relies on crowdsourced subject matter expertise, is looking to help companies fight back. Patexia recently launched a "Coalition Funding Initiative" to help companies threatened by frivolous patent litigation share costs and knock out potential threats through inter partes review.

One password requires that you use special characters, the other forbids them. One password expires every three months, while another account has kept you logged in so long you couldn't even begin to guess what your password might be. You use a few variations of the same password to get you through as much as you can -- if you're forced to use something too far off from the original, you just reset your password every other time you need to log in.

Passwords are horrible.

And we don't need them. The age of the password is soon coming to an end as the security industry develops increasingly sophisticated technologies that protect valuable information without you needing to remember 8-16 characters. For law firms and lawyers concerned about security, this is great news.

Goodbye Sam Spade, hello digital forensics specialist. Today, when you need to find the "smoking gun" (more often a smoking email or a wiped hard drive), you don't call up your private dick; instead, you meet with your forensics specialist. Digital forensics allows for the investigation and often recovery of materials from digital devices, from personal computers to cell phones to massive servers.

Digital forensics is not the same as eDiscovery. Most eDiscovery looks at active data -- information that is managed and readily available. Digital forensics searches much deeper, allowing the recovery of hidden, damaged or erased information and can reveal significant amounts of information that is otherwise not easily available.

Hackers Are Coming After Your Private Data

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

Is your personal data safe out there in cyberspace? This is the question so many people have been asking lately based on seemingly endless computer hacks. And, unfortunately, the answer to this question might not be what you want to hear.

In terms of recent noteworthy developments, unless you have been living in an isolated cave, you undoubtedly have heard about the Ashley Madison hacking disaster. The Ashley Madison hack does not only present a problem for the site's users who thought that their personally identifiable information would be secure, but it points to a larger problem beyond this one specific site.

The technology world is full of hackers and they're not all identity thieves, anti-adultery activists, or Chinese saboteurs. Instead, many are so-called "white hat" hackers, computer security experts who specialize in finding flaws in others' systems. These white hat hackers are an important, respected part of the computer security ecosystem.

Which is what makes a recent dispute between computer security companies so surprising. FireEye is a security firm that reports on flaws in Adobe, Apple, and Google, and provides its own malware protection products. And now it's suing a German security firm to keep it from doing essentially the same thing that FireEye does -- reporting dangerous flaws in FireEye's own products.

Microsoft has recently announced that it's making its new law office management platform to the public. If you use Office programs such as Word, Outlook, and Excel -- and everyone uses Office -- MS's new Matter Center will allow you to share access to and collaborate on legal documents and other matters across devices.

Matter Center has an unusual origin story. According to Microsoft, Matter Center was developed by its in-house legal department, which has been using the product for the past two years.

Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley tech incubator, is getting into the legal tech industry. YC, which made its name providing initial funding to tech companies like AirBnB, Dropbox, and Reddit, is currently funding the legal tech startup Ironclad.

Ironclad, part automated forms company, part contract management system, part productivity app, is focused on the legal needs of startups themselves, looking to help startup companies avoid some of the cost and inefficiency of the traditional legal system.

Machine learning is becoming ever more common. Artificial intelligence programs like IBM's Watson can gobble up huge corpuses of knowledge, attempting to recreate human cognitive processes. These self-teaching machines can learn how to create novel recipes, master Jeopardy, or answer legal questions.

The technology poses major questions, not just for lawyers but for the law itself. Take, for example, automatic sales pricing algorithms, the type that are already common in online trading and travel booking. A machine learning program, applied to such algorithms, could possibly learn the benefits of price fixing, according to a recent scholarly article from the Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy, raising significant antitrust concerns.

Online Adultery Leads to Cyber Warfare?

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

People who go online likely consider the risks involved with using the Internet. People who contemplate extra-martial affairs probably consider the risks of those activities, too.

And, people who go online to seek out extra-marital affairs likely are mindful of the compounded risks of such endeavors. But do they envision that online adulterous activities could lead to a type of cyber warfare? Probably not, but at times reality can be stranger than fiction.

Maybe you want to give your poor, carpal tunnel-riddled hands a break from typing. Maybe you're composing a memo on the go. Maybe you just like the sound of your own voice. Whatever the case, you now have more options for getting your words down on paper -- or screen.

You're in luck. On Wednesday, Google announced that it was adding voice typing to Google Docs. Now, instead of pecking at the keyboard, you can simply dictate your thoughts and watch them be transcribed into a document. Of course, like most voice transcription technologies, Google still has a few bugs to work out.

Looking to get into hacking? Forget Ashley Madison or the State Department. Corporate legal departments are the easiest targets. That's the lesson from a new report on data breaches released by Verizon recently. The report, which examined threats to data security across industries, looked in part at responses to 150,000 phishing emails.

Phishing is a form of email fraud where messages appear legitimate in order to steal sensitive information. For example, a phishing email may disguise itself as a message from a bank, asking for your account information, or an update from H.R. telling you to install a new, secretly malicious, program. And corporate lawyers love them! In-house legal departments were more likely than any almost all other groups to fall for phishing emails' tricks.

Has Google done you wrong? Well, then Hausfeld, an international plaintiff's firm, wants to hear from you. The firm, known for its high-profile class actions, recently launched a platform to help individuals and businesses pursue potential lawsuits against Google.

The Google Redress & Integrity Platform, or GRIP, is specifically aimed at those harmed by the tech company's allegedly anticompetitive behavior in Europe. In April, the European Commission accused Google of abusing its search dominance in violation of European antitrust laws. That action could bring up to $6 billion in fines and, Hausfeld hopes, spawn a slew of civil suits.

FTC - the Federal Internet Cop

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

The Internet brings people together in all sorts of new ways. And when people come together, there can be all sorts of problems. So, is there a federal watchdog looking out for the rights of consumers in cyberspace? The answer is "yes" -- the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC).

The FTC was created in 1914, long before the Internet, to prevent unfair methods of competition in commerce. The Federal Trade Commission Act later expanded the authority of the FTC to police unfair and deceptive acts or practices generally.