Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

November 2016 Archives

New 'Yelp Law' Makes It illegal to Gag Customers for Criticizing Businesses Online

Consumers who critique businesses through Yelp, TripAdviser, and other websites may breathe easier now that a new law is on the president's desk.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act, which Congress passed to stop businesses from punishing consumers who post negative reviews, received widespread support in both houses. The U.S. Senate approved the bill unanimously yesterday, sending it to the President Obama for signature.

"Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). "Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation, and the passage of our bill brings us one step closer to protecting that right."

Don't Use 'Web Bugs' to Track Email From Opposing Counsel

Remember that email from the wealthy Ethiopian offering to send you $1 million to do a legal transaction?

Hopefully, you didn't respond or open an attachment from some similarly scary source. Not that we lawyers would ever fall for this type of scam, but I am here to tell you there are attorneys out there who send equally pernicious email. And they don't even offer to pay you money!

IRS Wants to Identify Bitcoin Users, Spy Into Coinbase Records

The IRS is looking for tax money wherever it can, but is finding that it's not so easy in the world of virtual currency.

Bitcoin, a digital currency targeted by taxing authorities, is still safe at Coinbase, the nation's largest exchanger of the crypto-currency. The IRS recently served a summons for information about Coinbase users, but the company is expected to oppose the request. The IRS claims that two people used exchanger to avoid taxes, and it has asked for information to identify all Coinbase customers from 2013 to 2015.

Thankful for Technology

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

At times, it can seem like technology is bringing us down ...

We frequently hear about: cyberbullying of teens; online intellectual property infringement; various forms of identity theft, hacking, privacy and security violations, and cyber crime; cyber warfare; illegal sales of munitions and slaves and the organization of terrorist activities on the Dark Web; political email scandals; potential foreign Internet influence over US political elections; and the list goes on and on.

But during this Thanksgiving and holiday season, not only can we be thankful for our family and friends, we also can be grateful for the many benefits of technology.

Black Friday shoppers in San Francisco were able to hop on the city's light rail system for free last week, after the city's Muni transit system fell victim to a ransomware attack. Ransomware infected about a quarter of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's computers, encrypting their files on Friday.

The hack shut down many ticketing kiosks for days, giving San Francisco straphangers a free ride for the weekend, as hackers demanded a bitcoin ransom worth $73,000.

Online Immunity Threatens Case Against Backpage.com

A prostitute may post a classified ad online, but the online publisher is not responsible for the content. This isn't news, but a judge had to spell it out for prosecutors in Sacramento.

Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said recently that Backpage.com, which is facing prostitution charges for publishing adult services advertisements, is protected under the Communications Decency Act. Enacted in 1996, the CDA provides civil and criminal immunity to internet service providers and others who republish information online.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the future of the law, or at least of legal research, we're told. Hi-tech algorithms will soon reduce time spent flipping through irrelevant caselaw, allowing lawyers to pinpoint the best research in just seconds. There are a host of traditional research companies and legal tech startups vying to be on the forefront of this developing technology and AI-powered research has already been embraced, if cautiously, by a few of the country's biggest firms.

But not everyone is convinced that research powered by machine intelligence will actually yield intelligent results.

Two great things are better together, right? Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Green eggs and ham. Green eggs and ham and Captain Kirk.

Well, that last one may be going a bit far, at least according to Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The company is currently suing the creators of "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!" a mash up between Dr. Seuss's works and the Star Trek universe that, according to its authors, was meant to combine "two of the most beloved creations in history in a joyous celebration" -- or, if you're Dr. Seuss Enterprises, to rip off their intellectual property through the "slavish copying" of protected works.

The Emails That Came Back to Bite Clinton

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

It is with regret that your blogger here must report that he was correct as far back as early-April 2015 in predicting that the private email scenario surrounding Hillary Clinton would be a real threat to her efforts to gain the White House. Indeed, in a podcast of April 9, 2015 this blogger described the problem as a "hornet's nest" that would be the "Achilles' Heel" of the Clinton presidential campaign.

As revelations of Ms. Clinton's use of a private email server for government affairs while acting as Secretary of State first emerged, she attempted to deflect and then minimize the problem. Later, when Emailgate would not disappear, Ms. Clinton admitted that she had made a "mistake" and that if she had it to do over again, she would not have handled government emails in a private fashion.

Chinese President Xi Jinping renewed calls for 'cyber sovereignty' last week, arguing that countries should be able to control the internet within their borders.

China, with an estimated 721 million citizens online, has more internet users than any other country. Yet those millions remain largely separated from the greater, global internet, confined by China's "Great Firewall," which keeps everything from specific Wikipedia entries to all of Google blocked under the country's internet censorship policy.

Electronic notarization, or eNotarization, is becoming increasingly common, according to a recent whitepaper by the National Notary Association. Lawyers are submitting eNotarized documents to courts, banks are relying on eNotarized mortgage forms, and law enforcement is using eNotarization to sign criminal complaints.

In most cases, this eNotarization simply takes the form of an electronic signature on a computer or tablet. Yet a smaller, but growing, approach to eNotarization allows documents to be notarized over webcams, eliminating the need to meet face-to-face with a notary.

Just like you wouldn't let paper files pile up on your desk (you wouldn't, would you?), you shouldn't let your digital files lay around unorganized and untended either. If you're running a paperless office (and most lawyers should have a largely paperless practice by this point), you'll need to put some thought into organizing your digital files.

Here's the trick. The key to managing your digital files is to have a clear organizational system -- and to stick to it. These tips should help make that process easier.

You're a large firm. You've invested in a skilled, sophisticated tech team: data analysts, programmers, legal tech experts, managers. They've helped you innovate your offices and practices, writing bespoke software tools or analyzing internal data. Now, you're looking for ways to continue maximizing their value. What do you do?

The answer in many law firms seems to be: turn them in to their own, client-facing service.

The president-elect's social media platform of choice may be Twitter, but one of the biggest social media stories of this campaign has nothing to do with 140-character policy proposals or late-night tweet storms. It's about Facebook.

Facebook has quickly replaced traditional print journalism as one of the main sources of news for most Americans, with almost half of the country turning to Facebook for their news fix. But some of that news is not of the highest quality. Some of it is blatantly false. And that could have a significant impact on American society and politics.

You might think this year's most shocking cybersex story would be the allegations that Anthony Weiner sent sexually suggestive messages to a teenager. The following investigation involved a search through Weiner's computer, which he shared with his (now-estranged) wife Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton's closest advisors. That search led FBI Director James Comey to make the unprecedented announcement that the government was looking again into Hillary's missing emails, and then to take it all back just a few days later. Weiner's insatiable taste for cybersex could have tipped the election to Trump. In terms of cybersex scandals, that's pretty major.

But if you thought Weiner was number one, you'd be wrong. According to Ars Technica at least, the biggest cybersex scandal of 2016 involves international scammers, a government laptop, a masturbating state senator, and local politics in Nebraska.

Donald Trump was elected president on Tuesday and many are just now starting to look closely at what a Trump administration might be like, for the Supreme Court, for businesses, and for intellectual property law and technological innovation.

Here's what we know, what we don't, and what might be in store.

Today Is The Day!

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

Today is the day to ...

VOTE!!

Wonder if our AI future will look like Westworld or Blade Runner? If we’ll need to start creating social security programs for retired robots? If we’ll still have social safety nets after smart machines replace human workers? K&L Gates, the massive BigLaw firm, is wondering about the implications of AI, too. And it’s donating $10 million to create a research center focused on the ethics of artificial intelligence.

The donation will launch the K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University, the New York Times Reports, supporting a new center at the university where researchers and academics will tackle questions about the ethical implications of emerging AI technologies.

Harder, faster, better, stronger. That's the promise of technology. With a few gadgets and programs, you can cut down the time spent on tasks and compete work with more ease and accuracy. Just think of what things would be like if we didn't have email or electronic legal research databases, for example. But even with all these technological advances, it can still seem like the work is never over, especially after the 300th email of the day lands in your inbox.

So, to help you use your tech better, and cut down on time spent on slow or frustrating tasks, here's a review of some of Technologist's best tech tips and tricks, from the FindLaw archives.

Twitter, everyone's favorite 140-character social media platform, has been struggling lately, struggling to keep up growth, struggling to make a profit, struggling to find a buyer. So, even as Twitter finally released some good news last week, reporting a strong Q3 performance, it was also reported that the company would be laying off about 9 percent of its workforce, with its sales team hit hardest.

Now, lawyers are reaching out to those ex-Twitter employees, looking to see if they had an actionable claim against their former employer. And in a cruel twist, they're doing so through targeted Facebook ads.

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

Intelligence agencies of the United States and the Department of Homeland Security in particular have accused Russia publicly of internet espionage intended to interfere with the US presidential election. In the wake of this accusation, the Obama administration has assured a retaliatory response designed to protect US interests. But if and when would this take place, and what are the governing international rules of this game?

Such a retaliatory response might await the outcome of the presidential election and the swearing in of the new president.