Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

September 2013 Archives

5 Takeaways From the Google Email Scanning Lawsuit

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh (who also presided over the Apple v. Samsung patent dispute) refused to dismiss a series of class-action lawsuits against Google, which allege that the company's email scanning practices violate wiretapping laws. Google scans the emails of its users for a variety of purposes, including spam control, advertising, data collection and delivering extra features like Priority Inbox.

The plaintiffs are not free Gmail users (who have consented to the scanning via Google's Terms of Service). Instead, they are users of either Google's ad-free paid offerings or of third-party email services which communicate with Gmail users (and thereby have their emails scanned, despite not being a Google customer). The last time a document from this lawsuit hit the Internet, we learned that Google argued that its users had no expectation of privacy.

What did we learn this time?

Hackers have a bad rap -- but not all hackers are bad. For instance, those wearing "white hats" are A-OK, according to the government in its recently filed appellate brief in the Auernheimer case.


Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer ("Weev") is a self-proclaimed hacker who, together with a colleague, found a gap in AT&T's website that allowed him to harvest more than 100,000 email addresses of iPad users, according to The Washington Post.

Weev made the addresses available to the media (namely, Gawker), exposing the security loop hole on the AT&T website.

LexisNexis, Kroll, D and B Hacked by Identity Thieves

Krebs on Security, a well-known security blog, just released the first part of a long technical series on how an online identity theft ring (SSNDOB) managed to gather its data. The source wasn't clumsy consumers; it was breached servers at three major data providers.

The compromised systems were located at LexisNexis, Kroll Background America, and Dun & Bradstreet. Hackers used undetectable malware to gain access to the companies' databases and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Social Security numbers, dates of birth, background checks and credit reports for more than 4 million Americans.

Among the reported victims: a long list of public figures including Beyonce, Kanye West, Jay Z, First Lady Michelle Obama, CIA Director John Brennan, and then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, according to the New York Daily News.

BlackBerry Buyout: $4.7 Billion Offer Doesn't Guarantee a Future

We'd like to see a future where BlackBerry survives. Duopolies are undesirable, as they stifle innovation. (No, Windows Mobile 8's miniscule market share doesn't count.) Besides, BlackBerry was not a part of PRISM, even though it was hacked by the NSA.

Something resembling competition in the marketplace and approaching state-of-the-art security would be a desirable solution for most of us lawyers, and besides, who doesn't love a comeback story? That comeback, however, may never happen, despite the company receiving a $4.7 billion offer for a private buyout.

Microsoft's Tablets Re-Surface With Hardware Bump; Same OS Issues

Last year, Microsoft released two tablets: the Surface RT and the Surface Pro. The latter was a competent machine, with top-of-the-line specs and an installation of full-featured Windows 8, capable of running desktop tablets. It was also quite pricey, and had poor battery life. The former was cheaper, based on low-power ARM processors, and ran it's own operating system: Windows RT.

Both flopped, but the RT tablet flopped so badly that Microsoft had to take a $900 million loss on unsold inventory, and slash prices to empty their warehouses. We warned you to stay far, far away from these tablets with limited utility.

And then yesterday, Microsoft released the sequel, which in all likelihood, will be just as bad as the original.

Two Security Flaws Already Uncovered in Apple's iOS 7, iPhone 5S

This, my friends, is why we love hackers. Design a state-of-the-art security system. Put it in front of non-malicious hackers. Patch the leaks. Repeat.

Apple's been busy this month, releasing two new iPhones, as well as the largest overhaul of its mobile operating system (iOS 7) since the original iPhone was released in January 2007. With new hardware (specifically, the new fingerprint unlock sensor) and new software, comes new security exploits to fix, and sure enough, the hackers have come through once again.

Should Lawyers Upgrade to iOS 7?

Apple released iOS 7 for iPhones and iPads on Wednesday, leaving many legal professionals to wonder: is it worth updating?

According to the Los Angeles Times, while Apple may be pimping the new iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s pretty hard -- and Apple's pimp hand is strong indeed -- the real innovation lies with its newest mobile operating system, iOS 7.

Should attorneys jump on Apple's newest software offering?

BlackBerry Messenger Leaves the Sandbox for Android, iOS Soon

We haven't been this excited for a BlackBerry product since ... ever?

The most understood thing about BlackBerry today is that the company is on life support, waited too long to innovate with their hardware and operating system, and has dropped from market leader to statistical footnote, usage-wise.

But one thing BlackBerry does well (besides physical keyboards) is BlackBerry Messenger. BBM, which to date has been BlackBerry-only, allows users to communicate in nearly every imaginable way (voice, video, text, pictures, group texts, broadcasts, status updates, public chats, etc.) through a single app. Of course, that brilliant app didn't seem so brilliant when users had no one left to talk to.

Facebook 'Likes' Are Protected Free Speech, Says 4th Cir

My Facebook page contains 222 likes, some of which are probably embarrassing and not at all representative of my actual interests. Sometimes you "like" something because there is a giveaway. Sometimes you do so sarcastically. Then again, sometimes, you "like" something because you appreciate the brand or person and want the world to know.

And, of course sometimes, you get caught "liking" your boss's opponent in the next election.

Box Taking On Google Docs, Keep, Evernote With Box Notes

"When you think about a cloud and mobile world, you have to get much closer to the actual content creation."

That statement, by Box founder Aaron Levie, summarizes the company's strategy in the near future. The cloud storage service that we know and love has enlisted the help of ex-Microsoft Office overseer Steven Sinofsky and Writely (later Google Docs) creator Sam Schillace to become more than a file depot. It wants to be your creation and collaboration hub.

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

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an inquiry to determine whether Facebook's recently announced privacy policies violate an agreement to obtain express consent before revealing users' private information to new viewers.

According to The New York Times, the FTC claims Facebook's new policies require users to provide Facebook with broad permission to utilize their personal information in advertising. Facebook has fired back, stating that this requirement comes from a class action settlement to users who were unhappy that their names and images were used in Facebook ads to shill products to their friends.

Facebook privacy is already a tough subject, but will this inquiry reveal anything new?

We (Lawyers) Just Got Replaced By a Contract-Drafting App

Contracts are often nothing but a series of boilerplate provisions copied-and-pasted together into a single signature-laden document, typically drafted and reviewed by a lawyer, who in turn, charges a pretty penny for her expertise. And while some unique situations might require a custom contact to be drafted from scratch, many other routine tasks, such as a sale of goods, can be handled through standardized piecemeal provisions.

Ladies and gentlemen, lawyers of all ages, meet your new nemesis: Shake. It is an app that creates simple contracts for routine tasks, such as non-disclosures, independent contractor agreements, and personal loans, on your iPhone or iPad. The startup company's CEO claims that $1 million worth of contracts have already been signed through the app since its debut last year, reports Gizmodo.

Microsoft Set to Release Cortana, a Supposedly Smarter Siri

Iron Man has JARVIS. Knight Rider had KITT. We have Siri.

Or maybe Google Now's voice assistant, which lacks a name, personality, or snark. Neither has reached the levels of fictional artificial intelligence. Though Siri is finally leaving beta, her history has been dotted with limitations and mistakes. Google Now entered the scene later, and though it performs quite decently, it still seems like a milestone on the way to making sci-fi a reality.

But if Microsoft is to be believed, Cortana could be that reality.

Google can't seem to stay out of the news. The Edward Snowden leaks have resulted in an avalanche of issues that are bringing in to question the tech giant's integrity and commitment to user privacy.

That, and then some.

No Smartphone is Sacred: NSA Hacks All Major Platforms

How do you secure your smartphone from government spies? The only sure answer might be to remove the battery, then crush the phone with a sledgehammer.

Leaked documents from the Snowden files, provided to German magazine Spiegel show that the NSA has, and continues to, hack into every major smartphone platform, including security stalwart BlackBerry. The hacks range from decrypting secure messages to gathering stored location data.

The agency has working groups that target each platform, adapting their hacks and malware for each security update. The most common method of injecting NSA malware is through one's computer, which transmits the snooping software when the device is synced.

9th Cir: Google's Wifi Sniffing May Have Violated Wiretap Laws

Google screwed up.

Between 2008 and 2010, the company's Street View cars, which take photos for a street-level view of locations on Google's maps, were sniffing data packets from wireless networks. Many companies do this, cataloging the location and name of the networks to assist the company's location services for smartphones -- when a user's GPS signal is faint, nearby wireless networks help pinpoint the user's location.

That was all fine. In addition to mapping networks, however, Google was collecting data, such as usernames, passwords, emails, and documents, from unsecured wireless networks. The intricacies of the collection and decoding process are a bit complicated, but the company has admitted that they did collect the data. However, they claim it was inadvertent, and more importantly, perfectly legal, reports the Associated Press.

Apple Announces 2 New iPhones, Free Surprises, and More!

Greetings from Cupertino!

Okay, we're actually a few miles from Cupertino, but close enough, right? Today was a big day for Apple, with a rehashing of the previously-announced iOS 7, a free surprise for all new iOS devices, and two new iPhones added to the lineup as of September 20.

For more on iOS 7, see our previous WWDC coverage. Otherwise, for Apple iCrack, read on:

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

In the early days of the Internet, an editorial cartoon from The New Yorker depicted a dog in front of a computer monitor and keyboard with a caption that read "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The point was that people could behave however they liked online without others knowing their true identity.

But is that really true? Au contraire my canine friends.

Code Curious? Five Resources for Lawyers to Learn Coding

The frenzy over computer coding might be overblown. It may not be the "literacy of the 21st century," nor should everyone "program or be programmed." Still, it truly is a valuable skill to learn, especially if you've ever been code curious, you are waiting for bar results, or if you are desperately unemployed.

It is true that companies are bought and sold for millions of dollars, just to get the programmers that work for the company, not for the product itself. Competition for coding talent is at an all-time high, and as a law grad or lawyer, your analytical mind might be suited to the problem solving and logic required to write effective code.

Maybe this opens a new career path. Maybe you just want to be able to upgrade your firm website yourself. Maybe you found a startup that disrupts the legal industry. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

The legal field keeps the paper industry alive. From giant text books, to legal opinions, to filings and even bills -- lawyers like paper. But as technological developments increase office efficiencies, it's important for your law department or office to keep up with the times.

Whether you work at BigLaw, or are in-house counsel, you've probably encountered eBilling. If you haven't then it's time you have. If you work at a small firm, or are a solo practitioner, don't feel left out -- eBilling may be for you as well.

The Association of Corporate Counsel ("ACC") and Serengeti* conducted a survey of ACC members in 2010. Based on this information, the ACC posted an informative guide on the basics of eBilling written by Serengeti, which we're summarizing for you below. For a detailed review, you can purchase their 2010 survey.

In July of this year, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote found that Apple had conspired, with five U.S. publishers, to fix e-book prices, reports Reuters. The publishers settled before the case went to trial and included among their ranks: Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House.

Yesterday, Judge Cote released the much awaited final judgment and order, and Apple's worst fears were confirmed. Sorry, Apple, you can't win 'em all.

Galaxy Note III: Phablet is Bigger, Lighter, Leather?

Might this device be the best of both worlds?

My 7 inch Nexus tablet is in my back pocket. My 4 inch Nexus phone is in my front pocket. Carrying both, obviously, is a bit of a pain.

Perhaps that is why "phablets" have become so popular. With a 5.7" display, the device seems like it would make for an obnoxious phone, and would be too small for a tablet. Yet, the first Galaxy Note sold well enough to spawn two sequels, and its got us wondering: might this be the perfect device for tech-obsessed lawyers?

Galaxy Gear, Qualcomm Toq Smartwatches Are Here! But Why?

Here, some wisdom, from forty years ago, that still rings true today. Wasn't it only a few years ago that, with the proliferation of cell phones and iPods, that the death of the wristwatch was supposedly upon us?

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea..."

-- Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

Will $45 Android and Linux PCs Pose Problems for Windows?

Every time the phrase "post-PC" is uttered (or written) in my presence, I stifle internal laughter. The PC is dead. People are moving to tablets. Blah, blah, blah.

I think to myself: it won't happen. Law firms and corporations can't run on Android or iOS, and even if they could, they wouldn't. It would require a massive hardware changeover, retraining of staff, and a whole new suite of programs (such as a Microsoft Office replacement). The benefits (cheap hardware, little to no viruses or malware) don't outweigh the costs.

Then Windows 8 arrived. Some call it brilliant and visionary, a fresh take on computing that balances support for legacy apps with implementation of an intuitive touch-friendly UI. Others call it an abomination.

Anyone out there big fans of The Newsroom? Well, we are. In a recent episode one of the characters, Sloan Sabbith, consented to being photographed nude by her then-boyfriend, but out of revenge for breaking up with him, he published the nude photos of her online, without her consent. It's a dirty business, but it brought to light a very real problem -- revenge porn.

Well, states are starting to take action. New Jersey is the only state to enact a revenge porn law, reports CNN. Attempts in Florida failed, and now California is considering the same.

Tinkering With Tor: Anonymous Web Has Promise, Perils, Privacy

Welcome to an Internet with no rules, no identities, and no certainties. Everything is encrypted, multiple times, and is allegedly as anonymous as you want it to be. You can do, say, or find anything, and we mean anything on the dark side of the Web.

It's called Tor, a project began by the United States Navy to secure their communication, which has spread to the civilian sector. It is a favorite of anyone who needs anonymity, from illicit drug traders and child pornographers, to journalists and political dissidents, and since August 19, according to Ars Technica, usage has doubled to over 1.2 million users.

Curious? Read on.

The Low-Tech U.S. Supreme Court

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

Gone are the days of non-electronic, hard-copy communications, right? Not so fast! According to The Associated Press, the Justices of the United States Supreme Court are still very low-tech -- almost to the point of being no-tech.

When communicating with each other about pending cases under consideration, the Justices tend to send each other formal memoranda printed on ivory paper. This was revealed by Justice Elena Kagan during an interview by Ted Widmer, a Brown University historian and librarian.