Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

March 2014 Archives

MS Office for iPad Limited, Phone Versions Free, Snooping Stopped

Since last week's announcement of Microsoft Office for iPad, more details have leaked on the company's newest addition to the family, including a couple significant limitations that were discovered by third-party reviewers.

Meanwhile, the Office for iPhone and Android, apps that we barely noticed? They're still largely insignificant, due to extremely limited feature sets, but there's a new silver lining: they're free! Every other alternative app is superior, but yeah, free!

And as a third quick update for your Monday morning perusal, Microsoft actually listened to criticism! Since the company revealed that it tapped into a blogger's Hotmail account to plug an internal leak, it has faced constant and nearly universal criticism, even after it set up a semi-protected kangaroo court to manage such situations. They have a new new remedy this week, one that is sure to satisfy nearly all privacy advocates.

In 2011, one of Al Franken's constituent groups in Minnesota, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, reached out to him about their concern over GPS tracking apps or "stalking apps" on mobile smartphones. Since then, Senator Franken has made this one of his top priorities.

In 2012, he introduced the Location Protection Privacy Act of 2012, which came through Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, but never resulted in a vote. Now, Senator Franken, as Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, is "reintroducing his location privacy bill that would outlaw the development, operation, and sale of stalking apps," according to a press release issued by his office.

It's Friday, and we're ready for the weekend, so we thought a good roundup of legal tech news was in order. Today, we hear a court's concern for the sweeping government requests for searching electronic data, the Government gives procrastinators a break, and Apple gets multicultural -- with its emojis, that is.

Judge Denies Request to Search iPhone

A few weeks ago, a college student found himself in trouble with the FBI after he bragged about making ricin, having learned to make it from an online search on his iPhone. The Government requested a search warrant to search the student's iPhone and Judge Facciola of the District Court for the District of Columbia denied the request for a warrant because the request was overbroad, reports Ars Technica.

Microsoft (Finally) Releases Office for iPad: Pros and Cons

It's here! It's finally here, and you'll no longer have to switch between Apple's iWork Suite on your iPad and Microsoft Office on your desktop!

The rumors hit yesterday afternoon, and this morning, at a press event in San Francisco, Microsoft announced a brand new variant of its Office suite for the iPad, something many have been begging for for years.

Now that it has been officially announced, you're probably wondering: what's the catch?

BlackBerry's Future Plans, OS 10.3 Leak; CEO Threatens Legal Action

So, my new BlackBerry went back. After two weeks, I came to the realization that the software pretty much isn't ready. The operating system is fast and fluid, the browser is spectacular (seriously faster than any browser on iOS or Android), but there are no apps. And the ability to run Android apps, which finally came via the OS 10.2.1 update, is too flaky for daily use. (Plus, running Android apps on the Q10's square-shaped screen was really awkward.)

But, six months from now? With this week's leak of an early version of Blackberry OS 10.3, and a functional Android app store, we might be looking at a comeback. The leaker, on the other hand, might be looking at a courtroom.

Bitcoin has been in a "legal grey area" since its inception, and at least one court and the SEC have characterized the virtual currency as money. As Bitcoin gained popularity, so has the question of its validity, and recognition by the government.

Late last year, the Department of Justice described Bitcoin as a "legal means of exchange," says Bloomberg, while this past February, the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General held a webinar last week to "explore the possibilities" of providing non-banking financial services, including "providing [B]itcoin exchange services at post offices," according to Main Street.

Yesterday, just weeks before the April 15 personal income tax deadline, the IRS took a position on the issue and released "IRS Virtual Currency Guidance," and accompanying question and answer Notice 2014-21. Here are some of the major takeaways.

Obama Proposes to End Bulk Phone Metadata Collection

Let's give credit where credit is due. A few months ago, President Barack Obama addressed the ongoing NSA privacy issues and proposed what we politely called "mild reforms," including instructing intelligence officials to find a way to preserve the NSA's program of bulk collection of cell phone metadata by March 28.

With only a few days left until the deadline (not coincidentally, the date the court order authorizing the program expires), it seems the White House's strategy has shifted, and the legislative proposal sounds almost ... constitutional.

Microsoft Crossed a Line by Searching Blogger's Hotmail

Microsoft had a leak. They plugged it, and murdered their reputation in the process.

Someone, somewhere in the company, had been leaking screenshots and code for Windows 8 and its "Activation Server Software Development Kit" (the anti-piracy measure that validates legitimate copies of Windows). When a French blogger, code in hand, requested that the company verify that the code was legitimate, the company did the exact wrong thing -- they searched the blogger's Hotmail and instant messaging logs to identify the leak, reported to be Alex Kibkalo, a now-former employee who has been charged with theft of trade secrets in federal court, reports the Seattle Press-Intelligencer.

Tech Giants Knew About PRISM? Plus, Google Wins Scanning Lawsuit

We've got a double dose of updates for you, both involving the mining of your private data.

Remember PRISM? Think hard. That's right, it was one of the seemingly endless series of revelations about ways in which the National Security Agency had been spying upon Americans and others. The PRISM program pilfered tech giants' data for NSA snooping purposes, and though our initial reaction was to blame the tech companies as collaborators, they quickly proclaimed innocence and ignorance.

The NSA begs to differ.

Meanwhile, in a case of a private party mining data, remember the ongoing Google email scanning lawsuit, brought by non-Google users whose emails (to Google users) were scanned by Google? Though U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Kohn previously ruled that federal wiretapping laws could apply to Google's activities, last week she ruled that the individual plaintiffs' knowledge likely varied, making individual issues of consent too varied to certify a class. In other words, the lawsuit is all but dead.

Today marks Twitter's birthday, the day the very first tweet ever was sent out by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. It wasn't particularly as ground breaking as Twitter would eventually become, it all started with

How did I find that tweet from eight years ago you ask? Simple. To mark this momentous day in Twitter history, Twitter has created a Discover tool that allows you to find the first tweet of any account that you look up, reports Slate. So, in honor of Twitter's eighth birthday, we thought we would celebrate by taking a walk down memory lane, and reading the tweets of some notable legal tweeters. Here goes.

Webinar: Search Term Myths and Avoiding the Big Pond

Let's say you practice DUI defense law in Los Angeles, California.

How many DUI defense lawyers do you think are in that wee little town? Ballpark, let's say half a million. (We're only half-serious.) If you search for "Los Angeles DUI defense attorney" on Google, what'll you find?

A really big pond.

The odds of you appearing on the first page of Google's search results for those terms are about as good as mine are of convincing Taylor Swift to be the mother of my children -- not very high. What should you be looking for instead?

Microsoft Makes OneNote Free, Adds Mac Support, Beats Evernote?

We've long been conflicted over the Evernote/OneNote choice.

OneNote was there for us in our younger law school days, for note-taking, screen-shotting, website clipping, and outlining. Evernote arrived, and brought way better mobile apps, but also has a cap on syncing data for free customers. Then OneNote updated their mobile apps to close the gap, but didn't have Mac OS X support. Then again, no data cap.

They just added Mac OS X support. And every version is free. With no data sync cap. One year later, we'll ask the question again: which is the note bene?

3 Tweeted Takeaways from the Above the Law Blogging Conference

Above the Law. They throw quite the party, don't they?

On Friday, I was lucky enough to attend ATL's first ever Attorney @ Blog Conference in New York City, a symposium on everything blawg -- from search engine optimization to tackling trolls.

And, of course, since we're all opinionated lawyers and bloggers, there was plenty of Twitter interaction throughout the day. Here's a sampling of some of the tweets and topics that stuck with me after a long (and fun) St. Patrick's Day weekend:

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

Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni recently signed legislation that severely punishes homosexuality in his country. Indeed, the new law provides for potential life in jail for gay sex -- a fact that the bill's sponsor touted on his Facebook page after Museveni signed it into law, the Los Angeles Times reports.

This legal development has led to an international uproar. Now some countries -- including the United States -- are taking retaliatory action.

Apple's iOS8 is not expected to release before fall -- but that hasn't stopped the whispers. The word on the street is that Apple's anticipated iOS8 has new features that has the Internet abuzz with speculation, rumors and purported screen shots. Here's a roundup of what's going round the rumor mill.


Taking a cue from the popularity of health and fitness trackers, Apple is getting in on the action with its own version -- Healthbook. The Apple Healthbook will track everything from bloodwork, heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, nutrition, blood sugar, activity, respiratory rate, weight, and oxygen saturation, according to 9to5Mac. Though it's unclear how this information will be tracked, there's some speculation that Apple may be releasing an iWatch wearable device.

Right now, and for the past week, Austin has been the place to be. With SXSW going on, the annual conference on all things interactive (and musical), the gathering has had its share of legal news. Here are some of the legal highlights of SXSW.

Silk Road Founder's Mom Appeals to Attendees

Last October, Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of Silk Road was indicted on charges ranging from money laundering, conspiracy to distribute drugs, and hiring someone to commit murder. Ulbricht's mother, Lyn Ulbricht has made it her mission to help her son, and she's been making the rounds at SXSW, trying to raise money for her son's legal defense, thinking that the "crowd at SXSW would be receptive" to her cause, reports The New York Times. Though she received lots of moral support, there has been no "major uptick in donations," says the Times.

Does The Internet Need a Bill of Rights?

Now that the Internet is celebrating its 25th birthday, one of its inventors is proposing a digital bill of rights to advance a free and open web for all users.

Tim Berners-Lee published his plan for the World Wide Web back in 1989, and now he's part of a larger campaign called Web at 25. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about Internet surveillance, promoting the need of net neutrality, and acknowledging the fact that nearly two-thirds of the world's population don't yet have Internet access, according to Wired.

The fact that there's a proposal for an Internet bill of rights aligns with the controversy among recent NSA and net neutrality legal decisions.

24 Hours With a BlackBerry Q10: Praises and Regrets

When BlackBerry finally launched their oft-delayed Blackberry 10 "comeback" devices, well ... nothing happened. The delays, immature operating system, and high price of the phones all but ensured nobody was going to buy them.

Plus, the company was on the verge of a collapse, then was almost parted out, then somehow wasn't. Despite a love for QWERTY keyboards, we advised you to stay away from buying a device that was tied to a company flirting with death.

Six months later, BlackBerry, with a new CEO, has new devices in the pipeline, and has updated its operating system to solve the app gap (by enabling devices to run Android apps). The future, while not promising, isn't quite as bleak.

That's why I finally picked up a BlackBerry. Wha did I find?

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

WhatsApp, a messaging service that is often used for international texting and other services, is about to be gobbled up by Facebook, right?

Well, that is Facebook's plan. Indeed, Facebook intends to fork over a hefty $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp. However, that is not the end of the story.

Major League Patent Trolling: IBM Gets $36M From Twitter

Trolling isn't just a game of porn copyrights and patented copy machines -- there's a whole 'nother league of trolling at the top of tech.

Trolling, of course, is a matter of opinion. You might think that Righthaven was right, or that Apple v. Samsung has gone on way too long, and that both parties should simply duke it out in the marketplace. (Seriously, we stopped caring last year, but somehow, the battle is still raging on.)

Today's major league battle? It was more of a settlement, as Twitter forked over $36 million to avoid a lawsuit, and to purchase 900 patents from IBM, reports Wired.

Google Glass explorers are not very popular in some circles, and the legal repercussions of wearing Google Glass are mounting, as laws are lagging behind the popularity of the wearable technology.

Driving While Wearing Glass

We first saw the legal confusion surrounding Google Glass last November when Google Glass Explorer Cecilia Abadie received a citation for violation of California V C section 27602 Television, which prohibits driving a car with a video screen in front of the driver. A San Diego judge dismissed the citation, but lawmakers in several states took note.

'Snowden' Phone? FreedomPop Launches Cheap Private Phone Service

For those who value their privacy. For those who need to change phone numbers frequently (cough, drug dealers, cough). For those who want a $10 per month phone bill (paid in three-month increments).

Meet the so-called "Snowden Phone" (officially and more blandly referred to as the Privacy Phone), a re-tooled (and admittedly ancient) Samsung Galaxy SII that is equipped with encrypted calls and text messages, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for disguising Internet traffic, and a phone number that you can change as often as you want.

And it all comes from FreedomPop, a company that was previously known for handing out free and cheap data on Sprint's abandoned 4G WiMax network.

Foxwordy: Another Social Network for Lawyers? Why?

Foxwordy. It's like a totally new concept -- a social network for lawyers! You can privately collaborate, grow your reputation, and build your business! It'll allow you to "dramatically accelerate your workflow" and "improve your professional reputation."

Dear God. It'll even "expand your referral network" and "much more." Even the tagline is cringe-worthy: "The smartest lawyers in one place."

My fellow writer Gabriella is taking a wait-and-see approach, citing the world's skepticism of Twitter in 2008, but I'm willing to call it now: "this is horrible, this idea."

XP Dies in 34 Days, Has 29 Percent of Market: Here's Microsoft's Plan

We've warned you time and time again -- if you're running Windows XP, you need to upgrade, either your PCs, or at least the operating system. To be fair, the 29 percent of the population that is still actively using XP are probably either companies with proprietary software that isn't compatible with Windows 7 or 8.1, or people in developing countries, but still, if any of your firm's computers are on XP, upgrade.

Why? End of life means no more security updates. It means your PC (and your law firm's client files) becomes a hacker's dream. And Microsoft, ever mindful of the 29 percent of the world that hasn't upgraded (that's roughly 19 percent more of a market share than Windows 8 and 8.1 combined, by the way), has a plan to poke and prod you into upgrading.

It involves nagging and possible freebies.

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

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted decades ago to enable the citizenry the opportunity to monitor governmental affairs. As FOIA precedent has held, the public is entitled to find out and know "what the government is up to." Indeed, upon request, the government is required to provide information about its activities unless prohibited by a narrow statutory exemption or otherwise prevented by law.

Of course, statutory aspirations and actual production of information in practice are not always in harmony. There are times when government information is not produced within the timelines set forth in FOIA. Other times, information is not produced at all; for example, when the government is perceived to give too wide an interpretation on the applicability of a statutory exemption. Moreover, different administrations have different views on how open government should be when it comes to disclosing information under FOIA.

'Kill-Switch' Legislation Pending; Will it Kill Phone Theft?

Things were easier before the advent of smartphones. Dumb phones, locked to one's carrier, were mostly useless once stolen. The victim would call their carrier, report the flip phone as stolen, and the phone's serial number would be blacklisted. A dumb phone, once blacklisted, might be worth $50 if sold abroad or parted out. Not exactly worth the trouble, right?

Smartphones have changed that, somewhat. If a smartphone is stolen, that person's carrier will probably block it. But most of the flagship smartphones, such as iPhones, have the requisite technology to run on any network. Blacklist a phone on Verizon and it'll work on Sprint, or a prepaid carrier, or abroad. And how much is a decent smartphone worth on eBay -- $400? That's much more worth the risk than a $50 flip phone.