Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

June 2014 Archives

Bitcoin is Now Legal Tender in California

Some would call it fictional Monopoly money. Others, like the IRS, consider it to be property. A federal court in Texas recognized the cryptocurrency as "money." California? It just (arguably) made Bitcoin legal tender, along with other coupons and online credits (such as Amazon coins).

What does this mean? In simplest terms, before Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 129, it was illegal to do what many were already doing: engaging in commerce with "anything but the lawful money of the United States." Now, corporations won't be violating the law by handing out their own promotional funny money. Bitcoin, meanwhile, escapes another government's scrutiny.

3 Nifty Upgrades Coming to Google's $35 Chromecast Stick

Last year, when Google released its Chromecast stick, we were beyond excited: a $35 stick that had so much untapped potential. At launch, it was a glorified Netflix and YouTube streamer, but offered little else, other than a few intriguing beta features, but the promise was there.

A year later? Google just announced a few significant upgrades at Google I/O, plus third-party apps have proliferated to the point where it's not just a video-streaming toy (though it is really good at that). Let's take a look at the upcoming features:

All Android Everything: 3 Important Updates From Google I/O

Google I/O is happening now, but the keynote happened yesterday. You probably didn't have three hours free to watch it, but you may be curious about what's in the Google product pipeline.

Smartwatches. An Android visual overhaul. Car stereos. Fitness trackers. A major Google Docs update. And a clear vision: Google as your constant companion, handling everything.

Aereo's tiny little personal antennas have had television broadcasters up in arms, but today the Supreme Court handed the broadcasters a win.

Back in March, Aereo founder Chet Kanojia was so confident in his position that he defiantly proclaimed that he has no Plan B should the Court rule against his company. Today, he issued a statement calling the Court's decision "a massive setback for the American consumer." He added, "We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done. We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world."

Let's take a look at the Court's legal analysis in coming to its decision.

Microsoft Just Gave You a 1 TB Reason to Get Office 365, OneDrive

What's the biggest problem with cloud storage? There ain't enough of it, the storage space, that is. And Office 365? Why would you pay for a monthly subscription to Office when you could buy the software once (Office 2013) and own it forever?

How about 1 terabyte of cloud storage space, and Office 365, which comes with access to the mobile apps and the desktop version, all for as little as $6.99 per month? Paying monthly for a desktop app seemed ridiculous, but when Microsoft is tossing all of those extras in, for the same amount Google charges for the storage alone, this actually seems like a bargain.

And if monthly fees sound unappealing, Microsoft has a gift for you too: 15 gigabytes for free.

Internet Law Is All Grown Up

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

When I first started working on legal issues relating to electronic data, we were back in the dark ages of the 1980s. This was well before Bill Clinton talked about the coming "information superhighway" when he was running for president in the early 1990s. We were living in a world where document production in legal cases meant the production of actual hard copy pieces of paper and nothing else. There was no "e" when it came to "discovery."

As we all know, the technological communications age started to grow exponentially in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During this time, people began communicating more and more by email, cell phones, Internet chats, and website postings.

Of course, where people flock, legal issues emerge.

BlackBerry Update Roundup: New Devices, App Store, Profitability?

Yes, BlackBerry still exists. And if you're wondering why we're covering a nearly defunct product line, well, it's because lawyers are diehards: if anyone is still on the BlackBerry train, he or she probably has an "Esq." attached to his or her name.

Plus, who doesn't love a good comeback story? It's still possible, though BlackBerry hasn't done much with its last few devices, for the company to hit one out of the park. Let's take a look at what they have planned.

iPhone Thefts Plummet After Apple's Kill Switch Introduced

It seems obvious, in retrospect, that the mass adoption of smartphones would lead to a vast increase in muggings: people are carrying $600 devices on them, after all. Indeed, that's exactly what happened, and iPhones were especially popular. (Those white earbuds are a dead giveaway.)

We've covered a handful of proposed laws, at the state and federal level, that would mandate on-by-default (opt-out) "kill switches" in smartphones. The idea is that if this is a nearly universal feature, thieves are going to give up -- after all, it's really hard for a casual thief to flip a locked iPhone.

Apple's new Activation Lock was introduced in iOS 7, and is already providing proof that a kill switch bill is a good idea.

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

Amazon Fire Phone: Good, Bad, And Why You Don't Want One

Whispers about the Amazon phone have been floating around since 2011. Year after year, Amazon was supposed to make the leap into mobile. And yet, for years, nothing.

Now, after three years of hype, the Fire Phone is here, and now that it is, we know why it took so long: eye-tracking technology, a revolutionary interface, and a Firefly search feature that completely reinvents search itself. This is the phone that could shake up the monotony of years of monotonous touchscreen smartphones, one rectangular slab after another, with nothing but minor spec tweaks and gimmicks posing as innovation.

So why should you, the lawyer, stay away?

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

Macs in Your Law Office: Is the New Cheaper iMac a Good Fit?

This morning, Apple finally released the long-rumored cheaper iMac: a  21.5-inch model for $1,099, or $200 less than the previous low-end model.

Your office might already run Macs. Or, perhaps you're desperate to avoid the abomination that is Windows 8.1 and have decided that Mac is the better route. If so, you might be wondering: should your office be eyeballing the low-end iMac? Or the Mac Mini? Or do you splurge and pay the extra $200 for the now mid-range iMac model?

Here's how the lineup stacks up.

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

Is Bitcoin Broken? 51 Percenter Problem is a Really Bad Sign

Internet Monopoly money -- that's what many of us would have labeled Bitcoin in its early days. Of course, we're kicking ourselves for not buying in to the faux currency in its infancy, but that doesn't make it any more viable long-term -- it's more like a roulette wheel that is juiced to pay out for the first few years.

What about now? Though Bitcoin's value has skyrocketed, average folks can't mine coins anymore. The fixed supply means as time goes on, and more coins are mined, mining new coins requires more and more power, which means only a rare few, with a ton of computing power, control mining.

The concentration of power in these few folks has created another problem: the de-decentralization of the currency by 51 percenters, a problem that could mean that Bitcoin is broken.

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

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

We now live in a world in which we constantly are connected electronically. We spend so much of our time in front of computers, laptops and tablets. Our smartphones can accomplish feats unimaginable not so long ago. These days we can even surf the Internet with smart eyeglasses.

Plainly, connectivity presents numerous advantages from business and professional standpoints. If that were not the case, people likely would not be so addicted to their instant electronic communications and access.

However, does there come a tipping point when an individual just becomes bombarded with connectivity overload and truly needs a cleanse -- a detox, if you will, from the always-on world? Perhaps once in a while each one of us, even if briefly, needs to harken back to an earlier time and just turn off and be present in the real world.

Case in point: my recent trip to Alaska with my family.

3 Steps to Opt Out of Creepy Personalized Advertising, Tracking

Facebook's been the king of personalized advertising for a long while, at least within that site's walled garden. The company, which has billions of users serving up biographical data and "likes" of companies and interests, knows you better than anyone. The company's "like" buttons on third-party sites also track you across the web, providing even more information on your preferences based on your browsing history.

And now, Facebook plans on sharing that information with ad providers on non-Facebook sites.

Unsecured Wireless Network Moocher Not Protected by 4th Amendment

What's the worst case scenario for an owner of an unsecured wireless network? It's probably a mooching neighbor downloading child porn, leading the police to your doorstep. That's what happened here, and after the police searched the homeowner's computers, finding nothing, they used a tool called the "MoocherHunter" to track down the true offender, Richard Stanley.

The question is: is tracking signal strength to a person's doorstep a "search" under the Fourth Amendment? The Supreme Court has ruled that using infrared to detect heat signals coming from one's home was, and this would seem to be the same situation.

Only, according to the Third Circuit, it wasn't.

Another Victory for Library Book Scanning as Fair Use

We called a similar case against Google "obvious from the outset" when the district court ruled book scanning "fair use." Thankfully, the Second Circuit didn't make us look like fools when the issue reappeared this year.

(Don't worry ... there's still time.)

Security Warning: Android's Dangerous Change to App Permissions

Google had a problem: Nobody could understand the complicated app permissions. For example, do you know what "Broadcast Sticky (Intents)" is? I have no friends, and no hobbies, other than my dear smartphone and even I had to look that one up.

The solution, according to Google, is to "simplify" the permissions and to stop asking you to grant new permissions when apps update automatically through the company's Play Store, at least when the new permission is similar to one you've already granted (e.g., update adds the ability to send text messages to an existing permission to read texts -- now the app can cost you money.)

It's a dangerous and stupid change, one that at a minimum buries possibly dangerous permissions upgrades, and if you have auto-update installed, hides them altogether.

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

TX Says: No Important Titles for Tech Gurus, Nonlawyers in Firms

Chief Technological Officer. We don't know about you, but at least to us, those three words carry no indication of a license to practice law. None whatsoever.

But, the Texas Bar ethics committee thinks it does. It's also banned titles like Chief Executive Officer, or really anything with the word "officer" in it, out of fear that it will confuse the townsfolk into mistaking them for practicing attorneys.

It's all part of the ban on nonlawyer ownership. And while the opinion is unlikely to affect most small firms (if you have a CTO, CFO, or CEO, you ain't that small), it seems like some BigLaw officials important nonlawyer people are going to have to order some new business cards.

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

Apple Adds MAC Privacy Tweak for iOS 8, Has an Ulterior Motive?

Not Mac, but MAC.

A Media Access Control address (or MAC address) is unique identifier, similar to a serial number, assigned to any device that connects to networks, such as computers, tablets, smartphones, or gaming consoles. The network uses a device's MAC address to know where to transmit data. And since a MAC address is usually attached to a device for life, and is broadcasted to nearby networks, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, it has a significant drawback: it can be tracked.

Does your online advertising strategy keep up with the latest tech and SEO trends? Let our experts take a second look.

With social media a mainstay of communication, it's increasingly becoming an issue to deal with when it comes to jurors. Most judges deal with the issue through a jury instruction that lets jurors know that they may not share any information about the trial on social media.

But what about lawyers? Can they keep tabs on jurors by monitoring the jurors' social media accounts?

Earlier this year, the American Bar Association answered that question, reports the ABA Journal. Let's take a look at what the ABA decided, and what, if anything is applicable to your practice.

Reset The Net: Keeping Eyes Off Your Online Activity

Is it time to Reset the Net?

Almost exactly one year after exposing the details of the U.S. government's wide-reaching surveillance effort, Edward Snowden has joined Google, Mozilla, and the American Civil Liberties Union in an effort to increase Internet privacy dubbed Reset the Net.

With the confidentiality issues inherent to communicating with clients online (and most lawyers' failure to effectively address them) effective encryption of email and increased data security are things any attorney should be interested in.

But what can actually be done to improve your online privacy?

The Source of Apple's New iOS, Messaging Features? Other Companies

On Monday, Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where it announced massive updates to its desktop and mobile operating systems. If it wasn't clear, we were impressed by the long list of new features, especially Continuity -- the seamless handoff between one's mobile devices and desktop or laptop.

But the entire time, a nagging thought kept popping up: we've seen this before. That's not a criticism, by the way -- only a stubborn fool would stick to "our way" when other companies outpace them on innovative features. And while Apple has come up with a ton of innovative ideas of its own (the Touch ID sensor, for example), there have been times where the company has refused to follow industry trends (the damn keyboard, screen sizes).

The company now seems to be embracing a middle ground: copy a few features, while hopefully, making them even better.

Feds Take Down Gameover Zeus Botnet and Cryptolocker, For Now

Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev.

Meet the man at the top of the FBI's Cyber Most Wanted, who along with his associates (also on the list), is responsible for two of the most damaging computer viruses in history: Cryptolocker and Gameover Zeus, as well as JabberZeus, a less sophisticated virus that spread earlier.

Yesterday, the Justice Department unsealed the criminal cases in Nebraska and Pennsylvania against the yet-to-be-apprehended man and his cohorts, accusing them of pilfering millions through stolen information and ransomware.

5 Biggest Takeaways From Apple's WWDC 2014 Keynote

Despite the name, Apple's annual World Wide Developer's Conference isn't just for developers and Apple staff, it's one of Apple's biggest events of the year for discussing the latest and greatest products and software. Alas, don't get your hopes up for new iPhones or iPads -- those typically get their own events in the fall.

Today is all about the operating system software, with major changes in store for both the desktop/laptop OS X and the mobile iOS. We apologize in advance for the lengthy post.