Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

May 2016 Archives

In March, Hulk Hogan won an invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker, a pioneering Internet gossip website. The litigation came after Gawker published a sex tape featuring the professional wrestler. Faced with a $140 million judgement, Gawker may have to shut down if it cannot win its case on appeal.

But Hogan wasn't the only winner in the litigation. Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and conservative tech entrepreneur also came out on top. Thiel, it was revealed last week, had secretly funded Hogan's lawsuit at the cost of $10 million -- as revenge for being outed by Gawker's Silicon Valley-focused blog, Valleywag.

The Amazing Uses of Drones

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

Drones really have become the next big thing. Their uses seem to keep multiplying each day. With each new use there are new questions about drone regulations.

Of course, we hear about military payloads being delivered by drones on very specific targets. Indeed, the recent motion picture, Eye in the Sky, is all about when it is appropriate to use drones for military attacks. Drones also can be used for surveillance purpose. They are very nimble, and they easily can take footage surreptitiously of unsuspecting subjects. This also was portrayed in Eye in the Sky.

Encryption: What Happened to the Government's Push for New Laws?

Do you remember the public furor and spittle that came out of the iPhone versus FBI battle just a scant few months ago? Do you also remember how momentum behind a national initiative to force phone makers into complying with law enforcement access to encrypted data reached a fever pitch? Whatever happened to that law?

It's dead, or at least effectively so, according to Fortune. And this demonstrates a very interesting point about politics, teeth gnashing and the collective memory. Our politicians don't seem to have the endurance to stick it through.

Government agencies are usually pretty slow to adopt technological advancements. The federal Veterans Affairs Administration, to give one example, is still notoriously paper-dependent, with its non-digitized files stacked so high they could pose a safety risk to workers. And lawyers are no better. Even forward-thinking firms have been slow to adopt technologies that are already common in other industries.

But, some government lawyers are bucking the trend, putting data analytics to work, and slowly changing the justice system as a result.

Google's Paris Office Raided as Part of Tax Evasion Investigation

According to Reuters, French police arrived at Google Paris offices Tuesday and raided the location as part of an ongoing investigation into whether or not the Internet company is dodging taxes. The probe, opened last June, is part of an anti-corporation sentiment that started when the public became increasingly aware of multi-nationals taking advantage of tax avoidance schemes across the globe.

Google has maintained that it is compliant with French law.

It costs to be on the cutting edge. When it comes to going digital, going paperless, going hi-tech, you can easily start shelling out thousands of dollars on products and services, some of which may be obsolete in a few years, or even months. But if you shop around, you can stay on top of many tech trends without breaking the bank.

To help you out, here are our best affordable gadget and service reviews, from the FindLaw archives.

Price Gougers Beware: Vermont About to Pass 'Anti-Shkreli' Bill

Gougers can likely look to Martin Shkreli for ruining the game of price gouging customers by going nuts and hiking the price of a desperately needed pill some 5,555 percent. The Internet won't soon forget Shkreli's uncontrollable need to display his contempt for formal hearings, which put him in the running for the "most hated person on the Internet" contest.

Well, several states have reacted to that whole scandal and have proposed laws to counter future Shkrelis. But none have gotten as far as Vermont, which is just on the cusp of passing such a law. It looks like a very lucrative way of doing business is about to get a whole lot harder.

Back in 2012, LinkedIn was hacked and 6.5 million passwords were reportedly leaked. Now it looks like a few more accounts were also compromised -- almost 167 million. And the consequences of that hack are still playing out four years later.

Last week, LinkedIn announced that more than 100 million passwords and matching emails may have been leaked online. If you have a LinkedIn account, here's what you should know, and how you can protect yourself.

When Shannon Liss-Riordan started suing major tech companies last Spring, she was hailed as the woman who could take down "the entire on-demand economy." Uber and Lyft were her two primary targets, but companies like Amazon were in her sights as well.

The Boston labor lawyer's main complaint was employee classification; that on-demand services like Uber and Lyft classified their drivers as independent contractors, making those bear significant employment burdens, while simultaneously managing them as employees.

For some lawyers, social media networks are a way to reach potential customers and build their name. For others, they're a treasure trove of helpful evidence, with the errant Facebook post becoming the modern-day smoking bullet.

There's no escaping the fact that social media is a major part of today's legal ecosystem. Master it, with these social media tips for attorneys, from the FindLaw archives.

Fight Back! Steps to Take Against Cybersquatters

It's a war out there in cyberspace. Everyone is vying for a piece of the pie -- customer eyeballs and dollars. But what are some steps that the honest solo attorney can utilize to fight against that most annoying of opportunists, the cybersquatter?

But you don't have to give up when a cybersquatter takes over one of your desired domains. Fight back, with these quick tips that will help you shore up your good name against the attacks of online domain-name trolls.

FTC, FCC Ask Mobile Companies: 'How's Mobile Security Today?'

Last week the FTC knocked on the doors of eight mobile device makers and asked them to provide hard answers regarding their efforts to address or patch the latest security vulnerabilities afflicting your mobile device. Simultaneously, it has also opened the doors to citizens inviting comment to the following general question: "How secure is your device?"

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

We often take for granted the amazing capabilities, power, and reliability of technology. For example, without giving it much thought, we often put ourselves in high-tech cylinders that take us many thousands of feet into the air, propel us through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour, and safely land us in destinations all over the world.

But, unfortunately, technology is not perfect. We were reminded of this fact in March 2014 when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing and then could not be found in the ensuing months, notwithstanding unprecedented technological search efforts.

As lawyers, we're all writers. But we're not poets here, and legal writing doesn't have to be (and probably shouldn't be) best-seller worthy. It should be better, though: clear, accessible, and sometimes even enjoyable to read. And there's a bevy of automated editing and proofreading software out there that promises to improve your writing with the click of a button.

So do they work? Sort of.

Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, online services like Facebook, Reddit, and Youtube aren't liable for the copyright violations of their users. Those companies are protected by the DMCA's safe harbor provisions, but under the terms of the DMCA, those limitations on liability shall apply only when a service provider as adopted and implemented a policy for terminating "repeat infringers."

But who counts as a repeat infringer? No one knows, exactly. Courts have offered little guidance and service providers have taken various stances. And though the DMCA is nearly 18 years old now, the debate over repeat infringers rages on, as evidenced at a roundtable hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office yesterday.

Welcome to the firm, robot lawyers!

Last week, BigLaw firm BakerHostetler announced that it was partnering with ROSS Intelligence to bring artificial intelligence to its Bankruptcy, Restructuring, and Creditor Rights practice. ROSS will be used to help BakerHostetler's non-robot lawyers research more quickly and intelligently. Will other firms follow their lead?

Senate Demands Answers About 'Bias' in Facebook News Trends

If the accusations of Facebook's former news curator are to believed, the social media company's news platform isn't quite as neutral as many people have come to believe. Yesterday, the US Senate Committee called for Facebook Chairman Mark Zuckerberg to respond to a Monday report that the company consistently suppressed conservative news stories from making it to the network's "trending" news section.

So far, the company has denied any allegations of intentional biased manipulation of its news feeds.

Humanity (and humanity's spambots) send out over 196 billion emails ever day. Your share is probably a few dozen -- maybe 100 or so if you're unlucky. Email has fast become one of the primary ways we communicate, whether it's about mundane lunch plans or sensitive legal topics.

But for all its ubiquity, email sometimes falls short on security, so short that some professional organizations tell their members to stick to the post when dealing with sensitive or confidential information. Here's what lawyers need to know about email security, from the FindLaw archives.

Britain's Conveyancing Association, a professional body whose members handle one in five property transactions in England and Wales, has a simple message for lawyers (alright, solicitors), conveyancers, and clients: if you want to stop fraud, stop using email.

The message comes after reports of hundreds of thousands of pounds stolen by criminals who hacked emails between legal professionals and property buyers and sellers. So, the Conveyancing Association argues, to be safe with sensitive information, send it snail mail.

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

Drones, drones, drones ... Everyone is droning on about drones as they become ever more ubiquitous. But as drones become more commonplace, there have been growing concerns -- especially with respect to safety in the sky.

Facebook Wins IP Legal Battle in China

According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook walked away with a ruling in favor of an American company ... in China!

But is this a sea-change for intellectual property rights in China?

The Mobile Lawyer: New on the Scene, Always in Demand

There are a lot of stereotypes that seem to haunt lawyers, including an inability to adapt to the changing times. But a failure to adapt to marketplace changes can be a big business mistake, especially for the solo attorney. As times change, you should be finding that you're spending more time on your mobile device. And that has both good and bad implications.

Blockchain technology creates a virtually incorruptible, dispersed database of all transactions in a network. It's the technology that helped make Bitcoin a (relative) success, but it's often hailed as a potentially transformative technology in finance, business, and the law. There are contracts that use the blockchain, for example. There may one day even be entire government databases based on blockchain technology.

But, as James Ching recently pointed out, there could be a downside to all the blockchain hype. It's possible that blockchain evidence may be inadmissible hearsay.

Atari Is Still Around to Haunt Independent Game Developers

The maker of the beloved gamer classic Pac-Man is still alive and kicking (legally) -- and kicking independent developers in the teeth.

Nineteen-eighties icon Atari is taking a stand in the USPTO this week in order to vanguard the rights to its video games that bear the Haunted House moniker. It's the sort of intellectual property demon that sends shivers down the spines of the artists who make these games.

When it comes to law and technology, the future is wide open. Will artificial intelligence transform the practice of law? Will electronic surveillance mean that nothing can be truly confidential? Will you ever be able to find a password that you can remember? Yes. No. Maybe.

The future of the law and technology is an unanswered question. Here are the ones we're asking.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court announced changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern criminal prosecutions in federal courts. Those amendments would make it easier to serve summons on foreign organizations without a U.S. presence, reduce the time for responding to electronic service, and allow judges to issue warrants for remote searches of electronically stored information outside of their district.

And it's that last change which will likely have the biggest impact, removing a procedural barrier to government investigations and, critics claim, expanding the government's hacking powers.

Are Robots Ethical?

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

It appears that robots are at least one of the waves of the future. As an example, 23 million of Twitter's user accounts in fact are autonomous Twitterbots. Why? Apparently, they are there to perform research, heighten productivity, and create enjoyment. However, other such bots have been designed with less than pure intentions -- indeed, at times with the goal of wreaking some havoc.

So, where do the ethics lie here? And what happens when humans presently are developing much more complicated and sophisticated "robots" going forward?

It's hard to overestimate the effects social media has had on our lives. Once upon a time, if you wanted to stay in touch with old friends, you had to give them a call -- or at least send them a holiday card. Now, you can simply like their Facebook status. Just a handful of years ago, if you wanted to show off your fancy lunch, you'd have to pull out your Polaroid camera and mail the photos to all your friends. Thankfully, Instagram has solved that problem.

But social media isn't just changing the way we connect to each other, it's having major impacts on how the law is practiced. In a recent post on Huffington Post, Brad Reid, Senior Scholar at the Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity at Lipscomb University, laid out the ABC's of how social media is impacting the law, from advertising to securities law. Here's a quick take on the list, plus one addition of our own.