Thursday, June 3, 2010

Internet Activity is Not as Anonymous as You May Believe

Using an anonymous profile and/or username to comment about an issue or person (even a public figure), or share copyrighted data, does not guarantee safety from the legal consequences. In fact, as the following cases indicate, it should be avoided.

In the realm of defamation cases, a grand jury subpoenaed Twitter this month on behalf of Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett to reveal "any and all subscriber information" of two anonymous bloggers @bfbarbie and @CasaBlancaPA.

Twitter was ordered to provide the “name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol address” of both bloggers, according to the subpoena.

Signor Ferrari, the pen name of one of the two bloggers from the site, claims it's their First Amendment right to criticize Corbett, a public official. However, whether the court agrees with Ferrari and his First Amendment argument, remains to be seen.

In another case, Steve J. Theriot, the interim president of Jefferson Parish, La., filed suit against 11 anonymous bloggers he believed defamed him on the The Times-Picayune of New Orleans Web site. Theriot eventually dropped the case as his being a public figure would've made it difficult to win.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that all Internet defamation cases involving public figures and anonymous bloggers/writers will fare the same way. Over time these cases will set a precedent for similar cases, giving lawyers, judges, and the legal industry insight as to the boundaries of anonymity when voicing one's opinions online. For internet defamation lawyers, the current state of the caselaw is akin to the wild west, therefore, appellate court guidance in the next five to ten years will be welcomed with open arms.

Another Internet activity that anonymity does not protect against, is file sharing.

The U.S. Copyright Group, a group of intellectual property lawyers whose goal is "to stop movie copyright infringement and make illegal downloaders pay damages for the content they have stolen," has filed suit against more than 20,000 individual users (mostly IP addresses) in Washington D.C. federal court for copyright infringement -- downloading films.

About 30,000 more users will be sued, including those who downloaded the Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker.

A new software from U.K.-based company Guardaley IT makes it easier to track infringers using BitTorrent by "capturing IP addresses based on the time stamp that a download has occurred and then checks against a spreadsheet to make sure the downloading content is the copyright protected film and not a misnamed film or trailer."

However, U.S. courts have been hesitant to use the technology in prosecuting offenders, for a number of reasons, especially after the Recording Industry Association of America's 2003-2008 mass suing of more than 35,000 individuals. But, such technology may prove useful for U.S. litigators in the near future, and currently gives lawyers abroad the means to prosecute faster and easier.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto, edited by Erik Syverson

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tracking of Internet Browser Activity

Web surfing creates a unique fingerprint on browsers that can be traced to nearly 84 percent of users, according to research from the Electronic Frontier Foundation released Monday.

The EFF reached its conclusion via its Panopticlick experiment site which has sampled nearly a million user fingerprints to date since Jan. 27th, 2010. Participants simply click on a red dot and are given a uniqueness score based on the amount of information their browser shares with other sites. A statistical and mathematical breakdown is provided for the empirically driven crowd.

While certain variables may cause unique fingerprints to change or become unstable over time, the EFF determined that in general, user identification remains "overwhelmingly trackable," creating serious "implications both for privacy policy and technical design."

The advocacy group suggests policymakers realize the importance of browser uniqueness and determine limits for the association of online identities to sensitive data. How soon or how serious policymakers take this recommendation remains to be seen. However, the site does make the dangers of Internet tracking tangible and even, fun to learn about.

The EFF also provides tips on its experimental site for users to protect themselves and lessen the chances of involuntarily giving away personal information.

Although the science and technical jargon of the experiment may be much for the average Web user to fully comprehend, the conclusion is not -- following someone and knowing everything about their online habits is rapidly becoming easier for companies as well as anyone interested.

In fact, Google and Facebook are in the news again for releasing usernames and other personal information collected from users to advertisers. Google's Street View cars, which made headlines last week after the company admitted the fleet inadvertently picked up data, also admitted accidentally recording people's Internet activity. Short blurbs worth, but still another method of tracking a browser history and more fodder for political battles over privacy both in America and overseas.

Experienced Internet Attorneys can provide counsel to individuals as well as companies regarding consumer internet privacy issues.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Family Based Social Networking - Pros and Cons.

Gigaom released a video interview Tuesday with CEO Mandeep S. Dhillon about his new family-oriented social networking site Togetherville.



Currently in open beta, Togetherville is intended for children ages six to 10, through 13, and their parents. With an interface similar to Facebook, kids can express themselves through educational games, art, and music. Children and parents are required to use their real identities (although not searchable via search engines) and friend only people they know and trust in real life. Also, the parents are the ones in control of who the children can friend.

Some pros of the site include the real life social network, the relatively safe environment, and parental control while teaching children how to effectively and positively network online. The site is an interesting concept, however, parents can only control their kids' social networking behavior for so long before they branch out to Facebook or any other mature networking site.

Whether the site breeds a generation of positive and careful social networkers remains highly doubtful. However, it does add another means of socialization and learning amongst families and close peers. Internet attorneys will be focusing upon the implications of social networking targeting a younger and more innocent audience.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto, edited by Erik Syverson.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Social Media Presents Issues for Employers and Employees

It's common sense to not to rant about a co-worker, boss, the company you work for, much less post your livid complaints on a social networking site or sites for the world and your said co-worker/boss/company to see. But of course, some miss the simple message or just don't care enough to cover their tracks. Hence the eventual firing or workplace drama.

Employment at-will, basically states that "in the absence of employment contracts (such as collective bargaining agreements) that indicate otherwise, employers generally may fire employees for any reasons, no reasons and even unfair reasons, as long as they are not illegal reasons." Most states are at-will states and can fire employees for almost any reason except "federally protected classes such as race, gender and religion. In other words, you can legally be fired or disciplined for posting anything deemed negative or inappropriate by your employer, even if it's a joke.

While one-fourth of companies disciplined an employee for inappropriate social media usage, only 10 percent have a policy addressing social network sites, according to a 2009 survey of nearly 800 private and public employers by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and the Health Care Compliance Association. In addition, the results showed workplace monitoring of online activity is underdeveloped.

While most companies are struggling to deal with the explosion of social media outbursts and may take awhile to develop specific company policies, don't think that you're safe.

Think about the situation logically before you tweet your latest lament. It's your place of employment, where you get paid to do a job, which doesn't include changing your status to all the reasons why you're boss is an evil hack. Expressing yourself is likely not as important as keeping your job. For employers, contact a lawyer experienced in the legal issues related to social media. It may be wise for employers to set social media policies to avoid unfair or uneven employee discipline.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto and Erik Syverson.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Google Maps Leeks Private Info on WIFI Networks

A code which mistakenly sampled public WiFi data forced Google to ground its fleet of Street View cars -- meant to collect information for Google Maps and other location-based programs indefinitely, according to the company's official blog last Friday.

Written in 2006 for a separate WiFi experiment and programmed into the cars, the code inadvertently picked up snippets of unencrypted data as the vehicles drove by. Granted, the stream of information changed about five times per second, however, the cars still retained the collected data. Google is being audited by a third-party company and is figuring out how to dispose of the information based on local guidelines.

While Google's quick fess up was commendable considering the recent flack it's been receiving for privacy flubs, it does paint a tale of caution for Internet users who don't use secure and/or password-protected networks. In exchange for using free WiFi (whether from a cafe or your neighbor's gracious generosity) you could be giving up sensitive and personal information to any random creeper -- not just a multibillion dollar corporation being scrutinized and held responsible by the public and private sectors. Luckily Google is getting rid of the information ASAP (or so it claims), but you never know who's collecting data over public WiFi and what purpose they intend to use it for.

It also begs the question of whether Google should continue its quest to map out the world via Google Maps and other programs. While a simple mistake (or series of mistakes) may render the project a no-go and a huge danger/negative in the public opinion, there is something to be said about the educational and informational benefits such detailed programs provide -- such as guiding drivers through a tricky part of town, or showing people a part of the world they could never afford to go to. Internet law expert attorneys will continue to monitor the progress of programs such as Google Maps.

This post authored by Taren Fujimoto. Edited by Erik Syverson.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Geotagging Might Be Dangerous

Within one week of its Feb. 17, 2010, launch, Pleaserobme.com, a site dedicated to raising awareness about over sharing personal information, garnered more than 100,000 tweets, one million unique site visitors, and four million searches on Google.com, according to the site.

Created by concept and idea factory Forthehack, the
controversial project aggregates Twitter updates of people who use geolocation technology to let followers know where they are. It may not seem like a bad idea as the site essentially collects and shares information made public by its creators, but it does point out (by process of elimination and common sense) that those specific users are not home. Basically, advertising prime opportunities for followers to rob them, or at least rummage through their homes.

Forthehack says its only aim is to make people think about sharing certain information, which in its opinion, should be private, and build its brand through means of small hacks, the first of which is Pleaserobme.com.

A recent article on the Citizen Media Law Project suggests that Pleaserobme.com may present a new test of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an "interactive computer service" who publish information provided by others. In other words: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

This is potentially great news for Forthehack, knowing the law more or less weights in its favor. Under this pretense, they can get their message (and other future messages) across without being held liable for placing shared, public information into a thoughtful and ultimately innovative context.

There is an explosion of content aggregation sites out there. Many, such as Pleaserobme.com, populate sites by crawling and indexing social networking sites like Twitter.com. If you pay attention to most social networking terms of use, many expressly prohibit such data aggregation and compilation. Whether Twitter or Facebook would ever sue such companies is doubtful, since Twitter and Facebook presumably already engage in such behavior or would like the option to do so in the future.

Internet lawyers will be struggling with section 230 and the extent of its grant of immunity as it relates to data aggregation sites and social networking sites for many years to come.

Content contributed in part by Taren Fujimoto.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Geotagging: Should Privacy Be a Concern

One widget continuing to grow in popularity is geotagging -- adding a geographical location (usually in longitude and latitude coordinates) to social media content, such as Flickr or Facebook, using Global Positioning System or WiFi Triangulation technology. Geotagging allows users to specifically locate the source of interesting posts, videos, etc. Although a simple mechanism, it's shaping up to possibly be a $100 million-plus business, according to a recent article on gigaom.com. Debating its potential profit is one thing, but what about privacy issues? Should users be concerned about letting others know where they are, when they publish content? Do the benefits of sharing your location for social/education purposes outweigh giving up your privacy? Should users be to blame for breach of privacy issues?

Wikipedia briefly mentions privacy concerns on their "Auto-geotagging" entry noting that this type of software "can track people’s locations."

While you can edit your privacy settings and switch geotagging off, sometimes people forget to turn it off after turning it on once. Also, by then others users have had access to your location history. Convenient and user-friendly features such as Google Maps "How To Get There", downloadable flash and non-flash maps, and email and instant messaging directions make it simple for stalkers to load information to their phones and go.

A PCMag.com article takes a lesson from the Google Buzz privacy debacle and advises users to avoid the safety hazard by simply turning off their location feature.

For Internet Law Firms the bulk of legal privacy cases specific to geotagging has yet to become a mainstream issue, be cautious before readily tagging your latest picture or blog of your home, workplace, or hangout -- you never know who's following you online and in reality. Besides, isn't a general description (i.e. Los Angeles) enough?

This article by Taren Fujimoto. Edited by Erik Syverson.

Friday, April 16, 2010

BroadcastersCome Together to Launch Mobile Content Service

Is it possible that several major television broadcasters can figure out mobile content through a joint venture? Fox, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, NBC, and eight other broadcast mediums are launching a joint venture to develop a new national mobile content service, according to a recent PR Newswire release.

The service will use the nation's existing broadcasting infrastructure in accordance with the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Initiative -- giving nearly 150 million American consumers easy access to mobile video.

While the venture is meant to be the next platform of digital television and aid Americans (especially those in rural areas and the older population), just how effective the initiative will be? Will babyboomers struggling to keep up with the sprawling digital revolution have the need and know-how for content? Inundating these consumers with mobile content on their phones that they just learned to use a few years ago could overwhelm them and leave them feeling alienated.

Also, in terms of content, how will venture partners and their subsidiaries assure consumers of varied content representative of what they want to see versus what advertisers pay for? Will the same FCC guidelines for TV apply to this mobile content, or will it need a special set of guidelines? Lawyers specializing in internet law and new media will be paying close attention.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where Social Networking Goes Wrong?

As an internet defamation lawyer, I was very interested in Tech Crunch's recent post regarding new social networking website GetUnvarnished.com. Ratings sites have been driving internet growth the last 2 years and Unvarnished takes it to the next level. Rather than rate businesses as Yelp invites users to do, Unvarnished allows users to rate each other. The defamation possibilities are endless and no doubt lawsuits will abound (interestingly, the site bills itself as "unvarnished" but apparently cannot and has not obtained the domain address www.unvarnished.com which hosts a blog by someone named Travis Smith).

For the most part, Section 230 protects sites like Unvarnished but that may begin to crack. Yelp has been exposed for essentially running an extortion ring according to a slew of recent lawsuits. Unvarnished may run into challenges based upon similar claims. Also, these ratings sites are getting more and more aggressive in an effort to populate their site with content. Unvarnished may or may not catch on, but it illustrates a larger legal and social issue as we head into the next decade of internet development.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Electronic Billing = Growth Industry

Business and E-commerce lawyers may want to pay attention to E-billing and legal issues related to third party E-billing providers. This is a growth industry, one of the few these days - read here. However, lawyers for e-billers and plaintiff's class action lawyers will want to pay close attention to the implementation of e-billing services, particularly privacy and data breach issues. If your company is looking to get off paper and go green with electronic bills, contact an experienced internet law firm to review your procedures.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Viacom Abuses Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Stunning revelations are leaking from the epic Viacom v. Youtube copyright infringement suit that has been going on for years now. Apparently, Viacom submitted much of the content that serves as the basis for its lawsuit. Any civil litigation and business attorney knows that this could result in huge sanctions imposed against Viacom and its attorneys. Aside from the possibility of sanctions against litigants, this is just another example of widespread abuse of the digital millennium copyright act by large, corporate content owners.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Google Scores Section 230 Victory

E-commerce attorneys need to know section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act inside and out. I found this interesting analysis of a recent Google 230 victory with regard to its Adwords program. Section 230 has been interpreted very broadly by many courts, granting websites and e-commerce companies immunity from vicarious liability for bad acts by their users - or even negligence claims in some circumstances.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Companies Exposed on P2P File Sharing Networks

The FTC is sending out warning letters to a number of private businesses and public entities regarding peer to peer networks utilized and accessed in the workplace. As internet law experts know, P2P networks are a double edged sword. On the one hand, they increase efficiency by allowing the rapid transport of data. On the downside, private information such as medical records and social security numbers often leak onto P2P networks. This problem is not going away anytime soon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Google Buzz Class Action

Google really screwed up recently, rolling out its new Buzz social networking app and blowing the privacy of millions of users. Instead of advising users of the new service and letting users choose to be part of Buzz, Google automatically signed up its Gmail users to the Buzz service, exposing private email contacts etc all without the knowledge or consent of its users. This is almost inconceivable and has privacy advocates seething - a class action has already been filed against Google for its indiscretion. Internet lawyers will be following this case closely.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Google to set up high speed networks

The Los Angeles Times is reporting Google's intent to build high speed internet networks in the near future. Internet lawyers will be watching closely to see if this spurs other network providers to step up bandwidth. Google plans to offer as much as 10 times the capacity of common cable broadband networks. This should be great for the consumer as the content distribution revolution rolls on - now in HD.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google and China at Odds

Website lawyers and e-commerce specialists will be closely following the fallout over a recent story that cyber based attacks against Google have emerged from China. Apparently, Google is not getting much cooperation from China and a lack of trust may be building. It is suspected the attacks sought data from the gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents. Perhaps Google pulls out of China? This may be further signs of growing internet protectionism and nationalization of the internet.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Google Tax in France?

As an e-commerce attorney, I get to comment on internet law issues from time to time in the media. I was on fox news today speaking about a proposed pay per click internet tax in France. Google would be hit hardest by such a tax. Check out the internet law commentary here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Google Tax??

Internet and e-commerce lawyers will be closely following a new Google tax proposed in France. Some in France propose taxing Google's lucrative internet pay per click advertising model to subsidize French copyright holders. The proposal has a number of procedural and technical legal snags. Aside from such legal technicalities, I am interested in the impact this may or may not have upon click fraud. That is because the tax is proposed as a per click tax upon Google ads. In other words, the taxable event occurs only when a Google ad is clicked upon. Will this encourage click fraud or provide an incentive for Google to implement stronger anti-click fraud measures to reduce possible tax liability?

Also, will Google bear the tax or will it simply pass the tax on to its advertisers by increasing keyword prices? As it stands, Google's advertisers would never know since keyword pricing is contained in a black box.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best Buy Mac Optimization Service Useless?

Consumers picking up new mac books might want to read this story regarding Best Buy's supposed Mac optimization service. Like many computer and internet related tech services sold on an unsuspecting and unknowing public, it sounds like it may be useless and a complete waste of money. And if Best Buy is selling such a useless service, the practice may be ripe for consumer redress in a consumer class action.

For starters, Macs come out of the box, ready to go and virus proof - thus, there is no reason for any such service. In fact, that is why Mac has continued to win kudos from users.

If you feel you have been sold useless tech services or internet and computer products, contact an experienced internet and civil litigation attorney.