Header graphic for print

Socially Aware Blog

The Law and Business of Social Media

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates
  • May a lawyer ethically instruct a client to delete potentially damaging information from a client’s Facebook page? According to a new ethics opinion from the Philadelphia Bar Association, yes, so long as the information is preserved in some way, should it become relevant to the case. The opinion also determined that, under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer may ethically instruct a client to change the privacy settings on a client’s Facebook page.  It remains to be seen whether other bar associations will follow Philadelphia’s lead on these thorny issues.
  • Google reportedly noticed probable child pornography in someone’s email and tipped off police, who obtained a search warrant and arrested the Houston man for possession of child pornography. This is clearly permitted by Google’s terms of service. While no one has sympathy for predators, some have expressed concern over the privacy implications of Google’s actions.
  • LinkedIn has announced that it is launching a new service designed to help buyers and salespeople find each other. The service is called Sales Navigator. It could help diversify LinkedIn and make it more profitable, experts say, and it could also pose strong competition to existing, and pricey, software platforms, that salespeople currently use to find customers.

Picture This: Online Photos and Big Data

Posted in Privacy

As the quality of visual recognition software continues to improve, privacy concerns have grown concomitantly. Because we now document our lives with so many pictures posted to social media—Facebook hosts over 250 billion photos, with 350 million new photos added every day—photographs are becoming hugely important to the big data movement. Indeed, some say Facebook stores over 4 percent of all the pictures ever taken in history. What truths may lurk behind all those images—and who wants to know?

Cutting-edge visual recognition software programs now make it possible not only to identify a person in a photo on Facebook or elsewhere, but also to determine what that person is doing in the photo.

There’s already image recognition software, used by the fashion industry, that lets a shopper take a picture on his or her smartphone of a piece of clothing and then match that piece by color, pattern, and shape to the offerings of 170 retailers that sell something similar. That’s a benign use of this technology. But more ominous applications are already emerging.

My sense is that this concern is helping to fuel the growth of ephemeral social media sites such as Snapchat, where—at least in theory—photos don’t sit there in perpetuity to be exploited by data miners; they last all of 10 seconds.

After all, imagine all your online photos being processed into a data profile by advertisers or law enforcement, showing where you live, where you’ve been, with whom you hang out and what activities you’ve participated in. If a single picture is worth a thousand words, what are 250 billion photos worth?

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates
  • Going mainstream. For the first time, both Twitter and Facebook are seeing significant growth in online advertising placed by major companies for brands such as Heineken, Tide, McDonald’s, and Charmin. Major consumer products companies have long struggled with the question of how to reach consumers on their mobile devices, and right now, this appears to be how they’re doing it.
  • Mismatch? The popular dating site OKCupid conducted some experiments with its user base — changing the type of information available to them about prospective matches and even falsifying it to an extent — in order to see what effect it had on conversations among daters and on how relationships developed. Some observers are critical of this type of experiment on ethical grounds.
  • Loose tweets sink ships? Law enforcement agencies in the Pacific Northwest have launched a “Tweet Smart” program that is intended to discourage people from using social media during emergencies to describe the movements and activities of law enforcement personnel. After a few recent shooting incidents, police are concerned that a tweet, for example, might tip off a perpetrator to police tactics.
  • Judges’ perspective. A recent survey of federal judges found that the vast majority of them do not believe that jurors’ use of social media has posed a problem in their courtrooms. Only 33 of 494 judges responding reported any detectable instances of jurors using social media, and the vast majority of those instances were harmless.

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates
  • Going viral: Silencing its critics, Twitter posted strong second quarter results, adding 16 million new monthly active users and boosting its user base by 24 percent from this time last year.
  • #Disappointing: In other Twitter news, the company recently revealed data about the composition of its workforce. It turns out that 90 percent of tech staff and 70 percent of all staff are men, and men make up 79 percent of its leadership. Only 2 percent of the staff is African American, and Latinos make up 3 percent. Its VP for diversity said that like similar companies, Twitter “has a lot of work to do” in this area.
  • Balancing act: Reddit has always been a niche social network that never embraced advertising as a source of revenue. That apparently will change now, as Reddit, which is majority-owned by Conde Nast,  is trying to attract advertisers without losing its unique culture.
  • Busted: A Maryland man taunted local police by posting on the police Facebook page (under his own mugshot) that the cops would never catch him—but the police caught him for a probation violation the next day, primarily by using Facebook.

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates
  • An Illinois woman was arrested on July 11 and charged with theft after she allegedly stole a dress from a boutique in West Frankfort, Illinois, then posted a selfie wearing the dress on her Facebook page. Police Chief Shawn Talluto noted, “[W]hen the social media aspect played into it, we were able to identify who it was. And by looking at the background of the photograph we were able to pinpoint where she was at.”
  • New, mobile-only banks without any brick-and-mortar branches form a small part of the banking industry today—but they may be poised for growth. These banks, without a physical presence, reportedly can handle a typical transaction for a fraction of what having a teller handle it would cost, and can deliver value-added services to consumers through smartphone interfaces.
  • Shakira has become the first celebrity to reach 100 million Likes on Facebook. The “Hips Don’t Lie” singer, who joined the social media platform in October 2007, beat Cristiano Ronaldo, Eminem, Rihanna, Vin Diesel, and even Michael Jackson to the new record.

Data for the Taking: Using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to Combat Web Scraping

Posted in Litigation, Privacy

“Web scraping” or “web harvesting”—the practice of extracting large amounts of data from publicly available websites using automated “bots” or “spiders”—accounted for 18% of site visitors and 23% of all Internet traffic in 2013. Websites targeted by scrapers may incur damages resulting from, among other things, increased bandwidth usage, network crashes, the need to employ anti-spam and filtering technology, user complaints, reputational damage and costs of mitigation that may be incurred when scrapers spam users, or worse, steal their personal data.

Though sometimes difficult to combat, scraping is quite easy to perform. A simple online search will return a large number of scraping programs, both proprietary and open source, as well as D.I.Y. tutorials. Of course, scraping can be beneficial in some cases. Companies with limited resources may use scraping to access large amounts of data, spurring innovation and allowing such companies to identify and fill areas of consumer demand. For example, Mint.com reportedly used screen scraping to aggregate information from bank websites, which allowed users to track their spending and finances. Unfortunately, not all scrapers use their powers for good. In one case on which we previously reported, the operators of the website Jerk.com allegedly scraped personal information from Facebook to create profiles labeling people “Jerk” or “not a Jerk.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), over 73 million victims, including children, were falsely told they could revise their profiles by paying $30 to the website.

Website operators have asserted various claims against scrapers, including copyright claims, trespass to chattels claims and contract claims based on allegations that scrapers violated the websites’ terms of use. This article, however, focuses on another tool that website operators have used to combat scraping: the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

Continue Reading

Status Updates

Posted in Status Updates
  • According to a current study by Bank of America, Americans are very closely attached to their smartphones. Of those surveyed, 85 percent said they check their phone at least a few times a day and 35 percent say they check it constantly. 47 percent of Americans say they couldn’t last more than one day without their phone. And, perhaps most worrisome, Millennials between ages 18 to 24 view their mobile phone as more important to their daily lives than even deodorant or their toothbrush . . . .
  • The Uniform Law Commission has embraced the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which, to the extent adopted by states, would give grieving families immediate access to a deceased family member’s online accounts, unless the deceased family member specified otherwise in a will.  Privacy advocates have expressed skepticism regarding the initiative.
  • In a break from past practice, the New York Police Department has begun to embrace social media, giving its precinct commanders “relatively free rein” in using Twitter. Top brass hopes to spur greater sharing of information and to engage the public in a dialogue regarding police business.