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GettyImages-520390753-600pxThe U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently secured a notable victory against Google in a dispute over the enforceability of a U.S. search warrant seeking access to foreign-stored account data.

The April 19 ruling—from Magistrate Judge Beeler in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California—is the latest sign that DOJ is continuing to rely on the Stored Communication Act (SCA) to seek overseas account data even after the Department’s high profile defeat in the Second Circuit’s ruling in the Microsoft case.

And the opinion suggests that DOJ’s litigation strategy may be working.

The dispute arose after DOJ obtained a search warrant last year under the SCA directing Google to provide information related to specified Google user accounts. Google withheld some of the requested information and challenged the request. Google explained that it relies on algorithms to move user data around the world automatically to aid in network efficiency. Invoking the Second Circuit’s Microsoft ruling, which rejected DOJ’s efforts to obtain content stored on Microsoft servers in Ireland, Google argued that some of the requested data was stored exclusively overseas and therefore beyond the purview of an SCA warrant.
Continue Reading Court Orders Google to Turn Over Foreign-Stored Data

03_April_SociallyAware_thumbnailThe latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.

In this edition, we explore the threat to U.S. jobs posed by rapid advances in emerging technologies; we examine a Federal Trade Commission report on how companies engaging in cross-device tracking can stay on the right side of the law; we take

Twitter is suing the Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to void a summons demanding records that would identify the creator of an anti-Trump Twitter account.

Facebook has joined the fight against the nonconsensual dissemination of sexually explicit photos online—content known as “revenge porn”—by having specially trained employees review images flagged by users and

BigBrotherEye-GettyImages-149355675-600pxIf your company collects information regarding consumers though Internet-connected devices, you will want to take note of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) recent privacy-related settlement (brought in conjunction with the New Jersey Attorney General) with smart TV manufacturer Vizio, Inc. The settlement is significant for four reasons:

  • The FTC reinforces the position it has taken in other actions that the collection and use of information in a way that would surprise the consumer requires just-in-time notice and choice in order to avoid a charge of deception and/or unfairness under Section 5 of the FTC Act.
  • The FTC takes the position that television viewing activity constitutes sensitive data. This marks a departure from its approach of limiting sensitive data to information that, for example, can facilitate identity theft, precisely locate an individual, is collected online from young children or relates to matters generally considered delicate (such as health information).
  • The settlement includes a payment of $1.5 million to the FTC (as well as payment of civil penalties to New Jersey), but the legal basis for the FTC payment is not stated. This could suggest that the FTC will more aggressively seek to obtain injunctive monetary relief in Section 5 cases.
  • Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen explicitly noted in a concurring statement her skepticism regarding both the allegation that TV viewing data is “sensitive” and that the FTC’s complaint adequately established that the practices at issue constitute “substantial injury” under the unfairness prong of Section 5.

Leaving aside what the chairwoman’s concurrence may portend for future enforcement efforts, the FTC again seems to be using allegedly bad facts about privacy practices to push the envelope of its authority. Accordingly, with the Internet of Things boom fueling a dramatic increase in the number of Internet-connected devices, companies that either collect information via such devices or make use of such collected information should consider the implications of this enforcement action.


Continue Reading Watch Out: The Federal Trade Commission Continues to Watch the (Alleged) Watchers

Gradient and transparent effect used.

In a major development for cloud and other data storage providers, and further complicating the legal landscape for the cross-border handling of data, a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled for the Department of Justice and ordered Google, Inc., to comply with two search warrants for foreign-stored user data. The order was issued on February 3, 2017 pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, (SCA), and the reasoning of the Court rested heavily on the court’s statutory analysis of the SCA. The ruling is a marked departure from a recent, high-profile Second Circuit decision holding that Microsoft could refuse to comply with a similar court order for user data stored overseas.

The SCA regulates how service providers like Google and Microsoft who store user data can disclose user information. The Magistrate Judge issued two warrants under the SCA for emails sent from Google users in the United States to recipients in the United States. Google refused to fully comply, invoking Microsoft, and the Government moved to compel. In its briefing, Google argued that the SCA can only reach data stored in the United States and that, because Google constantly shuffles “shards” of incomplete user data between its servers across the world, Google could never know for certain what information is stored domestically and what is stored overseas. Therefore, Google argued, the data sought under the warrants was beyond the reach of the SCA.
Continue Reading Google Ordered to Comply with Warrant for Foreign-Stored User Data

GettyImages-169937464_SMALLCan the mere offering of a mobile app subject the provider of such app to the privacy laws of countries in the European Union (EU)—even if the provider does not have any establishments or presence in the EU? The answer from the District Court of The Hague to that question is yes. The court confirmed on November 22, 2016, that app providers are subject to the Dutch Privacy Act by virtue of the mere offering of an app that is available on phones of users in the Netherland, even if they don’t have an establishment or employees there.

Context. EU privacy laws generally apply on the basis of two triggers: (i) if a company has a physical presence in the EU (in the form of an establishment or office or otherwise) and that physical presence is involved in the collection or other handling of personal information; or (ii) if a company doesn’t have a physical presence but makes use of equipment and means located in the EU to handle personal information.


Continue Reading The Hague District Court’s WhatsApp Decision Creates Concerns for Mobile App Developers

A New Jersey court rules that state police can examine a suspect’s private social media messages without having to apply for an order under the state’s wiretapping laws.

Technology companies are exercising a lot of control ever over users’ devices remotely, and it’s implicating privacy issues.

Social media companies are reportedly considering putting up on

A federal district court judge refused to grant summary judgment to the copyright owners of the Star Trek franchise in the infringement suit they brought against the team behind a fan-made, crowdfunded prequel to the original Star Trek television series.

Strict new European Union privacy rules will restrict Internet companies’ access to consumers’ data.

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The beginning of a new year is a time for resolutions and predictions. We won’t bother Socially Aware readers with our resolutions for 2017, but we thought that we would share some predictions for the new year from our editors and contributors. As our predictions below indicate, 2017 promises to be an eventful year for social media and other emerging technologies. Here we go:

From John Delaney, Co-Founder and Co-Editor, Socially Aware, and Partner at Morrison & Foerster:

As we enter 2017, one of the greatest question marks for the social media and content marketing industries is what impact will Donald Trump have on the legal landscape. He’s been dubbed the country’s first social media president, and there is no doubt that his use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook played a key role in his upset election victory. At the same time, he’s had an often antagonistic relationship with Silicon Valley, and one can imagine tech giants such as Google and Facebook having a far less prominent voice within the Trump administration than was the case for the Obama administration. And although Trump’s promised focus on reducing business regulations may benefit the U.S. technology companies, his apparent skepticism toward globalism and free trade could prove a challenge to the country’s social media industry, perhaps the most global of all U.S. industries.

My other prediction for the coming year is that we’re going to see a number of disruptive new technologies emerging from the hype phase to having a real impact on businesses and consumers—perhaps more likely with respect to the latter than the former, at least initially. For example, blockchain technology generated a big buzz in 2016, but look for companies to actually begin embracing and implementing this technology in a B2B context in the never-ending drive to reduce transaction fees. By eliminating the need for trusted middlemen, the transitioning of traditional payment and recordation platforms to blockchain-based platforms holds the promise of generating significant cost savings for companies. We’re also going to see the pace of disruption accelerate as each of these new technologies—such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cloud computing, blockchain, the Internet of Things and so forth—combine and mutate in expected and unexpected ways.


Continue Reading 2017: Predictions From Socially Aware’s Editors and Contributors