- Bad chords. A European musician’s attempt to stop a negative concert review from continuing to appear in Internet search results is raising questions about whether the EU’s “right to be forgotten” ruling could prevent the Internet from being a source of objective truth. Established in May by the European Court of Justice, the right to be forgotten ruling requires search engines like Google to remove “inadequate, irrelevant or… excessive” links that appear as a result of searches of an EC member’s name. Pursuant to the ruling, European pianist Dejan Lazic asked the Washington Post to remove a tepid review of one of his Kennedy Center concerts from Google search results. Lazic’s request was denied because it was posed to the wrong party—the right to be forgotten ruling applies to Internet search engines, not publishers—but it nevertheless serves as an example of a request that could be granted under the right to be forgotten rule, and that, argues Washington Post Internet culture columnist Caitlin Dewey, is “terrifying.” Dewey writes that such a result “torpedoes the very foundation of arts criticism… essentially invalidates the primary function of journalism,” and “undermines the greatest power of the Web as a record and a clearinghouse for our vast intellectual output.”
- A tall tale. The FBI has admitted to fabricating an Associated Press story and sending its link to the MySpace page of a high-school-bombing-threat suspect in 2007 to lure him into downloading malware that revealed his location and Internet Protocol address. Agents arrested the suspect, a 15-year-old Seattle-area boy, within days of learning his whereabouts as the result of the malware, which downloaded automatically when the suspect clicked the link to a fabricated story bearing the headline “Technology savvy student holds Timberline High School hostage.” Civil libertarians are concerned about the FBI’s impersonation of news organizations to send malware to suspects, and an AP spokesman said the organization finds it “unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP.”
- Suspicious expulsions. An Alabama school district recently expelled more than a dozen students after a review of their social media accounts revealed signs of gang involvement or gun possession. The investigation into the students’ social media accounts was conducted by a former FBI agent whom the school district had hired for $157,000 as a security consultant. Since 12 of the 14 expelled students were African-American, a county commissioner accused the investigation of “effectively targeting or profiling black children in terms of behavior and behavioral issues.”
- Doctor in the mouse. What if you could input a list of your current symptoms to Google, and quickly be connected with a doctor for a brief consultation? For a limited trial period, Google seems to have set up such a system for people who are looking for medical advice online. A lot of the details aren’t known yet, but a Google spokesperson told a Gizmodo reporter, “When you’re searching for basic health information — from conditions like insomnia or food poisoning — our goal is provide you with the most helpful information available.” The feature is part of Google’s Helpouts video-chat service.
- Just shoot me. Data mining has reached the world of selfies. Social media users may not know this, but unless they have marked their photos posted on social media sites as private, the photos can be analyzed in bulk by third parties and used for marketing purposes. Privacy advocates say people should assume that their photos, unless clearly marked as private, are being scanned by market researchers. The rules and regulations applicable to this practice, including the privacy policies of the relevant social media platforms, are not always clear. So if you’ve posted a photo of yourself wearing a particular brand of ski gear on the mountain, some company may be making marketing decisions based on your photo and thousands of others. Soon, it may be targeting ads to you on that basis as well. For our own blog post on this subject, please click here.
- Mere threats? In 2010, Anthony Elonis, a man from western Pennsylvania, made a series of rants on Facebook in the form of rap lyrics that threatened to kill his wife, an FBI agent, and children in a kindergarten class. He claimed that he never intended to kill anyone and that he was merely venting. He also claimed that his comments were protected by the First Amendment. Elonis was nonetheless charged and convicted under a federal threat statute and sentenced to 44 months in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear his appeal in December. The case raises important issues, including whether statements on social media should be treated differently from statements made on the phone or in person. Elonis wrote to the Court, for example, “Modern media allow personal reflections intended for a small audience (or no audience) to be viewed widely by people who are unfamiliar with the context in which the statements were made and thus who may interpret the statements much differently than the speakers intended.”
Big Brother isn’t just watching. A single mother in upstate New York was surprised to find that she had a Facebook page in her name, complete with photos of her, her son, and her niece. She hadn’t actually set up the page. It turned out that she was being investigated as a bit player in a federal drug investigation and that the Drug Enforcement Administration had created the page in her name, without her permission. The page, which has since been taken down, used the woman’s real name as well as photos from her cell phone, which had been seized by the DEA. The DEA even went so far as to send and accept friend requests for the woman. The woman was sentenced to probation and has sued the DEA agent who put up the page. Facebook says impersonating someone to set up a page is a clear violation of its terms of service.
Transparency vs. security. Twitter and other technology and communications companies frequently receive requests from the U.S. government for user data that the government asserts it needs for national security purposes. In the interest of transparency, these companies wish to disclose how many such requests they have received, if any, in a given span of time. The government wants to restrict the dissemination of this information and, earlier this year, it reached a settlement on the issue with Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Yahoo. Twitter did not reach any such settlement and it has now sued the government in U.S. District Court in California, claiming that the government restrictions violate the First Amendment. The government argues that the more is known about its sources and methods in collecting national security data, the less secure the nation will be. This should be an interesting First Amendment case.
In the city there’s a thousand things. There’s been a lot of talk about “the Internet of things.” Google now wants to bring the Internet of things directly to city dwellers. What about Zipcars that broadcast when they’re available, or bus stops that communicate with your mobile device about the next bus arrival? As part of its “Physical Web” initiative, Google is seeking to bring these and similar features to the urban environment. The idea is to interconnect seemingly unconnected physical objects that city dwellers encounter on a daily basis. As a Google designer says, “Just tap and use.”
- Where are the CEOs? According to a new study, fully two-thirds of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 have no personal social media presence at all. And of the ones who do participate in social media, two-thirds use only one of the major networks, usually LinkedIn. Just 42 of the senior executives have Twitter accounts, and many of those are pretty inactive. The same number of the Fortune 500 CEOs use Facebook – still not very many at all. In an age in which virtually every company wants to brand itself on social media, it’s a bit surprising that so many of the top people have no personal experience with it.
- Facebook lawsuit can proceed. A New York state appeals panel has permitted a lawsuit by Facebook against the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to proceed. Facebook had sued the D.A.’s office over search warrants issued to 381 users of the network by the prosecutors in a fraud investigation. The appeals panel rejected prosecutors’ motion to dismiss Facebook’s challenge to the warrants and also gave several technology companies — among them Google, LinkedIn and Twitter — permission to file briefs supporting Facebook’s position. A full appellate hearing will occur in December. The closely watched case pits Fourth Amendment protection against prosecutors’ need for data stored by social media companies.
- Hanging on the Vine. Vine, which began as a network in which people could share bare-bones six-second videos, has become an important venue for pop singers, actors and other entertainers who appeal to younger viewers. One observer said Vine has “an intensive burst perfect for the increasingly short attention span of Generation Z.” Vine is less than two years old but already seems to have found a niche, as top “Viners” have millions of followers on the site.
- Benched judge. Michael Maggio, a state trial judge in Arkansas, was removed from the bench by the state’s highest court after he acknowledged posting confidential details about court cases in social media outlets. The judge was handling a closed adoption involving actress Charlize Theron, and he admitted posting private facts about the case. After a report by a state judicial-discipline commission, he was removed from the bench and prohibited from handling any judicial office in the future. He was found to have violated at least 23 strictures that apply to sitting judges.
- Sweet tweets. According to a study conducted by Twitter, the Twitter accounts of members of casts of television shows get a 228 percent increase in followers if the actors live-tweet their shows. This follows other studies that indicate that TV ratings can go up as a result of live-tweeting. Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, both originated by Shonda Rhimes, are among the shows that have gotten major boosts from the social network.
- Blind spots. Self-driving cars are an excellent example of innovation, and the ones with Google technology have already traveled more than 700,000 miles. But what if a self-driving car doesn’t “see” a new traffic light or a previously nonexistent traffic sign? This could result in traffic citations, or worse. But Google says it’s taking steps towards eliminating this type of problem and that the future of self-driving cars is essentially unlimited.
- Getting personal. As the name suggests, Michigan’s Video Rental Privacy Act limits the ability of companies to disclose information regarding customers’ video rental activities. But does the law cover magazines as well as videos? In a case filed by a consumer who alleged that a magazine company had improperly disclosed her personal information, along with information about the magazines to which she subscribed, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan recently held that the law does in fact apply to magazines. The court noted that the statute is directed to companies “engaged in the business of selling at retail, renting, or lending books or other written materials, sound recordings, or video recordings,” and that magazines constitute “other written materials.”
- Geotargeting crime. In a new effort to use technology to foil credit-card fraud, a company called BillGuard is testing a system that would monitor the precise whereabouts of mobile devices to detect possible payment issues. The tech firm is tracking mobile-phone locations in an attempt to stay one step ahead of fraudsters. Because smartphones are almost always near their owners, the technology would register and flag those occasions when a phone is not near the owner’s credit card. The technology would only be used with the consumer’s consent.
- Death in the digital age. When someone dies, his or her heirs or executor will have broad rights to access the deceased person’s letters, documents and other physical assets. Delaware has just become the first state to enact legislation giving heirs and executors the same rights to access a decedent’s digital assets – including his or her social media accounts – as they have to physical assets. The law only applies to people whose estates are located in Delaware and processed under Delaware law. Companies such as Google oppose laws of this type, asserting that they would lead to privacy violations.
- The drive to curb Glass. As Google Glass becomes more widely available, a number of states are considering legislation that would restrict drivers from using Glass and similar wearables on safety grounds. Even if ultimately adopted, however, would such laws be effective? As first reported in the Wall Street Journal, Prof. Adam Gershowitz of William & Mary Law School, in a recent research paper, argues that such laws would be “practically unenforceable.” Prof. Gershowitz notes that most of the contemplated bills only prohibit using Glass while driving, yet a police officer would have no real way of knowing whether a driver wearing Glass is in fact using the device. And while two bills under consideration would more broadly ban wearing Glass and other head-mounted wearables while behind the wheel, these bills overlook smart watches. (We’ve covered in an earlier blog post the difficulty law enforcement agencies have had going after Glass-wearing drivers under laws adopted in the pre-wearables era; that post can be reviewed here.)
- And while we’re on the topic of driving and technology . . . . Every new popular technology or app spawns new questions of etiquette and proper behavior. In the case of the fast-growing Uber service, lots of people who aren’t Uber drivers find themselves being accosted for a ride by potential passengers. In other words, people keep getting into strangers’ cars. Just make sure that the driver isn’t wearing Glass, okay?
- On the right track? Google reportedly will be testing a new method of targeting mobile users, one which connects the company’s mobile web tracking mechanisms with its mobile app tracking mechanisms, thereby allowing Google and its advertisers to track mobile users as they switch between web surfing and in-app activities. Until recently, advertisers usually have had to treat a mobile user accessing the web as a separate person from the same user accessing a mobile app. Facebook, however, is able to accommodate such cross-usage tracking, putting pressure on Google to develop its own solution to this fundamental challenge.
- Strange bedfellows. Although social media is often viewed as a threat to television, a recent study indicates that, in fact, social media has changed the way many people learn about and view television shows. Having a “second screen” at hand increases viewers’ involvement with their favorite shows.
- For your “what were they thinking” file. A juror in a criminal case in Memphis allegedly sent a Facebook friend request to a defendant charged with aggravated assault. Court personnel discovered the communication after the verdict, which was a unanimous guilty verdict, and the “Facebooking juror” was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.
- Completely liable? A Hong Kong court has found that Google may be liable for defamation based on the words that it used to “auto-complete” a person’s name in a search. In this case, the words that were added implied that the subject of the search was a member of an organized crime group. But Google’s suggestion of these words resulted from its automatic search algorithm; is this enough for liability?
- A guest house in New York’s Hudson River Valley attempted to fine a wedding party that stayed at the guest house $500 for each negative online review of the place. The guest house has since revised its terms to remove the penalty provision and has claimed that it was only joking, but would such a provision have been enforceable in any event?
- If one reads the language in Twitter’s Android settings menu quite literally, it appears that Twitter is about to make a long-expected move into e-commerce and shopping services. Stay tuned.
- 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.