Archive for February, 2010
This week’s Daily Record column is entitled “Social media, geolocation and privacy, oh my!”
Social media, geolocation and privacy, oh my!
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. … It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug into your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
— George Orwell, “1984”
Privacy issues are taking center stage as we enter an increasingly connected world.
Our online activities are carefully monitored and meticulously tracked by some of the biggest players, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. Our individual online footprints, from the Web sites we visit, the items we purchase, the people with whom we communicate, to the locations where we access the Internet, are extremely valuable commodities that are increasingly sought after.
The battle to capture, and profit from, the information long has been decried by privacy advocates and now is resulting in a flurry of legal activity.
Earlier this month, a class action lawsuit was filed against Facebook in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges the modifications Facebook implemented to the privacy settings of its social networking at the end of 2009 have, contrary to the company’s assertions, wrongfully reduced the privacy protections of Facebook users.
Similarly, last week a complaint was filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, alleging Google’s new social networking service, Google Buzz, violated its users’ privacy rights and may have involved unfair business practices. Google has since addressed some of the privacy concerns by revising aspects of the service, but concerns remain and some of the damage cannot be undone.
One of the chief complaints registered by many users about Google Buzz, and one that was of particular concern to attorneys, was that, by default, the service automatically “followed” a user’s most frequent contacts and made the follower list viewable to the general public. In other words, clients with whom attorneys frequently e-mailed appeared on a public list as a “follower” of that attorney. Clearly the automatic, default publication of an attorney-client relationship raised issues of attorney- client privilege and, rightfully, alarmed attorneys nationwide who unknowingly activated the service.
Another complaint regarding Google Buzz is that, when accessed using a mobile device, the user’s location is broadcast to the world. Such geolocation-based social media include Google Buzz and another popular newcomer, Foursquare. Geolocation apps are becoming all the rage, but are raising serious privacy issues.
In response to those concerns, PleaseRobMe (www.pleaserobme.com) was created. The Web site was designed to raise awareness of the dangers of broadcasting a user’s location to the world and lists people’s public geolocation posts as they occur. As explained by the developers: “The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”
Internet-based communications and social networks raise a host of thorny privacy issues that have yet to be addressed by the courts, and likewise have not been fully vetted in the world of public opinion.
What of the leaders of the companies harvesting our online footprints, and sharing the data with the world for profit? What do they have to say about how their efforts affect our personal lives and our privacy? “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said.
I’ll be speaking at the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law’s annual Symposia on May 7th in Philadelphia. The panel is entitled: “The New Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn-Blessing or Plague?”
We’ll be discussing the following issues:
- How social media is making company information – be true or false, good or bad – can strengthen or damage a corporation or individual brand
- The role legal counsel should have in managing this information. What can be done to protect an organization?
- Opportunities and challenges of social media and provide practical solutions for legal counsel to assist their clients
You can learn more about the program and the entire symposia here. Hope to see you there!
I recently began guest blogging at the Firmex Online Document and Collaboration blog. My posts appear every Tuesday. If you’re interested in cloud computing and other technology issues for lawyers you may enjoy these posts.
Here are some of my most recent posts:
Last week, I wrote a special edition Daily Record column entitled “You say you want in Internet revolution.”
You say you want an Internet revolution
“The Internet has been the most fundamental change during my lifetime and for hundreds of years. Someone the other day said, ‘It’s the biggest thing since Guten- berg,’ and then someone else said ‘No, it’s the biggest thing since the invention of writing.’”
— Rupert Murdoch
To many lawyers, the Internet and the technologies that have sprung forth from it are mere child’s play.
Those lawyers seem unable, or unwilling, to grasp that a fundamental shift has occurred, one that affects every aspect of every business, including their own. Those lawyers are ignoring reality, to their detriment.
It is indisputable that Internet-based technologies are changing the world as we know it at an unprecedented rate. Lawyers must adapt and realize that this rapidly changing phenomenon can, and is, affecting the practice of law.
In New York, for example, lawyers must learn how to file pleadings electronically. E-filing is now mandatory for certain types of cases in certain counties in New York, as explained by one of my co-panelists at the New York State Bar Association’s annual meeting, Jeff Carucci, the statewide coordinator for e-filing.
As he explained it, if you have access to a computer and an Internet connection, you must e-file your documents. E-filing is mandatory for certain types of cases in the affected counties and, essentially, there are no exceptions.
The mandate should be an eye opener for most New York attorneys — clearly change is afoot if the state Office of Court Administration is embracing e-filing. The Internet no longer can be ignored by lawyers in New York.
Two Internet technologies predicted by many leading pundits to be of paramount importance in the coming year are social media and cloud computing. I wholeheartedly agree with that prediction; however, it’s possible my view is slightly skewed since I’m writing a book about each of those topics, as they relate to the legal field. Both will be published by the American Bar Association by the end of the year.
Nevertheless, I hold firm in my belief that both technologies are game changers on a grand scale. Neither would exist if not for the Internet. They are part of the Internet revolution, and are changing the world as we know it. Social media is changing the ways in which people communicate, connect, create and collaborate. Participation in social media is growing at an exponential rate and people of all ages are now participating. My 84- year-old grandfather recently joined Facebook. It’s for that very reason businesses large and small are taking notice of social media and engaging with their customers on social media platforms.
Just last week I posted on Twitter that I was enjoying JetBlue’s free wifi hotspot while waiting for my flight. Moments later I received a non-automated response on Twitter from JetBlue. Now that’s customer service!
Similarly, cloud computing is changing the ways in which business is being conducted, allowing small businesses to compete with much larger ones. It levels
the playing field by making it possible for small businesses to share computing resources rather than having local servers or personal devices to handle applications.
In my opinion, cloud computing and social media are not passing fads, rather they represent a fundamental shift in the ways information is collected, processed and disseminated.
In recent years I’ve had countless conversations with lawyers about the technologies and have expressed my belief that they are game changers. Much of the time, my assertions are met with skepticism, and a fairly universal look that can be described only as mocking cynicism. The lawyers who respond in that fashion then haughtily inform me these, and other Internet technologies, are irrelevant to their practices.
A handful of lawyers, however, respond with curiosity. They ask questions and inquire about additional sources of information.
Those lawyers — the curious ones — will survive and thrive in the Internet age, regardless whether they choose to incorporate social media or cloud computing into their practice. Their willingness to learn about emerging technologies, rather than defensively dismissing them outright, makes all the difference.
Intelligence, intuition, on display at LegalTech
Lawyers tackling troubles of the digital age
NEW YORK CITY — Thousands attended LegalTech New York this week in Manhattan, hoping to catch up on the latest legal technologies and innovations.
The annual LegalTech conference is sponsored by ALM with the goal of helping lawyers and law firms learn about the latest advances in legal-related technology.
LegalTech tends to draw attendees from large law firms, ranging from attorneys to IT staff, although firms of all sizes are represented. Multiple educational tracks focused on a variety of legal technology issues, from ediscovery to knowledge management, cloud computing and social media.
The main exhibit floor included hundreds of booths featuring legal technology products, most of which focused on enterprise level solutions and ediscovery technologies. In keeping with the general trend of increased interest in cloud computing, this year’s event featured much greater focus on cloud computing products an alternatives than last year’s.
A major conference draw of the conference was Wednesday morning’s keynote presentation — “I3: The New Convergence of Intelligence, Intuition and Information” — which featured a panel including Malcolm Gladwell, the New York Times best selling author of “Blink” and “Outliers”; Thomson Reuters Chief Strategy Officer David Craig and Dr. Lisa Sanders, New York Times Magazine Diagnosis Columnist and technical advisor to the television program “House, M.D.”
Their discussion centered on the proposition that the world increasingly suffers from information overload, with the potential to overwhelm users if it’s not properly managed.
Craig served as the moderator, kicking things off with a discussion of Moore’s Law, which states that every two years, the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit will double. Moore’s Law predicts, in other words, that the processing power of computers doubles every two years.
Craig said that prediction already has proven true, and that people are creating and storing more information than ever before, resulting in an information overload he described as a “tsunami of information.”
He cited statistics regarding Westlaw use, noting that in the last year alone, more than 2 billion searches were performed using Westlaw. Craig questioned the value of the increasing accessibility of information and the speed at which it is available, and said it resulted in a surface review of information rather than an in-depth analysis. Craig posed two questions: Does access to more information allow us to make better decisions, and are underlying information gathering systems making users more effective or end up bogging them down?
Gladwell said a chief issue is how best to assist decision makers in making sense of the morass of information provided to them. He discussed a study of the decision making processes of emergency room physicians who were failing to accurately diagnose heart attacks. That study determined the physicians simply were overloaded with data, ultimately preventing them from making accurate assessments of patients’ symptoms. Physicians who were provided with a decision aid that forced them to consider only four factors when assessing patients ultimately made far more accurate diagnoses, he said.
Gladwell said the underlying issue that led to the inaccuracies occurred because the doctors’ intuition was failing them. Failures appeared to occur for three reasons: Intuition is a mysterious process deeply rooted in the subconscious; unaided expert decision-making is fragile and easily infected by biases and intuition is frugal, working best when an expert is presented with less information rather than more.
Providing people with less, more pertinent information prevents them from becoming sidetracked by distractions, he said.
Sanders agreed intuition can be important in making decisions, and said the ability to ignore irrelevant information can make all the difference when making an accurate diagnosis, for instance. She stressed that more information is not necessary, but better information.
Craig concluded the session by noting that although technology permits users to access and store more information than ever before, the phenomenon is not necessarily a good thing. Information overload can result in faulty decision making as well as an inability to even reach a decision due to the sheer volume of information and the inability to process it.
Increased access to information is good, Craig noted, but the ability to to locate and quickly process useful information is key.
“People … especially people in positions of power … have invested a tremendous amount of effort and time to get where they are. They really don’t want to hear that we’re on the wrong path, that we’ve got to shift gears and start thinking differently.”
— DAVID SUZUKI
I am a staunch proponent of cloud computing and strongly believe it is the future of computing for the legal profession.
Granted, legal cloud computing platforms and services present a number of thorny ethical and security issues, but legal cloud computing providers are very responsive and receptive to the very valid concerns raised by lawyers in that regard.
In its current form, cloud computing for lawyers is not perfect, but it’s a viable alternative to traditional desktop software for many lawyers, especially solos and small firms. As the technology and products improve, the technology will become a more palatable alternative for large and small firms alike.
Of course, that’s just my opinion — and it’s one that I express often. When I do so, I am generally met with skepticism from most lawyers — a reaction I’ve become quite used to.
When I discuss my vision of cloud computing in the legal field with legal IT personnel, however, the reaction I generally encounter is one that can only be described as downright hostility.
At first, I was puzzled by the phenomenon. Now realize it’s simply a matter of self-preservation for those folks.
They’re wary of emerging cloud computing technologies because of a very real and vested interest in clinging to the status quo, since the mass adoption of cloud computing by law firms threatens the existence of their job functions as they now exist.
As Nicholas Carr explains in “The Big Switch,” the future of in-house IT personnel is questionable as businesses transition to using cloud computing platforms and storing their data in the cloud:
In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form. It will have little left to do once the bulk of business com- puting shifts out of private data centers and into ‘the cloud.’ Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly without the need for legions of technical specialists.
The gradual shift toward cloud computing does not mean IT professionals will be out of work. Rather, it simply means they must be flexible, open minded and willing to adapt to the changing IT landscape. IT jobs are not disappearing, they are merely changing.
For example, while demands for in-house IT personnel continue to decline, demand for virtualization pros skilled in cloud computing has increased by 21 percent from last year, according to recent studies analyzing job hiring data and classified ads.
The bottom line is that the future is not bleak for in-house legal IT personnel — it’s simply different. Cloud computing represents change on a grand scale and while the mass adoption of cloud computing platforms threatens the jobs of some IT staff, it will likely transform the jobs of others and promises to alter the internal structure of law firms.
No doubt, change and uncertainty can be scary, but desperately clinging to the status quo out of fear does a disservice to both the legal and IT professions and, ultimately, will fail.
A better alternative is to embrace change and find new opportunities in the emerging legal technology landscape.
I’m very excited to announce that I’m writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that the American Bar Association will be publishing at the end of 2010.
This book will explain the concept of cloud computing, including SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS platforms, and will provide lawyers with an overview of why cloud computing is becoming increasingly common and why it will become an increasingly evident alternative to traditional software systems. I’ll also discuss the legal and ethical issues presented by lawyers using cloud computing platforms in their law practices and will cover the security issues presented as well.
I would greatly appreciate feedback from my readers as to what you would like a book about cloud computing to cover. Are there any topics that you think absolutely must be covered? What interests you the most? What are you biggest concerns about cloud computing?
Please leave any feedback in the comments below or contact me via email.
Thanks in advance for your feedback. I want to make this book as useful as possible for attorneys.
Also, I just finished writing a book about social media for lawyers with Carolyn Elefant, tentatively titled “Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier” that will also be published by the American Bar Association in late March. You can find an excerpt of the book here. I’ll provide you with more information about the book closer to its release date.
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