Hewlett Packard (HP) has unveiled a new mobile app that retailers can use to stalk people as they shop, to send them targeted ads and promotions. Called SmartShopper, it was unveiled at the Interop conference in Las Vegas at the end of March. It has the ability to send location-based smartphone offers to customers’ iPhones in real time. Promoted by Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, as a way for retailers to monetize their networks and build “tighter relationships with their customers,” this is not the first time that so-called stalker apps have been in the news as being intrusive of consumer privacy. Here, Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry looks at two recent examples of so-called stalker-shopper apps, and legislative attempts to address these new ways of tracking our movements and behavior.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on recent headlines that caused a panic in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency world: The largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, was reporting a loss of nearly 750,000 Bitcoins currency units. (Prominent Bitcoin blogger Ryan Selkis made a post to his blog in which he described an unverified report of the loss.) This figure would be worth above $400 million at current prices. As of now, Mt. Gox, which is incorporated in Japan, has filed for insolvency protection there. Ramasastry comments on key events, and possible future reforms that could be put in place so that this situation does not recur.
Justia columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the question whether Bitcoin—a so-called virtual peer-to-peer currency—should be regulated by the U.S. and/or States within it. (Along with the Treasury Department, California and New York are also contemplating possible legal or regulatory measures regarding Bitcoin.) Ramasastry looks at recent attempts to extend legal recognition to Bitcoin, and explains why she believes this is a good thing. She adds that while it may be good to clarify that legitimate businesses and consumers may use Bitcoin, it may be too early now to determine what, if any, further measures are needed to provide consumers with needed safety with respect to their Bitcoins.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the President John Dean continues his series of columns regarding the monitoring of Apple that is connected to an antitrust action. Dean takes sharp issue regarding both how the monitoring is being done, and the costs that are being imposed on Apple as a result.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a possible regulatory issue regarding Spokeo, which bills itself as a people-finder service. Spokeo warns subscribers that they cannot use its information to make decisions about a person’s employment, to make a credit determination, or to put the information to uses that would be covered by a federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). But as a recent lawsuit illustrates, Spokeo’s data may be being used for such purposes, regardless, raising the possibility of the need for better safeguards.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the story of Josh Finkelman, 28 years old, the president of a warehouse business, and a serious football fan, who went looking for Super Bowl XLVIII tickets and ended up taking on the entire National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl ticketing system. Dean predicts that Finkelman’s lawsuit, if it goes forward, could be a doozy, and explains the New Jersey law that may make a lawsuit possible.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a situation involving Mike Seay and his wife, who have been mourning the loss of their daughter, Ashley, for just under a year. Last week, the Seays received an unwelcome reminder of Ashley’s untimely passing in the mail: It came in the form of a flier from the office supply store OfficeMax, addressed to Ashley’s father, in these words: ”Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” In addition to that egregious incident, Ramasastry also discusses the growing phenomenon of data aggregation, and the fact that the large-scale collection of data leads to harmful consequences for consumers when companies keep tabs on us in ways that are unrelated to our ordinary commercial transactions, as the Seays painfully learned.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry explains how even a massive data breach like the one Target recently experienced may not lead to a winnable lawsuit, although it has sullied the company's reputation. FTC action may possibly ensue, but class actions may not work in this context, for reasons that Ramasastry explains.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on school districts' sharing student data with private companies that manage various functions for the districts. How did this happen? Because, Ramasastry notes, in recent years, Congress has made changes to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that have created a potentially broad loophole regarding who has access to student data.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the antitrust case against Apple, charging the company with conspiring to price fix e-books. Dean questions the judgment of the Southern District of New York judge, Denise Cote who was overseeing the case before it went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In particular, Dean questions the decisions of Apple's court-ordered external monitor, Michael Bromwich, for reasons that Dean details.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a Utah bill that, if passed, would allow teens to erase their social-media footprints permanently. Ramasastry notes that teens can have their juvenile criminal records sealed, and can repudiate contracts they have signed. Thus, she notes, there are precedents under which minors are treated differently from adults under the law. Ramasastry also covers related events in California, and notes that we should focus, too, on how social-media postings can, and cannot, be able to be legally used in the future, especially when jobs and credit are concerned.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on why and how debt collection is often done by text, as opposed to other means, describing the sources that pertain to this area of law, including federal statutes. Ramasastry argues that this practice of texting ought to be prohibited unless consumers explicitly consent to it, and discusses a recent FTC enforcement action in this area of law.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the case of Sarah Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment, which he notes raises a fundamental question about the scope of immunity from defamation liability for Internet Service Providers under Section 230 of The Communications Decency Act (CDA). Dean predicts that the case will be watched closely, as an indication of whether the courts will, in fact, start policing the nearly unlimited immunity that has evolved under Section 230. There are good arguments on both sides of this case, Dean notes, making the case an especially interesting one.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on consumers' problems with correcting credit reports that are inaccurate and damaging. She also describes a related FTC initiative in this area that helps consumers regain their good names, and their good credit, when credit-report errors have unfairly soiled them.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the controversy in the U.K. regarding Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for government Internet filtering. She notes that while almost everyone agrees that children’s Internet access should be regulated, the Cameron Plan for such regulation has numerous flaws—including an overbreadth that would unfairly censor worthwhile and even educational material from which teenagers would benefit. Ramasastry notes that British teens may well find a way to avoid the filters, or change them by secretly getting their parents’ IDs. She also contrasts the U.K. proposal on filtering, with the First Amendment-informed U.S. approach to the same issues when they have arisen here vis-à-vis libraries and schools.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the ways in which retailers at brick-and-mortar stores are profiling us. She notes that most of us realize that online stores can easily profile us, but many of us may not know that brick-and-mortar stores do the same thing in a different context. Ramasastry describes how these stores may track what we look at, where we browse and linger, what we might pick up and examine but then not ultimately buy. What department or section do we head for? How long do we spend in the sections of the store that we visit? Retailers now have access to this data due to our cellphones, but Ramasastry notes that we can thwart the surveillance by turning off the Wi-Fi feature of your phone, or putting it on airplane mode. In addition, Ramasastry urges, we ought to know when we are being monitored.
Attorneys Jonathan E. Turco and David O. Klein comment on how companies can engage in perfectly legal multilevel marketing without running the risk of engaging in an illegal pyramid scheme. Turco and Klein detail how the two differ; explain the rules of the road regarding multilevel marketing; and comment on both state and federal regulations in this area of law, including a set of FTC safeguards.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses Instragram’s issue with users’ rating the appearance of young girls in beauty pageants online, and leaving comments both positive and negative. Ramasastry notes that such pageants may raise legal issues and privacy concerns and may trigger issues under COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the regulation of virtual currencies, such as Bitcoins, that are created by private companies, and that can be used for either legal and illegal transactions, due to their ability to afford anonymity to users. Ramasastry also covers the new rules that the US Treasury will apply to such currencies; and why the rules’ guidance currently may not be sufficient to guide administrators or exchanges of new virtual currencies in a way that will provide law enforcement with the leads they need to tackle virtual money laundering.
Attorneys David O. Klein and Jonathan B. Turco comment on the law regarding sweepstakes, and the risks of failing to abide by that law, which could entail very significant liability. Klein and Turco note key distinctions in this area of law, such as the distinction between games of chance and games of skill, discuss how to remove the element of consideration from a game, and cover some additional sweepstakes complexities. Finally, they make clear the difference between sweepstakes and Internet sweepstakes cafes, which are simply a set of casino-style games.