Electronic Privacy: A Moderate FTC Attack on Advertisers and Commercial Exploitation of User History Information

Obviously, one of the biggest concerns for a lawyer is the confidentiality of client records and work product.

As recently reported on the Huffington Post, there are a number of major players on the Internet who see it fit to trawl for user information when visiting their sites.  While maybe not a big deal, other than the unwanted hassle of targeted advertising, other sensitive information could be a real problem where one is storing client files on the Cloud or where similar factors present themselves.

While one could say that he/she will never be using the Cloud to store client data, I think the reality is that there may be no realistic alternatives in the future for what we consider to be standard storage now (i.e., hard drives, USB drives, external drives, etc.).  It’s not all bad if we plan now and place a privacy/security infrastructure in place now.

Historically, the confidentiality between the learned professions and those are served by those professions has been largely respected and protected.  Current technology does not eliminate the legitimate public policy concerns underlying these privileges against invasion, disclosure, production, and admission into evidence before a court.  For better or worse, most public policy issues express themselves through the regulatory environment and the creation of a whole new set of laws and restrictions (as though we don’t have enough laws on the books).  This being said, until there is a way of getting people to better behave themselves, we will have to settle for making a complex legal system even more so.

Realistically, I think that we will all eventually end up storing and processing much of our information through services such as Dropbox, Windows Live, Google Docs, RocketMatter.com, and other cloud-based servers.  While it is easy to say that hard storage will never be eliminated, the same could have been said of the cassette tape, VCRs, eight-tracks, zip drives, and a whole host of other tech items that seemed to earn what we thought was a permanent place in our daily lives.  While the main focus on these forms of storage media were related to intellectual property rights, privilege issues have not been widely discussed in the legal field.  It may simply be that lawyers, as a profession, are way behind the technological curve.  However, I am fairly certain that our clients not only expect confidentiality of information, they rightfully demand it.

In a recent review by me of the Rutter Group’s treatise on Professional Responsibility, there was quite a bit of information in the privacy concerns that arise as a matter of professional ethics.  Most of the information related to state bars coming down on lawyers for advertising violations.  There was also a brief discourse on how Facebook and other social networking sites affect bias of the judiciary, public perception, and client confidentiality.  What was not provided was a solution to how attorneys can stay competitive, be environmentally friendly, and how they might protect information in a world of data retention that changes and advances by the day.  Thus, this all becomes an issue about what we are all willing to do in order to protect not only confidential client information, but our own reasonable expectations of privacy in our personal lives as professionals and regular citizens/consumers.

Notwithstanding the privacy concerns within our specific profession, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working on some proposals designed to address the invasions of privacy occasioned by some of the sites specifically mentioned in the Huffington Post article.

In the report, the FTC asserts that, “Companies should incorporate substantive privacy protections into theirpractices, such as data security, reasonable collection limits, sound retention practices, and data accuracy,” and that, “Companies should maintain comprehensive data managementprocedures throughout the life cycle of their products and services.”  There are also a number of practical proposals set out as well:

  • Privacy notices should be clearer, shorter, and more standardized, to enable better comprehension and comparison of privacy practices.
  • Companies should provide reasonable access to the consumer data they maintain; the extent of access should be proportionate to thesensitivity of the data and the nature of its use.
  • Companies must provide prominent disclosures and obtain affirmative express consent before using consumer data in a materially different manner than claimed when the data was collected.
  • All stakeholders should work to educate consumers about commercial data privacy practices.

While I am ordinarily no fan of governmental interference with a Free Market Economy, I must say that I do agree with the conclusion that many of the cooking tracking, user-history exploitation, and unwanted targeted advertising schemes are the product of a lack of education on the part of Internet users.

Moreover, unlike the voluntary decision to go to a store or similar place, the decision to utilize the internet is one that often involves making a connection from one’s private location and the associated plethora of data that rests on our personal or business computers.  As indicated above, this is a huge concern especially for professionals who retain confidential information with respect to their clients.  One can only sadly imagine the potential liability exposure should a marketer get a hold of professional-user information that references specific clients and sensitive data associated with them.

Keeping up on these issues is a must for not only those of us in positions of trust, I strongly believe that there is a legitimate issue of safety that deserves the expenditure of governmental resources for preventative measures and, at a minimum, for the education of those who use the internet.

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Electronic Signatures Made Easy

Probably one of the most important things we do as lawyers is make sure that documents, pleadings, declarations, affidavits, contracts, and other documents are signed by the relevant parties or ourselves.

While security and authenticity of signatures is always an issue, there are ways to deal with those issues as a matter of available technology, even from your iPhone or iPad.

One of the apps I just came across recently is Autograph by the makers of the Pogo stylus.  This app is extremely easy to use and is able to integrate itself with pdf documents and other documents which can be electronically signed.  Autograph also allows you to e-mail or save any signatures that you generate from your end or where the client has provided an e-signature to you.

I really like the simplicity of Autograph and would like to see some security features added soon.  I highly recommend that you check out this app for yourself.  An example of my own signature is just above the YouTube video above.  Once you get a feel for the stylus, it is very easy to get your signature into electronic form.

Noterize: Mark Up Docs with this Basic App

Noterize is an app that I have used when I’m in a pinch to mark up a pdf exhibit and just need to make some basic notes as to the document along with any high-lighting.  I have mixed feelings about this app because I do not find the user interface to be all that particularly friendly.  What is likeable about the app is the fact that it is easy to import documents from Dropbox. Also, legal notes and comments can be placed directly onto the documents.  Adding an all encompassing toolbar for easy navigation would be a great improvement to an otherwise good app.

I would recommend this app to anyone looking for an adjunct to Noteshelf, which is very user friendly and intuitive.  With respect to both apps, having Adobe‘s Acrobat Pro 10 is an absolute must.  If you are inclined to use your Mac, PDFPenPro 5 is also a great user-friendly .pdf creation, editing, and sharing program for Mac.  I would give Noterize an 8 out of 10.  It could be a near perfect app with some work on the UI.  You can click on either image below for additional reviews on this app.  The pic below these is an actual screen shot showing the high lighting function, comments, and signature ability.

Time Master: Great For Billing Anywhere at Any Time !!!

Time Master Main Screen

The Time Master app is another of my most used apps, especially when I am out of town. This app costs about $10.00 and is incredibly useful for keeping track of your time and billing. On-Core, the developer, says, “The best, most powerful, comprehensive, easy to use time keeping app on the Apple Store is now even better. Time Master has the highest average rating of all the time management apps. And the other apps don’t come close to our new optional billing module. Our invoices are totally professional.”

“Our biggest fans are consultants, attorneys and contractors. Time Master is used by individuals working independently, to attorneys from some of the biggest law firms in the USA. If you need to keep track of time and expenses, you can’t find a better app than Time Master. We at On-Core are IT professionals, so we have firsthand experience with billing and keeping track of time. We know from personal experience what is needed and have made this app so flexible, it works for virtually anyone in any industry in which time needs to be kept.

Are you losing money due to poor record keeping? Did you forget to log the time you spent on a small task and not bill for it last month? On-Core Time Master simplifies the process by having an app handy on your iPhone or iPod Touch, ready at all times, for you to track your time. You can quickly start tracking time with a few taps on the screen. Those little minutes add up every month and this application will easily pay for itself in one month! We think that you will find Time Master the ultimate time tracking application, with its superior ease of use, for your iPhone or iPod Touch.”

Apple Store’s website, states that the app provides the following features:

  • Track time by start, stop and/or by duration
  • Sessions option can track “punch-in & out” for a single time entry
  • Single or multiple running timers
  • Timers keep running even if you are not running the app
  • Time Entries are by Client and can be sub-categorized by Project and Tasks
  • Powerful billing rates that can be defined in the following priority: Global, by Client, by Project, by Task or Custom per entry
  • Powerful Time Rounding: by hour, minutes and/or seconds
  • Multiple Filters to sort and view only what you need to see
  • Define the day of the week that your work week starts
  • Track Expenses – from Mileage to Meals to Burning CD’s and anything else you want to define
  • Display Reports right on your device that you can view and export via email in HTML and/or CSV format. By Client or Timesheet
  • Copy Client information from your Contacts list
  • Dual taxes for countries such as Canada
  • Import IIF files
  • Full Backup & Restore capabilities

I have personally used almost all of the features and have been pleased all the way around.  The app has been updated several times since I bought it and it does get better each time.   The app seems very well suited for use by any professional who is required to keep his or her time and is simple to use, especially once you have input most of your client information over time.  Probably the biggest task is setting up your database of clients, billable entries, and related project/matter information.

Noteworthy are the facts that the app is compatible with Quickbooks, it can be synchronized between two devices (Ipad and your Iphone), and it will allow you to import contacts information from Outlook, AOL, or other address books.  Lastly, Time Master provides you with the ability to invoice immediately via e-mail and to print invoices as a .pdf file.

I give this app the highest recommendation after having regularly used it for the last year plus.

Trial Technology on the IPad – Readdle Docs Handler

After being in trial for several weeks on end, I have had the opportunity to review a number of apps through a ‘trial by fire.’  This review is just one of several upcoming looks at apps used in trial by my office.  One of the outstanding apps to have survived the ordeal was Readdle.  Readdle is a documents editor, organizer and reviewer.  What was particularly good about the app is the ability to easily organize exhibits, put them in a folder, and quickly review them during trial.  In one particular matter, I had about 1500 pages of exhibits and was able to easily flip through them, label them, and coordinate them with the hard copy exhibits in the parties’ binders.  The app is compatible with Rich Text,  Word (.doc) and Acrobat (.pdf) formats.  Truth be known, however, that it does not do well with pleadings done in Word and the highlighting function in .pdf is not the easiest or best out there.  If Readdle could easily convert .pdf files to an image file, like Noterize (which makes highlighting easy on such files), this would be a nearly perfect trial lawyers’ app.  The app works with Dropbox, e-mailing, MobileMe, GoogleDocs, and Safari.  Overall, this is a very good app with lots of potential.  I would recommend this to any lawyer who needs to review txt, doc, pdf files during trials, depos, or just in an everyday context.

List of Essential Android Apps

Here’s Gizmodo.com’s list of essential Android apps for those of you who are using this platform. Samsung’s Galaxy is Android-based as well as many smartphones out on the market now.  Documents to Go, LogMeIn, and Evernote are featured.  These three apps are great for the legal profession for text editing, remote access to your office computer, and a great app for taking notes, uploading pdf files, and documents.  With wireless or 3G access at court, each of these apps have proven to be quite valuable in preparing for trial, managing data, and looking at exhibits.