From Twitter to Terrorism

A teen was arrested for Tweeting an airline terrorist threat. A 14 year old Dutch girl named Sarah with twitter name @QueenDemetriax tweeted to American Airlines the following: “@AmericanAir hello my name’s lbrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

In response American Airlines wrote to Sarah from their official Twitter account saying “we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” Moments after their response, Sarah replied saying “I’m just a girl” and that her initial tweet was simply a joke that her friend wrote! She had also posted a tweet apologizing to American Airlines and stating that she is scared now.

Sarah turned herself in to the Dutch police station, where the police department stated that they are taking her tweet seriously since it is an alarming threat. The girl was charged with “posting a false or alarming announcement” under Dutch law. It was unconfirmed whether the FBI was involved or not but she gained thousands of followers on Twitter as a result of this incident. Could this be a new trend in order to gain popularity or recognition? Should Sarah be punished and if so how?

Update:

Others are now tweeting similar tweets @AmericanAir and other airlines. Kale tweeted @SouthwestAir “I bake really good pies and my friends call me ‘the bomb’ am I still allowed to fly?” Donnie Cyrus tweeted @SouthwestAir “@WesleyWalrus is gonna bomb your next few flights.” ArmyJacket tweeted @AmericanAir “I have a bomb under the next plane to take off” There are many other tweets with similar language all aimed at airlines.

There are no reports yet of any of these follow up twitter threats being reported to the appropriate authorities. Are these tweeters going too far? These tweets can potentially be translated into legitimate threats or have they now crossed into the realm of freedom of speech?

Lawyers: There’s an App for That

Both law students and practicing attorneys will tell you the best way to get employment or clients is either networking or referrals. This week, they may have to add a third option: an app.

Jammed Up is currently a website that will be launching soon for IPhone, Android and Blackberry.  Its slogan is “When trouble finds you, you find us!” The site positions itself as a way to easily find a lawyer if you are arrested, merely scroll through the app or website and select one. There are currently 200,000 lawyer listings nationwide, and the site also includes listings for bail bondsmen and private investigators.

 

The website and future app was co-founded by a bail bondsman and a cement flooring contractor from the Bronx. Michael Falzono, one of the founders, stated they are trying to “be an urban legal website for the everyday person.”

 

Lawyers are bound by ethical rules of professional responsibility. One of the major rules concerns solicitation. The American Bar Associations’ Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.3 states, in relevant part:

 

“(a)  A lawyer shall not by in‑person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:

(1)  is a lawyer; or

(2)  has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.”

 

As stated above, referrals from previous clients or friends and family have been the norm for lawyers. Jammed Up, however, seeks to change that. It seems the app and its legal listings come into direct conflict with Rule 7.3, which serves as a model rule to most of the 50 states ethical rules. I would argue being listed on the app could equate to electronic contact for solicitation e.g. Facebook messaging . Why else would you be listed on Jammed Up? However, there is an argument that since it would be prospective clients that would be reaching out to the attorneys, there is no solicitation.

Social media and mobile apps are a continuing trend that the ethical rules have not caught up with. While old laws may be adequate to prosecute new  crimes, the old ethical rules do not address emerging technology in a way that they should.

Source: New York Daily News

Facebook’s questionable expansion further into mobile.

How does a relatively unprofitable company of about 50 employees whose product is a blatant copy of another’s get acquired for 19 billion dollars in five years?  The answer might not be entirely clear, but Facebook shareholders hope that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a good idea after Facebook’s acquisition of mobile messaging app “WhatsApp” for $19 Billion.  WhatsApp users also would like to know what this all means for the service they have deeply integrated into their lives.

WhatsApp had its start by offering a BlackBerry Messenger like experience for mobile devices other than BlackBerrys.  What that means is that this kind of messaging service offers a much richer experience and allows for enhanced speed and security by utilizing internet data services as opposed to a traditional SMS text message.  Today, WhatsApp has a user base of about 450 million monthly active users, with billions of messages being sent every day, and is growing at 1 million users a day.  The company charges its users a dollar a year to use the service, making a profit nowhere near the $19 Billion purchase price by Facebook.  Looking at Facebook’s current ad based revenue it enjoys through its other services it is not farfetched to suspect a change in the monetization strategy of WhatsApp.  Despite these concerns WhatsApp CEO assures the Wall Street Journal that he believes WhatsApp “will stay completely independent and autonomous.”

These kinds of changes may concern the millions who use and trust WhatsApp especially with all of this happening on the heels of a report by Canadian and Dutch agencies having concerns over the privacy of users of WhatsApp due to violations of international privacy law.  The report found that although WhatsApp had made some changes, the report still concluded that “The investigation revealed that WhatsApp was violating certain internationally accepted privacy principles, mainly in relation to the retention, safeguard, and disclosure of personal data.”  Facebook has been no stranger to privacy concerns and controversy and users of WhatsApp will have to take all of this information into account when choosing what mobile messaging app they will like to use.

For now it is uncertain what changes, if any, will come to WhatsApp after this acquisition by Facebook.  With more secure services like BlackBerry Messenger recently going cross-platform consumers will have to consider which companies they want to possibly have access to their conversations and personal information.

In the comments I would love to hear how you message friends (sms, imessage, bbm, whatsapp, kik, facebook messenger, etc) and why you use that service.  Should we be concerned about the violation of privacy laws by some of these companies?  What steps should be taken to protect consumers who utilize these services?

California Law Attempts to Protect our Youths Online

A few weeks ago California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new bill (SB 568) consisting of two distinct laws that will take effect January 1, 2015. The bill’s first law attempts to prevent certain online advertisements from reaching the eyes of minors. Any website or mobile application that is directed to minors, or has knowledge that minors use its service, are prohibited from marketing items including alcohol, firearms, tobacco/cigarettes, drug paraphernalia, UV tanning devices, spray-paints, tattoos and fireworks.

In my opinion, the implementation and regulation of this law will lead to more problems than it will solve. The language of this law is so over-inclusive and ambiguous that it fails to create a clear picture for website operators/advertisers to rely on. No where in the law does it require a website to obtain the ages of its users and without such information how are advertisers supposed to know which websites the law is covering? I’m not so sure that advertisers of the ‘black listed’ items intentionally direct their advertisements at kids in the first place, however, I do understand the desire to filter certain aspects of Internet use when it comes to children.

The bill’s second law, the so-called ‘Online Eraser’ law, requires social media type websites (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like) and applications to allow the removal of public content (post, tweet, etc.) upon request of registered users under the age of 18. Again, I completely understand the rationale behind this law (attempting to help a user erase an embarrassing tweet/post from their youth), but it simply will not work as is. A number of commentators have written the law off as ineffective due to the absence of any language that mentions reposts, retweets, or copies of the original. So although the user may be granted a takedown of their original post the law does nothing to help them further. Considering the user is going through the trouble to takedown such ‘regrettable posts’ it seems only logical that the content will be interesting enough to become a 3rd party’s repost or retweet. Recent court decisions have granted First Amendment protection to specific characteristics of social media so even if the law did refer to these subsequent posts aren’t we clearly venturing into First Amendment territory? Critics to this new California law believe that we are.