All posts by Eric J. Sinrod

Another State Passes Law to Protect Consumer Data

States are taking online consumer protection into their own hands given a perceived lack of sufficient protection at the federal level. Maine now has jumped in.

Indeed, Janet Mills, the Governor of Maine, just signed into law arguably one of the strongest privacy bills in the country. This law, called the Act to Protect the Privacy of Online Consumer Information and which goes into effect on July 1, prohibits internet service providers from using, selling, or distributing data from consumers without obtaining their consent. And, according to The Hill, this new state law bars internet service providers from refusing to serve consumers, penalizing consumers or offering them discounts to seek to gain their permission to sell their data.

Consumer Affairs and Privacy

This bold step by Maine follows in the footsteps of California, a state which passed a complicated online privacy law last year. That law has been both applauded by privacy activists and criticized in certain respects by the tech industry.

At first blush, the new Maine law may be even more robust than the California law. The Maine law is opt-in in nature, requiring explicit consent from consumers before internet service providers can sell their data. The California law is opt-out in effect, making consumers affirmatively request that their data not be sold.

So, what is the genesis of the Maine law? It seems patterned after a prior Federal Communications measure — a measure that was removed by the Trump administration in 2017. Perhaps it is because of this nullification that states are entering the fray to seek greater consumer protection.

This is reminiscent of when states passed laws dealing unsolicited commercial email before Congress enacted the Can-Spam Act at the federal level. It also is a reminder of the various state laws addressing data breach notifications.

Legislative Patchwork and Protection

The creation of a patchwork of different state laws is not necessarily ideal. It is difficult for internet service providers to know how to guide their practices, when their customers are located in various states with different laws.

When in doubt, in such a context, internet service providers arguably would be best served by honoring the dictates of the state with the most strict law on the books — to make sure that they are not violating any law. If they are complying with the strictest law, they then also should in compliance with more permissive laws in other states. (Internet service providers obviously should seek specific legal advice from skilled counsel).

A strict law in just one state, even a small state like Maine, can have a major impact when the federal government creates a void.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him atejsinrod@duanemorris.com with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

Social Media Companies Seek Government Content Regulation?

Long ago in internet time, way back in the 1990s, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA). A key feature of the CDA is Section 230 of the statute. In essence, Section 230 generally creates immunity for internet service providers (ISPs) with respect to third-party content posted on their sites. Congress desired a strong and robust commercial internet that would be good for the economy. Congress did not believe that the commercial internet would thrive if ISPs were saddled with the incredible cost and burden of monitoring the content on their sites and having the tremendous task of deciding content that could remain and content that should be removed from their sites. Continue reading Social Media Companies Seek Government Content Regulation?

The Federal Government Seeks to Get Hip to Artificial Intelligence

Are the robots going to take over the world?! There is no question that artificial intelligence is finding its way into our everyday lives. Some people love interacting with Alexa as part of their daily activities. Others worry about the loss of autonomy and privacy that accompanies the burgeoning AI world, and some dread that someday humans may become secondary to the artificial intelligence we have created. The AI train already is leaving the station, and before it gets too far down the tracks, what is the federal government doing in terms of potential regulation?

In a time of deep partisan divide in which Republicans and Democrats in Congress disagree on practically everything, a bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced a bill to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence in the federal government. Continue reading The Federal Government Seeks to Get Hip to Artificial Intelligence

Too Much Screen Time Adversely Impacting Teenagers?

We keep hearing about how teenagers have gone inward. They spend more and more time staring into their televisions, computers and handheld devices. Indeed, they can be online practically anywhere, anytime. We have been told that the failure of teens to engage as much in the real world around them is having negative affects, with increasing rates of depression and anxiety, as well as heightened risks of self harm and harm inflicted on others.

But are the reported risks and impacts of increased screen time by teenagers actually based in fact? Not so much, according to a recent study by Oxford University in the journal Psychological Science and as reported by The Guardian. The bottom line conclusion of the study is that screen time has very little correlation to the psychological well-being of teenagers. Surprised? Read on. Continue reading Too Much Screen Time Adversely Impacting Teenagers?

Involuntary Technological Encroachment

Once upon a time, the advent of the radio was considered a major advancement, and families in the evenings would huddle together and listen to favorite radio shows. Not that much later, television became the big thing. And with TV, it was easy to sit passively by as a couch potato watching one show after another.

Indeed, there is the following joke: A man says to his wife, “Honey, if I ever became a vegetable, please pull the plug.” So, the wife walks past her husband on the couch over to the television set and pulls its plug from the wall electrical socket.

Continue reading Involuntary Technological Encroachment

New Law Could Allow for Phone Searches After Car Crashes

For many decades, Americans have taken to the roads to get from one place to another. And, in more recent times, Americans have become addicted to their smartphones — texting, posting, online searching, making purchases, among many other uses of their devices.

Put the two together, driving and smartphone use, and there is a clear recipe for potential disaster. Driving an automobile already is an inherently dangerous activity. Utmost attention should be paid to driving because split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and health versus injury or death. Continue reading New Law Could Allow for Phone Searches After Car Crashes

Will California Consumers Share in Wealth From Their Online Data?

Technology companies collect all sorts of data on their users. The terms of service located on their web sites spell out for users the types of data collected and how that data will be used. The data collected from users is extremely useful for tech companies in terms of how to market to them further, and accordingly, that data has tremendous economic value.

Along comes the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, who according to APNews.com, has announced that California consumers should share in the billions of dollars that tech companies make on personal data they collect. Indeed, Governor Newsom reportedly has asked his aides to come up with a proposal for what has been referred to as a “data dividend” for California residents. However, it is not clear whether he envisions a tax on tech companies, refunds to users, or some other idea.

Continue reading Will California Consumers Share in Wealth From Their Online Data?

Internet Companies Must Take Down Anti-Government Content in Vietnam

Question: How free is the internet? Answer: Less than free in certain countries. Further answer: And becoming even less free in other countries — witness Vietnam, discussed briefly below.

At the start of this month, a law went into effect in Vietnam that mandates removal of online content considered offensive to the Vietnamese government. According to SoyaCincau.com, the law was put on the books “under the pretenses” of Cybersecurity, but what it actually does is require the takedown of content deemed “toxic” by the government.

Continue reading Internet Companies Must Take Down Anti-Government Content in Vietnam

Online Gambling Potentially Impacted by New Justice Department Opinion

The Wire Act was enacted in 1961. That statute makes it a criminal offense to transmit information that seeks to promote interstate or foreign wagering.

Fast-forward to September, 2011: the Obama-era Justice Department rendered an opinion that only sports betting came with the ambit of the Wire Act. Prior to that, the Justice Department applied the statute to non-sports gambling.

Continue reading Online Gambling Potentially Impacted by New Justice Department Opinion

Amazon Sales Through The Roof This Holiday Season

Once upon a time less than 20 years ago, there was concern that people would not trust providing their credit card information to make online purchases. Indeed, there was a question as to whether people would take the plunge and order holiday presents online. My, how times have changed!  Continue reading Amazon Sales Through The Roof This Holiday Season