Kashmir Hill

I'm an editor emeritus at Above the Law. I am still a contributor to ATL, but now spend my days at Forbes writing about privacy, technology and the law at The Not-So Private Parts. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook.

Posts by Kashmir Hill

This show is creating a lot of hooked criminals.

This weekend, New York Times tech journalist Jenna Wortham made a confession that could be used to send her to prison for a year or more. What was the startling criminal admission? She uses someone else’s password to sign into HBO Go to watch “Game of Thrones.”

In the piece headlined, “No TV? No Subscription? No Problem,” Wortham wrote:

[Some friends and I] all had the same plan: to watch the season premiere of “Game of Thrones.” But only one person in our group had a cable television subscription to HBO, where it is shown. The rest of us had a crafty workaround.

She says “crafty.” A federal prosecutor might substitute “illegal” there….

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Attorney John Steele says he has sued more than 20,000 Internet users. Now he's the one in legal trouble.

“It should be clear by now that this court’s focus has shifted from protecting intellectual property rights to attorney misconduct.” — U.S. District Judge Otis Wright

John Steele, the lawyer who told me he’d made “millions” going after people who illegally download pornographic movies, is experiencing some legal trouble of his own. A district judge in Los Angeles has questions about the way in which Steele and his colleagues have conducted their litigation. Ars Technica and Popehat have been providing detailed (and often gleeful) coverage of a series of hearings that may lead to the unraveling of hundreds of lawsuits filed by Steele and his colleagues at Prenda Law against alleged XXX-movie lovers whose IP addresses were caught downloading the films online.

Steele and his colleagues have been pursuing “John Does” who download XXX films without paying for them for copyright violations. When I interviewed him last year, he told me he had filed over 350 of these suits, and that he was at that time suing approximately 20,000 people. The tactic is similar to the one employed by the recording industry years ago, but where RIAA wanted to scare people out of illegal downloads by getting massive, scary judgments in highly publicized cases against individual Napster users, Steele and the lawyers like him are content to get relatively small settlements — deal letters often ask for $3000 or so — from individuals who pay up quietly to avoid being named in public court filings for allegedly watching a film such as “Illegal Ass 2.”

But now Steele and his firm are starting to run into serious problems.

Continue reading at Forbes.com….

Last week, I went to the preliminary hearing for Chris Bucchere, a software developer charged with felony vehicular manslaughter. On a workday morning in March 2012, Bucchere struck and killed a 71-year-old pedestrian, Sutchi Hui, in a busy, crowded intersection. Bucchere’s case has gotten a lot of attention in San Francisco, both because this is a case of manslaughter by bike rather than by car, and because Bucchere garnered criticism for writing about the incident on an online biking forum afterward, particularly because he ended the post by lamenting the “heroic” death of his helmet.

As in many urban environments, there is strife between the different classes of commuters in his city. Bucchere epitomized for many the reckless biker who takes liberties with the laws of the road — annoying drivers — and does not take seriously the damage that can be done on two wheels to those on two legs — annoying pedestrians, and in this case, mortally injuring one. The case interested me because press reports indicated that data from Bucchere’s Strava account — an app that bikers can use to track their rides — had been used to show how fast he had been going and to prove he had ignored stop signs.

District Attorney George Gascón told me the Strava data was part of the reason the city had decided to bring such severe charges against Bucchere. “It implies he was trying to compete with himself,” Gascón said. Bucchere’s online comments also played a role. “His helmet was more important than a human being.”

The Strava data did not wind up being instrumental in the hearing at all, though; instead 30 seconds of surveillance video took center stage.

Continue reading at Forbes.com….


This guy deserves way more than $10.

A good chunk of America was Googling “class action” this weekend thanks to Facebook. Millions of the site’s users received an email in the last few days with the subject “Re: LEGAL NOTICE OF SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION.” Those that didn’t immediately delete it as spam discovered they’re entitled to up to $10 from the social networking giant for putting them in “Sponsored Story” ads. That’s when Facebook takes something you Liked or a link you posted and uses it in an ad aimed at your friends. (So, word to the wise, never ever post a link on Facebook to a 55-gallon gallon drum of sex lube.)

Fraley v. Facebook, the class action lawsuit that could make a bunch of Facebook users a little richer and a bunch of class action lawyers (led by Robert Arns) a lot richer, was filed in California in 2011 by an enterprising group of plaintiffs led by seamstress Angel Fraley, shortly after “Sponsored Stories” launched. They claimed the company had violated the law by using their names and likenesses in ads without their permission and without paying them. (Lead plaintiff Fraley later dropped out of the suit citing Facebook lawyers’ aggressive tactics, which basically consisted of digging up embarrassing material about her from her profile page.)

Facebook and the plaintiffs settled the suit in December to the tune of $20 million. That $20 million is covering the class action lawyers’ fees ($7.5 million plus expenses), with the rest either being divvied up among approximately 125 million presumably-aggrieved Facebook users who appeared in Sponsored Stories ads, or, if the demand is too great, divided by a bunch of non-profits that work on privacy issues. If the amount of money divided by the number of claimants comes out to less than $4.99 each, the money goes to the non-profits, who surely must be in the midst of planning a major “Rock The Claim” campaign. Unfortunately, I can’t help out.

Continue reading at Forbes….

Instagram is adding a monetization filter to its precious photo-sharing service. In a change to its privacy policy that has everyone in my Twitter feed freaking out, Instagram has given itself the right to lease users’ names, likenesses, and photos out to advertisers. That means the Kelvin-filtered photo of your polished finger nails might wind up being used by the responsible salon; or that the craft cocktail bar where you Hefe-filtered your Chewbacca Jacuzzi may throw it into an ad; or that the vintage market where you Walden-filtered that top-hat-wearing boar’s head might pay to promote it.

The change comes on the heels of corporate owner Facebook giving itself the right to dip into the data Instagram has on its users, which means Instagram’s photos will start being fed into Facebook’s well-oiled advertising platform.

“Dear @instagram @facebook – You have the right to run your business as you choose. But screw you,” tweeted one privacy advocate.

Here are the offending terms of the new Instagram terms of use:

[Y]ou hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service…

In other words, Instagram recognizes that it shouldn’t screw over users who have private accounts by using their photos in ads aimed at the general public (though they can put them in ads aimed at your friends).

But will Instagram screw over its users anyway?

Continue reading at Forbes….

Thanks to spyware, an FBI dad got a gift-wrapped child porn case.

Like any dad, Joseph Auther was worried about what his son might get up to while exploring the wilds of the World Wide Web. So when his 7th grade son got a school-provided laptop from Whispering Palms School in Saipan in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, Auther decided to install a monitoring program on it. He went with a spyware program called eBlaster from SpectorSoft, a company based in Vero Beach, Florida. Unbeknownst to his son, the program captured his website visits, his keystrokes, and every email, chat, and instant message he sent and received. This was all delivered up to his dad in emails, while giving the monitored person no hint that it was doing so.

Auther has a special appreciation for the benefits of surveillance. He’s an FBI special agent. In April, he discovered he was being transferred to the FBI office in Denver. At the end of the school year, Auther let Whispering Palms principal Thomas Weindl know that his family was moving and that they would be returning the school’s laptop. Weindl, 67, was actually a friend of the Auther family; when he got married earlier that year, Auther’s wife gave a reading at the ceremony. Auther told Weindl that he would return the laptop after he removed all of his son’s files, programs, and games.

Auther first took the laptop to his FBI office and asked his colleagues how to wipe it clean. Apparently they don’t have many cyber experts in the Mariana Islands, because they were unsuccessful. So Auther had to instead take it to a computer repair shop, which cleaned out the old files and allegedly re-imaged the hard drive to return it to its original settings. Auther didn’t tell the shop about eBlaster being on the computer — perhaps feeling a little Big Parent shame — but assumed that it would be wiped along with everything else. He then returned the computer to Weindl….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “FBI Dad Finds Handy Fourth Amendment Workaround to Bust School Principal for Child Porn”

If I’ve learned one thing from Above the Law’s experiment in matchmaking, it’s that throwing two pretty people together is about as effective in generating something that sticks as a DOJ prosecution of [fill in the blank].

I recently matched an “open-minded” female law student with a lawyer on sabbatical in San Francisco, figuring that they would both have unstructured time for hanging out. She was looking for someone “ambitious, confident, and outgoing.” He self-described as “Impossible is Nothing.” So that seems like a perfect match.

I had them meet at Candybar. Superman made a good first impression: “I was hoping for a tall, dashing, Biglaw attorney. But really, as long as he was easy on the eyes and not shorter than me, I’d be happy,” writes our female law student, who given the chance to bed any lawyer, fictional or real, chose Harvey Specter of Suits. “And happy I was.”

Unfortunately, she was no Lois Lane. He says: “I think I’ll start with the tl;dr to hopefully save some of the otherwise wasted billables on my lame story: She is a cute, fun girl who I just unfortunately didn’t feel much of a connection with, probably because of the damage law school is doing to her.”

Hey, you knew you were signing up for a legal matchmaking service. Damaged goods expected….

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Based on the initial round of Courtship Connection dates in San Francisco, it seems the city has as much chemistry as it does technology start-ups. I hate to break it to non-Californians: not only do those on the Best Coast have great weather, but dating there seems to be a breeze.

That’s based just on the first two lawyer couples I sent out. I hope am sure San Francisco will yield some disasters yet.

I paired up our first set of twenty-somethings based on equal levels of hotness in Facebook photos, and numerous albums that involved traveling and outdoor activities.

Our “lively snowboarder” lady lawyer said she was looking for someone “quiet-er, anti-douchebag, witty, preferably handsome.” Given the opportunity to bed any legal type, living or dead, fictional or real, she chose Atticus Finch, “played by Gregory Peck, natch.” Her date says he’d be a “professor” if he weren’t a corporate lawyer. That seemed Finch-level noble. Professor Biglaw self-described as “witty” — which is what Lady Snowboard is seeking — and “sarcastic, relaxed, well-traveled.” Given the chance to bed a famous legal character, he chose “Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny.” Technically, I think that means he prefers to date a non-lawyer, but things seemed to work out regardless…

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Belvedere Vodka is still suffering a hangover from the rapey ad it broadcast on its Twitter and Facebook feeds last month. Alicyn Packard, the terrified-looking woman who refuses in the ad to “go down smoothly” on an obliviously-happy bro, has filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court against Belvedere parent company Moet Hennessy USA, reports KTLA. She claims emotional distress after the company used her image without her consent in “an ad that’s so offensive to so many.” (And yet so funny to so many others.)

The ad was up on Twitter and Facebook for only an hour before someone came to his or her (let’s be honest, it was probably “his”) senses and deleted it. But as with heavy drinking, it only takes an hour to make an embarrassing spectacle of yourself….

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Happy Valentine’s Day to you if you have a date lined up tonight! For the rest of you, Happy Staying-In-To-Watch-A-Movie-And-Drink-With-Your-Single-Friends Day. Last year, two Washington lawyers actually let me set them up on a V-Day date. This year, with my pool of Chicago candidates, I didn’t bother. I wouldn’t wish the boring Chicago dating scene on my worst enemy. Playing matchmaker and condemning more lonely souls to a yawn-inducing evening is as cruel as running a dog-fighting ring. At least the latter leads to a little biting and scratched backs for the participants.

So Courtship Connection is moving on and heading West. Hey San Francisco, do you have any single types willing to put their love lives into ATL’s not-so-capable hands? Fill out our survey! I will try to send you out on a blind date with a seemingly-compatible fellow legal type. You will dish the dirt afterwards. I will write about it, keeping you anonymous. And ATL commenters will provide their sincere, caring, and helpful commentary.

While waiting for the California girls and boys to jump into our dating pool, I will share with you the final Chicago date. Like the others, it did not go well. Why? Someone’s inferiority complex killed the mood….

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