Probably not what you think.

Having a debate about the First Amendment in law school was never something that interested me. For some reason, everyone else was always energized by the idea of debating the contours of permissible expression, or what constituted the prior restraint on the press, but I always preferred structure and process-driven questions about federalism, the Administartive Procedure Act, or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. If you’re wondering if that meant I was considered a weirdo law nerd even among other weirdo law nerds, then I encourage you to re-read the first two sentences of this paragraph to get your answer.

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My professors, after I would ask literally any question.

Ah, but how the times have changed. Okay, they haven’t; I’m pretty much the same way now. But after such a long amount of time focused on the internet, privacy, and appropriate uses of data online as part of my practice, the First Amendment and related concepts are square in the middle of much of what I do. …

The buzz over the dancing* robots hasn’t abated over the last few days, which shows just how many people either loved the video or, like me, didn’t. What’s even more interesting is that so many people have taken to writing about what they saw, rather than simply moving on to the next big meme. Good conversation is all about dialogue, rather than monologue, and so answering some of those responses to my original post seems fair. Doing so, of course, requires that I dive into the comments section — what could possibly go wrong?

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I can do what with what??

We Interrupt this Programming…

Quite a few people pointed out that I wasn’t accurate about the nature of the programming and engineering feat in the video. They have a point — I need to clarify that when I say that the intricacy of the movement is a result of programming and engineering, I don’t mean that the movements themselves were expressly set out for performance. Although it’s possible that a team of programmers would take the time to code, line by line, every sequence of the routine, ML systems allow for a far more hands-off approach to this kind of robotic activity. In other words, the engineers and programmers set out the broad strokes of what needs to be done as packages to be executed, but the processors and algorithms that drive the movements do the rest. And there’s no denying, it’s a technical marvel. …

Like most lawyers, I’m on Twitter a lot and, like most lawyers, I spend most of my time tweeting in an effort to seem funny. (To say the responses are “mixed” would be to assume that I ever get responses). But occasionally, something will crop up that demands a response more nuanced than 280 characters and goes into a little more depth than a gif thread. This morning, I saw one, and I want to discuss the ethics of it with you. Last day of the year in the worst year on record? Perfect day to do some philosophy!

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Everybody keeps saying this, it’s weird.

Today’s issue is about ethics largely in the sense that we’re going to take a measured look at something controversial and try to work out how to approach it. Specifically, I want to talk about…

Last time, we talked about the passage of the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), a ballot referendum that expands and enhances the scope and consequences of CCPA. Today, we’ll look a little deeper into why CPRA is such a big deal, and also why it may simultaneously be the cause of its own undoing.

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When a “Sale” isn’t a “Sale”

You may recall that CCPA instituted a new, mandatory button for websites: “Do Not Sell My Data.” This seemingly-innocuous requirement actually has deep roots in the economics of the Internet, in that a huge portion of the financial benefit associated with data comes from selling it for advertising purposes. …

Like everyone, I’m exhausted by the confusion and controversy surrounding the election — this week has been a year. So, great news: today’s blog is going to be about a confusing, controversial law just passed in California by a wide margin!

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Well, agree to disagree.

The law in question is the California Privacy Rights Act, also called Prop 24, or as we like to call it — CCPA II: McTaggart’s Revenge. Yes, Alistair McTaggart, the real estate magnate who was the driving force behind the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is behind this law as well. His position seems to have been that, after all of the flurry of amendments it went through, CCPA was not sufficiently protective of privacy rights, and that loopholes needed closing. He embarked on another (costly) campaign, referendum, and vote mobilization effort and, once again, got what he wanted. CPRA is now on the books. …

Regular readers of our blog will be familiar with our frequent suggestion that you should deploy data review teams and use subject matter experts to come up with clever solutions to data-based problems. “That’s all well and good,” you might say, “for companies that have dedicated staff for working only on data problems or massive amounts of information that need to be sifted by subject matter experts. What about companies that are smaller, have a less intense need for dedicated staff, or who simply don’t want to spend the money?” …

We hear the word “crisis” a lot these days. A phenomenon of our age is that issues are transformed into crises, and many crises are transformed into existential threats. Think about the way we looked at online harms and screen time for children. Just a year or two ago, the rage was the claim that too much time on screens would be damaging to children and would lead to substantial problems in their development and social well-being. And yet, this year, screen time has been not only a permissible thing, but some of the same commentators who were worried about a glut of screen time last year now call for more remote learning for kids. …

It’s tempting, at this late stage of the year, to think that things are kind of baked in, and that we have to run the clock out until 2021, or to think that it’s necessary to continue on for the last few months as they have been. The former is a perfectly fair sentiment (2020 has not been our best look) and the latter is reasonable too. …

It’s a strange phenomenon of modern business that we are absolutely awash in data but, frequently, it seems like the additional information doesn’t lead to insights or meaningful tools. For many enterprises — especially small businesses — market necessity makes it seem like a move to a comprehensive system with data-analytics is the only way to survive. But once they get Shopify or SalesForce or whatever SaaS or PaaS they fancy, how many companies actually start gleaning useful information at all, to say nothing of creating valuable data products as a result? …

Three-quarters of the way through 2020, it feels as though January was a decade ago. How could it not, given the social upheaval, economic turmoil, the fractured and fractious political campaign, and the deadliest, most consequential pandemic in four generations. We are living in a spin cycle that seems only to accelerate, a dizzying tumult that has made even the language we use start to seem unfit for the times.

Unsurprisingly, many want nothing more than a return to normal, the status quo ante. Nine months ago, we all heaved sighs of relief when 2019 closed, sure that things couldn’t possibly be as bad in the new year, only to find ourselves now missing the halcyon days of Brexit arguments and impeachment. Yes, the impulse to go back makes some sense. The deepening intensity of these times makes it seem as though the cure for our ills is cancelling 2020 and starting over. Think I’m joking? Radio stations were already getting requests for Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” …


James J. Ward

Privacy lawyer, data nerd, fan of listing three things. Co-author of “Data Leverage.” Nothing posted is legal advice/don’t get legal advice from blogs.

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