Archive for the 'Business Law' Category

Pokémon Go and the Dangers That Come With It

It looks like Pokémon is back at it again. Pokémon Go, the latest product in the Pokémon franchise, has caught on like wildfire. This new app, developed by Niantic, brings a fresh perspective to gaming. Available on both iOS and Android devices, this mobile game allows players to catch Pokémon but must do so in real time. With GPS capability, the app pinpoints where Pokémon can be found and the player then must make the effort to actually go to these locations.

Once there, the player can then attempt to catch the Pokémon. These Pokémon can be found in various locations, from your backyard to public venues and even in government facilities such as courthouses. As this game takes the world by storm, the dangers of this form of gaming have become more apparent. Just as texting and driving has been such a big problem, the same issue could arise with this new app.

Potential Hazards

The Pokemon app demands that the player explore the outdoors if they want to catch Pokemon. Irrespective of this game, mobile devices can be dangerous. Texting and driving has been one of the leading causes of death in the past few years. Pedestrians too have put themselves in risk of danger by crossing the street carelessly while being preoccupied with their smart devices.

Surely, this Pokémon app could pose similar dangers. The game has been out for less than two weeks and there are already news reports of such accidents. One victim reported that he was “wandering aimlessly looking for Pokémon” when a car clipped him. As the game picks up speed, similar reports will undoubtedly come in. Now the question becomes, what can be done about this? Pokemon Go 2

To address this issue, let’s look back at some of the solutions that were reached when it came to driving and texting. For one, California imposed a law that would fine people who were driving and texting. Without a doubt, this has had deterrent effects. Looking at the accident reports as a whole, the numbers have waned due to this law. Can a law be enacted mandating that gamers not cross the street while playing Go?

Now this sounds silly but there have to be some measures that can be taken. Obviously the same aforementioned law applies here because the Go is a mobile game and as such, is on a mobile device. Ultimately, the question becomes what measures can be taken to prevent such incidents from happening and who should be held responsible for them?

Comparative Negligence

The gamer should obviously be held responsible for being careless and negligent. Of course, the degree of blame should also depend on who the gamer is and in particular, how old they may be.

If a 12-year-old has carelessly walked into the street, then they might not have known any better. Now, if it was a fully grown adult doing the same, then this could change things. Comparative negligence, which is the standard of fault in California, adjusts the degree of fault for all the parties involved, depending on the circumstances of the case. This standard applies primarily to personal injury lawsuits. For example, if the gamer is crossing the street when he should have stopped, then the driver who hits this person will not be entirely at fault for the accident.

The point being, if more states adopted this comparative negligence approach, it would make life a whole lot easier for both parties involved in the accident. It also provides a deterrent. The gamer so preoccupied with catching his Pokémon will stop and think because now he knows under this framework, he would potentially have to pay for his own injuries if he isn’t careful. At the same time, the driver will have a defense, which is that the Pokémon devotee was being rather careless.

Trespass

Now this comparative negligence approach is not universal in that it does not apply to all incidents. It applies mainly to personal injury lawsuits. For example, what would happen if the player finds himself in someone else’s private property and the property owner decides to take matters into his own hands? How should this be resolved? Obviously not through the comparative negligence standard.

Each state has its own particular set of laws with regards to gun control and what trespass dictates. These sets of laws will help guide the well-being of people. For now, we will just have to wait and see what our legislators will do in response to this new groundbreaking form of entertainment. This only feels like the beginning. With virtual reality and this “augmented” reality taking shape, who knows which direction we’ll be headed from both a lifestyle perspective as well as a legal one. For now, enjoy and make sure you catch as many lovable Pokémon as you can. Safety first though.

Other Legal Considerations

As mentioned, Pokémon Go is sending ripples through the legal space. Besides personal injury, other areas of the legal field that are facing questions due to the Go are in privacy and intellectual property. In terms of privacy, it is a question of how to protect individual privacy. Go collects account information, location data, and other such data collected through web beacons and cookies.

There are also certain privacy issues at play here. How far can Niantic go in acquiring such data and what can they use this data for other than the game itself? There are intellectual property issues as well. Does catching a Pokémon make that Pokémon your personal intellectual property? This is a bit absurd but it is questions like this that have been coming up. In the meantime, we are left to ponder how this new gadget is changing the legal landscape.

Facebook Accused of Funding Terrorist Activity

Facebook is being accused of funding terrorist activity in the West Bank region. A family of Israeli and American citizens have brought forth a lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages from Facebook for supposedly funding Palestinian military attacks. Palestine and Israel have been in conflict for many decades now and it is an issue that has no end in sight.

There are many underlying factors to the conflict, including religious difference, territorial claim, and regional dominance. Countless lives have been lost from both sides. The plaintiffs too have lost relatives in the conflict and they now seek damages from Facebook because they believe Facebook has supported Hamas in its attacks against Israel. Hamas, which is a pro-Palestinian movement, has been considered a terrorist organization by many nations.

Myriad of Accusations

This is not the first time that Facebook has been accused of such claims. Other such claims against Facebook are that, as a conduit of information, it gives FBI access to its user accounts, or that Facebook has some sort of hidden agenda unbeknownst to the general public. Of course, there is not much evidence to support such claims yet these charges do pop up every now and then. And it is not just Facebook.

Other social media outlets such as Twitter have been under attack too for supposedly promoting terrorism. ISIS, which has been grabbing headlines for the past few months, has been using the Twitter platform as a means of recruitment and sending out its message, and Twitter has seemingly done nothing to stop this.

Facebook and Twitter Comparison

For sake of comparison, the Twitter and Facebook claims have similarities and differences. In Twitter, there is indication that ISIS is using the platform as a vehicle to promote its agenda. However, under the First Amendment, which permits freedom of speech and press, it is hard to charge someone simply for expressing their viewpoints. Granted, ISIS propaganda should be put to a stop but where do we draw the line.

Should constitutional rights be diminished in order to promote national security? The government should not violate First Amendment rights when it can help it. There are times when the government, for security purposes, will make an exception. In any event, the benefit of the doubt will be given to the Constitution. Not all ISIS related posts will be grounds for criminal charge. Hamas Facebook

Likewise, with Facebook, if there are posts on the platform that in some way support Hamas, this is not grounds alone to go after a user, let alone Facebook itself. Under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, service providers such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be held personally liable for content that is published by their users.

The difference between the two scenarios however is that there is no indication that Twitter directly promotes ISIS activity. However, with Facebook, although there is currently not enough evidence, if it was established that Facebook did directly support Hamas through promotional material or other means not associated with user content, then there might be a valid claim. Even then, the First Amendment might prevent such claims. Until more hard evidence actually emerges, it will be very difficult for these grieving families to put up a decent claim against Facebook.

Many times, false accusations are thrown at big corporations such as Facebook in the hopes that that they can snatch the big prize. I am not implying that these particular plaintiffs fall in this category, but false accusations are common, especially against a large corporation such as Facebook. Media conglomerates such as Fox and Time Warner have been accused of such things too. It does not start and end with media industry either. Sometimes, these accusations should be taken with a grain of salt.

Preemptive Measures

People are not yet ready to give up their basic rights. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have either one.” This is a powerful statement that resonates today with all of us.

However, Ben Franklin lived in a completely different time with very different issues at play. Today, international terrorism has become a huge threat and only tightening down on security measures can we hope to combat such a threat. If it means giving up some rights for the greater good, then this is something that we should consider.

And just as these social media outlets are used by terrorist organizations to convey their message, they can also be used to create awareness among communities to unite and stand against such a threat. Social media has been the trigger for many events these past few years, such as the Arab Spring and the Brexit deal.

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used to bring change, for better or for worse. Who uses it and how they use it can have consequences as well. Preemptive measures can be taken through these outlets to combat terrorism and to address other issues as well.

Pokѐmon Go Privacy Problems: The Legalities of Mobile App Data Collection

Pokémon Go is the most popular mobile game in U.S. history. In the 24 hours after its release last week, it surpassed the daily active users numbers of every other mobile game that has ever existed—attracting nearly 21 million active users at once.  As a user myself, I can say that when the servers of the game are working properly, it’s a heck of a good time.

The game was created by Niantic and the Pokémon Company and allows users to roam the streets catching Pokémon in an augmented reality version of the real world. So successful is the game that Nintendo’s minority share in the game has boosted their market value by $11 billion in the week or so since it hit the market.

The game is free to play but features a number of available microtransactions—digital offerings within the app itself—to bring in money. However, like many mobile games, this is not the only source of revenue.  The app also collects personal information from its users, which it then strips of identifying information and sells to would-be advertisers.

In the last few days, this data collection has drawn the concern of not only users, but also U.S. Senator Al Franken. He has gone on record with serious concerns about the overreach of the privacy policy of the app—especially considering how many children it counts as users. The whole kerfuffle began in response to a blog post revealing that among the permissions you granted Niantic by creating an account was—for iPhone users using a Gmail to sign in—full access to your Google account.

The Pokѐmon Privacy Policy

The concerns, now known to be slightly alarmist, suggested that the permissions gave Niantic read/write permission for your emails, access to your Google Drive, and even the ability to pilfer your Google Wallet. This came as a heck of a shock to users, because, although the Pokѐmon Go Privacy Policy is available online, there was no indication such access was being granted when users made an account.

Since the initial accusations a few days ago, it has been established that Niantic did indeed get full access to your Google Account, however it was not quite the insidious plot that was initially insinuated. Pokemon Go

Niantic issued a statement that the overreach in permission was a mistake and the access had never been taken advantage of—an assertion that Google has verified.  What’s more, while the permissions did give Niantic potential access to a substantial amount of biographical information such as your email address and phone number, they did not have access to any emails, Google Drive, or Google Wallet.  Niantic patched the access out of the app days after the concerns were raised.

However, don’t let these developments completely send your privacy concerns over Pokѐmon Go blasting off again. If you have not yet updated the app, do so in order to patch out the access to your Google account.  What’s more, it is important to stay informed about exactly how much information you agree to share by making an account or clicking “yes” to those Terms & Conditions.  Pokѐmon Go is still collecting a staggering amount of information on you for later sale.

By using the app, you are accepting that Pokѐmon Go will collect data from you and use it in accordance with their posted privacy policy.  As it stands, they collect your Internet Protocol (IP) address, browser type, operating system, the web page you visited before going on Pokѐmon Go, anything you click on or go to while using Pokѐmon Go, how long you stay on pages you go to, search terms, and more.  Also, because Pokѐmon Go uses GPS tracking to determine where you are and thus which Pokѐmon are around you, the app collects where you go, where you left from, how long you take to get somewhere, and how long you stay at any given location.

Once this data is collected Niantic, per their privacy policy, strips identifying information from the data and pools it together to sell to advertising companies.  If the company or Pokѐmon Go is ever purchased, all this information is part of what will be purchased.

This probably seems like an incredible amount of information for strangers to know about you—and it is. Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this data collection (as with many apps) is stop using Pokѐmon Go.  What’s more, the practice is both common and perfectly legal when done carefully.

Mobile App Overreach: An Ongoing Problem

The Federal Trade Commission requires that mobile apps clearly disclose their privacy policies and what sort of information they collect. They also require that businesses give users an option to decline collection—although that can just mean letting them choose not to use an app.  Failure to do any of these things, or to comply with your own privacy policy, can give rise to an FTC charge of deceptive practices.

For example, Runkeeper is a jogging app that has recently been in hot water for tracking your location—when the app is not active. This information is then sent to advertisers.  In 2012, a social media app called Path got in trouble for taking its users’ entire address book without their knowledge.  They settled an FTC charge, paying $800,000.

Apps that seek overreaching permissions, a perfectly legal practice, unless state law says differently, when properly disclosed, are also common. In 2015, it came to light that quite a few third-party flashlight apps were asking for a lot more permissions on your smartphone than they needed.

Many of the apps has the ability to read phone status and identity, view Wi-Fi connections, modify system settings, obtain full network access, and determine your precise location via your phone’s GPS, among other permissions. This was quite an ask for an app that is primarily for finding your keys when they fall under your car seat.

It’s not surprising that people were sensitive to potential privacy issues with Pokѐmon Go given the history mobile apps have with overreaching permissions and privacy law violations. A huge portion of apps include data gathering of some kind as part of how they make their money—especially free to use apps.

Even if you trust a business with this information, that same information makes them a target for hackers. The sheer popularity of Pokѐmon Go, combined with its ability to track your location, means that it is going to be capable of nearly unprecedented data collection.  While Niantic has a solid privacy policy and has complied with FTC privacy regulations, it still can be a privacy risk given how much information is going to pass through its hands.  Don’t let this stop you from catching them all—just remember to know what you’re getting into with Pokѐmon Go and any app you use.

Waitress Told to Wear a Skirt and Look More Feminine Wins Sex Discrimination Case

In Scotland, an eighteen-year-old part-time waitress was asked to wear a skirt and makeup so she would be “easy on the eyes” to male customers.

The young woman claims that she was offered a full-time position as a waitress at the restaurant, but was pulled aside by the manager and told to wear a skirt, makeup, and her hair down to look more feminine and attractive to the customers. After she complained, she was told her existing hours would be cut and that she was no longer offered the full-time waitressing position. She decided to file a sex discrimination lawsuit.

A judge at an industrial tribunal, who makes decisions in legal disputes regarding employment law, awarded her $4,372 for discrimination and lost wages.

Would a case like this prevail in America?

What is Sex Discrimination?

Sex discrimination includes any unequal treatment on the basis of sex. The treatment must not only be different, but also unequal, and therefore lead to inequality between the sexes. For example, designating male versus female bathrooms for each gender does not rise to the level of sex discrimination. However, an employer who pays a woman less for the same work a man performs does constitute sex discrimination because it is unfair. Waitress

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protections against sex discrimination in the workplace. The Act makes it illegal for employers to either:

  1. fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation terms, or privileges of employment, because of that individual’s sex; or,
  2. limit, segregate, or classify employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise affect that person’s status as an employee because of such individual’s sex.

In laymen terms, all employees or applicants must be given equal opportunities for employment and advancement within the company organization. Further, no person can be deprived of any employment opportunity based on his or her gender.

Sexual harassment is also a form of sex discrimination. Generally, sexual harassment may be found if an employee experiences unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Can An Employer Require Female Employees Wear Skirts?

The short answer is “yes.” Generally an employer can impose a dress code that requires female employees to wear skirts. However, the employer must have a legitimate business necessity for this requirement and it must be reasonably related to the employer’s business needs.

For instance, if the employer wants to foster a professional atmosphere, the employer may require more formal dress, which includes a requirement that female employees wear skirts while their male counterparts wear slacks. There have been some cases where employers have been found guilty of sex discrimination against women for requiring them to wear skirts and not having any equivalent policy (such as wearing slacks) for men.

While it is generally admissible for employers to impose dress codes, it must be done with sensitivity and strict adherence to the law. A dress code cannot impose a greater burden on one gender than another. Referring back to the previous example, it would be sex discrimination require female employees to wear skirts, but have no formal dress code requirement for male employees.

Further, the employer must be careful about sex discrimination and stereotyping claims. Therefore, it is advised that the employer create exemptions in some cases to the dress code, or to forego a dress code altogether to avoid claims of sex discrimination.

Just as an employer is entitled to establish a dress code that requires female employees wear skirts, they may also require female employees wear makeup. However, the employer cannot pass up a female employee for advancement, or terminate a female employee because she did not wear makeup.

Federal Judge Quashes Mississippi Law Protecting Those That Discriminate Based on Sexual Orientation

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Have you heard of a little thing called separation of church and state? Not the first of its kind to pass, Mississippi recently passed HB1523, essentially allowing individuals to discriminate against the LGBT community based on personal religious beliefs.  HB1523 was set to take effect this week, but Federal District Judge Carlton W. Reeves ruled the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Establishment Clause provides us with religious freedom, as well as protections from governmental interference regulating such beliefs. It’s definitely a slippery slope between the two protections.  On the one hand, you want religious freedom and this law appeared to provide protections to Mississippians from being punished for Gay Marriageacting on their religious beliefs.  On the other hand, it does seem discriminatory, favoring one religious belief aimed against the LGBT community.  Was it really just a catalyst for legalizing discrimination?  A way to get around the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell?

If you take a look at the language of the bill, as a whole it says an individual can exercise their religious beliefs without negative repercussions from the government. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?  But when you consider the ramifications of further text within the bill, it’s definitely controversial.

The law protected individuals and businesses alike from backlash for:

  • refusing to perform gay marriages or issue marriage licenses,
  • refusing to make a wedding cake or any other wedding planning services,
  • private organizations could make employment decisions (hiring/firing) based on sexual orientation and gender identity (this one’s a doozy!),
  • refusing to rent, sell, or make other terms and conditions about housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity,
  • refusing (adoption agencies) to place a child based on sexual orientation or gender identity,
  • refusing (medical professionals) services related to sex reassignment or gender identity transition,
  • refusing (medical professionals) to participate in fertility services for gay couples,
  • establishing sex-specific standards concerning employees/students in how they groom and dress themselves and can restrict access to bathrooms.

I take it back—they’re all doozies. If legislature is truly to abide by the plain language of the Establishment Clause, they shouldn’t be making laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”  Isn’t this law essentially respecting, or better yet favoring, Christian ideologies?

HB 1523 Singles Out Specific Religious Beliefs

“The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

  1. Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
  2. Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
  3. Male (man) and female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

If this doesn’t scream recognition of a religious ideology, I don’t know what does. Even more so, the law essentially says the State favors protecting the religious beliefs of those opposed to the LGBT community over everyone else.

Case Law Backs Up Decision

Judge Reeves has plenty of case law to back up his decision.  The Supreme Court decided in the 90’s, followed by a whole slew of cases furthering sexual orientation rights, that discrimination based upon sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause.  Judge Reeves argued HB1523 does not provide the same equal protections anti-discrimination laws protect, but rather draws a stark line between the LGBT community and everyone else broadly denying them their equal protection rights.

Not only is it an equal protection violation, Judge Reeves argues it violates the Establishment Clause.  HB1523 establishes a preferred religion. Not only does it establish a preference for Christianity, but, he argues, it treats Christians that have beliefs contrary to those specifically enumerated within the law (that marriage is between a man and woman) as second-class citizens—it gives special privileges to those that hold the enumerated beliefs over those that don’t.

According to Judge Reeves, why should Muslim or Jewish clerks, who do not believe in interfaith marriages, not be allowed to recuse themselves from issuing a marriage license? It wholly discriminates against, not just the LGBT community, but anyone who doesn’t hold the same enumerated beliefs spelled out in the law.

In all fairness, the concept of protecting individuals from governmental repercussions for acting on religious beliefs is a great idea. However, let them duke it out in court like everyone else instead. Private schools could already maintain their own admission standards and policies regarding its students.

Individuals and private businesses already had the right to refuse service.  Pastors already had the right to exercise discretion when deciding whether to perform marriage ceremonies.  Clerks already had the right to invoke constitutional and statutory defenses when objecting to same-sex marriages.  None of them needed a law that specifically calls out and separates members of the LGBT community in order to exercise their religious beliefs. Carol Burnett, a United Methodist minister and a plaintiff in the case, said it best,

“When there is no separation of church and state, there is no freedom of religion.”



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