Friday, June 24, 2016

Reputation Update: Florida Prosecutor Fired Over Facebook Comments

Last week, I wrote that Florida Assistant State Attorney Kenneth Lewis was suspended for posting online inflammatory messages about the city of Orlando in wake of the tragic nightclub terrorist attack.  Instead of being provided the opportunity to continue as a prosecutor he has been fired.

At the time of his suspension, his office stated, "Mr. Lewis violated the SAO9 social media policy. The social media policy was adopted and implemented on February 20, 2015, as part of SAO9’s code of conduct. Every employee is required to sign the policy. Failure to comply can result in discipline up to and including termination."  

Yesterday, the State's Attorney stated, "Whether you [Mr. Lewis] intended to convey that all those who attend nightclubs are animals (the zoo reference) or whether the reference to 'debauchery' was meant to express some objection to the lifestyle choices of those who attended this club, we will never know. I cannot believe that a man of your intelligence would not realize that your comment could bear that interpretation.....I can no longer defend you as a prosecutor free of bias. Therefore the recommendation of termination is also upheld. You shall remain on suspension until June 30, 2016 at which time your employment with this office will be terminated."  

The bottom line is just because you have the ability to post an opinion on Facebook doesn't mean that its a good idea to do so.  Therefore, the next time you hear a self styled social media expert/guru/ninja, etc... state how important it is to "be authentic" or "share more" online you know that that person doesn't know the first thing about social media, reputation, or the law.

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq. All rights reserved.    

BREXIT Will Alter Technology Public Policy, Privacy, and the Law

The votes have been counted regarding the BREXIT which was the referendum on whether Great Britain would stay in the European Union or leave and the result is that the UK will exit the EU.  The vote to leave won by more than a million votes (52%-48%; 17,410,742-16,141,241).

In the short term, stock markets around the world are plunging due to the uncertainty. However, when the dust has settled the legal and regulatory work on how to adjust to this change in relationship will begin. While the vote will have a tremendous effect on many international issues, it appears that the UK's data protection rules may be unaffected.  In the short term, this appears so; however, in the long term this may change.

The vote was a surprise to many lawyers and technology public policy analysts and this is demonstrated by the lack of planning in the event that the UK voted to leave the EU. Will other countries follow the UK's lead and will this create new alliances? While current trade deals may not be affected by the vote, new rules and regulations will be needed and future trade deals involving the UK and the EU will need to account for this result.  

Change is generally hard.  The people of the UK have spoken and in a democracy the will of the people must be followed.  Even though it is too soon to speculate on how this vote will ultimately affect technology public policy and privacy issues there are a lot of unanswered legal issues surrounding the process in which the UK will leave the EU.

 Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq.  All rights reserved. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Restaurant's Reputation Harmed Over "Fatty" Receipt on Facebook

A Rhode Island restaurant recently fired one of its employees who identified a customer on a receipt as "fatty".  The former employee who was also the son of the owner is no longer allowed to eat at the restaurant or come onto the property. The owner immediately apologized for the incident and has tried to reach out to the upset customer to personally make amends. Unfortunately, after this matter has gone viral the owner is now receiving death threats and the incident has gone from local news to national news.    

There is no excuse for the now former employee to have identified the customer as "fatty". However, instead of first posting the receipt on Facebook why didn't the customer try to notify the manager about the situation? This incident will now be tied to not only the restaurant, the owner, and the fired employee, but also to the customer.  Not everything that happens to us needs to be shared and broadcast digitally for the entire world to see. The customer may now be forever tied to the term "fatty". 

The old adage that "sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me" still needs to be taught to our children because we live in a country that has strong protections against limiting the freedom of speech.  While name calling is childish and has no place in a professional environment, it happens.  How you respond to being called something that offends you goes into determining your overall reputation.

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq.  All rights reserved.    

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

FTC Fines Advertising Network For Illegal Mobile Tracking

The Federal Trade Commission has announced that mobile advertising company InMobi will pay a $950,000 civil penalty and implement a comprehensive privacy program to settle FTC charges it deceptively tracked the locations of hundreds of millions of consumers, including children, without their knowledge or consent to serve them geo-targeted advertising.

According to the FTC, InMobi misrepresented that its advertising software would only track user locations when they opted in. However, InMobi was tracking user locations whether users opted in or refused to provide permission. InMobi's advertising network has a reach of more than one billion devices via thousands of apps so there is a staggering amount of data that the company has illegally obtained. 

Under the terms of its settlement with the FTC, InMobi is subject to a $4 million civil penalty, which is suspended to $950,000 due to the company's financial position. The company will be required to delete all information it collected from users and it is prohibited from collecting consumers’ location information without their affirmative express consent. InMobi must also institute a comprehensive privacy program that will be independently audited every two years for the next 20 years.

How much money did InMobi make by intentionally deceiving consumers?  This deception demonstrates why there needs to be stronger laws and greater enforcement mechanisms in place to deter and stop illegal behavior. 

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq. All rights reserved. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Florida Prosecutor's Reputation Destroyed Over Facebook Comments

Be careful what you say online because it may come back to hurt you.  Unfortunately, too many people don't heed this advice and this time an attorney has forever harmed his reputation because of unprovoked online posts. Florida Assistant State Attorney Kenneth Lewis was suspended for posting online inflammatory messages about the city of Orlando in wake of the tragic nightclub terrorist attack.  His comments violated his employer's social media policy.

It appears that Mr. Lewis has been investigated for previously posting inappropriate online comments.  Just because you have a right to say something doesn't mean its a good idea to do so.  For years, people have felt less inhibited to attach their names to very incendiary online comments because its so easy to do so from the comfort of your own home.  Unfortunately, many people don't realize that comments meant for just friends or family may be seen around the world in just seconds.

Will Mr. Lewis be passed over for promotion because of this issue?  Will Mr. Lewis' online comments encourage his employer to terminate his employment for this or other behavior?  Will his online activities hurt his ability to transition to another employer?

In the Digital Age, it is imperative to understand how the Internet may help or harm your personal and professional reputation.

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Doctors Yelp Review Responses May Create Millions In Legal Liability

The Washington Post has an interesting story about how some doctors and health care professionals are responding to negative reviews online.  In essence, it sounds as though some members of the health care profession are violating the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by providing very personal details about a patient's care in response to negative online reviews.  

While some people believe that HIPAA provides strong privacy protections to patients there is no private right of action allowed for an individual to sue  for a violation of the act.  One option is to file a HIPAA privacy complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  Another option is review your state's medical privacy laws to determine if there is a state based privacy claim.  

In 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a $1.44 million dollar claim against Walgreens for a state based medical information privacy action.  In that case, a Walgreens employee violated a patient's privacy by viewing a customer's prescription records and disclosing that information to a third-party.       

The bottom line is that doctor practices, hospitals, and other health care providers should have the proper policies in place and be trained about legal social media issues that may affect their practices. Just because a social media "expert"/"guru"/"ninja", etc.... may advocate responding to a negative online review you may want to get a second opinion from a lawyer who understands the legal, privacy, and reputation ramifications of doing so.  

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq.  All rights reserved.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Teenager Sues Virginia Prosecutor Over Erect Penis Photo Demand

According to The Washington Post, a teenager who was caught up in a sexting investigation has sued a Virginia prosecutor for civil rights violations.  While the police were investigating sexting between two teenagers in 2014 they obtained a warrant to force the teenager to enable law enforcement to take photos of his genitalia. Fortunately, the public was notified of this ridiculous situation and the teenager was not required to take a photo of his erect penis for evidence.

This request created a major public uproar.  It sounded like those requesting the photos had been fans of the the 1980's movie Porky's when physical education teacher Ms. Balbricker asked the high school principal if he would sanction a penis (tallywacker) lineup of several students so she could identify which student stuck his penis through a peep hole in the girl's bathroom. Ms. Balbricker claimed that she could identify the offending student's penis because it contained a distinctive mole. In the movie, the request for the penis line up was denied. 

The detective who handled the case killed himself last year after being accused of molesting two young boys so this raises further doubts regarding the motive for photos of the teenager's erect penis.I initially wrote about the case in 2014 and stated, "My hope is that prosecutors and judges across the country realize that this is the wrong way to deal with sexting by teenagers."

The bottom line is that teenagers should be provided more education about these issues instead of outright punishment for these types of situations.

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

NFL Draft Social Media Lessons For NCAA Schools & Student-Athletes

The 2016 NFL draft demonstrated why people need to become more educated about social media, digital privacy, reputation, and the law. Since starting this blog in 2009, I have been warning the public about the dangers associated with digital technologies and social media and how to protect yourself from becoming a star in a viral social media pr crisis.

Several minutes before the NFL draft started on Thursday, a video was posted on NFL prospect Laremy Tunsil's personal Twitter account that allegedly showed him wearing a gas mask and taking bong hits.  

While Mr. Tunsil is not the first college student who has admitted to trying drugs or drinking too much (i.e. President's Clinton, Bush, and Obama), he is the first to have had this information go viral right before he was expected to be drafted and earn millions of dollars.

This video allegedly cost Tunsil approximately $13 million dollars in salary and his agent $390,000 in fees.  It may have even destroyed Tunsil's marketability as a celebrity spokes person which could have earned him millions more and his agents hundreds of thousands of dollars in commission. This matter will go down as one of the most expensive digital mistake's on record.

This wasn't the only digital evidence of Mr. Tunsil's activities in college.  A short time after the bong video was posted, a text message exchange appeared on Mr. Tunsil's personal Instagram account that appears to demonstrate that his college program (University of Mississippi) was paying for some of his personal expenses which is an NCAA violation.


This post may lead to an NCAA investigation which could cost the University of Mississippi tens of millions of dollars.  Ole Miss may be forced to forfeit games Tunsil appeared in, lose scholarships, become ineligible for future bowl games, etc... Additionally, sponsorship revenue may decrease, and the university may be forced to spend millions in legal fees and compliance costs to investigate and defend their actions. Coaches and athletic administrators may also be fired because of this evidence.

Tunsil was obviously targeted because the hacker(s) acquired the digital evidence and struck at the most opportune time to inflict serious damage to his reputation.While it appears that multiple state and federal laws were violated, until the matter is fully investigated it is too early to determine what criminal and/or civil action may be taken.  

These types of issues will only increase in the future.  As I told The New York Times, "Its very challenging with these computer crimes because people can hide their tracks... Even if you find the person who hacked, can you even collect on the judgment?"

The bottom line is that education is the best way to protect against becoming a victim. When a crisis like this occurs, it is imperative to understand how to properly respond to ensure that your organization has its legal and pr ducks in a row to limit any damage to your reputation.  

Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq. All rights reserved. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Erin Andrews Settles Multi-Million Dollar Internet Privacy Lawsuit

Earlier this year, Erin Andrews won a $55 million dollar privacy lawsuit against those whose actions and/or negligence resulted in a naked video of her being uploaded onto the Internet for eternity.  During her trial, the jury found that the hotel where she was video taped naked to be liable for approximately $26 million of the $55 million dollars in damages awarded.

According to The Tennessean, the hotel that was held to be negligent in protecting Ms. Andrew's privacy has settled its portion of the lawsuit.  While terms of the settlement are confidential, it wouldn't surprise me if Ms. Andrews settlement was between $15-$20 million dollars.  The settlement was reached before the judge was about to rule on whether the hotel could be on the hook for the entire $55 million dollars.

We may never know the exact settlement amount.  However, the bottom line is that Ms. Andrews will be naked on the Internet forever.  While Ms. Andrews has successfully persevered despite these circumstances, no amount of money will be able to permanently remove her online naked images and make things right.

Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

ESPN Fires Curt Schilling Over Facebook Post

ESPN fired Curt Schilling, a former major league baseball star after he made an offensive Facebook post.  This was not the first time that Schilling's social media behavior had gotten him in trouble; however, this post was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  It showed a photo of a man that appeared to be dressed as a woman and stated, "LET HIM IN" TO THE RESTROOM WITH YOUR DAUGHTER OR ELSE YOUR'RE A NARROW MINDED, JUDGMENTAL, UNLOVING, RACIST BIGOT WHO NEEDS TO DIE!!!

Last year, Schilling was suspended from ESPN for an offensive Tweet that compared some Muslims with Nazis.  In that case, Schilling deleted the post and quickly apologized. However, during this social media crisis instead of apologizing for the post quickly he doubled down and defended it on his blog.  

Schilling has the right to voice his opinions. However, under his agreement with ESPN there is most likely a morals clause and under ESPN's social media policy it most likely enables it to fire him for making those opinions public on social media.  Most jobs in the U.S. are at-will meaning that employees may be fired for any reason or no reason at all that doesn't violate public policy (i.e. discrimination-age, race, gender, religion etc...) 

Schilling's reputation has taken a tremendous hit.  It is highly questionable whether he will be given another opportunity by a large media company to be a sports commentator.  It wasn't just one offensive social media post that did him in.  Schilling's cumulative comments online and offline and how he responded to them made it easy for ESPN to fire him.  

Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thailand Wants Foreigners To Register Their Social Media Accounts

According to The Washington Post, Thailand wants foreigners who move to the country to register their social media account information with the government.  A Thailand government spokesman has stated that the request is not mandatory; however, the form that ex-patriots must complete does not indicate that this information is optional.

This new request is not surprising since governments around the world are increasingly monitoring and tracking the digital habits of those within their boarders and around the world. The question is which country will follow in Thailand's foot steps?

 Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hulk Hogan Awarded $115 Million In Gawker Naked Video Lawsuit

Privacy still matters in the Digital Age.  A Florida state jury awarded former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan $115 million dollars in a lawsuit against the online publication Gawker for publishing a video of him taken without his consent of him having sex with his former best friend's wife.

$55 million dollars of the jury's award was for economic harm and $60 million dollars was for emotional distress.  Punitive damages may also be awarded next week so its possible the award may substantially increase.

The recent Erin Andrews $55 million dollar Internet naked video award set the bar for privacy violations in the Digital Age and the Hogan case appears to have taken it several steps further. While both of these cases may be appealed and its doubtful that either will ever receive close to the figures that these juries have awarded, these awards demonstrate that the public is ready to punish those who destroy the personal privacy of others on the Internet.    

Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Internet Ruined My Life After Show

The Syfy Chanel is hosting a new program called, "The Internet Ruined My Life" on Wednesday evenings at 10pm est.  The show profiles stories of those whose lives have been uprooted because of an inappropriate Tweet, or digital activism, or other Internet related activity.

The after show which discusses the stories profiled each episode is hosted by Diana Garber of Cyberwise and Sue Scheff, who is an Author and Internet Safety Expert.  I am honored to be a guest on the after show tomorrow.  I will also be appearing with Dr. Pamela Rutledge who is a Media Psychology Expert.

The after show will occur online at 12 est on March 17, 2016.  The issues that will be discussed demonstrate the importance of understanding the legal, psychological, and safety issues of your digital behavior. The link to the after show is:

Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Erin Andrews Naked Video Lawsuit and Privacy in The Digital Age

The Erin Andrews naked video stalking matter is one of the most troubling examples of what can happen when your privacy is destroyed when illegally created video is uploaded onto the Internet. Ms. Andrews is a sports reporter who has worked at ESPN and is now at Fox Sports. In 2008, a stalker by the name of Michael David Barrett started to follow her and thought it would be a profitable economic venture to video record her nude and then sell the images to the highest bidder.

Mr. Barrett followed Ms. Andrews to the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University. While at the hotel, he figured out how to obtain Ms. Andrews' room number by using a house phone and asking to be connected to her room. When being transferred, Ms. Andrews' room number appeared on the phone's display.  With this information, Mr. Barrett asked the hotel if he could stay in a room next to Ms. Andrews and he was granted his wish.

Once Mr. Barrett obtained Ms. Andrews room number, he utilized a hack saw to remove her door's peephole.  When he heard that she was showering he uncovered her door's doctored peephole and put his cell phone to the opening and recorded approximately four and a half minutes of her naked. After he was finished, he tried to sell the video. There were no interested bidders so he uploaded it online anyway.

Mr. Barrett was subsequently prosecuted for his crimes and Ms. Andrews filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Barrett and the hotel operator/owner where the incident occurred.  According to testimony during Ms. Andrews' civil trial against those she is trying to hold legally responsible for this incident approximately 17 million people have so far viewed the video of her naked.  

Through no fault of her own, she has been seen naked all over the world for more than 7 years.  No technology will be able to permanently scrub this the content from the Internet.  While Ms. Andrews has prospered in her career despite this very disgusting incident, I believe she has lost out on tens of millions of dollars in potential income and business opportunities.  Because of this situation, she has to spend a tremendous amount of time and money on security and privacy protocols along with mental health assistance. The emotional toll has been devastating and will continue for years to come.

There is recent precedent for a multi-million dollar damage award for emotional distress for privacy damages. Last year, rapper 50 Cent was ordered to pay $5 million dollars in damages for leaking a naked video of a woman who had fathered a child with a rival of his. Therefore, juries have begun to understand that damages should be awarded for destroying one's personal privacy.

Interestingly, NBC News has reported that a representative of one of the defendants/a witness who has testified was accused of watching Ms. Andrews' naked video in a restaurant yesterday. This appears to demonstrate that one of the defendants do not take this matter seriously. After watching some of the testimony and reading about the activities of those acting on behalf of the defense, I hope Ms. Andrews wins her case and is awarded millions of dollars.

The hotel owed a duty of care to protect Ms. Andrews' privacy. It failed. But for the hotel's negligence in deploying technology that would enable others to obtain the room numbers of their guests, this incident would not have occurred. The hotel's choice of technology put the personal privacy and safety of Ms. Andrews and other guests at risk. Ms. Andrews will always be naked on the Internet and has incurred significant damages that I believe have been proven at trial.  Therefore, it wouldn't surprise me if she is awarded millions of dollars in damages.

Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Judicial Redress Act Signed

In a positive development, President Obama has signed the Judicial Redress Act yesterday.  The new law will enable citizens of some of our allies to sue the U.S. government for violating their personal privacy rights.

The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate and signed by the President soon after he received the bill.  The enactment of this piece of legislation was needed in order for the new U.S.-EU Privacy Shield Agreement to move forward in Europe.  

The bottom line is that the enactment of the Judicial Redress Act extends some of the privacy rights our citizens have to the citizens of our allies and demonstrates that our country is serious about protecting the personal privacy of their citizens.  This signals that the U.S. may be moving towards ensuring stronger digital privacy rights when it comes to matters that may affect international commerce.  

Copyright 2016 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.