Social media companies have traditionally argued that they are merely internet platforms as opposed to publishers with the ensuing editorial responsibilities (despite the odd court case where it has been to their advantage to hold themselves out as publishers). But in the face of increasing public controversy about malicious content plaguing social media sites, the Silicon Valley giants are being forced to take action to minimise reputation damage. Facebook claimed that it had removed 1.5 million copies of the video of the New Zealand terrorist attack in the first 24 hours alone – which provides some idea of the scale of the challenge involved with content moderation.

Risky once-in-a-generation skills shortage poses existential threat to firms

Legal employers are now facing a skills shortage. UK unemployment has fallen to a 44-year low of 3.8% and employees, armed with more options than ever, are constantly on the move to greener pastures. The inability to replace a good employee can pose a severe threat to your business.

Rather than push existing employees to work longer hours, technology can help law firms undertake more work with the same number of people. Technology achieves this by automating administrative tasks, helping lawyers to work more effectively and get home on time.

Legal support roles like legal secretaries and bookkeepers are no longer as popular because people seek high-prestige employment with the promise of strong wage growth. Junior lawyers currently undertake this work but this solution is costly and the work menial, which means technology can be better, faster and cheaper than an employee.

Competition for staff is also coming from new entrants to the legal market, including the alternative legal services market and the Big 4 accounting firms who economies of scale to offer a full suite of professional services – essentially, a one-stop shop. Both are becoming attractive career options for lawyers, particularly mid-career or senior lawyers.

One could be forgiven for thinking that knowing how to comply with a legal obligation that has been in place for nearly a decade would be clear cut. However, widespread practice tells us that this is far from the truth. In November 2009, as part of wider reforms to the European telecommunications regulatory framework, the European Union introduced various amendments to the existing Directive 2002/58/EC (e-Privacy Directive), including to the provisions regulating the use of cookies.

Since then the e-Privacy Directive has required obtaining the consent of users in order to store or access information (typically cookies or similar tracking technologies) on their devices. The only exemptions to this requirement are where this is for the sole purpose of transmitting a communication or where it is strictly necessary to provide an internet service explicitly requested by the user.

Four years on and Professor Richard Susskind has written the same book he wrote last time, so he says. He jests, yet again. The message and the underlying arguments remain constant; the same analogies are deployed (you know, the drill); but tech has moved on, more is feasible and the vision is developed and refined accordingly. His previous works have covered wide ground: law, lawyers, professions. The narrower focus of this work enables him to treat us to a more extensive, deeper consideration of the subject.

This is not a book about legal technology but an argument for repurposing the justice system to serve more people, employing technologies that are already well established and replacing cumbersome procedures that leave too many denied the justice they deserve.

Optimising images for search

The way in which we search for images is evolving and changing, and Google has announced that image search is a big topic in the search engine optimisation community.

Once upon a time we would search for images primarily for the purpose of copying and pasting an appropriate image into our presentations or documents. We were using image search as a source of stock photography.

But today, searchers are using image search for more than just stock images. We are using search as part of our buying process or to help us learn something new or to achieve a goal.

Our intention using image search has changed.

Deepfakes are a form of digital impersonation, in which the face and voice of a person can be superimposed into video and audio recordings of another individual. Much has happened from technological, social and legal perspectives since deepfakes first surfaced in 2017.

2019 has seen deepfakes go from niche novelty to mainstream phenomenon. As any moviegoer knows, computer-generated special effects are nothing new. But deepfakes have captured the public’s imagination because they can be created with startling accuracy using only a few “source” images.

Data misuse is often discussed alongside cybersecurity, within the overall context of data protection; but it is important to make the distinction between data which has been obtained legitimately but misused and data which has been collected illegally (eg without consent) or stolen (via computer hacking).

Data theft generally involves a cyberattack or harvesting of data by other means where data subjects are unaware of the collection or modification of their data; this type of cybercrime is largely covered by the Computer Misuse Act. Even where the data is provided knowingly and willingly, its collection may still be illegal if it breaches the Data Protection Act (DPA) or General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The term “data misuse” is normally applied to personal data which has been initially willingly and legitimately provided by customers to a company, but is later used (either by the company or a third party) for purposes which are outside the scope of legitimate reasons for the initial data collection. This is what we will be discussing in this article.

One wet Sunday afternoon I was playing with an interface to OpenAI’s machine learning model, GPT-2, which was trained to predict the next word in a sentence and which can now generate articles of synthetic text based on a sentence provided to it. I typed, “Can AI own the copyright in the work that it has generated?” After a little pause, I would like to say for thought, the AI provided some text which did not make redundant the writing of this article but nevertheless was grammatically correct and very readable. It ended with a flourish saying, “and that is a philosophical, not a legal, question.”

Amusing, but increasingly and sometimes disconcertingly “human”, AI is now part of our daily lives. It finishes our sentences (for example, Gmail’s SmartCompose), it finds the information we need on a myriad of topics (think of Alexa and other voice assistants) and it curates the ads and news we view online [Note 1]. It is also doing things which we think of as being the exclusive reserve of humans; it is creating art works and writing music.

Not only that, but it is also very “clever”. DeepMind’s neural network, AlphaGo Zero, taught itself the complex game of Go and after three days beat its predecessor, AlphaGo, which had itself beaten the 18-times world champion. Other AI models are helping scientists discover new drugs and develop innovations in clean energy.

This raises interesting questions for intellectual property (“IP”). When AI writes an article, paints a picture or creates some music, who owns the resulting copyright in the work? When AI develops a new idea which might be patentable, who owns the invention?

The Law Society, in its report Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law, published September 2019, defines the “Access to Justice Sector” as “Comprised of all organisations supplying access to justice services. It includes law firms, Not for Profits, individual practitioner barristers and solicitors, in-house legal teams, government bodies, academics, LawTech businesses and associations.” This is not very helpful, but nevertheless true. Everyone involved in the legal sector is involved in delivering (access to) justice in some way, though we might debate the merits.

The rise of the gig economy and zero hours contracts – often facilitated by the internet and apps such as Uber, Deliveroo and Limber – has been the subject of vigorous debate over recent years. Governments across the world have been grappling with the implications for employment law and wider society, balancing the boost to the economy and reduction in unemployment with restrictive practices, insecurity of work, low wages and imbalance of power.

Much has been written about the problems surrounding permanence of data once it has been uploaded to the internet – whether it’s a misjudged Twitter comment by a politician from 10 years ago, or a risqué photo from bacchanalian university days which emerges when someone is looking for a job. The difficulty of erasure impinges on a broader philosophical principle – the right to be forgotten – but this term has been most commonly used to describe the stickiness of search results within Google. The specific legal question often asked in this regard is: does Google need to delete search results upon request by individuals?

Seeking one-stop-shop provision is a growing trend amongst law firms on their quest for convenience, efficiency, support, cost and security improvements. By having their main software and outsourcing service needs met by one primary supplier, legal practices gain all these benefits and more. To clarify…

  • Convenience: There’s one contract and one point of contact which saves time and hassle for your time-starved lawyers and business managers.
  • Efficiency: It’s all about integration. Your core applications are synchronised, including your Microsoft Office suite, thereby streamlining the individual user experience.
  • Support: You’re able to build strong relationships with your assigned team members, be it your account manager, cashier or payroll clerk. Belonging to the same company, there’s consistency in the level of customer service you receive.
  • Cost: Whichever combination of products you choose, there’s one sales consultant compiling your fees, giving you complete visibility and allowing total flexibility as costs reflect your busyness.
  • Security: By carefully selecting a supplier with robust safety measures in place, you’re trusting your confidential data and documents to only one reliable source which significantly lessens any potential for security breaches.