Starbucks Challenge – March 2015

Once a month.  Take the Challenge.

Each month we feature a technology with potential legal implications and ask:

What’s YOUR answer?

One $25 Starbucks gift card card awarded per challenge based on what we feel is the most judicious response to the highlighted technology, below. 

Deadline to be eligible for this month’s Starbucks gift card is April 1, 2015.

“Sewing” people together, someone’s head and another person’s body, via polyethylene glycol-assisted spinal fusion, could be realized in two years’ time.  Why do this? “[T]o help patients with severe physical impairments.”  Obviously, there are a few medical, ethical and legal concerns when considering – and executing – such a procedure.  Tell us about the legal issues you foresee.  To get you started, see this and this (item 2).

Tuesday Triple Trivia for March 3, 2015


3 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers. Every Tuesday.

1. What recent takedown request screamed of schadenfreude?


Answer: the wrinkle occurred when a revenge porn website operator realized he became the target of alleged unauthorized use of his own photos and information.  The “victim,” Craig Brittain filed a takedown request with Google for material publicizing his settlement with the FTC in connection with his revenge porn website.  The website solicited nude photos intended to cause shame and embarrassment to others and further extorted $200-$500 to have the images removed from the website.  It is unlikely, however, that Brittain’s information qualifies for removal under last year’s Court of Justice of the European Union ruling.  What goes around comes around.  Read more here.

2. What near future medical advancement gives new meaning to the phrase “my head isn’t screwed on straight”?


Answer: no, we are not referring to a hair transplant, rather, a head transplant.  It appears the first human head transplant could happen in two years.  It does not help to ease one’s discomfort that the same experiment has been unsuccessful in animals.  The first step in moving forward is to pinpoint scientists who might be interested in pursuing the project.  The idea is to “extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer.”  Challenges include fusing the spinal cord and head rejection (just like organ rejection) — and a country that will welcome the procedure.  The concept will be unveiled at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Annapolis, Maryland, this coming June.  Read the details here.

3. What is the latest breakthrough in police sketch artistry?


Answer: potentially another scoring point for DNA.  In order to identify a murder suspect, police in Columbia, S.C., recently released a sketch generated by a computer relying exclusively on DNA found at the crime scene.   DNA phenotyping (determining an individual’s physical traits, including his or her face, skin, hair and eye color) is different from how crime scene DNA has been used to date.  It is considered to be a valuable breakthrough — as long as the DNA sample collected is a good one and the methodologies are shown to yield accurate results.  However, some, like Kenneth Kidd, a professor of genetics at Yale, are skeptical about the technology in that faces are very complex, making the process more difficult than its proponents like to advertise.  Given its infancy, further validation studies need to be undertaken to support the accuracy of the various approaches.  In fact, one published analysis “explained only about 23 percent of the variation in faces and the genetic variants did not really add much detail.”  There are also concerns that DNA phenotyping will contribute to racial profiling and Fourth Amendment violations.  Development in the area has relied on analysis of DNA and faces of people with mixed West African and European ancestry, thereby leading “to a technology that is better able to make faces that are African-American.” Unfortunately, the Columbia, S.C., sketch has not generated any leads — yet.  Read more here.


Wednesday Web Watch for February 25, 2015

www3Michelle Francl, a chemistry professor, is tired of the Food Babe, Vani Hari, irresponsibly selling fiction for fact.  But for Hari, fiction sells books, videos, appearances and increases her popularity — especially when her titles are so deliciously tied to disgusting things, like beaver butt.   According to Francl,  “[t]he Food Babe is a business, just like Kraft, and one that is far less grounded in science.”  Francl is not alone in her views.  Many scientists abhor the Food Babe’s message.  Science writer Kavin Senapathy, echoes Francl and others claiming that Hari “exploits the scientific ignorance of her followers.”  Neurologist Steven Novella has said that the Food Babe “is to food what Jenny McCarthy is to vaccines.”  It is said that birds of a feather flock together and, surprisingly, Hari has not yet co-authored a book with anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva — perhaps it’s in the works.  Read more from Francl about Hari’s counterfactual claims in Slate.


Tuesday Triple Trivia for February 24, 2015

TTT103 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers. Every Tuesday.

1. It used to be the Luccheses and the Gambinos that one had to fear.  Now it’s this mob:


Image result for angry social media posts comments images

Answer: forget about the mafia, it’s the digital mob who is out to get you if you do or say something bad — at least when it comes to social media.  A single lapse of judgment can create long-term havoc in the life of a social media user — economically, psychologically and socially.   Everyone makes mistakes but social media errors, which may be presented to thousands of judges and juries, have a more pervasive effect.  First, crowds can be more “violent” than individuals (kind of like looting), second, it is easier to be more malevolent in front of a screen than in person (kind of like online bullying).  So, say I mistakenly offend John by making fun of Alzheimer’s while we are hanging out together at Starbucks.  John tells me his mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s and is hurt by my insensitivity.  I immediately apologize to John and also feel guilty about all the other people suffering from this horrible disease.  Case likely closed.  Now,  if I had done the same thing, yet posted tactless and foolish remarks on Facebook or Twitter, the consequences would very likely be amplified and could be far-reaching.  For example, consider the following real-life situation.  For Halloween, a young woman decided to dress up as a Boston Marathon bombing victim and posted a photo of herself in costume on Twitter.  An actual bombing victim later tweeted at her, “[y]ou should be ashamed, my mother lost both her legs and I almost died.”  Thereafter, angry mobs unearthed the woman’s personal information.  She received online threats and was also fired from her job as a result of advertising her poor choice of a Halloween costume.   This begs the question, should people lose their jobs over things unrelated to or outside the scope of employment?   Conor Friedersdorf, staff writer at The Atlantic says absolutely not.  Friedersdorf proposes a new social norm.  He says, “my strong suspicion is that we’d all be better off if Americans developed a broad aversion to people being fired for public missteps that have nothing to do with their jobs. That norm would do more good than bad even if you think some people deserve to be fired.” However, many professions have ethical or more stringent codes in place to punish behavior that although unrelated to the execution of one’s job, nonetheless casts a negative light on the profession as a whole.  In some cases, such “conduct unbecoming” may even be considered a crime (e.g. conduct unbecoming an officer or gentleman).   Do we agree with Friedersdorf about the establishment of a general norm preventing the loss of one’s job resulting from callous remarks, depictions or photographs?  What if there is a pattern as opposed to a single instance of error in judgment?  Read more here.

2. Who’s got you covered in more ways than one?


Answer: Independence Day clothing company espouses the “convergence of technology and fashion.”  With no buttons, zippers or tags, dressing is a cinch.  The clothing line does boast a “GPS option” pocket for many styles created to hold the “Empower” personal GPS tracker to keep track of your kid or significant other.  Wonder what happens when the sweatshirt ends up in the washing machine…with the tracker?  Read the details here.

3. I spy with my little eye…


Answer: you are a little low on cash and sleeping on an acquaintance’s couch for awhile.  Or, you are on vacation in the Caribbean, renting a private villa.  Either way, beware of the eye in the sky.   Hidden video cameras are becoming very popular in private homes, zooming in on houseguests when and where they least expect it.   What houseguests should and can expect is a reasonable measure of privacy stemming from the archaic Wiretap Act when a camera that is not visible captures not just video but audio as well.  Good news?  Not really.  How many people will go through the trouble of filing a lawsuit, especially when they are sleeping on someone’s futon because they are low on funds?  Also, while those same folks may have legal recourse against the camera’s owner, other interested parties may, nonetheless, gain access to the camera’s footage.  For instance, one manufacturer “doesn’t warn customers that the government could seize the cloud-based video from their cameras or tap into their live-streams, and doesn’t state under which circumstances the company would comply with such a request.” That same manufacturer further provides that “a very select number of employees (senior engineering leadership) have the ability to access video data only when legally required.”  Who does this protect? While the camera’s owner may be aware of a manufacturer’s policies, the oblivious couchguest is not.  Read the story here.