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Are driverless cars the future of transportation?

Imagine how your daily commute to work or even to visit relatives states away could be transformed if your car took care of the driving for you. In several years, this could be a reality through driverless cars. Many assisted-driver systems exist in the automobile market today. Cruise control, automatic braking, collision avoidance, and lane keeping are common additions to current automobiles. 

This technology has been commonly accepted for years. The next step is driverless cars. There is a significant difference between assisted-driver systems and and automated driver systems. Drivers are expected to remain alert when operating assisted-driver systems, but with automated-driver or driverless systems, drivers could essentially become passengers, and would even be able to devote their attention to a completely separate task, such as reading a book or catching up on their favorite show on Netflix.

Major Players in the Space:

General Motors and Waymo are currently leaders in the development of driverless cars. Several years ago, GM acquired Cruise, a self-driving startup, with which the Cruise AV (a modified version of Chevrolet Bolt EV) was adapted. The vehicles are currently being tested in San Francisco and in the suburbs of Phoenix. GM recently filed a safety petition with the US Department of Transportation to put the Cruise AV on the market in 2019. Cruise AV do not comply with a number of federal safety standards, but GM argues that exceptions need to be made for driverless cars, which cannot and should not need to conform to “human-driver-based requirements” to be safe. The Cruise AV does not have a steering wheel, pedals, or any other manual controls. GM President Dan Ammann asserts that a car without a steering wheel cannot have a steering wheel airbag, for example. As driverless cars are introduced into the market, safety regulations need to be updated to reflect their differences from driver-operated cars.

Waymo began as a part of Google X, a Google research unit, in 2009. In 2016, Google made its driverless car project a separate entity under Google named Waymo.  In 2015, Waymo conducted a driverless car’s first completely independent trip, when Steve Mahan, a legally blind man, was transported from a park to a doctor’s office. In 2017, Waymo partnered with Intel and Chrysler, adopting their Pacifica Hybrid minivans.

Waymo’s driverless cars afford many safety features, including braking and backup steering. The company has been developing its driverless cars for years. Testing them with test drivers at the wheel, now, Waymo’s Chrysler Pacificas are operating completely independently in Phoenix’s metropolitan area through the Early Rider Program. Residents of Phoenix can apply to be part of the Early Rider Program and use Waymo’s driverless Chrysler Pacificas in their everyday lives, providing feedback on their experiences. Recently, Waymo also partnered with Lyft, the second largest ride-hailing service in the United States, after Uber. The companies did not release many details regarding their plans together, but we can anticipate that the future of ride-hailing might not include drivers.

Uber has also taken steps to begin using driverless cars. The company recently made a deal with Volvo in which they will purchase 24,000 of its XC90 SUVs between 2019 and 2021. The XC90 is the base of Uber’s current self-driving test car. The cars are installed with autonomous driving technology after purchase. Uber has already been using XC90s for testing in Pittsburgh, and Uber also made a deal to include Mercedes-Benz in their operations at some point. However, Uber’s progress was threatened when the company was sued by Waymo, which claimed that Uber stole trade secrets regarding driverless cars. The competition between the two companies, and among smaller companies, is tremendous, considering that these companies may reinvent the ride-hailing industry.

The possibility of driverless cars both excites and scares most people.

How People Feel About Driverless Cars:

The potential reality of seemingly futuristic technology is enthusing, but there are also several causes for concern. A CARAVAN poll found that 64% of respondents are concerned by sharing the road with driverless cars, while a separate study conducted by the Pew National Research Center concluded that 56% of respondents would not ride in a self-driving vehicle. Much of this scepticism can be attributed to doubt regarding the safety of automated-driving technology and if a computer is really capable of making quick decisions on the road the way a person is. However, about 90% of automobile accidents are attributed to human error, which leads us to believe that if you take drivers out of the equation, the road might be a safer place.

Another concern is the direct effects of driverless cars on people. For instance, as automated-driver technology becomes the norm, people will not need to learn how to drive anymore, resulting in the loss of another skill. If driverless cars begin to dominate the transportation industry, whether that be through ride hailing or through public transportation, a whole industry of people will lose their professions.

Cyber Security:

Perhaps the greatest issue with driverless cars is the possibility that they could be hacked and and controlled remotely. Already, modern cars come with internet connection and bluetooth to operate navigation and entertainment systems, which leave them somewhat vulnerable to cyberattack. In 2015, security researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller hacked into a 2014 Jeep Cherokee, remotely stopping the car on highway I-64. They were even able to control the car’s steering, or disable the breaks completely when the car was going at a very low speed. Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles and updated their security following this incident. Although assisted-driver systems are already at risk of being hacked or otherwise manipulated, automated-driver systems share this danger, but with greater implications.

Attacks on assisted-driver systems are dangerous, but do not necessarily have to be disastrous–if the driver is paying attention. For example, a hacked steering system can be overpowered by a driver forcefully turning the steering wheel in his desired direction. However, in an automated-driver system, when there is no one to mitigate such an attack.

Similarly, collision-avoidance technology could be manipulated in several ways. In 2016, researchers at CMU found that glasses with a certain pattern can defeat advanced recognition algorithms, causing a vehicle not to recognize a person in its path. Researchers at the University of South Carolina, Zhejiang University in China, and the Chinese security firm Qihoo 360 all found that sensors on the Tesla S could be confused. Exposing the car to a variety of radio, sound, and light emitting tools, caused the sensors to fail to recognize objects in the vehicle’s path. Although normalizing automated-driving technology is risky, there are many benefits, notably convenience and the safety that comes with eliminating human error.

As we enter the unknown world of self-driving cars, it is important to remain cautious, but also open to new possibilities.

To learn more about the legality of technology in our world visit  The LawDecoder 

What are the consequences of the loss of net neutrality for consumers and startups?

So what is net neutrality?

The topic of net neutrality has dominated the internet for weeks. Many people have been speculating the implications of net neutrality in both the news and on social media. Will we have to pay more to access our favorite websites? Are startups and small businesses doomed? Is the internet as we know it gone forever? While net neutrality is a valid cause for concern, I wouldn’t start mourning the death of the internet just yet.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission established net neutrality regulations. High-speed internet was reclassified from an information to a telecommunications service. Information services are subjected to less regulation than telecommunications services, which can be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act. These rules were established to protect the open Internet, prohibiting Internet service providers (ISPs) from promoting some content over other content unfairly.

What may happen?

Without net neutrality regulations, this could occur in several ways, including paid prioritization, in which a content owner pays an ISP to promote its content over other content or to install “fast lanes” to their website. An ISP could also prioritize their own content, or block certain websites, such as those of competitors.

How did net neutrality get repealed? 

On December 14, 2017, the FCC repealed these net neutrality regulations. The Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, and two other Republican commissioners voted against net neutrality, granting them the majority at 3-2. The supposed benefit of repealing net neutrality regulations is to promote competition among Internet providers. Supporters of the repeal of net neutrality regulations suggest that internet service providers will not reduce consumers’ internet capabilities, but promote innovation and reasonable prices. Major internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T claim that our internet experience will not change drastically and that they will not engage in most forms of paid prioritization. However, many of us remain skeptical.

History of net neutrality

Throughout the internet, a cause for concern was established due to the behavior of ISPs before the 2015 regulations were put into place. In 2005, CompTel, a trade association consisting of AT&T’s competitors, requested documents from the FCC regarding AT&T’s potential overcharging of the agency for a project. AT&T dissented on the grounds of “personal privacy” under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In 2009,  a Third Circuit federal appeals court ruled in FCC v. AT&T Inc. that corporations are entitled to personal privacy because they are considered persons under other sections of FOIA. The case was appealed, and the Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision, stating that corporations do not have the personal privacy that could protect them from the release of public records obtained by a government agency.

Several years later, Comcast was found to have been slowing its customers’ access to BitTorrent, a “peer-to-peer” file-sharing service. BitTorrent is one of the most commonly used means of sharing large electronic files, including audio and video files. The FCC attempted to regulate this practice but in Comcast Corp. v. FCC (2010), a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate Internet providers by requiring them to treat all web traffic equally, citing the FCC’s failure to demonstrate its “ancillary authority” over Comcast’s practices. That same year, the FCC approved the Open Internet Order, which barred internet providers from preventing access to certain websites (such as competitor websites). In 2012, AT&T faced backlash after blocking the FaceTime app on the phones of customers with certain data plans. The FCC charged AT&T a fine and eventually users were able to continue using the app. The actions of ISPs throughout the years make it very uncertain that we will continue to be able to view content without restrictions.

Actual Consequences

Although it is true that the internet as we know it is not going to change overnight, over time, the repeal of net neutrality regulations could cause significant changes for both consumers and startups/small businesses. Service providers like Comcast or AT&T could decide to charge companies to deliver more web traffic from the websites’ servers. Such service providers could also create faster lanes of delivery for their own sites so that consumers will have more difficulty viewing competitors’ sites. Companies (e.g Amazon, Netflix) could decide to charge their customers extra money in order to compensate for their payments to internet service providers, potentially increasing our internet bills drastically.

It seems unlikely that the repeal of net neutrality regulations will lead to meaningful increased competition, considering that a handful of corporations dominate internet service. Even more unnerving is the possibility of strict limitations on the content that we can view and the websites that we can use. If paid prioritization takes effect, and it is much faster and easier to access larger, more prominent companies online that can afford to pay for faster service, there are several dangerous implications for both consumers and small businesses. Limiting consumers’ access to websites of startups, small businesses, and small, independent news sources strips them of their consumer choice and their ability to stay informed.

Impact on Startups and Small Businesses

Furthermore, the absence of net neutrality could be detrimental to startups, which rely heavily on the internet to promote their products and gain a following. It is unlikely that startups will be able to compete with larger, more well-known businesses if internet service providers decide to start charging websites for service. Contrary to its supposed intention, the elimination of net neutrality will hamper innovation and competition.

While the idea of paying more for internet service is unappealing to most people, the most concerning aspect of deregulating the internet is the absence of information and choice that will affect all of us. Thanks to the open internet, we have been able to view the information we want from a plethora of sources. Without the open internet, we will see whatever the largest few ISPs, such as Comcast and AT&T, want us to see. While other sources of information, such as newspapers, do exist and are important, they do not reach everyone to the extent that the Internet does.

The Internet allows us to both access and shares the most recent information in seconds. It provides a connection among peers and between citizens and government. Without the open Internet, a restriction of freedom exists. However, there is still hope for net neutrality. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (New York) has suggested that he will force a Congressional vote on net neutrality by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). It is likely that there will also be multiple lawsuits against the FCC. Now, during these essential first moments, is the time to be proactive in order to preserve net neutrality.

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Does the iPhone X’s Face ID Put Your Privacy at Risk?

With current technology, we are left with almost nothing to wish for. A decade ago, the services available to us now would be unfathomable. Today, you can have groceries, a professional massage, or a latte delivered to your door in minutes just by using your smartphone.

Smart Phone Revolution

With the release of the iPhone X, facial recognition software has become a popular topic of discussion. On Apple’s website, the features are described as “some of the most sophisticated technology we’ve ever developed,” including “cameras and sensors that enable Face ID.” However, the continuous development of this type of technology, is accompanied by privacy concerns. Making us wonder if unlocking our phones so easily is really worth it.

Facial recognition in the Samsung Galaxy 8 can be easily manipulated with a photo of the phone’s owner.  Apple claims that such a breach of privacy is not possible with the iPhone X.

The iPhone X’s “True Depth Camera” works by analyzing 30,000 individual points on your face, creating both a facial map and an in-depth image of your face. Apple assures users that facial data for unlocking the iPhone X will only be stored in the phone itself. Yet, thousands of third-party app developers can access to some of this facial data. 

Sharing data with app developers is not alone enough to unlock a phone. Privacy activists though are wary of granting access to something as intimate as your face, to thousands of people.

Concerns about people unlocking your phone or being forced to unlock your phone under duress of law enforcement or an abusive partner are legitimate. There is always the possibility that another person could force you to reveal your four-digit passcode. New technologies  like Face ID and Touch ID  now just make it more feasible.

Case Law

Until there is more case law regarding Face ID, we won’t know its exact legal implications. However, a judging from a recent Minnesota case, technology such as Face ID and Touch ID cannot protect your phone from law enforcement. The case, State vs. Diamond, ruled that, when a court has issued a warrant allowing police to search a phone, a suspect can be compelled to unlock his phone with his fingerprint. Fingerprints, unlike passcodes, are not protected by the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

The court reason that being compelled with a warrant to unlock a phone via Touch ID is similar to being compelled to give a blood sample, and does not require a person to reveal any knowledge that could be considered self-incriminating.

Facial recognition technology is not limited to the iPhone X. Experiments utilize it in order to attempt to reduce airport lines, prevent voter fraud, and provide better quality CCTV. As technology continues to develop, we need to weigh the costs of losing privacy against convenience and accessibility.

 

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Small Business Advertisement Regulations

What is the FTC?

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is the United States highest form of business regulation. The primary focus of the FTC is to protect consumers first and foremost, as well as maintain competition and try to prevent monopolies. The FTC focuses on both large corporations as well as small businesses.

How does it regulate businesses?

When focusing on small businesses, the FTC heavily relies on determining if an advertisement is deceptive. Something is deceptive if it is something that can specifically mislead a consumer that is acting reasonably. Another large factor is if the deceptive claims are material, meaning it is important to a consumer’s decision to buy or use a product.

An ad is proven to be deceptive by the FTC in multiple ways. They first consider the advertisement in all its context, and how said advertisement would be interpreted by a consumer. The FTC also looks at express claims, which is claims made directly in the ad, such as that a product can help cure something. An implied claim is one that is made indirectly or alluded to, such as saying a product can aid in the healing of what is causing the pain. Both express and implied claims must have proof before running the advertisement.

When the FTC is looking into claims, there are certain things that a business must provide in defense of their ads. One of these is having a reasonable basis for a claim that is objective evidence. If an ad claims something such as “2 out of 3 doctors confirm this”, then there must be evidence of that to back it up. If the claim is nonspecific, the FTC generally will look towards experts to support the claim. One thing that cannot be used as a basis is customer support for the product and their approval of its uses.

While the FTC is the top form of regulation that must be adhered to, there are other regulatory forces that must be adhered to with small businesses. This includes closely following state statutes as well as local ones that may affect your business or that of your competitors. The Better Business Bureau is often very reliable and resourceful in terms of local business disputes. The FTC often makes attempts to fight any fraudulent claims that try to prey on entrepreneurs.

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Trademark vs Service Mark Which One Should I Use?

When starting a business, it can be confusing whether something should be marked with a trademark or a service mark. Both trademarks and service marks offer legal protection, if handled correctly.

Trademarks are used to protect companies that are involved with the creation of products. Companies that create goods would want to use a trademark to legally protect their logos or other images attached to their goods.

Service marks protect companies that provide services. Companies that provide services would want to use a service mark to legally protect the images and logos attached to to their services.

When applying for trade or service marks, it is important to submit the logo in the exact form you plan to use it in. Legal protections only extend to the exact image or logo registered as a trade or service mark.

Before filing for a trade or service mark on USPTO, it is important to investigate other companies. Make sure the content you are filing a trade or service mark for differs from the logos of other companies. Logos that are too similar to trademarked property belonging to other companies will most likely get rejected (research can be done on both a state and federal level).
There are three commonly used trademark symbols: (™), (SM), and the letter ®  in a circle. Companies that want to avoid the fees attached to applying for a trade or service mark can put the ™ or (SM) symbol in their logo until they are able to apply for a legal trade or service mark. The protections attached to the trademark and service mark symbols are limited, but limited protections are better than nothing. If another company has a legally trademarked logo that is similar to a unmarked logo or a logo with the trade or service mark symbol, the limited protections do not apply. If you do register your trademark you would use the ® to receive the full protections for the trademark.

To learn more about Trademarks and Service Marks please check back later this week on LawDecoder.com to see the release of our newest product.