Thursday, October 4, 2012

CodeX Legal Tech Start-Up Showcase

Today, we went to a CodeX Legal Tech Start-Up Showcase. The three companies that presented focused on leveraging technology to increase efficiency in legislation, the legal profession and user privacy. First up was Jason Hegland from Securities Litigation Analytics (SLA), which began as a faculty research project. Through the course of their research, SLA collected data on over 3,000 class action and SEC lawsuits, including information like who the parties of a suit were, the outcomes of the cases and what the settlement payments were. They're thinking that this data would be useful to D&O insurance companies for risk assessment (i.e. probability of a suit) and to law firms for settlement prediction modelling.

Next was Casey Oppenheim of Disconnect, an online privacy tool you can attach to your browser to stop 3rd-party tracking.* As we move more of our lives into a digital space, privacy becomes increasingly important. I really encourage you all to sign up for Disconnect, it's an easy browser extension to add on and if you use Firefox like I do, you can use Collusion which shows you exactly who is trying to track you and where they came from. 

*For anyone who isn't familiar with online tracking ... it basically works like this: When you're logged into Facebook - even when the tab/window is closed - when you visit other websites, Facebook is tracking you with a cookie in order to collect information about your web surfing habits i.e. they know when you're on a news website or online shopping or whatever else you do on the web. 3rd party tracking refers to when a website other than Facebook is tracking you after you visited Facebook. This is mostly for advertising purposes so that vendors can send you targeted ads.

Here's a screenshot of my interactive Collusion web (along with all of the websites I have open):

I think a major aspect of privacy issues lies in awareness. What really makes me uneasy about tracking is that I don't know who's doing it, how it's being done, and what the information is being used for. For me, there's no desire to go "off the grid" like I'm some cyberpunk rebel - I just want to know who's behind the curtain. I'm actually completely okay with websites collecting information like which blogs I follow to send me targeted ads as long as they're upfront about it. I like that Collusion shows you what's going on and gives you the option to whitelist websites that you're cool with. 

Disconnect is also working on a privacy icon project to help simplify website privacy policies which I think is a great idea. Hopefully they become as widespread as the Creative Commons licenses icons.

Last but not least, we had Aaron Greenspan** who founded PlainSite, a huge legal database that catalogues legislation, cases, companies and which law firms they retained, and judges and which attorneys presented before them. Despite Aaron's self-professed hatred of lawyers, PlainSite is useful for both attorneys and for laypeople to help understand and access the law.

**If that name looks familiar, this may be why.

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