United States: Socially Aware: The Social Media Law Update - Volume 4, Issue 2

In this issue of Socially Aware, our Burton Award-winning guide to the law and business of social media, we explore legal concerns raised by Google Glass; we provide an overview of the growing body of case law addressing ownership of business-related social media accounts; we take a look at two circuit court decisions addressing the interplay between social media usage and the First Amendment; we examine the trend toward collaborative consumption and associated legal issues; we discuss an important new decision regarding unilateral modifications to online terms of use; and we highlight an industry warning to website operators who collect data for purposes of online behavioral advertising.


By Gabriel Meister and Benjamin Han

What is Google Glass?

As most Socially Aware readers know, Google Glass ("Glass") is a form of wearable technology that gives its users hands-free access to a variety of smartphone features by attaching a highly compact head-mounted display system to a pair of specially designed eyeglass frames. The display system connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth. In its current form, Glass can pull information from the web, take photographs, record videos, send messages via email or SMS, notify its user about messages and upcoming events and provide navigation directions via GPS. An embellished demonstration of Glass's features is available at Google's Glass web page.

Although Glass is in the testing stage as of the time of this writing and boasts only a modest set of features, the device has caused quite a stir in both the mainstream and social media spheres. Wearable technology, however, has been around for quite a while (for an extensive history of wearable computers, pay a visit to Paul Miller's article on The Verge) and, although controversial, many of the concerns raised by Google Glass are not entirely new. This article will explore some of the more common concerns raised about Glass in the context of evolving legal and social norms — all premised on the assumption that Glass eventually will ultimately become a widely used, mainstream product.

Glass and Privacy

When the original Kodak cameras were released in the late 19th century, they caused a huge uproar among both lawmakers and consumers for their ability to do what they are designed to do: that is, take pictures. This led to widespread bans on cameras at beaches, the Washington Monument and other locations. Samuel Warren and Justice Louis Brandeis aptly noted in an 1890 Harvard Law Review article:

Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that "what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops." For years there has been a feeling that the law must afford some remedy for the unauthorized circulation of portraits of private persons[.]

As Kodak cameras became more mainstream, society adapted by creating new laws, one of the most important of which was development of the "reasonable expectation of privacy" doctrine, which purports to protect individuals from being photographed in certain places recognized as "zones of privacy" — a designation that does not typically extend to public places.

Needless to say, Glass is made of more advanced technology than the original Kodak cameras, and this new technology raises a whole new set of potential concerns. In particular, (1) taking a photograph with a traditional camera is typically more noticeable to subjects and onlookers alike than taking a photograph with a "wearable" device like Glass, and (2) the Bluetooth connection between Glass and its user's smartphone allows the possibility of real-time facial recognition.

In part due to these concerns, on May 16, 2013, a bipartisan caucus of congressmen sent Google an inquiry regarding a variety of privacy matters. In response to that inquiry, Google announced on June 3, 2013, that it would not allow applications with facial recognition on Google Glass. (Naturally, hackers have thumbed their noses at Google's announcement, reportedly building their own unauthorized software with facial recognition features.)

Although banning facial recognition apps may address the second concern noted above, the first concern still stands because people being photographed by a Glass wearer, whether in a "zone of privacy" or in a public place in which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, simply might not even know it. A handful of establishments have responded by preemptively banning the device from their premises. Seattle's 5 Point Café was, perhaps, the first to issue such a ban, announcing via Facebook back in May 2013, "For the record, The 5 Point is the first Seattle business to ban in advance Google Glasses. And a** kickings will be encouraged for violators." Colorado's Press Play Bar followed with its own ban in July 2013. And Guantanamo has banned Google Glass.

Only time will tell whether one-off bans on Glass and similar devices are akin to the overreactions — at least we now perceive them to be overreactions — that inspired bans on Kodak cameras in the late 19th century. And, perhaps preemptively, Glass already limits a user's ability to take photos to cases in which the user either speaks an audible command or makes a visible swipe on the device's tactile sensor, and limits video recordings to 10 seconds in length without a user holding onto the tactile sensor. Of course, developers have already created an app that lets users take pictures by simply winking. Glass's entrance into the mainstream is poised to cause further disruption.

Breaking The Casino

In the 1960s, a group of UCLA and MIT graduate students created a "cigarette pack sized analog device" that increased the expected gain of playing roulette by 44%. The theory behind the device was to feed data concerning the motion of the roulette wheel and ball to a primitive computer that would predict the likely location of the ball's drop. The premise of such a device was featured more recently in an episode of the popular television show CSI, in which (again) a pair of students created a device that would send video data from the casino back to an off-site computer run by one of the students, who would then relay the predictions back to the player on-site.

The possibility of improving gamblers' odds over the house's odds goes further than just roulette. For instance, with the assistance of a computer, even average blackjack players could accomplish feats reserved for the most skilled card counters; this is why Nevada gaming regulators issued an alert to casino operators in February 2009, warning them about the use of a then newly released simple card counter app. Wearable computers at the poker table can even be used to transmit hand information from one play to another, enabling collusion.

Perhaps it's only natural that casino operators are fearful of Google Glass. The Associated Press reported on June 12, 2013, that the Nevada and New Jersey Gaming Commissions have urged casinos to ban gamblers from wearing Google Glass on their premises. Some casino operators, such as Caesar's Palace, have already forbidden their customers from wearing Glass while in their casinos, and Delaware has banned Glass from its own casinos. None of this is surprising, given casinos' long history of taking strong measures to prevent players from gaining an edge over the house. And given the level of deference that state gaming commissions afford casinos in limiting the use of electronics on their premises, Glass is likely to be unwelcome at gambling houses for the foreseeable future.

Safety While Driving

In February 2013, Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and Glass developer, commented during a segment of TED Talks that one of Project Glass's goals was to change how people interact with their smartphones. According to Brin, the goal is to "free your hands" and "free your eyes" by limiting the need to look down at a phone screen. One Glass feature that best embodies this goal is turn-by-turn navigation.

In its current iteration, Glass's turn-by-turn navigation is relatively simple, capable only of providing pop-up notifications of upcoming turns. In the future, Glass may be capable of layering information over a user's peripheral vision, and even augmenting that information with information from the web. Yet, even in light of the device's relatively simple set of current navigational features, the possibility of using Glass while driving has caused plenty of stir.

Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, psychology professors at the University of Illinois and Union College, respectively, explored the potential safety concerns arising from using Glass while driving in a May 24, 2013 New York Times op-ed piece. Simons and Chabris argue that people are fundamentally incapable of looking away from where they're headed for more than a couple of seconds without losing their bearings. Drivers "intuitively grasp" this limitation by only glancing at the car radio or speedometer briefly before returning their eyes to the road. (Meanwhile, other distractions have been shown to be far more dangerous; the op-ed cites a study that demonstrated that drivers who texted with their mobile devices looked away from the road for as long as 4.6 seconds during a given six-second period, more than sufficient time to cause a major accident.)

Glass tries to circumvent this limitation by only displaying turn-by-turn information at relevant times, that is, just before turns that are coming up, as demonstrated in this video. Still, Simons and Chabris believe that it will be a challenge to find the right balance of information that can be safely displayed directly in drivers' fields of vision.

Safety concerns like these are the motivation behind West Virginia State Rep. Howell's proposed legislation that would amend driving laws to prohibit "using a wearable computer with head mounted display" while driving.

Delaware's lawmakers have introduced similar legislation. And according to some reports, the UK Department for Transport is considering its own ban on using Google Glass while driving.

It is unclear whether a blanket legal ban on head-mounted displays is the best approach to maximize safety. Arguably, Glass may strike the right balance by providing drivers with the same information they would typically retrieve by glancing down at a GPS system — without making drivers look away from the road. Head-mounted systems like Glass could be also used as a sort of "warning system" that alerts drivers that they are, say, approaching the speed limit, again without having to look down at separate speedometers. On the other hand, any guidelines for when and how head-mounted displays like Glass can be used on the road would probably need to be both granular and flexible to accommodate what will undoubtedly be a rapidly evolving technology.

The Future

Can you envision the first time someone uses Glass to surreptitiously record a feature film at the local multiplex? According to Fast Company, a VP at the National Association of Theatre Owners has imagined just such a situation and says that his group anticipates working with its hundreds of members to develop Glass usage policies for their theaters. Can you picture the first time someone uses Glass to record a concert whose producer or venue enforces a strict "no videotaping" policy, or to secretly photograph sensitive documents containing trade secrets? Or the first time someone is wearing Glass while committing a crime? How will workplaces handle Glass, whether worn by visitors or used by their own employees on or off the job?

Countless situations are going to be influenced by Google Glass and similar wearable technologies. And given the range of issues that have already arisen in beta, these technologies' impact on laws and social norms is bound to be more than just a matter of where you can or can't wear your Glass.

To read this Newsletter in full, please click here.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Gabriel E. Meister
Aaron P. Rubin
Alistair Maughan
Susan McLean
D. Reed Freeman, Jr.
Patrick Bernhardt
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions