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George-Bellas-Business-Attorney-300x195The growth of online paid subscription services that start with either a free trial that converts to automatic payments, or an upfront payment that automatically renews, have led to lawsuits challenging the clarity of such services’ terms of agreement.

A recent settlement that could total close to $2.3 million between several California jurisdictions and eHarmony, Inc., underscores the fact that small businesses offering automatic renewal subscription plans must present clear terms to customers prior to signup, and then obtain clear consent and an opt-in from customers to incur these fees.

The district attorneys of four California counties and the City of Santa Monica collectively filed the suit against eHarmony for allegedly violating state consumer protection laws—the California Business and Professions Code, and the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act. The Superior Court for the State of California for the County of Santa Cruz entered final judgment on Jan. 8.

data-protection-represents-forbidden-secured-and-wordcloud-266x300Have you thought about or bolstered your cybersecurity lately?

Because while government agencies, corporations and banks might be the top targets of would-be cyber attackers, small businesses need to make sure they’re protected, too, lest hackers succeed in their attempts to intrude and, in some form or fashion, monetize their information and data.

Such efforts start with educating yourself and your employees about malware and phishing attempts, ensuring that everyone knows not to open an attachment or click on a link—whether on their computer, phone or another device—if they don’t recognize the source.  You must regularly remind your employees and family never to open questionable emails or emails from an unknown source.   In particular, never open any attachments from people you don’t know or recognize.

identity-fingerprint-represents-log-ins-and-brand-300x225The Biometric Information Privacy Act, which the Illinois legislature passed in 2008, has led to a barrage of class action lawsuits in the past six months. Thought to be the nation’s most stringent law protecting biometric identifiers—which include fingerprints, iris or face scans, and voice identification—BIPA has spurred about 30 such suits in Cook County alone.

Filed against employers such as gas stations, restaurants, and retail outlets, mostly stemming from employer time clocks that use fingerprint identification, the cases allege that businesses did not obtain proper informed consent from their employees, or did not maintain or inform employees about the company’s use, storage and destruction of biometric data, as required by the law. Some of the cases also claim the employer improperly shared with time clock vendors the biometric data, and some go so far as name these third parties as defendants.

These local cases follow on the heels of five class-action lawsuits that were filed in 2015, four against Facebook and one against Shutterfly, which allege that these social media companies used facial recognition software without asking for consent or following under procedural requirements under BIPA, which allows an “aggrieved” person to recover $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.

data-protection-represents-forbidden-secured-and-wordcloud-266x300Small business owners with customers based in the European Union will want to circle May 25 on their calendars. That’s the date that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect, significantly impacting enterprise cybersecurity and data governance policies and practices among organizations that handle data on EU citizens and residents.

In the U.S., businesses do not face an overarching data protection law—measures related to data protection are contained in various statutes and regulations, many of them at the state level, with California and Massachusetts, home to major tech companies, having probably the strictest requirements.

Stateside small businesses will need to continue to keep track of the patchwork quilt of U.S. laws and regulations while gearing up to become 100 percent compliant with GDPR, which means they need to begin implementing the necessary technologies yesterday.

George Bellas Business Attorney
The Federal Communications Commission will vote December 14 on whether to repeal so-called “net neutrality” rules.  Those in favor of the current rules, established in 2015, say this would mean a playing field tilted toward those with money to pay Internet service providers for rapid content delivery speeds, giving them a fast lane to consumers’ desktops, tablets and phones.  What would that mean for small businesses?

The plan, put forth by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and supported in writing by the two other Republican appointees on the five-person commission—thus making its passage likely—would reverse the Obama era decision classifying Broadband Internet Access Service (BIAS) as a telecommunications service. Instead these providers—which include wired telephone companies, wireless carriers and cable television service providers—would be reclassified as offering information services.

The 2015 classification, which received a 3-2 affirmative vote in the then-Democratic-controlled FCC, was affirmed in June 2016 by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In declaring broadband providers as telecommunications services, the FCC promulgated rules that stopped providers from blocking access to content and applications, slowing the speed with which users could access content, and charging fees to those willing to pay to have their content disseminated more rapidly.

The new iPhone X uses facial recognition instead of a thumb print.  That is cool, right?ransomware-300x211

Not so fast.  Facial recognition software is just one of a group of metrics that is referred to biometrics, which includes facial scans, fingerprints and iris scans and all verification or identification data excluding the individual’s name and demographics.   And there are serious privacy concerns with the use of this biometric data.

What makes this more interesting is that Illinois has a very strict law about the use of this data.   The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act was adopted in 2008 and requires companies using biometric data to get the consumer’s consent to use the data and to explain how it will be used and how long the data will be retained.  And, it gives consumers the right to sue the companies for using the biometric data.   It is this penalty which is promoting a number of suits that have been filed in Illinois regarding the use of the biometric data.

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Under a new Illinois law, non-compete agreements must be premised on a legitimate business interest and narrowly tailored in terms of time, activity, and place.  In addition, under the newly enacted Illinois Freedom to Work Act, employers are prohibited from entering into non-competes with employees who make less than $13/hour.

To prove the point, the Illinois Attorney General filed a suit in October against a payday loan company (Check Into Cash) because the employer required all store employees, including those making under $13 an hour, to agree to a one-year non-compete.  The suit alleges that the non-compete prohibits all store employees from working “directly or indirectly . . . as an employee, officer, consultant, or in any other capacity, for any individual, firm or entity, which provides deferred presentment, deferred deposit, and/or any other payday advance services, . . . and/or any other consumer lending services or https://www.businessattorneychicago.com/files/2017/11/11.1.17-1-300x150.jpgmoney services.”  The suit contends that the non-compete in question: (1) prohibits employees from working within 15 miles of any Check Into Cash location, not just the store the employee works in; (2) prohibits employees from working for any company that directly or indirectly provides consumer lending services, regardless of whether that company competes with Check Into Cash; (3) applies equally to all store employees, regardless of position or time spent with the company; and (4) applies to employees who make less than $13 an hour.  See: http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2017_10/20171025d.html

Employers should review their non-compete agreements to ensure compliance with Illinois law.  All restrictive covenants should: (1) be supported by adequate consideration; (2) narrowly tailored, in time, activity, and geography, to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests; and (3) not apply to low-wage employees as defined by the Freedom to Work Act.  If the employer is concerned about a low-wage employee’s exposure to trade secret information, they should also consider other means of protection, such as confidentiality agreements.

Can Student Loans Ever Be Discharged?

Yes, and there’s a new tool to help bankruptcy lawyers deter29905732 mine whether clients qualify

Contrary to common perception, not all student loans can be wiped out in bankruptcy court. Although the Bankruptcy Code does protect federal loans and some private loans from discharge, student loans can be discharged if the debtor can prove an “undue hardship,” which usually means you’re living in poverty and not likely to escape any time soon.

Responding to Negative Online Reviews

How can business owners or professional service providers fight back against online negative reviews, and when should lawsuits be part 26569957of their arsenal?

Review sites like Yelp provide customers a way to share their feelings with fellow consumers and the businesses they’re reviewing, and business owners need to monitor them to protect and e nhance their brand reputations. They should not only express appreciation to happycustomers but respond quickly and civilly to those who are not.

Are you among the estimated 143 million Americans whose identity information might have been compromised by the hack into the server of credit bureau Equifax? If so, freezing your credit is probably the best thing you can do to protect yourself, experts say.

This requires contacting all three major credit bureaus either by phone or on their website to request a freeze. This will involve a small fee depending on where you live, which you can check at the TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax websites.

Doing so will throw roadblocks in the way of identity thieves who might want to open a credit card or take out a loan in your name. The only downside aside from the nominal cost is that you will have to unfreeze your credit the next time you want to make a major financial transaction, which very well might cost you again—although again, not much. You will be given a PIN code for purposes of unfreezing, so keep this information in a safe place.