« It's Getting Drafty Again, or How Eugene Volokh Almost Singlehandedly Saves the Huffington Post from Becoming A Left-Wing Echo Chamber | Main | Glad To See Someone Saying it »

A9.com: Gotta Be Something Wrong With This

So here's a technology and ethics question I can't answer.

Suppose I'm doing some research at work, and don't want to incur Lexis's charges. (There's something in me that rejects the idea of paying for Lexis fees for preliminary research, given that often I'm just correcting my ignorance of a matter, rather than hitting the complicated facts.) Heretofore, I've mostly used Google to find some basic sources and plan out a research strategy before even thinking of a paid research database. But that's slowly changing.

In the last few days, I've taken to using both Google and A9, Amazon's search engine, though not at work (update: and not for work purposes), for reasons I describe below. A9 doesn't have the scope that Google does, but it's curiously good at indexing legal websites, which gives it an edge on legal issues. And more importantly, it gives me a history of websearches stored in folders. Nowadays, I often find myself searching with both Amazon and Google simultaneously, seeing what I can find before I have to hit a pay service: Google for the better results, Amazon for the history.

What worries me about this is the idea of using it at work. First, there's the confidentiality issue: if A9 is storing searches under my name, then presumably they're able to figure out (a) what I was searching for, and perhaps (b) why I wanted it. There may be client confidentiality concerns with regards to this. (On the other hand, I may be being overly, or perhaps insufficiently paranoid. After all, it wouldn't take much for Google to compile a similar dossier on me, although it would be slightly more difficult because they'd have to use IP tracking.) I haven't really thought that one through yet.

But secondly, A9 offers a discount on Amazon purchases if you use it over a certain amount. As of yet, I've not reached that threshold, but given the amount of research I do, I'm sure I'll hit it soon. That benefit, of course, is keyed to my account, and couldn't be recouped by either my employer or any client for whom I might be researching.

So what I'm wondering is this: do I run into any ethical problems from accepting a discount for using a research tool for client work? (Update: As I said, I've not used it at work yet, so I guess that ought to be, "Would I run into any ethical problems?")

Update: On the other hand, I may simply stop using Amazon on moral, rather than ethical grounds:

How can we afford this?
Sponsored links revenue — from the small text-based ads on A9.com and Amazon.com search results pages — will help offset costs we incur through the Instant Reward promotion. With our automatic π/2% Instant Reward, we are effectively sharing with you some of the money we collect from sponsored links, i.e. sharing the pi.

I don't know if it's against the Model Rules, but puns like that are simply evil.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Don't Westlaw and Lexis store searches as well? In any case, if you're really concerned about this, you could just sign out.
As a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, A9.com uses your Amazon.com account to identify you and shares information with Amazon.com to improve the services we offer. If you don't want to be identified, you can sign out. See the A9.com privacy notice for details.
Not quite understanding the ethical dilemma regarding the discount. For example, I have free Lexis and Westlaw access this summer because I'm working for a professor. If during the course of that access, I accumulate points through playing their games or whatever, I don't feel like I'm cheating the professor or the service. Like A9 probably does, they want me to become addicted to their services, and will give out candy to get my time.
As I see it, this is really no different from paying for a business expense using a creditcard with 1% cashback and then claiming your receipts.
Right, PG, but if you sign out, you lose the ability to store your search history--it doesn't have a logon ID with which to record your searches--and so the whole advantage of using A9 drops by the wayside. Further, there's a huge difference between being a research assistant to a law professor, and being in a law firm. I may be wrong here--tell me if I am, please--but being a research assistant doesn't fall within the scope of "provision of legal services" such that it invokes the Model Rules at all. In any event, the confidentiality concerns with Lexis and Westlaw are much smaller. They are, after all, meant to be used by lawyers, and while I've not looked into it, I'd suspect there's much more in the way of ironclad guarantees of privacy between Lexis and its customers. After all, Lexis isn't (I hope) getting rich off reselling customer information.
It's not in a legal setting, but back before the USPTO trademark database was online for free on the Web, I had to do quite a lot of trademark searchs on Compuserve for my employer, on my personal account. They had no problem with paying the marginal cost of the searchs, whether or not I got any use-based discounts or bonuses to my account for it. And Dialog and friends have always given bulk discounts when you pass certain usage tiers, and freelance info miners normally recoup the lower costs as profit, same as in ANY other industry when the materials cost falls with bulk and your retail price stays the same, and profit rises. You wouldn't even be charging clients per search since A9 is free for you to use, and it sounds like the billed time savings to the client from your use of the history feature probably even saves them money, so I don't myself see a conflict. Do read that privacy policy fine print, though!
You could ask your employer about using Google and A9.
After all, Lexis isn't (I hope) getting rich off reselling customer information. Not very much, but other people may be.
There's no ethical problem with collecting the discount yourself, just as you don't have an ethical obligation to turn down frequent flier miles collected on business trips. Enjoy! As for the confidentiality concerns: You do (or more properly your supervisor does) have an obligation to keep client information confidential. How that impacts your specific duty here is somewhat contingent; disclosure that you were looking for standards of relevancy under the Federal Rules of Evidence is unlikely to compromise client confidences, whereas a more specific search into, say, the enforceability in foreign jurisdictions of anti-sandbagging clauses may reveal or jeopardize your client's business moves. If disclosure of your searches could hurt the client, and if searching on A9 will or might result in such disclosure, you're obligated to keep to the more discrete Westlaw & Lexis. But that's an individual determination you have to make for each search.
Why not create two separate accounts on Amazon, one for personal use and one for business use? Then you can keep the two sides separate.

Post a comment

NOTICE TO SPAMMERS, COMMENT ROBOTS, TRACKBACK SPAMMERS AND OTHER NON-HUMAN VISITORS: No comment or trackback left via a robot is ever welcome at Three Years of Hell. Your interference imposes significant costs upon me and my legitimate users. The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey (hereinafter, the "Host") for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on threeyearsofhell.com, morgrave.com or housevirgo.com, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover Host's costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

Giving The Devil His Due

Choose Stylesheet

What I'm Reading

D.C. Noir

My city. But darker.
A Clockwork Orange

About time I read this...


Projects I've Been Involved With

A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care (A new round-the-world travel blog, co-written with my wife)
Parents for Inclusive Education (From my Clinic)

Syndicated from other sites

The Columbia Continuum
Other Blogs by CLS students

De Novo
Theory and Practice
Liberal Federalism?
Good News, No Foolin'

Nancy Pelosi covers her head and visits the head of John the Baptist.
Vlogging in from Austin.
Omikase/"American Idol"

Jeremy Blachman's Weblog: 2007
Happy Passover
Looking for Advice re: LA
Google Books

Stay of Execution
What I've Learned From This Blog, or My Yellow Underpants
The End
Mid Thirties

Legal Theory Blog
Program Announcement: Summer Programs on the Constitution at George Washington
Book Announement: Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy by Whittington
Entry Level Hiring Report

The Volokh Conspiracy
Making the Daily Show:
Civil unions pass New Hampshire House:
Profile of Yale Law Dean Harold Koh:

Crescat Sententia
Hillary II
Politics and Principal/Agents

Law Dork
Election Approaches
Following Lewis
New Jersey High Court: 'Same Rights and Benefits'

Surveying the revival
Birds of paradise

Half the Sins of Mankind
Cheney Has Spoken Religious conservatives who may ...
Does Ahmadinejad Know Christianity Better Than MSN...
Borders as Genocide In discussions of climate chan...

For lovers of garden gnomes...and any China-freaks out there
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Does SOX explain the flight from NY?
More Litvak on SOX effect on cross-listed firms
What did the market learn from internal controls reporting?

The Yin Blog
Iowa City = Riyadh
Jeffrey Rosen's "The Supreme Court"
Geek alert -- who would win between Battlestar Galactica and the U.S.S. Enterprise?

Letters of Marque
And there we are

Signing Off

Dark Bilious Vapors
Jim (The Waco Kid): Where you headed, cowboy?
Bart: Nowhere special.
Jim: Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there.
Bart: Come on.
--"Blazing Saddles"

Technical Difficulties... please stand by....
The Onion should have gotten a patent first....

Legal Ethics Forum
Interesting new Expert DQ case
Decency, Due Care, and The Yoo-Delahunty Memorandum
Thinking About the Fired U.S. Attorneys

Ex Post
Student Symposium- Chicago!
More Hmong - Now at Law School
Good Samaritan Laws: Good For America?

Appellate Law & Practice
Those turned over documents
CA1: courts can’t help people acquitted of crimes purge the taint of acquitted conduct
CA1: restrictions on chain liquor stores in Rhode Island are STILL okay

the imbroglio
High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement
Paris to offer 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations to rent by the end of the year

The Republic of T.
The Secret of the Snack Attack
links for 2007-04-04
Where You Link is What You Get

Distractions for stressed law students

The Other Side: Twisted AnimationsSomething Positive, a truly good webcomic

Syndicate This Site



Stop Spam Harvesters, Join Project Honey Pot