The Disappearing Computer: Consent and Disclosure in the World of Smart Objects
European Journal of Consumer Law, November 2020
10 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020
Date Written: May 15, 2020
The Internet-of-Things changes the manner humans encounter and interact with computers. The latter, taking the form of so-called smart objects, “disappear” into the environment. They are everywhere but they are not immediately noticeable. Smart objects are often equipped with transacting capabilities, enabling the provision of goods and services by means of or through them. Consequently, many interactions with smart objects can be regarded as transactions, which are subject to laws and regulations in the areas of consumer and privacy protection. Such laws and regulations implicitly assume, however, that the parties interact face-to-face, use written communications or, more recently, communicate “through” the graphical user interfaces of websites. What happens if consent and disclosure requirements, both of which are tenets of consumer and privacy protection, must be fulfilled in a world devoid of direct human contact and traditional computer interfaces? The changed manner we transact through (or with?) computers tests the ability of existing legal principles to adapt to new commercial practices. To date, legal scholarship has addressed the challenges surrounding the purchase of smart objects. It has, however, barely recognized the problems accompanying transactions made through smart objects. In the former instance the object is the subject matter of the transaction, in the latter – it constitutes the transacting interface. Legal scholarship must acknowledge yet another challenge inherent in computer-mediated transactions: the interface. Smart objects may not be equipped with screens, keyboards and mice. If, however, there is no screen, how does one provide the legally prescribed information? If there is no traditional input device - how does one obtain consent?
Keywords: consumer law, transacting interfaces, contract law, internet of things, e-commerce, cyberlaw
JEL Classification: K12, K22, K11, K20, O33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation