Contracting Spyware by Contract
13 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2006
The question of what constitutes "spyware" is controversial because many programs that are adware in the eyes of their distributors may be perceived as spyware in the eyes of the end user. Many of these programs are loaded on the computers of end users after the end user has agreed to the terms of a license presented in a click-through interface. This paper analyzes whether it might be possible to reduce the volume of unwanted software loaded on end users' computers by applying contract law doctrine more strictly. Unwanted programs are often bundled with programs that the end user wants, but the disclosure that additional programs will be downloaded is usually buried deeply within dense form contracts. Even though this makes it difficult for end users to recognize that they are agreeing to have multiple programs installed at once and that some of those programs may be objectionable, US courts are unlikely to invalidate those disclosures. This is because in business to consumer online contracting cases in the US, courts have tended to be very deferential to the intentions of the merchants in designing the contract interfaces. In the EU, by contrast, such conduct by software distributors would not be binding on consumers. Under unfair contract terms laws in place in EU member states, consumer objections to bundled software could not be overridden by terms hidden in standard form contracts.
Keywords: contract, spyware, unfair contract terms, software, malware, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap
JEL Classification: K13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation