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Contracting Spyware by Contract

Jane K. Winn

University of Washington - School of Law

Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 20, p. 1345, 2005

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 13

Keywords: contract, spyware, unfair contract terms, software, malware, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap

JEL Classification: K13

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Date posted: March 22, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Winn, Jane K., Contracting Spyware by Contract. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 20, p. 1345, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=889121

Contact Information

Jane Winn (Contact Author)
University of Washington - School of Law ( email )
William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

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