Thanks to the proliferation of internet-connected devices that constitute the “Internet of Things” (“IoT”), companies can now remotely and automatically alter or deactivate household items. In addition to empowering industry at the expense of individuals, this remote interference can cause property damage and bodily injury when an otherwise operational car, alarm system, or implanted medical device abruptly ceases to function.
Even as the potential for harm escalates, contract and tort law work in tandem to shield IoT companies from liability. Exculpatory clauses limit civil remedies, IoT devices’ bundled object/service nature thwarts implied warranty claims, and contractual notice of remote interference precludes common law tort suits. Meanwhile, absent a better understanding of how IoT-enabled injuries operate and propagate, judges are likely to apply products liability and negligence standards narrowly, in ways that curtail corporate liability.
But this is hardly the first time a new technology has altered social and power relations between industries and individuals, creating a potential liability inflection point. As before, we must decide what to incentivize and who to protect, with an awareness that the choices we make now will shape future assumptions about IoT companies’ obligations and consumer rights. Accordingly, this Article proposes reforms to contract and tort law to expand corporate liability and minimize foreseeable consumer injury.
Rebecca Crootof, The Internet of Torts: Expanding Civil Liability Standards to Address Corporate Remote Interference, 69 Duke L. J. 583-667 (2019).