Smart technology and consumer protection

Legal experts at the Universities of Stirling, Osnabrück, Warwick, and Bonn have launched a new study to ensure that consumer laws are as ‘smart’ as the emerging technologies that they regulate.

icons indicating smart home connectivity

Smarter consumer law

The rapidly growing ‘Internet of Things’ – a network of connected objects such as cars, wearables, smart speakers, thermostats, and other household appliances – poses a range of issues for consumer laws that were drafted before hyperconnectivity became commonplace. Researchers from the University of Stirling – working with colleagues at the Universities of Warwick, Osnabrück and Bonn – will seek to identify emerging consumer issues in the UK and Germany related to smart technology and assess how their consumer laws cover these issues.

Empowering consumers

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Foundation, this research collaboration will scope the potential for mutual learning between the two legal systems and recommend changes to the current regulations. Ultimately, the project will explore how consumers of smart technology can be empowered through law reform and legal design.

Project team

Members of the Smart technology and consumer protection project research team. 

“We are interested in the extent to which users are legally protected in this interconnected age under existing consumer laws, and whether legislation needs to be reviewed in line with technological developments. We argue that law reform needs to be paired with efforts from private stakeholders that should adopt novel legal design approaches to compliance. Our project is innovative – in terms of addressing a gap in existing literature and in its methods – and the collaboration with our counterparts in Germany is of the utmost importance, as both countries are leading the way in the regulation of the ‘internet of things’ and their approaches – although significantly different – constitute best practice. It is imperative that we share our knowledge to ensure consumer laws become as smart as the technologies that are shaping our lives.”

Professor Guido Noto La Diega, Chair in Intellectual Property and Technology Law, University of Stirling

Four key themes

The study, which involves Professor Christoph Busch from the University of Osnabrück, Professor Louisa Specht-Riemenschneider of the University of Bonn and the University of Warwick's Professor Christian Twigg-Flesner, will consider four key themes, across three use cases – smart home, wearables and connected cars:

Things as a Service

The emergence of smart technology challenges the traditional goods-services foundation on which consumer laws are built. The researchers will explore whether existing consumer laws are fit for purpose in today’s socio-technical setting, increasingly shaped by long-term contracts and data-drive monetisation models.

Regulation by Bricking

Smart products are often linked to sellers or suppliers who can remotely and automatically discontinue functionalities and downgrade or ‘brick’ a device – meaning that products become obsolete because tech companies no longer provide upgrades and fixes for older models. The contracts and number of actors involved can also add complexity to regulation.

Liability in the Cloud of Things

The automated interaction between multiple connected devices raises pressing issues around product liability. The study will consider whether existing liability rules provide protection for those using smart technology.

Internet of Personalised Things

Smart technology empowers tech companies to enhance their profiling and targeting of consumers with precision and efficacy – resulting in the personalisation of products, prices and/or terms of service. At the same time, technology can be applied to enable a more targeted use of consumer protection technologies. The team will consider what personalisation of this kind means for the concept of the ‘average customer’.

The team

The investigators

Guido Noto La Diega, University of Stirling

Christoph Busch, University of Osnabrück

Louisa Specht-Riemenschneider, University of Bonn

Christian Twigg-Flesner, University of Warwick

The researchers

Leonard Bodemann, University of Bonn

Benjamin Clubbs Coldron, University of Stirling

Marc-Oliver De Vries, University of Osnabrück

Gregor-Rafael Görgen, University of Bonn

Bora Kocaoglu, University of Osnabrück

Victor Menhert, University of Bonn

Tabea Stolte, University of Osnabrück

Partner institutions

Funded by

Get in touch

To contact the project team, please email us.