At last! M’learned friends take an interest in liability issues arising from Microsoft vulnerabilities

At last! M’learned friends take an interest in liability issues arising from Microsoft vulnerabilities

I’ve been thinking for a while that we will only see progress on the security front when software companies (particularly the biggest, but others too) are held accountable for flaws in their products which damage their customers. And now the NYT reports the first Class Action suit in the State Superior Court in Los Angeles, asserting that Microsoft engaged in unfair business practices and violated California consumer protection laws by selling software riddled with security flaws. Quotes:

“The litigation, legal experts said, is an effort to use the courts to make software subject to product liability law — a burden the industry has so far avoided and strenuously resisted.

“For a software company to be held liable would be a real extension of liability as it now stands,” said Jeffrey D. Neuburger, a technology lawyer at Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner.

To date, software companies have sidestepped liability suits partly by selling customers a license to use their programs — not actual ownership — with a lengthy list of caveats and disclaimers. So the warranty programs offered by PC makers, for example, cover hardware but not software.

The industry has argued that software is a highly complex product, often misused or modified by consumers. Assigning responsibility for a failure, the argument goes, would be unfair to any single company.

Besides, software executives say, the industry is a fast-changing global business that is largely led by United States companies. Opening the industry up to product liability lawsuits, they say, would chill innovation and undermine the competitiveness of American companies.”

Tsk, tsk. I’m sure it would indeed ‘chill’ innovation in Microsoft products. It would lead to longer and slower release cycles and much more intensive testing and less ‘feature bloat’. Legal liability chilled innovation in the automobile industry. It also saved a lot of lives. And it stimulated innovation in safety technologies, leading to cars which are immeasurably safer than their predecessors of 40 years ago.