Digital voice assistants, robot vacuum cleaners, smart TVs: internet-connected hardware is an established part of everyday life. However, their level of security varies greatly from model to model. Some of them are incorrectly programmed or easy to hack.
When damage occurs, consumers are often left to deal with the consequences. The German Product Liability Act (Produkthaftungsgesetz) governs the circumstances under which producers are liable for damages caused by defective goods. It is based on an EU directive from 1985. At that time, there were no digital voice assistants or internet- enabled appliances. Correspondingly, the legal situation today is inadequate. Only hardware items are explicitly considered to be products. Whether software can also be a product is currently disputed. The law only covers damage to people or property. It remains unclear who is liable for data losses or infringement of personality rights.
The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv) calls for a fundamental reform of product liability law. To protect consumers, the provisions must be adapted to the requirements of the digital world.
- The scope of product liability legislation must in future also include software.
- The law must give a clear definition of the defects and damages producers are liable for.
- The burden of proof, provided products are used as intended, should be shifted to the producer.
- The definition of damage should be expanded to include immaterial damages.