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Potential REUL Lab research questions

These are questions that are or may be of interest to REUL Lab. Some may already have been answered or partially answered. For example, there is already some published research on whether consumers read EULAs and whether they are likely to understand them. The research questions remain, nevertheless, as those studies may not have answered the question definitively, and in any event, even if the question is settled, REUL Lab needs to articulate the existing answers to these questions because they function as a basis for other research questions. (E.g., assuming we want to figure out how to get consumers to read EULAs, there would be no point if they are already doing so.)
The term EULA (end-user license agreement) is used here to refer to any set of provisions that a producer of a website, mobile application, or consumer product (the “product”) intends to be legally binding on a consumer of the product and which the consumer has no opportunity to negotiate. “EULA” is a shorthand for the many terms that describe varieties of these agreements: terms and conditions, terms of service, terms of use, shrink-wrap, browse-wrap, and click-wrap agreements, etc.
The research questions are organized into categories based on the type of research they entail. We answer empirical questions by exploring documents, observing behavior, taking measurements, etc. We answer normative questions by arguing for what should be done or should be the case, usually based on some philosophical framework. Design questions call for answers in the form of design solutions, which we must usually subject to empirical evaluation to learn whether they work.

Legal questions (normative/empirical)

(Note: Legal questions almost always entail normative and empirical elements. That is, we try to figure out what the law is by trying to state what it should be, given the desire for the legal system to generate outcomes that are consistent with certain principles—though there is often disagreement about what the principles are or should be.)
  • Are EULAs legally binding contracts? Why or why not?
  • What is the legal impact of provisions in EULAs of popular/major websites, apps, and consumer products?
  • What terms in EULAs, if any, will be held unenforceable, even if a EULA as a whole is regarded as a binding agreement?

Business questions (empirical)

  • What business concerns drive the provisions that producers put in EULAs and the approaches they adopt for attempting to obtain consumer assent to them?
  • Are producers concerned about whether their licensing practices are deemed ethical?
  • Do producers believe their licensing practices are ethical?
  • What provisions do EULAs of popular sites contain? Could we team up with to work on this?
  • How would producers react to having a model like Creative Commons that they could show they comply with? How would it have to be structured to give them flexibility but still to give effective notice to consumers?

Public policy questions (normative/empirical)

  • What public policy frameworks can address legitimate concerns of consumers and producers in the EULA context? (UCITA being one arguably failed example.)

Ethical questions (normative)

  • Should producers engage in certain practices to give consumers “fair” notice of provisions in EULAs (or some of them anyway), even if the provision would be held legally binding absent the “fair” notice?
  • Should producers refrain from including certain provisions in EULAs if they know/believe that consumers do not or will not read EULAs? If so, which provisions should they avoid?
  • Should consumers read EULAs before clicking buttons that say “I have read and agree” or even “I agree”? Why or why not?

HCI/usability questions (empirical)

  • Do consumers read EULAs? Why or why not?
  • Does the answer change for sites depending on their function? For example, do consumers read the TOU on sites where the consumers contribute content (Instagram, etc.)? (See Fiesler, Lampe and Bruckman 2016).
  • Do consumers understand the provisions of EULAs? Why or why not?
  • Do consumers care about provisions that appear in EULAs? If so, which ones? Why or why not?
  • Do they consider provisions that appear in EULAs to be fair or unfair?
  • Does consumer knowledge about provisions in EULAs change the likelihood they will accept EULAs or use the products with which they are associated?
  • “What are people’s intuitions about what they are agreeing to, and how well do those intuitions match the reality?” (Fiesler, Lampe and Bruckman 2016).
  • How does variation in terms across websites affect consumer understanding? Do consumers recognize or anticipate that variation? (Fiesler, Lampe and Bruckman 2016).

HCI/usability projects (design/empirical)

  • Can we design an interface for EULAs that communicates terms that consumers would find important in a way that will be meaningful for consumers without compromising legitimate concerns of producers?
  • Is Creative Commons a model for having common contract terms in EULAs that would communicate better to consumers?
  • Is there a better way to present comparative data about producer EULAs than what is available at, (Terms of Service; Didn’t Read), and TOSBack?

Meta-questions (about REUL Lab)

  • Should REUL Lab’s efforts extend to privacy policies, which have a different legal status?
  • To what extent can undergraduate student involvement in an effort like REUL Lab provide opportunities for research experience? To what extent can it enhance students’ learning and the quality of their experience in the class?
  • To what extent can the REUL Lab be a model for other technical communication courses?
  • To what extent can the REUL Lab model address concerns about the difficulty of conducting humanities research in the undergraduate classroom?
  • Should we reach out to, (Terms of Service; Didn’t Read), and/or TOSBACK about partnering with them? Should we take over one or more of their initiatives? How could we reach out to EFF, TOSDR, Internet Society, or others to coordinate efforts?

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