Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Computer Viruses: Who's to Blame?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a List of Ten that explored the language that surrounded discussion of viruses and ended with an assignment that asked students to look at the politics of blame associated with the discussion of a particular virus. In the lawsuit-happy world we live in, it's little surprise that computer users are looking for someone to blame in the court room, as the following articles explain:

"Product Liability Lawsuits Are New Threat to Microsoft," New York Times

"Lawsuit opens new can of worms for Microsoft," ZDNet UK

"Microsoft faces virus class action," New Zealand Herald

"Should Microsoft Be Liable for Bugs in Its Products?" Windows and .NET Magazine

Related Discussion and Writing Topics
  • Based on your reading of these articles, who would you blame for the computer viruses? How does it make a difference whether you're looking for who is responsible for the viruses as opposed to who is responsible for software and network security?

  • Take a look at the End User License Agreements (EULA) for several pieces of software. Compare the legal warnings and protections in these documents that most people click through without reading when they're installing their software. How clear is the EULA to the general user? What would it take to revise the document into a more user-friendly document? How can you balance the legal needs of the company with the goal of communicating information to the customer? [Additional Resources: Windows 98 EULA, Microsoft Design Gallery EULA, MSNBC Interactive News Alert EULA, Adobe Reader EULA, Macromedia Product EULAs]

  • Alternately, you can explore a recent security warning from Microsoft. One of the claims in the suit is that security warning are too difficult for the general public to understand. What do you make of the warning? How clear and understandable is it? How would you revise the information in the warnings to avoid the criticisms in the suit?