Grindr Harassment Victim Asks: Are Tech Companies Immune From Product Liablity Laws?

Why is Grindr being sued by Matthew Herrick, an aspiring actor working in a restaurant in New York? “His former partner created fake profiles on the app to impersonate Herrick and then direct men to show up at Herrick’s home and the restaurant where he worked asking for sex, sometimes more than a dozen times per day.”

But 14 police reports later, Herrick’s lawsuit is now arguing that all tech companies should face greater accountability for what happens on their platforms, reports NBC News: His lawsuit alleges that the software developers who write code for Grindr have been negligent, producing an app that’s defective in its design and that is “fundamentally unsafe” and “unreasonably dangerous” — echoing language that’s more typically used in lawsuits about, say, a faulty kitchen appliance or a defective car part. If successful, the lawsuit could bring about a significant legal change to the risks tech companies face for what happens on their platforms, adding to growing public and political pressure for change. “This is a case about a company abdicating responsibility for a dangerous product it released into the stream of commerce,” his lawsuit argues, adding: “Grindr’s inaction enables the weaponization of its products and services….”

In court, Grindr is relying on the more sweeping defense allowed by the 1996 law known as the Communications Decency Act. The act’s Section 230 has been interpreted by courts to immunize internet services from liability for content posted online by third parties — whether ex-boyfriends or otherwise. That immunity, though, is subject to a raging debate about whether social media companies and other tech firms should be so free to introduce products without much forethought about the hazards they could create…. Herrick’s case has drawn interest from the tech industry, its supporters and its critics who see his lawsuit as a test for a possible new legal theory for holding tech firms to account.
“When you make a manufacturer effectively immune, it means that the consequences will be borne by the user,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. But should tech companies face product liability laws normally reserved for appliances? “As people have started to purchase more information-related items, we have to reconsider how we classify those things,” argues Christopher Robinette, a law professor at Widener University.

If Herrick’s suit is successful, NBC reports it “could reshape consumers’ relationship with software, alter speech protections online and put pressure on Silicon Valley to find flaws in products before introducing them to the world.” But what do Slashdot’s readers think?

Should tech companies be immune from product liability laws?