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Empiricism and Privacy Policies in the Restatement of Consumer Contract Law

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The Draft Restatement of the Law of Consumer Contracts includes a quantitative study of judicial decisions concerning businesses’ online privacy policies, which it cites in support of a claim that most courts treat privacy policies as contract terms. This Article reports an attempt to reproduce that study’s results. Using the Reporters’ data, this study was unable to reproduce their numerical findings. This study found in the data fewer relevant decisions, and a lower proportion of decisions supporting the Draft Restatement position. It also found little support for the Draft’s claim that there is a clear trend recognizing privacy policies as contracts, and none for the claim that those decisions have been more influential than decisions coming out the other way. A qualitative analysis of the decisions in the dataset reveals additional issues.

The analysis reveals that the Draft Restatement study’s numerical results obscure both the many judgment calls needed to code the decisions and their limited persuasive power. These results confirm the importance of transparency and replication in empirical case law studies. They also suggest that the closed nature of the Restatement process is perhaps ill-suited to producing reliable large-scale quantitative case law studies.

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