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The Taking Economy: Uber, Information, and Power

68 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2017 Last revised: 22 Oct 2017

Ryan Calo

University of Washington - School of Law; Stanford University - Law School; Yale Law School

Alex Rosenblat

Data & Society Research Institute

Date Written: March 9, 2017

Abstract

Sharing economy firms such as Uber and Airbnb facilitate trusted transactions between strangers on digital platforms. This creates economic and other value and raises a set of concerns around racial bias, safety, and fairness to competitors and workers that legal scholarship has begun to address. Missing from the literature, however, is a fundamental critique of the sharing economy grounded in asymmetries of information and power. This Article, coauthored by a law professor and a technology ethnographer who studies the ride-hailing community, furnishes such a critique and indicates a path toward a meaningful response.

Commercial firms have long used what they know about consumers to shape their behavior and maximize profits. By virtue of sitting between consumers and providers of services, however, sharing economy firms have a unique capacity to monitor and nudge all participants — including people whose livelihood may depend on the platform. Much activity is hidden away from view, but preliminary evidence suggests that sharing economy firms may already be leveraging their access to information about users and their control over the user experience to mislead, coerce, or otherwise disadvantage sharing economy participants.

This Article argues that consumer protection law, with its longtime emphasis of asymmetries of information and power, is relatively well positioned to address this under-examined aspect of the sharing economy. But the regulatory response to date seems outdated and superficial. To be effective, legal interventions must (1) reflect a deeper understanding of the acts and practices of digital platforms and (2) interrupt the incentives of sharing economy firms to abuse their position.

Keywords: Uber, Algorithms, Sharing Economy, Software Apps, Digital Platforms, Behavioral Economics, Consumer Protection Law, Discrimination, Information Privacy, Digital Market Manipulation, Information Asymmetry, Peer-To-Peer Employment

Suggested Citation

Calo, Ryan and Rosenblat, Alex, The Taking Economy: Uber, Information, and Power (March 9, 2017). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 117, 2017; University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2929643 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2929643

Ryan Calo (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

Stanford University - Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Alex Rosenblat

Data & Society Research Institute ( email )

36 West 20th Street
New York,, NY
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.datasociety.net

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