Time to Start Over

Time to Start Over

In this thought-provoking article written exclusively for UNI, Dr Victoria Nash of the Oii, Oxford University, gives us her sharp opinion on the potentials and challenges of the platform economy

UNI Global Union asked Dr Victoria Nash from the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, for her opinion on the challenges and potentials of the digital economy.

Read her thought-provoking article on Big Tech, algorithms, power, the role of unions, regulation and whether we should wish it all away...or not.

Excerpt from the article

It’s tempting, from this perspective, just to panic: close them down, break them up, make them pay. But it’s impossible to go backwards..

Dr Victoria Nash

..It’s tempting, from this perspective, just to panic: close them down, break them up, make them pay. But it’s impossible to go backwards, and the application of existing regulatory frameworks will only barely work if current policy problems such as regulation of fake news or electoral advertisements are inelegantly shoe-horned into them. Our regulatory toolkits are not fit for purpose. Calls from some parties to use principles of competition law to tackle the market power of Google or Facebook miss a rather fundamental point. The issue is not one of consumer harm where quasi-monopolist search and social media companies are able to keep their prices artificially high. Nor is there clear evidence of innovation being stifled – new services, apps and products emerge constantly, and even where (as with Facebook acquiring Whatsapp), successful innovators are bought up by the tech giant, this is lawful so long as the purchased company was not a competitor.  The big five tech companies may be enormous, but as academic legal scholars have noted, competition law is not the right hammer to crack this nut.

If we are genuinely concerned about the social and political problems of the platform society, we need to go back to first principles. Governments have traditionally regulated markets and businesses in order to protect worker, consumer or citizen rights, counter externalities and to collect taxes to support this role. Instead of relying on broken tools such as data protection regulations that rely too heavily on user consent, or competition law that looks narrowly at pricing but not data accumulation, or gatekeeper power, we need to start afresh. How are our social, political and economic rights, challenged by innovations in the platform society, but also how are they given new meaning? What are the externalities, the hidden social costs of companies who provide consumer products for free whilst deriving profits from our data and our attention?

Download Opinion-Piece-for-UNI-Global-Union_Time-to-Start-Over.pdf