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February - Online
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This subject offers an overview of how law interacts with online digital platforms. After exploring different types of platforms and their business practices, through a series of case studies, it introduces students to a selection of fundamental regulatory domains in the information economy.
In recent years online digital platforms have become a site of critical study. Early Utopian visions of the internet included open speech environments, anonymous interactions, and non-hierarchical networks. Today’s cyberspace, however, is deeply hierarchical, embedded in a surveillance and data-processing based economy, with work, social life, and commerce all channeled through increasingly powerful digital platforms. Online digital platforms now dominate activities like search, shopping, and social media, as well as coordinate offline activities like ride-sourcing and labour-hire. Some have suggested the massive power of digital platforms emerged under conditions of 'lawlessness'. Close analysis makes clear however, that law – its existence, interpretation, and enforcement – are all critical to how the digital economy is structured and how platforms monetize their position.
This subject explores different types of online digital platforms, the ways they monetize data, and how they exert power in the digital economy. Examples include controlling the visibility of websites or products with ranking algorithms, renting access to repositories of intellectual property, facilitating marketplaces, and selling advertising. Understanding the platform economy means coming to grips with the workings of 'ad-tech', industrial scale data mining and refining, the monetization of user attention, and the ways platforms coordinate actors in multi-sided markets.
Through a selection of case studies highlighting ongoing regulatory controversies in different legal fields, this subject then looks at how law both contributes to and limits the power and practices of platforms. For instance: how data protection and privacy laws shape consumer profiling and behavioural advertising; how developments in intellectual property both enable platforms to amass huge content repositories that are rented to consumers, while at the same time allowing other platforms to avoid paying for content; how both trade secrets law and transparency requirements regulate the visibility of ranking systems and other forms of algorithmic decision-making; how competition law manages monopolies and anti-competitive behaviour; how labour law enables platforms to limit their obligations to workers; and how laws requiring or not requiring removal of content enable platforms to optimize algorithms for maximum engagement.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should:
- Have an understanding of the different ways that online digital platforms operate in the information economy
- Appreciate how different legal ideas interact with of digital platforms, and how the interpretation and enforcement of law influences platforms' business practices
- Understand how regulation has developed over the years to assist platforms to monetize their dominant positions
On completion of this subject students should have:
- Capacity for self-directed learning, specifically the ability to plan work and use time effectively;
- Cognitive and analytical skills;
- Ability to speak about complex ideas in a clear and cogent manner;
- Awareness of diversity and plurality;
- Ability to write essays which develop structured argumentation;
- Capacity to judge the worth of their own arguments.
Last updated: 27 October 2021