Companies like Google, Facebook, and Uber have created new markets and improved our lives by reducing search costs, but at the same time, these firms collect massive amounts of data from their users. Who owns this data, and what legal duties do these firms owe to their users or to the public? Should the collection of user data be regulated in some form? (If yes, then by whom? Who would do the regulating?) These are hard questions, and a good place to start is this excellent essay by Brishen Rogers, a law professor at Temple University, on “the social costs of Uber” and other ride-sharing services. (Props go to Oscar Ruiz for bringing Professor Rogers’s paper to our attention.) Here is an overview of the paper:
This essay … argues that Uber’s success stems not (just) from regulatory arbitrage or other malfeasance, but from having created a far more efficient market for car-hire services. It then argues that Uber’s rise is cause for both optimism and pessimism. In addition to its obvious positive effects on consumer welfare, Uber’s partial consolidation of the car-hire sector and its compilation of data on passenger and driver behavior may enable Uber and regulators to ensure safety and root out discrimination against passengers with relative ease. In that regard, Uber may be an improvement over the existing taxi sector, which is quite difficult to regulate, though of course much depends on political will. Uber’s longer-term impact on labor standards is quite unclear, however, and it may have dark implications for the future of low-wage work more generally.