The Regulation of Social Media Influencers, 11 January, Maastricht

BOOK WORKSHOP

11 January 2019
Maastricht University, Faculty of Law 

As people turn away from classical advertising channels such as television, print or radio, social media platforms such as Instagram, Youtube, and more recently Tik Tok, are establishing themselves as marketing outlets in the search of consumer engagement. Powered by the generation of online content by their users, consumers who produce content – or in other words prosumers, these platforms now feature hundreds if not thousands of popular individuals who amass impressive amounts of followers. Active in any possible industries that appeal to their followers, ranging from gaming to pets, lifestyle, beauty or health and fitness, social media influencers continuously create content for their fans to keep them updated on different products and services, in the form of reviews.

On the one hand, empowering users to start their own channels or accounts and be able to gather revenue as an alternative to a classical job sounds promising: there are no market entry requirements, it provides the much-coveted millennial work flexibility, and can be a great alternative if job prospects are dire. On the other hand, influencer marketing raises fundamental legal and moral questions. As a lot of the content posted by influencers on social media is sponsored by the companies behind the products or services they review, without any notification: how should the audience draw the line between honest opinions and paid endorsement? What is more, the business models used by influencers are obscure at best. Most influencers start small, very likely as an individual and not as a freelancer or a business, so it is very difficult to tell who owns a specific account and what their obligations are to their audiences: is it a company that must comply with advertising laws and consumer protection, or is it peers, not bound by the same high standard? What happens with content which entails health risks, such as the promotion of cosmetic surgery or medical products? In addition, given that impressionable children between 7 and 15 are constantly present on social media, should they benefit from any additional protections?

This workshop brings together interdisciplinary approaches to some of the less visible issues posed by advertising on social media, and is supported by the Independent Social Research Foundation, the Maastricht European Private Law Institute and the University of Groningen. Each speaker in the event is currently authoring a chapter in the book The Regulation of Social Media Influencers (Elgar, forthcoming 2019), edited by Sofia Ranchordás and Catalina Goanta. The event will also feature a keynote speech by Madeleine de Cock Buning, Professor (Utrecht University /EUI), Chairman of the Dutch Media Authority (CvdM) and Chair of the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) on fake news and disinformation.

The full programme and registration are available here. The workshop is free of charge, but places are limited. Registrations will be open until 5 January. For any additional inquiries, you can send an email to catalina.goanta@maastrichtuniversity.nl.

read more

Robo-liability: the European Union in search of the best way to deal with liability for damage caused by artificial intelligence

Antonia Waltermann and I will be organising a debate on legal personhood for robots at the SSH Synergy conference 2019 (7 February). For a brief overview of some of the issues the event will touch upon, see the following editorial I wrote for the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law:

Robotics is no longer a theme reserved for science fiction movies and technological research institutes. Although most of us do not yet possess a human-looking machine that takes care of our household, robots already play an important part in our daily lives, as search robots, virtual assistants such as Siri or Alexa, programmes that suggest products or services based on our previous purchases or searches etc.

It is difficult to define exactly what a robot is. The concept may refer to machines that carry out identical and repetitive actions. These types of robots have been widely used since the industrial revolution and our current law is fit for dealing with them. More problematic, however, are the robots that possess artificial intelligence (AI), enabling them to ‘learn’ from the information they are programmed with and the actions they perform, and to use this ‘knowledge’ to make decisions in subsequent cases. It is these types of robots that challenge the present legal framework, inter alia in the field of liability law.

Search engines and virtual shopping assistants may cause economic damage to certain traders, by steering potential customers to their competitors; they may affect consumers whenever their suggestions are not accurate or do not meet their needs or preferences. However, the risks and damage caused by self-driving cars or healthcare AI applications may be significantly larger.

The full editorial can be found here.

read more

The Supposed Rise of Empirical Research in European Legal Journals

Over the years, I have heard various colleagues say they thought empirical legal research (ELR) has been on the rise. Some see this as a positive development, making law and legal research more evidence-based and diverse. Others are critical, for example because ELR projects are more successful when it comes to obtaining grants than doctrinally-oriented projects.

For sure, I have seen many ELR workshops, conferences, symposiums and other events been organized over the years. Nevertheless, I have wondered why there would be an increase of ELR. I have not seen more colleagues who have been enthusiastic about ELR actually start doing more ELR. This year, together with two co-authors, I took the time to go analyze the proportion of empirical articles in the 2008 – 2017 period for a large number of European-based legal journals.

The result? The evidence for an increase is weak at best. The results do not provide convincing evidence (if any) for an increase of the proportion of empirical articles. We did find some other interesting effects, such as more prestigious journals being more likely to publish empirical articles than less-prestigious journals, and older journals being more likely to publish empirical work than younger journals, but not at an increasing rate.

The study obviously comes with some limitations, since the time period that was examined is limited, because an analysis of the submitted articles may paint a different picture, or because ELR scholars may tend to publish in US-based journals rather than European-based journals. Nonetheless, the findings do raise the question why ELR has not become more popular.

Various reasons can be identified that form obstacles for ELR to grow. The availability of data that can be analyzed is undeniably important. But perhaps more important is training. To my knowledge, legal academia has not been considerably changed in that it implemented a more empirical focus in the programs offered to law students. As a result, academic staff is not incentivized to obtain empirical skills, and because graduates are not trained empirically, they are unlikely to see the importance nor will they see the necessity to recruit empirically trained law school graduates. It therefore seems that if we want to increase the use of empirical legal research, it starts in legal education. And by simply start doing it.

The article can be found here or here.

 

read more

How Technology Disrupts Private Law: An Exploratory Study of California and Switzerland as Innovative Jurisdictions

2018 is the first year in history when more than half of the world’s population is online. Since its dawn, the Internet has changed many aspects of daily life. The first wave of the Internet saw a change in communication: the use of e-mails and the rise of Internet browsers facilitated online transactions and marked the beginning of global access to goods. Then came wider access to services, in what is by now called the ‘gig’ economy: Internet platforms started matching demand and supply in sectors such as transportation, tourism and even entertainment. More recently, a new wave of decentralization through cryptography developments in distributed ledger technologies has challenged the fitness of established legal rules and practices and disrupted disrupting the law.

Legal systems have always had adapt to modernity. What is new, however, is that all aspects of human development are moving faster than ever and at an unprecedented scale, with unmatched complexity. By contrast, regulatory solutions for legal questions arising out of technology innovation have been rather slow and random. The legal status of Uber drivers as independent employees has been established in different jurisdictions around the world, but will it also apply to Youtubers? Such case-by-case approaches tend to increase legal uncertainty rather than reduce it. In a recent working paper I completed for the Stanford Transatlantic Technology Law Forum, I looked at a number of private law issues raised by disruptive technologies in two particular jurisdictions: California and Switzerland. The goal of the paper is to map and analyse regulatory responses.

This is an excerpt from a post on the Oxford Business Law Blog. Read the full blog post here.

read more

Why I didn’t sign the Fundingmatters.tech petition

Thoughts on ethics at the intersection of academic research on law & tech and industry involvement

In 2018, academic storms start on Twitter. One of them has been the public concern surrounding the sponsors accepted by this year’s Amsterdam Privacy Conference. The Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University was hosting one of the panels at the conference until they withdrew. The reason? Data analytics company Palantir was one of the Platinum Sponsors at APC. Palantir has faced a lot of public backlash after different allegations, such as having collaborated with Cambridge Analytica on the Facebook data acquired by the latter, doing commercial data profiling or helping the US government on surveilling its citizens. In a nutshell, Palantir has a bad reputation. This is why a petition was created, fundingmatters.tech, now signed by over 60 academics from around the world, publicly asking for the removal of Palantir from the sponsor list.

As co-authors who have successfully submitted a paper (‘Moving fast and breaking things: Social media, data brokers and unfair commercial practices’) for the ‘Regulation of the information society’ panel, Stephan Mulders and I decided not to sign this petition, and in what follows I will defend this choice and take this opportunity to address some related ethical questions which any academic currently working on law and technology should reflect on.

read more

Influencers on Social media – Between Law and Ethics

25 September 2018, Brown Bag Lunch
12.15-13.45, MakerSpace (room beside Mensa), University of St. Gallen

Social media has been changing the way in which people communicate, and that is nothing new. The emergence of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube or – more recently –Musical.ly has transformed social interaction in peer-networks. This transformation can be noticed by anyone participating in or observing such networks. What is less noticeable, though, is how business models have changed to benefit from these shifts in social trends.

One industry where business practices have been fundamentally impacted is the advertising industry. While in the early days of social media marketing, social networks were used to establish online brand identity, since 2015 a new advertising concept has been sweeping the online space: influencer marketing. Based on peer empowerment – anyone with a camera and internet connection can start producing content for an online social media platform, influencer marketing is to social media what native advertising is to the news world. Persons with well- followed social media accounts lend their brand image for the endorsement of goods or services, while rarely – if at all – disclosing that their support does not necessarily entail genuine appreciation for the endorsed things, but that such support is paid or bartered for.

This event aims to discuss influencer marketing using insights from private law, ethics as well as journalistic practice. Register by sending an e-mail to isabel.ebert@unisg.ch by 23 September. Exceptionally, Skype connections may also be available for streaming.

read more