Regulating cyber-commerce is controversial. The advent of smart phones and web-based interfaces has facilitated many new consumer services. Customers using these digital platforms often insist that existing regulatory models are outmoded and simply shouldn’t apply to new technologies.
As do the companies. When residents of Austin, Texas recently rejected Proposition 1—an ordinance proposed by Uber and Lyft—it generated national attention around this important question: How should a free society deal with innovative new technologies? Should existing regulations apply, should exceptions be made, or should the collision between existing rules and innovation cause us to re-examine the existing rules altogether?
In the sharing economy, companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, add value by using resources that would otherwise be idle. The Internet connects people who need transportation or accommodations with people who are willing to provide them. Another substantial advantage is that these same connections permit social norms rather than government regulation to enforce standards of good conduct.
Government has a model for regulating taxis. It generally requires substantial licensing and enforces rules by tracking complaints and disciplining drivers found in violation. But a company like Uber makes much of this regulation unnecessary. First, given its substantial capital investment, it has every interest in checking out drivers itself before it permits them to represent its good name.
But Uber also makes use of social media to assure continuing good behavior of its drivers.