That’s just not right.
That’s our reaction when we see a social norm or informal rule being flouted, whether it’s people casually throwing trash on the street or nabbing a parking spot someone else is slowly moving into or cutting a line that’s been forming. Before governments enact laws, customs and conventions form that guide important social interactions.
And that’s what’s challenging about the huge digital platforms that have developed over the past decade. Facebook, Google, and Amazon have come to dominate the digital economy. Their internal computations – algorithms – are extremely effective in helping us find what we want. If we need to answer a question, we google it. If we want to buy something, we look for it on Amazon. If we want to waste time, we go to Facebook or Instagram or something like them. These companies use their algorithms to organize information for us before we know that we even want it.
It should be no surprise, then, that people want to abuse and game these systems. Stalkers use Facebook profiles to harass their enemies. Hidden text (white-on-white) goes onto a website to inflate a Google search ranking. And fake reviews get posted for Amazon’s product offerings all the time. The data giants increasingly try to police these abuses, which has generated another layer of service and commercial activity.
Illustration: Katarzyna Tyl. Source: Pixabay.
“Amazon Law” is one such service. Amazon constantly searches for fake 5-star review, banning abusers and suspending sites. Now, some sellers will post fake reviews on their competitor’s sites, glowing testimonials written in broken English, preferably posted from an IP address in a developing nation. Suspended accounts can be a death sentence for a small startup. Where else can they go, if the giant platforms ban them. Amazon has an appeals process, but the rules can be confusing and difficult to master.
The data giants have created an entire class of intellectual property: brand registries; seller and search rankings; likes, friends, and followers. A new legal framework now has to govern their use and abuse. Marketplaces have always had private laws and customs, but never with this scale and market power. It’s reasonable for governments to step in and provide some direction.
Only which comes first: the law, or the legislation?
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”