Looking back at the symposium "New Perspectives on the Digital Economy: Sharing, Gigs, and Platforms"

Researchers from the Weizenbaum-Institute and BI Norwegian Business School held the joint online symposium "New Perspectives on the Digital Economy: Sharing, Gigs, and Platforms" which provides a new venue for international researchers across fields to present and discuss their work on the digital economy.

The Symposium „New Perspectives on the Digital Economy: Sharing, Gigs, and Platforms“ was jointly organized by Volker Stocker (Weizenbaum Institute / TU Berlin) and Christoph Lutz (BI Norwegian Business School) and held virtually on Friday 16th October 2020. The event provided a novel venue for international researchers across fields (e.g., economics, sociology, information systems, law, communication) to present their work on the digital economy and debate a wide array of issues in an international research environment.

Over the course of the day, more than 40 participants joined the event and engaged in stimulating discussions. The event was divided into four sessions with different focuses – each comprising three presentations. After a brief welcome note by Volker Stocker and Christoph Lutz, Session I was on the topic of “Sharing & Participation”.

Arto Lanamäki (University of Vaasa and Tallinn University) presented his joint work with Karin Väyrynen on “Ambiguity and the Rule of Law: The Case of Taximeter Regulation in Finland”. While his presentation emphasized the tension between the legal certainty required by the rule of law and the need to promote innovation in evolving markets such as the mobility industry, it was explained how the regulation of the Finnish taxi industry has become more ambiguous due to the digital transformation.

In his talk “Who Participates in the Platform Economy?”, Grant Blank (Oxford Internet Institute) explored how the platform economy is transforming work. Exploring whether there is a homogenous entity in demographic and socioeconomic characteristics among those who participate in platform work, he found that demographic and socioeconomic characteristics vary widely depending on what activity on which kind of platform is performed, which leads to occupational segregation. He concluded that the advantages and disadvantages of platform work must thus be addressed with nuance.

Jason Whalley (Northumbria University) presented his joint work with Volker Stocker on “Prisoners of a Platform? How Connectivity, Skills and Geography Shape Participation in the Sharing Economy”. Based on a conceptual framework illustrated by a cube, the authors explore how connectivity, skills and geography and relevant trade-offs shape the ability for consumers and producers to effectively participate in the sharing economy and compare different sharing platforms such as JustEats, UBER and fiverr. It is discussed how platforms can turn platform members into prisoners. Platforms can function as gatekeepers to participation in a specific activity and make switching as well as multihoming impossible. Algorithmic decision-making also shapes the way users interact with the platform.

Session II dealt with “Sharing Cultures & the Gig Economy”. Anton Fedosov (University of Zurich) investigated in his presentation “Towards Designing for Sharing Cultures: Exploring Physical Encounters and Digital Interactions in a Local Resource Sharing Community in Switzerland” the current state of sharing practices among members of the local swiss platform Pumpipumpe and how physical and digital innovations impact those practices. He found that the design choices of the platform affect physical sharing interactions among community members and concludes that sharing cultures need to foster willingness for interpersonal encounters and leverage online information to promote continued participation.

“What Do Platforms Want (and What Do They Need)? Apprehending the Gig Economy”  was the title of Niels van Doorn’s (Uni Amsterdam) presentation in which he discussed how partnership-building as a mode of platformization was part of the delivery company DoorDash’s social impact strategy “Project DASH” during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. His study reveals that DoorDash cooperated with public actors and supported health care employees with free subscriptions and small restaurants with reduced fees. Further, he identified five functions of this partnership-building: market diversification, logistical integration, ecosystem consolidation, social mobilization, and institutional legitimation.

Gemma Newlands (University of Amsterdam and BI Norwegian Business School) explored in her talk “Anthropotropism: Searching for Recognition in the Scandinavian Gig Economy” how gig workers perceive their recognition and how it affects them. In her empirical study for the case of foodora, she finds that some interviewees do not feel the company recognizes the struggle of the job and feel underappreciated – she identifies a process of anthropotropism by the Gig-workers to gain recognition. Concludingly, it appears to be the automated forms of communication that lead to feelings of mechanistic dehumanisation. 

Session III shed light on “Algorithms, AI & Ratings”. Mareike Möhlmann (Bentley University) started the session with her work on “Algorithmic management – A study of Uber drivers”. She empirically investigates how Algorithmic Management affects platform work. As a key finding, Mareike pointed out that Uber employs algorithmic control by applying methods such as dynamic pricing and behavioural nudging to enable supervision and other management-related actions and thereby guarantees standard quality. As a response, platform workers either stick to market-like behaviour or comply with organization-like behaviour.

In her talk „Keep your friends close, but your adversaries closer”, Bettina Berendt (Weizenbaum Institute / TU Berlin / KU Leuven) emphasized on the challenge of flawed systems in data science, which – when used for empirical strategies – are more likely to cause biased results and hence to discriminate, e.g., minorities. To account for this problem, there are several different approaches. Bettina proposed the “adversarial stance”-method in which an adversary as an actor is added into the function, which can help to question the assumptions and thereby increases the fairness and utility of an algorithm.

Aaron Kolleck (Weizenbaum Institute / TU Berlin) presented his joint work with Timm Teubner (TU Berlin) on “Rating dynamics on Airbnb: Survival of the fittest?”. In an empirical analysis of Portland, Oregon, the authors explore whether rating scores drive Airbnb-listings out of the market. The findings show that listings that are still active in 2019 are higher rated, and lower-rated listings appear to have a higher probability of dropping out over time. Concludingly, Airbnb, and similar platforms should stick to rating and review systems as this gives customers a useful and effective tool to influence which listings remain on Airbnb and to determine average quality.

Session IV covered topics related to “Competition & Regulation”. Heli Koski (Etla / Aalto University) presented her paper “Killers on the Road of Emerging Start-ups – Implications for Market Entry and Venture Capital Financing” in which she and her colleagues investigated the effects of tech giants’ acquisitions on competition and venture capital financing (Koski, Kässi and Braesemann, 2020). [1]  The findings for the EU and USA between 2002 and 2018 strongly suggest that tech giants’ acquisitions reduce entry rates and venture capital funding in the same product market, which is evidence for the so-called kill zone effect. 

In her talk “The End of Free Sharing: A Discussion of the EU Legal Framework of Home-Sharing and Ride-Sharing Platforms”, Sofia Ranchordas (University of Groningen) shed light on current policy efforts regarding the sharing economy from a legal perspective. She outlined how the regulatory framework has developed from laissez-faire in the earlier stages of the Sharing Economy to today’s top-down and multi-level organized framework. As the EU is now working on a Digital Services Act (DSA) package, this can be both a chance for more harmonization of rules but also bears the risk of over-regulation.

In his talk “Market power in digital markets: New competition tools and ex ante regulatory instruments”, Justus Haucap (DICE / HHU Düsseldorf) provided an overview of the challenges that arise in the context of digital platforms and a discussion of the role of antitrust and ex ante regulations from an economic perspective. Thereby, he highlighted the challenges in the context of so-called killer acquisitions and the resulting tech giants’ kill zone and further outlined how regulatory innovations in Germany and the EU can affect competition.

If you could not attend the Symposium and are interested in a specific presentation, please reach out to Volker Stocker (vstocker[at]inet.tu-berlin.de) and Christoph Lutz (christoph.lutz[at]bi.no) and we will make the presentation slides available.

[1] Koski, Heli & Kässi, Otto & Braesemann, Fabian, 2020. "Killers on the Road of Emerging Start-ups – Implications for Market Entry and Venture Capital Financing", ETLA Working Papers 81, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.

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