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    293   EFFICIENCIES   AND   REGULATORY   SHORTCUTS:   HOW   SHOULD   WE   REGULATE   COMPANIES   LIKE   AIRBNB   AND   UBER? Benjamin G. Edelman* & Damien Geradin**  C ITE AS :   19   S TAN .   T ECH .   L.   R  EV .   293   (2016) A BSTRACT   We explore the regulation of new software platforms that connect consumers with informal service providers for transportation, short-term rentals, and more. These platforms tend to be in tension with existing regulatory frameworks which typically require licensing, certification, and insurance. In one view, some of these requirements are outdated or protectionist, benefiting incumbents more than consumers. Others counter that the rules embody important values and protect both customers and the public at large. We explore these disagreements with an eye for how the regulatory framework might allow the key efficiencies these platforms provide, while assuring protection for customers and avoiding harm to noncustomers. * Associate Professor, Harvard Business School. bedelman@hbs.edu ** Professor of Law, Tilburg University and George Mason University School of Law. Founding partner, EDGE Legal. dgeradin@edgelegal.eu  294 STANFORD TECHNOLOGY LAW REVIEW   [Vol. 19:293  T ABLE OF C ONTENTS   I.   I NTRODUCTION  ................................................................................................. 294   II.   E FFICIENCIES  ..................................................................................................... 296   A.   Main efficiencies from software platforms   ........................................................ 296    1.   Reducing transaction costs   ....................................................................... 297    2.   Improved allocation of resources   ............................................................... 298    3.   Information efficiencies, reputations, and accountability   .............................. 299   4.   Pricing efficiencies   .................................................................................. 301   B.   Availability to incumbents   .............................................................................. 302   C.   Notable limits   ................................................................................................ 304   D.   The promise of these efficiencies   ...................................................................... 305   III.   P ROPER SCOPE FOR REGULATORY INTERVENTION  ................................................ 305   A.   Ending “protectionist” regulation   ...................................................................... 306    B.   Addressing market failures   ............................................................................. 309   1.   Externalities   .......................................................................................... 309   a.   Externalities in transportation platforms   ............................................. 310   b.   Externalities in short-term rentals   ....................................................... 313   2.   Information asymmetries  ......................................................................... 315   3.   Cognitive biases   ...................................................................................... 317    4.   Providing full service including to disfavored groups   .................................. 318    C.   Raising revenue   ............................................................................................. 322   D.   The feasibility of regulating software platforms  ................................................. 324   IV.   A   W AY F ORWARD  ............................................................................................. 326   I.   I NTRODUCTION  New software platforms use modern information technology, including full-featured web sites and mobile apps, to allow service providers and consumers to transact with each other without costly intermediaries. Platform operators typically provide information about service providers (e.g., drivers) and services offered (e.g., short-term rentals), as well as online payment facilities, reputation mechanisms to assure quality, and assistance with dispute resolution. The resulting systems offer differentiated products previously not readily available (such as short-term rentals more spacious than hotels), as well as lower prices. Despite significant interest from consumers, these platforms tend to be in tension with existing regulatory frameworks. On one view, some regulations are outdated or protectionist, benefiting incumbents more than consumers. Others counter that software platforms breach important laws and impose a variety of costs on the public at large. Looking at the radical positions taken in discussions about, for instance, Airbnb and Uber, we sense that many people fail to see the whole picture. Even the toughest critics of these platforms tend to recognize that software platforms provide massive efficiencies, including facilitating more intense use of assets as well as improved convenience, information, better pricing, and more. Moreover, there is no proper basis for prohibiting entry into the markets at issue. Certain activities nonetheless raise genuine concerns,  Winter 2016] EFFICIENCIES AND REGULATORY SHORTCUTS 295  particularly if they breach laws and regulations that address externalities and other important policy objectives. In our view, enlightened policy towards software platforms, such as Airbnb and Uber, requires a regulatory framework that simultaneously allows the key efficiencies the platforms seek to offer and assures that they adequately address the rights of consumers and third parties. Policymakers should embrace the efficiencies these platforms provide, including removing unnecessary requirements and protectionist rules that primarily benefit incumbents. Yet, platforms must be prepared to comply with regulatory requirements that genuinely protect customers, as well as requirements to avoid harm to noncustomers. 1  A note of caution on the terminology: we observe that many platform operators advertise their services as “sharing.” For example, short-term property  rental service Airbnb says its service lets hosts “share their homes with guests” 2  while transportation service Lyft says it offers “ridesharing.” 3  The term “sharing” partially captures some aspects of these companies’ activities, e.g., employing a single resource for multiple purposes, such as using a vehicle both for an owner’s personal needs and to transport paying passengers. It can also be misleading as online platforms mediate an “economic exchange” not entirely unlike longstanding commercial relationships. 4  Moreover, the key efficiencies generally 1 . There is a burgeoning literature addressing the ways in which online platforms should be regulated, but our paper is the first systematic attempt to identify both the efficiencies generated by such platforms, as well as the instances in which market failures may require regulatory intervention. The existing literature includes Daniel E. Rauch & David Schleicher, Like Uber, But for Local Governmental Policy: The Future of Local Regulation of the ‘Sharing Economy  , 76 O HIO S T .   L.J. 901 (2015); Christopher Koopman et al., The Sharing Economy and Consumer Protection Regulation: The Case for Policy Change  , 8 J.   B US .   E NTREPRENEURSHIP &   L. 529 (2015); Andrew T. Bond, An App for That: Local Governments and the Rise of the Sharing Economy  , 90 N OTRE D AME L.   R  EV . 77 (2015); and Brishen Rogers, The Social Costs of Uber  , 82 U.   C HI .   L.   R  EV . D IALOGUE  85 (2015). 2 . Patrick Robinson, Queen Signs Home Sharing into UK Law  , A IRBNB  (Mar. 25, 2015), http://publicpolicy.airbnb.com/queen-signs-home-sharing-uk-law/ [perma.cc/LJZ4-A6PC]. 3 . Logan Green & John Zimmer, Lyft Community Update: October 8, 2012  , L YFT B LOG  (Oct. 8, 2015) http://blog.lyft.com/posts/2014/4/4/lyft-community-update [https://perma.cc/945Z-L4E7]; See also  Comments of Zimride, Inc., to Public Utilities Commission of the State of California, Rulemaking 12-12-011, 6-8 (Jan. 28, 2013), http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Efile/G000/M042/K155/42155832.PDF [https://perma.cc/Z3V3-LTF4]. 4 . Giana M. Eckhardt & Fleura Bardhi, The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Sharing at All  , H ARV .   B US .   R  EV .   O NLINE  (January 28, 2015), https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-sharing-economy-isnt-about-sharing-at-all [https://perma.cc/Q8PP-DF5G] (“Sharing is a form of social exchange that takes place among people known to each other, without any profit. Sharing is an established practice, and dominates particular aspects of our life, such as within the family. By sharing and collectively consuming the household space of the home, family members establish a communal identity. When ‘sharing’ is market-mediated—when a company is an intermediary between consumers who don’t know each other—it is no longer sharing at all. Rather, consumers are paying to access someone else’s goods or services for a particular period of time. It is an economic exchange, and consumers are after utilitarian, rather than social, value.”)  296 STANFORD TECHNOLOGY LAW REVIEW   [Vol. 19:293  do not come from “sharing” but from the market structure that platforms facilitate, including casual service providers who avoid the fixed cost and, often, regulation associated with traditional service. Given the limited importance of “sharing” as well as the associated disputes and subjectivity associated with the use of this term, we largely avoid it. In the discussion below, we favor the term “software platform” to reference the services that connect consumers to service providers—though even this term is imperfect, as a literal interpretation would encompass myriad other platforms not raising the policy challenges we explore. This paper proceeds in three parts. In Part II, we enumerate the various forms of efficiencies that software platforms provide, including reducing transaction costs, improving allocation of resources, and information and pricing efficiencies. We observe that these efficiencies are also available to incumbents as software platforms use standard technologies that are widely available, and nothing prevents service providers and consumers from “multi-homing” to use multiple systems. In Part III, we explore regulatory frameworks. On the one hand, we suggest a need for adapting law and regulations to allow software platforms to operate legally so that both service providers and consumers can enjoy the efficiencies these platforms seek to offer. At the same time, software platforms should not be above the law. In particular, they should comply with regulatory requirements that are needed to correct genuine market failures, and these requirements should remain in force. Thus, we do not favor “deregulation,” but rather an updated regulatory framework that is sufficiently flexible to allow software platforms to operate and deliver their efficiencies, while ensuring that service providers, users and third parties are adequately protected from harms that may arise from services provided through these platforms. Part IV concludes. II.   E FFICIENCIES  We are struck by the range of efficiencies potentially delivered by software platforms and the transactions they facilitate. In this section, we explore key advantages, focusing on mechanisms that give these platforms the largest advances over incumbents. A.   Main efficiencies from software platforms Software platforms deliver a variety of efficiencies, including reducing transaction costs, improving allocation of resources, and information and pricing efficiencies.
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