Meeting on Draft Model Rules on Online Intermediary Platforms

On Thursday 14 and Friday 15 March the Maastricht University Campus Brussels hosted the meeting of the reporters and members of the project “Draft Model Rules on Online Intermediary Platforms” of the European Law Institute. The project aims to develop model rules on online intermediary platforms that set out a balance between conflicting policy options and demonstrate what potential regulation at EU or national level could look like. The meeting was organized by Caroline Cauffman. About 16 academics from several European Member States and European Commission representatives engaged in very fruitful plenary working sessions. ​Reputational systems and redress were the main topics of the discussion on the first day, while the second day was devoted to the discussion of the coherence of the final draft.

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Should robots be given legal personhood?

By Dr. Caroline Cauffman

 

On 7 February 2019, the SSH Synergy conference 2019 took place in Bussum. The aim of the SSH Synergy conferences is to bring together academics from all disciplines of Social Sciences and Humanities, policy makers and professionals from civil society organisations involved in SSH research in order to discuss themes of current interest. In 2019, the focus was on the theme of Digitalisation. The conference included a number of key note speeches, parallel sessions, a science battle alongside the possibility to network while visiting an info market with organisations from science, society and industry.

NWO offered SSH researchers the possibility to propose topics for the parallel sessions. We were fortunate enough to have our proposal selected and to be given the opportunity to organise two debate sessions in the afternoon on the question of whether robots (which we use as shorthand for artificially intelligent entities) should be given legal personhood.

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The impact of free digital offers on individual behavior and its implications for consumer and data protection laws

Two days ago, I received great news! I was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship to conduct research on how offers for free digital goods and services influence people’s decision about their personal data and consumer rights. This three-year project will be supervised by Jan Smits. It will include collaboration with researchers from the UM School of Business and Economics and a research stay at ETH Zurich with the Law, Economics, and Business Group led by Alexander Stremitzer.

The idea for this research started with a simple observation that there is an abundance of digital goods and services offered for free. We can communicate with our friends through social networks, store our files in clouds, navigate the city, manage our finances or even find a life partner using mobile applications or online services without paying a single penny.

When looking closer at these offers, it can be, however, noticed that free does not yet mean that we give nothing in exchange. We do provide our private information and attention that might be profitably used by suppliers of free digital content. Since these transactions affect consumers and their personal data, they fall within the scope of two fields of the EU law – data protection and consumer law. The overall objectives of these two areas of law are to protect the privacy of consumers and to balance their position against more powerful transaction partners, i.e., businesses. The question which interests me most is whether these objectives are indeed achieved with the current design of the rules, given people’s heuristics and biases in decision making about free products. Behavioral research has demonstrated that consumers tend to overestimate the benefits and underestimate nonmonetary costs of free digital content in the form of exposure to advertisements. Yet, it is still unknown how free offers influence consumer decisions that are relevant from a legal perspective, i.e., decisions that involve consumer rights and privacy. During my MSCA Fellowship, I will conduct online experiments to address this knowledge gap.

Specifically, I will aim to answer the following research questions:

  1. How does offering digital content at a zero price but in exchange for personal data influence consumers’ decisions about:
    • use of digital content,
    • sharing of personal data,
    • use of contractual and data protection rights, e.g., request to repair the defective content or to delete personal data.
  2. Will these decisions change if consumers are provided with information that:
    • consumer personal data are supplied as counter-performance for free digital content?
    • consumer personal data are valuable?

With the proposed experimental studies, I will provide further insights on consumer behavior by identifying how consumers make decisions regarding free digital content supplied in exchange for personal information. These transactions have been recognized as in need for a policy intervention and have been subject to recent legal initiatives in the EU such as the General Data Protection Regulation or the Digital Content Directive. The stakes are non-trivial. Although consumers do not pay money for free digital products, they do suffer detriment when a product fails to function properly (e.g., costs of time spent on repairment) or due to abuse of personal data they shared in exchange. Crucially, free offers might affect one of the most vulnerable groups of consumers that is low-income consumers who cannot afford paying for digital products. Thus, the overarching goal of this research is to learn whether there is room for improving welfare of consumers of free digital content and what further measures could be implemented to achieve such an improvement.

Since this is my very first post on the MEPLI blog, I would like to take this opportunity to briefly introduce myself to its readers. I am an Assistant Professor of Empirical Legal Research at the UM Faculty of Law. Before coming to Maastricht, I was a post-doctoral fellow and an LLM student at the NYU School of Law. I got into experimental research during my doctoral studies at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn. There I worked together with economists and psychologists investigating the impact of law on human behavior. For instance, I ran a series of experiments aimed to understand the influence of gender- and performance-based selection procedures on group cooperation (more details here). Based on my own and other empirical research I developed legal arguments contributing to the discussion on introducing gender quotas in corporate boards. I also investigated experimentally how payoff-irrelevant terms (i.e., a fixed-term vs. open-end contract duration) can impact contractual behavior (more details here). When at NYU I expanded my empirical toolkit and  started analyzing the content of contracts governing transactions for free and paid digital content. This helped me generate further research questions that I am going to address as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow. I will keep you posted about the results of this research project, so stay tuned!

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Brexit and the Economics of Federalism

By Prof. Dr. Niels Philipsen

 

With Brexit, Yellow Jackets and EU-scepticism dominating the news and everyday discussions, I would like to direct MEPLI blog readers’ attention to some of the lessons that law and economics can offer to the (polarizing) debate on the future of the EU. My impression is that many academics, perhaps also some colleagues, too quickly label certain voters (those who supported Brexit and those who vote for EU-sceptic political parties) as ‘stupid’ and lacking the intelligence to understand and vote on topics like immigration, monetary policy, and environmental law. In my view this is not the right way to contribute to the debate. We need a much more balanced view. Perhaps, law and economics can help.

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Vincenzo Cento and “The United States of Europe”

By Dr. William Bull

 

On 16 December 2018, I had the pleasure of visiting the home town of my late Italian grandfather, a small hilltop community called Pollenza, in the lesser known region of Le Marche. The Italian side of my family, the famiglia Cento, has produced a number of academics, including both my mother, Anna Cento Bull, Professor of Italian History and Politics at the University of Bath, and my grandfather, Alberto Cento, Professor of French language and literature at the University of Naples. What I had not realised, however, is that my great-grandfather was also a renowned scholar, and apparently quite an important name in the town of Pollenza.

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Summer Masterclass on Ethics, Research and the GDPR

On July 10, the LeD (Legal Data) community initiative is organising, in partnership with ECPC, the European Centre on Privacy and Cybersecurity, the Summer Masterclass on Ethics, Research and the GDPR, with the experts Cosimo Monda, Paolo Balboni and Christopher Kuner. The event is free and open to everyone who would like to attend. Please register at info-IDS@maastrichtuniversity.nl(limited seats available).

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