Law, Society and Digital Platforms: Normative Aspects of Large-scale Data-Driven Tech Companies

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceedingpeer-review


It is increasingly apparent that technology and online platforms entail and communicate normativity. Lawrence Lessig has described this in terms of 'code as law' and thereby pointing to the fact that there is an ongoing shift of power from nation states to tech companies, and José van Dijck has shown how the Big Five - Google (Alphabet), Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft - represents a neo-liberal American value system. Further, platforms penetrate every sector (governmental, private, non-profit etc.) of society, and at the same time, through ownership and partnership, they progressively are growing into strong oligopolies. Examples are the urban transport sector, news, health, education and job-matching. The sector-specific platforms such as Uber, Airbnb, MyFitnessPal, Udemy or LinkedIn are almost always dependent on or allied with one of the big five.
The digital platforms operate through what media researcher Jonas Andersson Schwarz has called a platform “logic”, that is, including being internet-based, highly data-driven, large-scale and algorithmically automated and serving a business model. The larger ones takes on an infrastructural character on a macro level, as a platforms-based “superstructures” or “ecologies” - platforms-of-platforms. This gatekeeping character is combined with the essence of exercising its dominance through a “code-based control”, leads to that they in fact becomes “lawmakers”, in a non-governmental sense, which needs further socio-legal scrutiny from a number of perspectives.
This paper focuses the normative ‘lawmaking’ aspects of large-scale platforms. By clearly acknowledging the distribution of norms by large platforms we emphasize the need to critically assess and re-conceptualize how these are designed into these platforms and what it means for the national state as normative source. The paper thereby addresses the “algorithmic accountability” that increasingly are called for, debating how to study and understand accountability for automated services, as well as the lack of transparency the platforms often bring in terms of normative decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Sept 13
EventThe RCSL-SDJ Lisbon Meeting 2018 "Law and Citizenship Beyond The States” - ISCTE - INSTITUTO UNIVERSITÁRIO DE LISBOA, Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 2018 Sept 102018 Sept 13


ConferenceThe RCSL-SDJ Lisbon Meeting 2018 "Law and Citizenship Beyond The States”
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Civil Engineering

Free keywords

  • Online platform


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