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Spontaneous Deregulation tests Regulatory Gaps on Digital Platforms

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By Austin Okere

There is a perfect storm brewing on Twitter between the President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump and Twitter Founder, Jack Dorsey.

“The Trump-Twitter fight ropes in the rest of Silicon Valley” was the screaming headline on Politico.com on Sunday, May 30, 2020.

President Donald Trump tweeted earlier this week about mail-in voting, alleging without evidence that the effort would lead to voter fraud.

For the first time, Twitter marked the tweet with a small notice that read “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” which linked to facts-based reporting on the subject.

Twitter’s fact-check led Trump to issue an executive order targeting social media companies. The order involves Section 230 , part of a 1996 law that gives websites (including companies like Twitter and Facebook) the ability to moderate content on their sites without worrying about First Amendment violations.

Legal experts have said the move is possibly illegal and difficult to enforce. Facebook, meanwhile, has tried to stay out of the clash, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg weighing to say he has a much different view from Twitter on how Social Media Platforms should handle controversial political speech. Companies like Facebook and Twitter, Zuckerberg said, should not act as “the arbiter of truth.”

The relationship between platforms and regulation has been thorny right from the start and can at best, be described as a keg of gunpowder waiting to be triggered.

Has the time come for the trigger to be pulled? I wrote this article four years ago in June 2016, and it still captures the essence of this feud. What are your views on this fractious issue?

I facilitated a seminar for the Lagos Judiciary at the Lagos Business School in May 2016, with theme Digital Economy and Legal Regulation.

The aim of the program was to share insights on the emerging Digital Economy with their Lordships and draw attention to the imperative for regulatory evolution in the face of the pervasiveness of Online Platforms of the kind operated by technology giants such as Facebook, Google, Uber and Airbnb. There is hardly an area of economic and social interaction these days that is left untouched by these Platforms in some shape or form.

The Regulatory Gaps

Justice Opeyemi Oke, representing the Chief Judge of Lagos State receiving the certificate of Participation

To fill the regulatory gaps in the digital economy, these behemoths have resorted to what could be referred to as spontaneous deregulation.

I first encountered this term in an article by Benjamin Edelman and Damien Geradin, and have arisen as a result of digital disrupters ignoring laws and regulations that appear to preclude their business model, which is typically based on providing platforms for crowd sourcing and giving rise to the sharing economy.

Believing in the efficacy of their utility model and its appeal to a pent-up global demand, these disrupters seem to see many rules and regulations as belonging to the past and impractical for today’s innovative clime.

They therefore simply ignore them, opting for their own version of self-regulation, usually based on a mutual rating system between service providers and consumers. It is this skirting of existing regulation that is referred to as spontaneous private deregulation.

These disrupters make the rules for themselves as they go along, because in fairness to them, as their platforms reshape markets, the scope of activity subject to regulation tends to decrease, and various forms of protection disappear.

These companies operate in interstitial areas of the law because they present new and fundamentally different issues that were not foreseen when the governing statutes and regulations were enacted.

Two major areas in which these digital czars have riled the establishment are in transportation and hospitality; the major ‘culprits’ being UBER and Airbnb. UBER, until recently a relatively unknown company out of Silicon Valley in California employs 160,000 drivers today and is adding an average of 20,000 drivers every month.

This transport services disrupter is now valued at $41b and operates in many major cities across the globe. Airbnb, a previously obscure company with similar roots and reach, has over 1.5m accommodation on her platform, and is now valued at $25b.

The need for ‘platform fairness’

Axelle Lemaire, French secretary of state in charge of all things digital, insists that France is open to platform operators, but consumers have to be protected. She is sponsoring a law to be passed by the French Parliament which will create the principle of ‘Platform Fairness’.

Karnataka state in India, where Uber piloted its India service two years ago has directed taxi aggregators such as Uber to stop operations in the state until they secure a licence from the government, triggering sharp reactions from the corporate world.

Getting a licence would mean no more surge pricing, complying with the maximum fares fixed by the government periodically and registering with local transport authorities. The question is why has it taken the Karnataka government such a long time to wake up to regulatory gaps in her transport sector? And how many other cities are in this quagmire?

The U.S Supreme Court recently ended a decade-long battle over Google’s massive book-scanning project, declining to take up an appeal by authors who claimed the company violated copyright law ‘’on an epic scale’’.

The justices denied certiorari in Authors Guild v. Google, 15-849, leaving in place a ruling last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that said Google’s project was permissible. The appeals court decision invoked the ‘’Fair Use’’ doctrine, which permits some ‘’socially beneficial’’ use of published works such as news reporting or research, that would otherwise constitute copyright infringement.

Airbnb has had its fair share of issues with one of her largest markets, New York.  A major concern is the legal regime within which Airbnb operates; one that is marked by poorly drafted laws that fail to account for challenges presented by the sharing economy.

As explained by Airbnb cofounder Brian Chesky, “There were laws created for businesses, and there were laws for people. What the sharing economy did was create a third category: people as businesses,” to which the application of existing laws is often unclear. These new business models raise complex questions that have not yet been addressed by either legislatures or courts.

Because the threat of enforcement actions can have a chilling effect on start-ups and their users, state and local government officials should consider how their actions may affect burgeoning businesses. Officials should encourage the sharing economy’s growth through collaborative efforts rather than seek to protect incumbent businesses.

Regulation seems too slow in catching up

The slow pace of regulation evolution seems to strongly suggest that the legal profession itself is ripe for a technology revolution that will optimise the largely manual and laborious process of enacting laws and regulation in the face of the aggressive pace of digital innovation.

I recall the indignation of their Lordships when I cautioned that the learned profession could be more vulnerable than they think when it comes to disruption, and that emerging technologies like cognitive computing and other forms of machine learning can help narrow the gap between regulation and innovation.

Much as it may sound improbable, given its intrinsic consultative nature, I was not surprised when I came across an article on the World Economic Forum’s collaborative platform, announcing that a Law firm Baker & Hostetler has done just that!

Green shoots of technology in Law and Regulation

According to the article, Baker & Hostetler has announced that they are employing IBM’s AI Ross to handle their bankruptcy practice, which at the moment consists of nearly 50 lawyers.

Ross, “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney” built on IBM’s cognitive computer Watson, was designed to read and understand language, postulate hypotheses when asked questions, research, and then generate responses (along with references and citations) to back up its conclusions. Ross also learns from experience, gaining speed and knowledge the more you interact with it.

“You ask your questions in plain English, as you would a colleague, and ROSS then reads through the entire body of law and returns a cited answer and topical readings from legislation, case law and secondary sources to get you up-to-speed quickly,” the website says. “In addition, ROSS monitors the law around the clock to notify you of new court decisions that can affect your case.”

Ross also minimizes the time it takes by narrowing down results from a thousand to only the most highly relevant answers, and presents the answers in a more casual, understandable language.

It also keeps up to date with developments in the legal system, specifically those that may affect your cases. According to CEO and co-founder Andrew Arruda, other firms have also signed licenses with Ross, and they will also be making announcements shortly.

This disruption, happening to the most unlikely profession, with a highly codified ethic is a clear manifestation that no industry is immune from disruption in the impending fourth industrial revolution.

Any industry that does not figure out how to be a part of it might as well write their obituaries. My take expressed to their Lordships after the seminar was that the digital revolution is like a train whose drivers are the entrepreneur disrupters.

The passengers are the global customers with a pent-up demand for the value and convenience that they provide. Naysayers to this phenomenon can stand in front of the train and be crushed, stay on the platform and be left behind, or come on board for a ride into progressive partnerships.

Regulators still have much to learn about how to deal with platforms. They have no choice than to get more involved and get the needed expertise. But will they? The jury is still out.

 

Austin Okere is the Founder of CWG Plc, the largest ICT Company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange & Entrepreneur in Residence at CBS, New York. Austin also serves on the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network, and on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Innovation and Intrapreneurship. Austin now runs the Ausso Leadership Academy focused on Business and Entrepreneurial Mentorship.


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Sundiata Post Media Unveils Dealboku, eCommerce Platform

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Sundiata Post Media Limited, a multimedia news platform, has launched Dealboku,  its e-commerce platform.

Sundiata Post Media Unveils Dealboku, eCommerce Platform

In a statement, Max Amuchie, founder/CEO of Sundiata Post Media, said Dealboku is an idea whose “time has come”.

Amuchie said Dealboku is different from other conventional online shops where goods are sold at shelf prices, as its e-commerce platform is an online deals marketplace where merchants are made to sell same products and offer same services at a discounted price.

“We have built a robust platform that is unique in its approach to e-commerce. Both buyers and sellers are assured of excellent customer care and quality products and services at discounted prices,” he said.

According to him, “with the establishment of Dealboku, Sundiata Post has made history as the first media platform in Nigeria to go into the full e-commerce business”.

In her remarks, Hannah Atomode, Dealboku’s project consultant, said the goal of the platform is to help customers get good discounted deals to their doorsteps.

“The team has been working very hard to build a beautiful and user-friendly website. This is a platform that comprises various products and services from fashion, automobile, furniture, foods, beauty, food, Spa and wellness, hotels, online training etc,” she said.

“The payment system is not cumbersome, it is so simple and easy to use.”

Atomode added that the e-commerce platform offers three payment options, which are card payment, wallet or bank transfer.

 

 


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AtaraPay Redefines e-commerce Space

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AtaraPay, an online escrow service has reiterated its commitment toward redefining and enhancing cash on delivery service in Nigeria in a way that promotes trust, transparency and protects the interest of both parties.

Yemi Adebiyi, Executive Director of TrustPay Technologies Limited, made this known in a statement in Lagos, where he said the emergence of e-commerce in Nigeria has changed the way Nigerians buy and sell goods.

He said that although bias and skepticism against online shopping persist, over time more consumers have begun to embrace the concept of purchasing items online and getting them delivered at their doorstep.

He said: “The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has also made it imperative for sellers to diversify their sales channel to include an online, omnichannel strategy.”

He noted that, however, over time increased cases of internet fraud, frequent internet payment transaction failures only served to worsen the perception of customers paying online without physically inspecting the goods.

Adebiyi pointed out that as a workaround, cash-on-delivery options quickly became a popular choice with customers who preferred to double-check items in hand before paying in cash. This served as an approach to address the trust deficit and guarantee quality assurance.

He said that the introduction of escrow service by African start-ups such as AtaraPay, Paylock, Truzo has come in handy in addressing the issue of trust between buyers and sellers in a way that promotes transparency and protects the interest of both parties.

Adebiyi explained that AtaraPay’s business relationship with Consolidated Hallmark Insurance Plc enables it to provide a service that can be trusted and reliable enough to take away the monetary bottlenecks and resolve every crisis during transactions.

“This is a safe way to strike an equilibrium between customer and merchant credibility while eliminating fraud in the process,” he added.


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Konga to Employ over 100,000 Nigerians through Konga Affiliate Project

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Konga, composite eCommerce giant has revived YUBOSS, a stellar reseller scheme now re-christened as Konga Affiliate through which it is offering millions of smart unemployed and under-employed Nigerians an opportunity to earn unlimited income and ultimately achieve economic freedom by partnering with the company.

Equally important, the Konga Affiliate programme which grants successful applicants instant sign-up at affiliate.konga.com offers a comprehensive partnership to affiliates.

Built upon the very popular YUBOSS scheme which the company floated under Yudala, the central idea behind the revamped Konga Affiliate programme is Konga’s burning ambition to reach the unreached and under-served Nigerians in the hinterlands and other parts of the country through the affiliates whom it has identified as critical partners in this initiative.

This is in addition to the desire to reach more of the growing band of savvy, quality-minded Nigerians in search of a reliable channel for their purchases.

Specifically, the programme affords affiliates who sign up a chance to earn unrestricted income through mouth-watering commissions on every successful sale of products on the Konga platform.

Most importantly, hardworking and successful affiliates can grow through the ranks to ultimately become the owner of a Konga franchise store.

Further setting apart the Konga Affiliate programme is the immense benefits it offers affiliates.

These include access to Konga’s world class assets including its global supply chain, massive warehousing facilities for bulk deals, swift delivery of orders through Kxpress, its in-house logistics company which boasts advanced delivery capabilities, digital payments through KongaPay, a Central Bank of Nigeria-licensed e-wallet as well as round-the-clock customer service support.

Affiliates can also enjoy access to credit facilities and training resources, mentorship opportunities with renowned entrepreneurs and global business leaders as well as sponsorship of mega deals and contracts.

In addition, the programme which has a structured progression path has been touted as a useful way out of the current harsh economic crunch and rising unemployment which has hindered the ambitions of millions of smart Nigerians in search of opportunities to make an honest living.

The dire situation is further compounded by the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic which has hobbled businesses the world over and in Nigeria.

Prince Nnamdi Ekeh, co-chief executive officer, Konga Group, says the company is looking for hardworking, determined Nigerians it can empower and invest in to create wealth through the programme.

‘‘The Konga Affiliate programme which we have relaunched online at affiliate.konga.com is one of the strategies we are deploying in providing creative employment opportunities for millions of Nigerian youths.

“Our target remains the unemployed and under-employed. In fact, we are looking for partners that we can invest in through the programme.

‘‘As it stands, one of our ambitions at Konga is to ensure we reach more of the unreached and under-served Nigerians in majority of the 774 local governments across Nigeria.

‘‘There is no doubt that unemployment is on the rise. However, the efforts of government in creating jobs cannot cater to the army of unemployed and under-employed which is rising by the day.

“Through the Konga Affiliate programme, we are giving many Nigerians a way out of their current difficult circumstances into ultimate economic freedom.

‘‘Our goal is to see each successful affiliate, in turn, become an employer of labour. This is one of the fastest ways of reducing the spiralling unemployment and under-employment rates in Nigeria and giving hope to many,’’ he concluded.

Intending affiliates can register for a chance to join the programme at affiliate.konga.com


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