Publication Date



Digital platform-based businesses such as Uber,
eBay, and Google have become ubiquitous in our daily
lives. They have done so by expertly harnessing
technology to bring supply- and demand-side users
together for commercial and social exchange. Users are
happy to let these platform companies play
“matchmaker” because transaction costs are lowered—it
is easier to find or give a ride, buy or sell a product, or
obtain almost any kind of information than ever before—
and platforms are happy to be at the center of the
exchange, taking advantage of network effects to become
wildly successful. Despite the success of these platforms,
however, there is an increasing unease with the methods
that platforms use to sustain their multi-sided
markets—namely, users question whether they are being
manipulated by some of their favorite companies. This
Article offers a first-of-its kind analysis into both the
legality and ethicality of platform companies,
specifically their use of technologically enhanced

behavioral science to mediate user transactions. After
providing a descriptive account of how platform
companies operate and succeed, including an in-depth
analysis of the choice architecture platforms employ to
structure almost every decision made on the platform,
this Article evaluates whether platforms manipulate
users. Various activities of platform companies are
assessed and charted on a platform manipulation
matrix as part of an integrated framework that
evaluates the autonomy costs platforms impose upon
users. Once done, it becomes clear that much of what
platforms do is indeed manipulative; yet much is also
beneficial to users and companies alike. This Article
then offers a path forward: an ethical foundation to be
used by platforms, users, and regulators aimed at
reducing manipulative practices—a new Code of the

Included in

Computer Law Commons