2 months ago

Regulating Platforms

On Friday, Transport for London (TfL) declared that Uber was not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence. Uber’s current licence expires next week. However, Uber can continue to operate in London until any appeal processes have been exhausted. (TFL Press Release, 22 September 2017)

By Saturday afternoon, a petition in Uber’s favour had raised half a million signatures. Uber seems to put more energy into campaigning against evil regulators than into operating within the regulations, and was evidently already prepared for this fight. (You don’t send out messages to millions of customers at the drop of a hat without a bit of forward planning.) As Emine Saner writes,

“Calling for better legislation certainly is not as exciting as a glossy app, or whipped-up social media reaction, but it may make your trip home safer – and would be a better use of online petitions.”

The protests follow a number of well-worn arguments

  • Many users of the Uber service (especially young women) have become dependent on a cheap, convenient and supposedly safer alternative to public transport and expensive taxis.
  • Many drivers have borrowed heavily to invest in the Uber business model, and fear being thrown into penury.
  • This is an anti-competitive and technologically backward move, prompted by entrenched interests. And as TfL is itself a transport operator, it is not appropriate that TfL should regulate its competitors.

None of these arguments can be taken completely at face value.

  • It is true that many women believe the Uber model is safer than the alternatives; however, some women have been raped, and other women have had extremely scary experiences. Uber is accused of failing to carry out proper checks, and failing to report serious incidents.
  • Uber service is cheap not only because it cuts costs and exploits its drivers, but also because it is subsidized by Uber investors. This looks suspiciously like predatory pricing rather than fair competition. Analysts such as Izabella Kaminska argue that Uber will only become profitable when it has driven its competitors out of business, at which point it will be able to increase its prices. Like much of Silicon Valley, it appears to operate according to the Peter Thiel anti-competition playbook. Even Steve Bannon has been heard arguing for closer regulation of what are effectively monopoly platforms.
  • Technology companies such as Uber sometimes describe themselves as “disruptive”. While it is true that disruptions sometimes yield socioeconomic benefits, the belief that disruption is always good for competition is based on ideology rather than evidence. Regulation is generally opposed to disruption.
  • And as Stephen Bush points out, it’s not as a digital start-up company that Uber has fallen foul of regulations, but as an old fashioned minicab operator. (As John Bull explains, Uber London is just a minicab company; the app is operated by Uber BV in the Netherlands. This corporate separation helps Uber to finesse both regulation and tax.) Persuading politicians and economists to see Uber as a shining example of technological progress is just “a very, very clever marketing trick”.

I’m quoting Steve Bannon because I’m just amazed to find something I agree with him about.  Regulating platforms is not the same as regulating regular companies, and the general art of regulation needs a kick up the proverbial. However, that is no reason to diss the current regulations or regulators, who are doing the best they can with insufficient regulatory mechanisms and resources. Experience from other cities shows that if Uber can’t get its act together, there are plenty others that can.


John Bull, Understanding Uber: It’s Not About The App (Reconnections 25 September 2017)

Stephen Bush, The right are defending Uber, because they don’t really understand it (New Statesman 22 September 2017)

Martin Farrer, Nadia Khomami et al, More than 500,000 sign petition to save Uber as firm fights London ban (Guardian 23 September 2017)

Ryan Grim, Steve Bannon Wants Facebook and Google Regulated Like Utilities (The Intercept, 27 July 2017)

Hubert Horan, Will the Growth of Uber Increase Economic Welfare? (September 14, 2017)

Izabella Kaminska. For references see earlier post Uber Mathematics 2 (December 2016)

Sam Levine,‘There is life after Uber’: what happens when cities ban the service? (Guardian 23 September 2017)

Jason Murugesu, Night bus or black cab – what will save stranded Londoners post-Uber? (New Statesman 22 September 2017)

Andrew Orlowski, Why Uber isn’t the poster child for capitalism you wanted (The Register, 26 September 2017)

Emine Saner, Will the end of Uber in London make women more or less safe? (Guardian, 25 September 2017)

Related posts (with further references): Platform, Regulation, Uber

8 months, 16 days ago

Inspector Sands to Platform Nine and Three Quarters

Last week was not a good one for the platform business. Uber continues to receive bad publicity on multiple fronts, as noted in my post on Uber’s Defeat Device and Denial of Service (March 2017). And on Tuesday, a fat-fingered system admin at AWS managed to take out a significant chunk of the largest platform on the planet, seriously degrading online retail in the Northern Virginia (US-EAST-1) Region. According to one estimate, performance at over half of the top internet retailers was hit by 20 percent or more, and some websites were completely down.

What have we learned from this? Yahoo Finance tells us not to worry.

“The good news: Amazon has addressed the issue, and is working to ensure nothing similar happens again. … Let’s just hope … that Amazon doesn’t experience any further issues in the near future.”

Other commentators are not so optimistic. For Computer Weekly, this incident

“highlights the risk of running critical systems in the public cloud. Even the most sophisticated cloud IT infrastructure is not infallible.”

So perhaps one lesson is not to trust platforms. Or at least not to practice wilful blindness when your chosen platform or cloud provider represents a single point of failure.

One of the myths of cloud, according to Aidan Finn,

“is that you get disaster recovery by default from your cloud vendor (such as Microsoft and Amazon). Everything in the cloud is a utility, and every utility has a price. If you want it, you need to pay for it and deploy it, and this includes a scenario in which a data center burns down and you need to recover. If you didn’t design in and deploy a disaster recovery solution, you’re as cooked as the servers in the smoky data center.”

Interestingly, Amazon itself was relatively unaffected by Tuesday’s problem. This may have been because they split their deployment across multiple geographical zones. However, as Brian Guy points out, there are significant costs involved in multi-region deployment, as well as data protection issues. He also notes that this question is not (yet) addressed by Amazon’s architectural guidelines for AWS users, known as the Well-Architected Framework.

Amazon recently added another pillar to the Well-Architected Framework, namely operational excellence. This includes such practices as performing operations with code: in other words, automating operations as much as possible. Did someone say Fat Finger?


Abel Avram, The AWS Well-Architected Framework Adds Operational Excellence (InfoQ, 25 Nov 2016)

Julie Bort, The massive AWS outage hurt 54 of the top 100 internet retailers — but not Amazon (Business Insider, 1 March 2017)

Aidan Finn, How to Avoid an AWS-Style Outage in Azure (Petri, 6 March 2017)

Brian Guy, Analysis: Rethinking cloud architecture after the outage of Amazon Web Services (GeekWire, 5 March 2017)

Daniel Howley, Why you should still trust Amazon Web Services even though it took down the internet (Yahoo Finance, 6 March 2017)

Chris Mellor, Tuesday’s AWS S3-izure exposes Amazon-sized internet bottleneck (The Register, 1 March 2017)

Shaun Nichols, Amazon S3-izure cause: Half the web vanished because an AWS bod fat-fingered a command (The Register, 2 March 2017)

Cliff Saran, AWS outage shows vulnerability of cloud disaster recovery (Computer Weekly, 6 March 2017)

1 year, 6 months ago

The Ten Commandments of the Government Digital Service (i)

The Government Digital Service principles
The Government Digital Service principles (i)
The Government Digital Service principles (ii)
The Government Digital Service principles should become part of the culture
Government as a platform, foundations
Gov…

1 year, 6 months ago

Government as a platform, foundations (ii)

Comments on the “Foundations for Government as a Platform”.
continuing
 
“Meet technical and design standards” 
The same service design standards should apply. In fact, it is both the government and the suppliers that should elaborate and app…

1 year, 6 months ago

Government as a platform, foundations (i)

Comments on the “Foundations for Government as a Platform”.
Foundations continuing:
 
“Support service separation” 
Services should not depend on each other so that they can be easily stopped, fixed or changed without affecting other services…

4 years, 2 months ago

Future Technologies

By Dave Lounsbury, The Open Group The Open Group is looking toward the future – what will happen in the next five to ten years? Those who know us think of The Open Group as being all about consensus, creating … Continue reading

4 years, 7 months ago

The Interconnectedness of All Things

Cloud, SOA, Enterprise Mobility, Social Media/Enterprise/Business, The Internet of Things, Big Data (you name it) – each in its own way is part of an overall tendency. The general trend is for enterprises to become increasingly involved in increasingly broad ecosystems. … Continue reading

4 years, 7 months ago

Thinking About Big Data

As the consumerization of technology continues to grow and converge, our way of constructing business models and systems need to evolve as well. We need to let data drive the business process, and incorporate intelligent machines like Watson into our infrastructure to help us turn data into actionable results. … Continue reading

4 years, 8 months ago

Beyond Big Data

The big bang that started The Open Group Conference in Newport Beach was, appropriately, a presentation related to astronomy. Chris Gerty gave a keynote on Big Data at NASA, where he is Deputy Program Manager of the Open Innovation Program. And that exploration – as is often the case with successful space missions – left us wondering what lies beyond. … Continue reading

4 years, 8 months ago

Welcome to Platform 3.0

We’re excited to announce the formation of a new forum, specifically designed to advance The Open Group vision of Boundaryless Information Flow™ by helping enterprises to take advantage of these convergent technologies. This will be accomplished by identifying a set of new platform capabilities, and architecting and standardizing an IT platform by which enterprises can reap the business benefits of Platform 3.0. Continue reading