Urs Gasser, Harvard University – Berkman Center for Internet & Society; University of St. Gallen
Wolfgang Schulz , Hans Bredow Institute
February 18, 2015
Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2015-5
Online intermediaries in various forms – including search engines, social media, or app platforms – play a constitutive role in today’s digital environment. They have become a new type of powerful institution in the 21st century that shape the public networked sphere, and are subject to intense and often controversial policy debates. This paper focuses on one particular force shaping the emergence and future evolution of online intermediaries: the rapidly changing landscape of intermediary governance at the intersection of law, technology, norms, and markets. Building upon eight in-depth case studies and use cases, respectively, this paper seeks to distill key observations and provide a high-level analysis of some of the structural elements that characterize varying governance regimes, with a focus on intermediary liability regimes and their evolution.
Analyzing online intermediary governance issues from multiple perspectives, and in the context of different cultures and regulatory frameworks, immediately creates basic problems of semantic interoperability. Lacking a universally agreed-upon definition, the synthesis paper and its’ underlying case studies are based on a broad and phenomenon-oriented notion of online intermediaries, as further described below. In methodological terms, the observations shared in the synthesis paper offer a selective reading and interpretation by the authors of the broader take-ways of a diverse set of case studies examining online intermediary governance frameworks and issues in Brazil, the European Union, India, South Korea, the United States, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. These case studies, in turn, have emerged in the context of an international research pilot by the Global Network of Internet & Society Research Centers (NoC), through a process of in-person consultations and remote collaborations among the researchers, and are based on a set of broader questions regarding the role of online intermediaries in the digital age.