Like many in tech, I’ve had a lot of clever ideas over the years: apps or solutions that could set the world on fire.
Then I start contemplating the legal liabilities, consequences and regulatory complexities, and outright discard the whole idea. Rinse and repeat.
Won’t it get sued to oblivion? How about the many regulatory burdens, especially if operating across different jurisdictions, much less countries? What happens when an unfortunate incident happens and it’s blamed on the app and purveyor?
This isn’t some great claim of innovation. Countless good ideas have been surely considered, and discarded, for these reasons, by countless people. We live in a heavily regulated and legislated, heavily lawyer saturated world.
Uber, and the countless “rent a third party” service solutions, are a great example of the sort of app that is more a disruption of regulation, and a model that simply completely ignores the enormous complications of the sphere (as a fair disclosure: I pitched various taxi heads across the Toronto area years ago on the premise of a shared smart dispatch/mobile user/”bid” platform, within the existing regulatory and business framework. It saw zero takers, not least because Canada is a profoundly risk averse country). They continue to exist because they first established that tech industry credibility that largely made them unassailable elsewhere — the halo of “if you don’t like it you don’t get it” that prevents all but the most bought politician from seriously threatening the model — and it is such a minefield of burdens that they simply pretended didn’t exist.
So many enormous liabilities on the employment and operational side. Just waved aside. Airbnb grew on almost an identical model, disrupting the enormous regulatory, manpower, and tax ramifications of the hotel industry. Again, just pretending that those things don’t exist, grow under the halo of progress, and hope to achieve inertia to escape the gravity well of accountability.
Obviously once they got big enough they hired legions of lawyers that try to add just enough legalese to try to find some sort of protective footing, but in those early days they were flying completely between a wing and a prayer. Operating at the benevolence of people who looked the other way just long enough.
And that’s pretty interesting, really. This most certainly isn’t a complaint (the taxi industry itself was profoundly corrupt and broken, and the regulatory model was a Faustian bargain. Who didn’t have a sea of miserable experiences with the cell phone yelling taxi driver who then barks complaints about how your tip wasn’t up to their expectations for the terrible ride in their terrible transport), but is just an observation of reality. Right now “Peeple” — the “Yelp for People” — has been making waves and again it’s just nightmare fodder of legal and potential criminal ramifications, with layers of culpability that runs so deep, but it (an app, again, that has been invented a million times in a million ways. Rating people is hardly novel) actually earned enough attention that it came to the cusp of viability.
I have to go through three different jurisdictional bodies, and a number of steps and processes, to build a shed on the property. But to follow the model of many apps now, I could make a worldwide hire-a-servant app, paying them in bitcoins or through some largely unregulated framework, taking my cut off the top, and voila: A global business model.
It’s interesting to contemplate. It isn’t a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing. But it’s essentially civil and commercial disobedience, generating enough consumer goodwill that it gets essentially “grandchilded in” (as the alternative to the well know grandfathering in of arguably non-compliant practices).