The Impact of Technology Disruptions on Private Law in Europe and the US: An Exploratory Study

Research project


Catalina Goanta


Disruptive technologies displace established industries by creating innovative products that lead to completely new markets. Developments such as e-commerce or social media have had a profound impact on society. Law generally reacts to such developments only if there are circumstances (e.g. case law) showing how existing legal categories might not adequately accommodate these technological developments. While legal scholarship has contributed to the debates surrounding law and technology, most research found at this confluence deals with isolated questions. Consequently, there is a gap in the literature when it comes to the impact that technological disruptions have on private law as a whole. This research aims to fill this gap and to contribute to the current debate with a broader perspective regarding the role that regulation should play in accommodating disruptions. In doing so, it pursues the following question from a law, technology, and regulatory theory perspective: What is the impact of technology disruption on private law regulation and how can the resulting patterns be used to improve the legal response to technology?

The goal of this research project is twofold. First, to understand how technology disruptions from different decades (consumer goods platforms, social networks, service platforms, artificial intelligence, and blockchain) have been accommodated by legal frameworks at different levels of governance: national/state (Switzerland and California); European/federal (EU and US); and private governance (Ebay, Youtube, Instagram, Uber, Taskrabbit, Airbnb, Tesla, Google, and Ethereum). Second, to outline best practices and to complement this discussion with a normative reflection on what the role of private law should be in tackling the issues as well as the promises of disruptive technologies.