Digital technologies, algorithms, data, and artificial intelligence affect markets and society, changing democratic processes and industries all over the world. Transactions, communications, and dispute resolution increasingly take place online, with cross-border implications for decision-making powers and control over data. Digitalisation has further accelerated the rise of services and changed the way in which goods are sold, used, and maintained. Big data and evermore complex algorithms are driving automatization of contracts and enforcement in a variety of domains. While online hearings have been on the rise during the pandemic, more radical changes are in the making with an eye towards using expert systems and AI in the civil justice system. Not only have new powerful actors emerged in the so-called “platform economy”, data-led finance is posed to upset the way companies across markets are owned and run. Digitalisation thus has an impact on all areas of private law, ranging from contract and consumer law to company law, labour, and civil procedure.
At ACT, we look at normative, ethical, and empirical questions as to how public values and private legal relationships are shaped and challenged, as well as how legal safeguards can be upheld and responsibilities distributed between various actors. While digitalisation holds promises of access, expediency, and decentralisation, it is also liable to enhance threats to fundamental rights - such as, prominently, privacy, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, and democratic participation, and due process - , competition, and market governance at large. With platforms increasingly acting as law-makers and as mediators in their own legal ecosystems - indeed, in ordering and structuring our society - how can individual and collective fairness be ensured in the relevant decision-making processes, and who decides what justice is? These and other questions require cross-cutting research that looks at the role of private law against the backdrop of technology, market models, social science, and an increasingly complex body of existing interdisciplinary research. To address some of these questions, ACT researchers have been involved in projects on consumer protection and targeted commercial practices online, remedies and contestation in the context of online content moderation, contractual rules for the supply of digital content, and services and the management of digital inheritance.