The Abuses

The process of centralization does not happen by chance. Part of it is an “organic” cycle whereby the more central a player is the more personal data it can collect, enabling such players to further optimize intermediation services. This optimization and personalization can in turn make services more attractive to users, pushing competitors out of the market, and thus “organically” reducing the range of services to which users can migrate. This is an example of a rich-get-richer dynamic.

The other key dynamic occurs beyond the set of existing rules, and is outright illegitimate. That is, intermediaries often leverage their position as a tool to (illegitimately) prioritize their own services, allowing them to further increase their market share. Their success in the intermediation market should not allow them to force their way to success in another market. Amazon is a perfect example of this dynamic: It relies on its position as owner of the marketplace to study buyer behavior and define the products it could sell directly. It then relies on its algorithms and design to get a competitive edge over rivals.

The Shark Patterns project puts a lens on a subset of these abuses by looking at design practices that aim to undermine competition.