Online commerce has grown but consumer law has not kept pace. In the United States, legal protections have become inadequate in light of the realities of common cross-border transacting practices as facilitated by the internet. Technologies have empowered merchants to outpace consumers, their advocates and attorneys, and regulators. This is due to an inadequate body of law and a set of regulators who are hindered by stark political, legal, and institutional limitations.
Market and technological approaches to this problem hold some promise, but their promise has been overstated. Operators of technology-driven market platforms have-for a price-begun to address some problems, for instance with dispute resolution services. But an overly narrow focus on contracting and payment has ignored broader deficiencies of protection with respect to, for instance, products liability, abusive contracting practices, and unlawful financing schemes. It has also failed to take account of the interests of those who lack suitable access to tech platforms and those whom the platforms do not suitably serve.
This article provides a diagnosis of the current inadequacies of the law of consumer contracting in the United States and assesses proposed technological and market solutions, which have been cast as far more promising than their reality supports. It calls for solutions-involving statutory, regulatory, and technological approaches-commensurate with the scope of the actual problems presented by our globalized, digitized world of consumer commerce.