The not sharing economy

Sharing economies look to be the way of the future, and with all the excitement it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that in some respects the markets involved are pretty immature. The participants, who some still regard as early adopters, are still finding their way, and some interesting social and business challenges continue to bubble beneath the surface.

One question that most people don’t seem to be asking much is whether the share economy business models are built to withstand the tests that will be posed by sometimes capricious and undesirable consumer attitudes.

Trust issues are still front and centre, and one facet of this is that when sharing their own things people make their own decisions about who they want to share with. And they base these decisions on their own values, values that don’t have to align with rules that usually protect consumers.

To this end, AirBnB recently issued a take-it-or-leave-it community commitment to “treat everyone with respect, and without judgement or bias”. This was presumably prompted by the widespread problem that some people do not do that in the share economy, and this is raising some tricky problems which centre on the role business will serve in managing what are essentially social problems become business challenges.

In most democratic societies discrimination is looked down upon, and anti-discrimination laws protect people in public life. But share economies are in a bit of a grey area in that they bring public business into people’s private lives, where people can and do discriminate.

A few studies have been published already that clearly show racial discrimination in the sharing economy in the states. It’s also apparent from the AirBnB community centre forums that some people around the world perceive their mandatory community commitment as autocratic. A number of users make it clear that they do and will continue to discriminate based on whatever personal characteristics they consider problematic.

This puts platform providers in a tight spot. The law will be slow catching up around the world, and in the meantime it’s up to them to decide how to progress in markets where the confluence of minimal regulation and social norms will lead through murky territory.

How do we address this issue? Stay tuned for our next blog..