Tokenization of the World: Blockchain for the Gig Economy

Impact Chain Lab
Aug 23, 2018 · 8 min read

Our gig economy is growing. We can make money with what we already have — our apartment, our car, our love of dogs. While there are issues to be ironed out as with any shift in how things are done, ideal of the gig economy is empowerment and independence of the workers over their own schedule. It allows people to make money while having the time and freedom to pursue their dreams — whether that means attending grad school, launching a startup or time off to travel when and where they want.

While the personal interaction aspect is wonderful, we have all been taught since early years you do not just go to a strangers home or get in their car. You also do not let strangers into your home or car or hand them your dog. Yet that is exactly what we are all doing daily.

Of course there is never a 100% guarantee, blockchain can still be a great solution to verify the identity, protecting of both the service providers and receivers.

You are letting strangers into your home. You are staying in a strangers home. Usually this works wonderfully. Renting your place out on airbnb can give the host a passive income stream. Staying in an airbnb provides a local and personal experience as opposed to a hotel. In some of the best instances friendships have formed. Unfortunately there are some terrible situations too — although luckily rare they still occur. There is a case of a woman who was sexually assaulted by someone who airbnb had approved as a superhost. This superhost had been arrested for domestic violence and battery.

Not as traumatic but still devastating, a woman in San Francisco returned to find her home destroyed after renting it out. “Three difficult days ago, I returned home from an exhausting week of business travel to an apartment that I no longer recognized. To an apartment that had been ransacked.”

As of now all verification of both hosts and guests is done on a verification of social media and a trust system. Guests rate hosts. Hosts rate guests. How does anyone know who the raters each are. Maybe they are friends? Maybe they were happy guests or hosts, but that still does not assure if either has a history of violence. Anyone can make a social media account that says anything.

Nathan Blecharczyk, one of the co-founders is currently looking into blockchain technology to authenticate the guests and hosts reputation.

According to The Stack — “ the company’s Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer revealed that in 2016 Airbnb would be looking into Blockchain integration, or a similar distributed ledger system, to authenticate a user’s reputation and establish trust on the platform.”

As of now the ledger system and blockchain is still being investigated by Airbnb as they need to balance privacy and threat to anonymity.

Uber and Lyft
Terrifyingly and tragically over 100 Uber drivers have been accused of sexually assaulting women in the past 4 years. In Orlando a woman recently sued Lyft due to a sexual assault. There is a huge discrepancy in the numbers

and no one seems to be able to conclude just how many actual sexual assaults have occurred. According to Slate the discrepancy has been as extreme as between 170 — 6,160

While Uber claims to be safer than traditional cabs because of their strong background checks. Drivers would want to know they are safe with the passengers they are letting into their cars as well. Sexual assault is only one of the issues. I think most of us would like to know our Uber and Lyft drivers are sober and safe drivers.

While blockchain technology could be tested to verify identity of drivers and passengers Don Tapscott, author of “Blockchain Revolution,”, takes it a step further and sees Blockchain able to take over and completely disrupt Uber, rendering it useless. During a talk with WSJ’s Charles Forelle, Don Tapscott states “Why do you need a 60 billion dollar corporation called Uber. You could have a real sharing economy which would be a distributed application on the blockchain. A bunch of autonomous vehicles owned by a company, owned by a community, owned by a city, owned by nobody . . . . and the drivers just post their information on the blockchain. If you need a car you post it and the payment system is built in automatically.”

This could not only add another step of verified identity by posting both rider and driver onto the blockchain, it could potentially empower riders putting the full price in their wallets. A current issue that with what Uber pays their drivers, the gig economy isn’t as freeing as people think.

BountyOX, detailed on Hackernoon, is a current startup, is working towards decentralizing the freelance gig economy as Don Tapscott envisions can be done with Uber. In BountyOX there are bounty hosts, bounty hunters, and bounty sheriffs. According to Hackernoon, “Each group is economically incentivized to act ethically through a combination of risking staked tokens and risking bounty rewards.” This means that the bounty host posts a task they want done by staking a set of their tokens which creates a smart token. The bounty hunter is the freelancer who completes the job, and the sheriff ensures work was completed properly. Once those steps are all taken the bounty hunter gets paid. Along with decentralization, payment of the freelancer is ensured which is often a struggle for independent contractors. While not getting paid is not the same as the potential (although small) risks you take letting a stranger into your car, it is still a serious and much more prevalent issue of the gig economy.

There are also companies that are Airbnb but for your pet. There is PAWSHAKE which has a strong international presence and Holidog. Both are an alternative to kennels allowing your dog or cat to stay in the home of dog and cat lovers. The ideal is that the responsible animal lover can make some extra money in their own home doing what they love — caring for animals. Usually that is exactly what happens but as with AIRBNB and Uber that is not always the case. Most pet parents love their pets like a child and want to assure where they are going is safe.

While there has so far been no statistics or publicity of disasters occurring in the animal versions of airbnb that does not mean it has not or will not happen — plus of course everyone wants the added assurance. Either company could apply blockchain to add a ledger verification of the hosts and pet parents. While not staying, the pet parents will be allowed into the hosts home for drop-off and pickup. Blockchain could also be used here to verify the animal. Will the hosts animals or children be safe with the guests animal? Does the guests animal have a history of biting? Chewing furniture? Eventually a rating system in varying categories that would matter to some hosts and not others could be set up and verified with blockchain.

There are also specialized animal companies such as Equo which is essentially Uber for your horse. There hope parents would want to ensure that the driver was not only a safe driver, but safe when driving a large trailer vehicle, had no criminal record, and knew what to do with a horse. They require that drivers have at least 2 years of experience and they assure the specialized vehicles are safe. Multiple facets need to be verified — driver criminal record, driver education record, vehicle safety of the specialized trailers needed to drive a horse.

What about letting multiple people into your home? There is Eat With. Their tagline is — Exclusive culinary events hosted by passionate chefs at homes, rooftops and garden terraces. Chefs sell tickets to a small group of people to eat in their homes, or a home. The majority or the guests are strangers to the chef and to one another. While it is an elegantly marketed startup it is part of the gig economy. The chef is proving the service of chef and host. The hosts are entering the chefs home, assuming said chef is non-violent and that the amount of other guests that the chef claims will be there will. The chef assumes the guests are not a group of friends planning to rob their home. There are zero reports of any criminal activity ever having occurred during Eat With. Unlike getting into a car or staying as a lone guest in someone’s home, this seems to never cross anyone (chef or guests mind). However, as we get more and more comfortable entering and allowing strangers into our homes for all sorts of gigs, the more important it becomes to have stronger ledgers of personal identity.

Any Blockchain company looking to build a technology that will keep a ledger of and verify that people are who they claim they are as well as verify they have no history of violence could be wildly successful. Unlike with verifying that food really comes from where they claim it does or that a coin has followed along a certain path from wallet address to wallet address, this all becomes a more difficult task because of people’s right to privacy. Currently Blockauth looks like a potential solution to the gig economy. According to Crunchbase — “BlockAuth will enable you to own and operate your own Identity Registrar that allows users to submit their information for verification. The Identity Registrars work hard to verify that each user is a real person and that every bit of information they assert is true.”

The way Provenance can become the Blockchain service for food companies , Origin Protocol could be the solution for the gig economy. Their tagline is “The Sharing Economy without Intermediaries”and they use the Etherium blockchain and the peer to peer technology IPFS (InterPlanetary File System.) According to Origin Protocol — “We empower developers and businesses to build decentralized marketplaces on the blockchain. Our protocol makes it easy to create and manage listings for the fractional usage of assets and services. Buyers and sellers can discover each other, browse listings, make bookings, leave ratings and reviews, and much more.” While Airbnb has been considering their in house blockchain solution, home-sharing companies We Home — “The decentralized home sharing owned by guests and hosts.” , and Kozaza, “Book homes in Korea”, have both been working with Origin Protocol.

Blockchain is still in it’s infancy and it remains to be seen how much of a competitive edge this technology will be for companies in the gig economy. Will it benefit the companies, the individuals, or both? If, for example, Uber is using background checks to claim a competitive edge over taxi drivers, blockchain could be another assured layer. As of now the balance between how to assure identity and safety is still a bit up in the air as the question of how much data can be put onto a ledger about an individual vs that individual ls privacy.

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