You’ve heard it before, the Internet is a great, wondrous invention – and that was from your 87 year old grandpa who just learned about YouTube. More importantly, it gives us the perfect platform to operate more efficiently . . . thus, the birth of peer-to-peer startups. It seems these days you can’t go anywhere without Airbnb being brought up, “It’s Airbnb for cat litter” or “It’s the Airbnb of birthday party clowns.”
Yes, I’m all for markets operating more efficiently. I love the idea that startups are able to make revenue generating models out of boats that sit skiperless or cars that sit driverless at airports (my fellow Brandery classmates), but this leads us to the enormous issue that we’re letting strangers into our personal lives and handing over the keys to our most prized possessions – literally (we’re all familiar with the trashed houses on Airbnb). Many of these sharing sites do watch out for the best interest of their consumers, but remember that many are startups, with limited resources, a short track record, and a long list of other tasks to do – like grow as fast as possible without going belly-up. Today’s consumers must be cognizant of who they’re letting into their lives and today’s startups should continue to work hard to provide their customers with true transparency of who they’re connecting.
Many startups these days are exploring ways to add safety and security to their platforms, but most of them don’t include the customer. For instance, they may have a wide set of parameters for allowing an individual on their house rental site, such as a person with two breaking and enterings because his Facebook account checked out, OR they may keep out a guy with a speeding ticket for going 60 in a 45 (he was talking his pregnant wife to the hospital), but as the person who’s renting out your house or trying to catch a lift, you should be part of the decision making process. After all, you are one side of the “peer” transaction.
Peer-to-Peer startups should consider:
- What is the friction they’re creating when they institute identity confirmation and background check methods? Sites must really think about how they are going to implement these checks, how fast the turnaround is, and how many users will opt-out, while considering the issues that our nation’s background check system has, which many sites don’t even address, including false positives and lack of context.
- Who bears the burden for the costs of these checks? Sure, the platform makes a dollar or whatever for every car share, but how often do they want to pay for this check to be updated and who internally is getting paid to comb through these applicants?
- What are the cutoff points for allowing access to your platform (ie. who makes it and who doesn’t? It’s truly a tough call to draw the line, and you’re in essence making a decision for your customers, who may or may not have agreed with your line.
- How much transparency can you afford to provide? If you’ve got thousands of individuals signing up for your site, and each of them want to know or share more information about themselves to increase their ability to share their services or goods, how can you manage that?
Some big questions that peer-to-peer consumers should consider are:
- When was the information updated? Sure, the driver you’re about to get into a car with passed the platforms background check, but when is that information from and what jurisdictions were covered?
- Was their ID verified? As much weight as you may give to a background check being run on an individual, the only information you need is a name and a matching address, so if that information isn’t actually tied to a specific individual, that background check may be for some little old lady from Pasadena.
- Which Joe Smith is it? As part of the unofficial due-diligence that many of us go through before using a sharing site, we try to find the other parties Twitter account and Facebook page, but what happens when their name is one of the world’s most common names or their avatar is of a dog. Being able to find a verified account of each other goes a long way in providing transparency.
These questions and issues are why we built REPP, an online identity platform that allows individuals to verify their own identity and social media channels, and if so desired, run and curate their own background check. Our thought is that true transparency comes when the party with the knowledge and information has a part in the transaction. As a third-party, REPP serves as custodian of these profiles, allowing both individuals and peer-to-peer platforms to begin to tackle the “Who’s borrowing my car?” question in a quicker, efficient, and cost-effective manner.
The sharing economy will revolutionize many more industries in the coming years, but it must provide more control and transparency between each party; without accurate information it makes it very difficult to open up one’s home, office, car, or life for someone they met on the internet.