Detroit Panel: The Economics of the Sharing Economy

Detroit Panel: The Economics of the Sharing Economy

Airbnb, DogVacay, Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit. A host of new platforms are transforming the economics of sharing. But what does their rapid spread mean for a city and its citizens? Is the sharing economy the future of employment, compensation, and exchange of value? As the trend reorients business, social and cultural norms, how can we ensure that cities and citizens become beneficiaries?
Bradley: This panel on the sharing economy is, I think, in many ways a continuation of some of the ideas and themes that we heard at the beginning of the day. We started asking about the future of work, whether there is an entrepreneur inherent in everyone, and what are the supports that we should provide for workers who don’t rely on the supports of a traditional large company? So those are some of the things that we’re going to talk about today. I could spend probably half the time that’s allotted to this panel talking about the fabulous people over to my left. They are all very present digitally, so you can look up their great accomplishment on your own. I’m just going to give a quick overview.
We have Stacy Brown-Philpot, she’s the COO of TaskRabbit, which she joined after many years at Google and importantly for this context, she’s a native Detroiter.
April Rinne is an indefatigable expert on the collaborative economy and she heads the Sharing Economy Working Group for the World Economic Forum.
Arun Sundararajan is probably the leading scholar on the sharing or peer-to-peer economy. He’s a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and he heads the Social Cities Initiative at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress.
Arun, I’ll start with you. Give us a sense of what the shape and scope of the sharing or peer-to-peer or collaborative economy is. Why should we care about it?
Sundararajan: Well, thanks for that generous introduction, Jennifer. It’s also good to be back in Detroit. I think the last time I visited here was the mid-1990s. My sister lived in downtown Detroit for two years, she was a pediatrician at one of the downtown hospitals. It feels very different to be back, it feels like a lot has changed, which is nice.
It’s a really hard question to answer precisely. What is the sharing economy? It’s a phrase that seems to be assigned to at least two different trends. One is a set of ways of getting what we need without actually having to own them, and I think that’s sort of the root of the label ‘sharing.’ So for example, getting a car when you need it rather than having to buy a car and use it exclusively. But I think that the more interesting dimension of what’s labeled the sharing economy is the peer-to-peer aspect, because this is part of a broader shift that we’re starting to see where a larger fraction of economic activity is starting to be individual to individual, mediated by a platform like Airbnb or TaskRabbit, rather than being corporation to individual. And this creates a tremendous amount of opportunities for the individuals involved on both the demand side and the supply side, but it also raises a lot of important questions about how do we need to sort of restructure society in a way that recognizes that we’ve moved away from a corporate economy and more to a peer-to-peer economy? So that’s what sort of broadly falls under the umbrella of the sharing economy.
I was drawn to it because of the opportunity that I saw in it for economic development and for economic growth. And simply put, it’s that if we are creating a greater menu of opportunities for individuals, if we lower the barriers to innovation, if we lower the barriers to entrepreneurship, if we give them a greater number of choices on how they make their living, this generally tends to be good for the economy. And if we build models of consumption or use that to take advantage of the assets that we have or utilize the assets more efficiently, then that also should raise productivity and should be good for the economy, should allow us to build cities that have a lower steel and concrete footprint, where they’re substituting the digital for the physical.
Bradley: April, you have a background in microfinance and you have drawn some interesting parallels between the sharing economy and microfinance and I think that’s not intuitive, because most people probably think about the sharing economy as people like us, people with smartphones, people who are familiar with technology getting services that make our already pretty nice lives easier. So talk to us about that other end of the telescope approach that links what you see—draw out the parallels between microfinance and the sharing economy.
Rinne: Sure, and also echoing what has been said by others this morning, delighted to be here, delighted to be on this panel with all of you and back in Detroit. I actually did some work in, let’s say, shared use transportation with some folks in the area. I’m very excited to see the potential both for private sector and public sector in the space.
So I can take this in a couple of different directions. And what I’ll do first is sort of zoom out: I originally started working in the sharing economy based on work I had done in policy around, you could think of it as disruptive forms of innovation, the first one being microfinance. And if you think about, go more than a decade now, before we’ve heard the term microfinance when people are still trying to figure out, “What is this? And how can it be used as a tool for poverty alleviation and financial inclusion? But we’ve never seen a business model like this before and we certainly don’t know how to regulate it.” And so at the time you looked at microfinance—and for those of you not familiar with the term, it’s access to finance, both credit and savings products, to people that would otherwise be unbanked because they have no physical assets, they have no collateral. If you make a loan to them and they don’t repay it, you don’t know what to do. So Muhammad Yunus is one of the names, he’s often called the father of modern day microfinance. And we’re talking about making loans for $25, $50, to a poor family that would otherwise be deemed unbankable in the developing world.
And when you think about microfinance as a business model and from a regulatory perspective, what do you do? In most places you have one law, a banking law that’s pretty rudimentary and may or may not work very well, but if you applied banking law to microfinance, you’d kill it. It can’t get out the door because it can’t meet the typical capital requirements and so forth. But then your other opportunity is, well, don’t regulate it at all. And there you find, actually, the government has a fiduciary duty to protect the people that it serves, in particular, poor people.
And so fast forward now to the sharing economy and one of the conclusions that I’ve drawn is we are kind of today where microfinance was, let’s say, 15 or 20 years ago. That is to say, we’ve built a regulatory regime really around ownership, everything from when you buy a car, we know how to insure it when you own it, the moment you put it into shared use, we don’t know how to regulate it. We haven’t built those tools yet. And again, the options being, regulate it like what we’re used to and you either kill it or it just doesn’t work very well. Or don’t regulate it at all, and now I think we’re seeing in many cases the need for there to be prudent appropriate regulations around new business models. What we haven’t yet figured out is what exactly does that look like? And so we’re kind of mucking around in that regard.
The other piece that I just want to draw up briefly is around inclusion. I spend a lot of time actually talking about these ideas in emerging markets and I’m constantly asked, “So what’s the low income solution here?” And I’ve concluded that that’s a really hard question to answer, largely because whether you’re living on $2 dollars a day or you’re a millionaire, I’m actually going to recommend the same set of solutions. And we can talk more about who has access to digital technologies and I think that’s key. But at the end of the day, sharing rather than owning assets, regardless of how much you have, still helps you save money, still does things that are good for the environment. So I think we need to rethink whether we’re looking at this as there’s one model for hipsters and people that are well to do and another model for low income. There’s a whole lot of opportunity in the middle that’s actually equally applicable, but we need to rethink, get our lexicon and our vocabulary a bit more in line with that reality.
Bradley: So Stacy, when questions of inclusion and opportunity are put to you at TaskRabbit, how do you see the platform that you offer? Because the asset that you’re dealing with really, is time and human bandwidth, people who have some are essentially giving it, transferring it to people who don’t for specific tasks. What do you see as the inclusion, either opportunity or responsibility for a platform company like TaskRabbit?
Brown-Philpot: So I have to echo that I’m happy to be home, because I’m from Detroit, and my mom and my brother are here, so they’re happy to have me here too.
Sundararajan: We can’t compete with that.
Bradley: You win.
Brown-Philpot: I win. Thank you. And for those who want to know, I went to Cass Tech for those who are curious about the high school question. Well, inclusion is one that’s interesting because with TaskRabbit it’s a services platform. So if you want to hire somebody to clean your house or fix something around your home or help you move or do deliveries, then you hire somebody directly on our site. So we’re not actually sharing a specific asset, you’re actually sharing your time. “I have time, you don’t.” And time for both parties is the most valuable asset that they have.
And so what we try to do is we try to make sure that anyone who wants to be a tasker can be one. And we set up the platform that allows anyone to apply. So we operate in 19 cities across the U.S., also in London. We have 30,000 taskers in our community. And as long as you pass a background check, you can complete an onboarding process, which includes a set of questions and some training, and you have a smartphone—I’ll talk about that in a second—you can be a tasker. And all you have to bring is your time and your skills. And the skills don’t have to be anything advanced, it could be anything that you could train yourself or teach yourself how to do. So that’s what makes it easy. The other thing that we provide is the infrastructure to be successful. So we have a minimum hourly rate and that’s actually set at the minimum wage, the highest minimum wage in the country. So we make sure that anyone who signs up to do work actually can do work in a way that they can earn a meaningful living and a meaningful income. But that’s just the minimum, you get to set your hourly rate. And then for our clients and our taskers, we offer safety. So if you’re a client and you’re signing up for a service, you actually can make sure that if something goes wrong, TaskRabbit is there to help you. We offer a one-million-dollar insurance guarantee. So if anything goes wrong, we pay for that. So I think those are the kinds of things that level the playing field, that have nothing to do with income.
So you may ask, well, you know, with the smartphone, who has a smartphone, who can afford a smartphone? And we offer programs through carriers where you can sign up to get a smart phone for free. There are data plans that will help you pay for that smartphone and on average, an active tasker will do two jobs a day and after three or four days of work, they will have paid for the cost of their monthly service plan, assuming they don’t have a ton of active usage. So we’ve set up the program in a way that anybody can come in and use the platform and now it’s all about your reputation, the services that you provide, because you get feedback real-time that helps you become more successful in what you do. So you truly are in control of your own career.
Bradley: April, you mentioned regulatory regimes and how they’re not necessarily a good fit for some of the sharing economy or peer-to-peer economy models that we’re seeing. In addition to a regulatory regime, is there also a place for governments and companies to work together to create that kind of platform whereby people are more comfortable? Phil Zelikow in the beginning of the day talked about what is the support structure for people who are doing tasks, who are Uber drivers, who are Airbnb hosts, people who are living in an economy where they have insurance and a smart phone but without the benefits that a lot of us are used to? Talk about whether you’ve seen places, thinking about both regulation and creating a support structure, or if that’s still a big gap that needs to be filled.
Rinne: That’s a great question and I think a huge opportunity, and I can say unequivocally yes, there is a role to play. And also, I don’t want to overstate the potential for public/private partnerships and so forth; those are really hard to forge, but this is a case in which I think bringing together government and business. Many of these businesses are hungry to engage more meaningfully with cities, to help rethink not just civic innovation but also citizen participation. We have a system too where we’ve disconnected people not only from one another but also from their sense of responsibility or agency within a city. This is a way to crack some of those barriers, I guess you could say, that have been put up. But when I think about what the government can do, on one hand, as we’ve talked about before, it can play a convening role and so forth. And on the other hand, and this plays out, I think, especially with regards to when we’re looking at sharing of skills and time, where there aren’t any regulations right now that really come to bear when we’re looking at situations that are primarily independent contractors and that’s fine. But at the same time, as was talked about earlier today, as we enter this new, new era, if you will, and it may have been stated already, it’s estimated that by 2020, 40% of the entire U.S. economy will be, in effect, freelance. That’s a huge number of people who have a new set of needs that don’t exist today and that’s a case in which governments, and to a certain degree companies, can think about how they could provide those services better. And I think TaskRabbit is actually a great example of a company that is fully compliant. That’s not the issue, but how do we help raise the bar together with government to think about the needs of an increasingly large percentage of the workforce?
Sundararajan: In some ways remember Andrew McLaughlin sort of framed it well a few months ago where he said, “How are we going to fund the capital contributions to society?” And I often think back to 50 years ago. I wasn’t part of the workforce at the time, but if you worked for a large company, you tended to be guaranteed a pension or you expected that your retirement would be taken care of by the company. Today, even if you work for a large company, that’s not an expectation that you have. However, there has been a creative partnership of sorts between the government giving you a tax break on money you put into a 401K, the individual who sort of responsibly puts money into it and the company that sometimes sort of matches this, so sort of a government, market, individual partnership that has emerged to sort of plug this gap that has emerged in the safety net. Now some people might argue that that serves certain segments of the population better than other segments of the population and some people have sort of been left out of this, but I often think about that as a model of as we move into a freelance economy—and I think Sara Horowitz put out a survey a few days ago that suggested that it’s a third of the country already and so we may be getting to that 40% number faster than we expected—well, what are the partnerships? And I think platforms like TaskRabbit have a role to play. City and state governments have a role to play. The individuals have a role to play. But we’re certainly entering, as one of the panelists this morning said, a world where the institutions that we have right now are not prepared to provide the needs that society is going to have in protecting its workforce in the future.
Bradley: So, Stacy, I’m going to ask an easy question and then it comes with a hard question attached. The easy question is what would you like to see from local, state, federal governments, or some other provider of these social supports? And how would you answer a critic that says, “Well, of course the private sector would love to offload all these costs on the public sector and why should we pay to make TaskRabbit’s business model more viable?”
Brown-Philpot: It’s not even what I would like to see or we as a company would like to see, it’s what our taskers need and they want. It’s what they’re asking for. When the Affordable Healthcare Act came out, we did a lot of research, worked very closely with folks like Brian Forde, who’s here, to really understand what this program was about so that we could communicate it to our taskers, and they just ate it up. They loved it. They were very excited to get this information. We went out to some cities where we operate and we negotiated discounts for health insurance. So if you were a tasker in our community, you could get a discount on health insurance, because that’s what they asked for.
The second thing they asked for was, “We need help with our tax planning.” You would be amazed at how many people who are participants in this economy just don’t understand simple tax planning. So last week we launched a partnership with Intuit where you now can get, for free, a tool to track all your income and expenses and more importantly, file your taxes on time, and get deductions and understand what deductions are available to you. This is what they’re asking for.
The people who are in our community are average Americans. They have a full time job. We have one guy who works at a car dealership who doesn’t make ends meet doing that, so he’s a tasker on the weekends to make money. We have another woman who’s a grandma who receives government assistance but she has to help her children pay their bills and she helps pay for her grandchild to go to college, who is the first in her family to go to college. These are people who are not asking for higher order things. They just want basic things like health insurance. They want basic things like, “How do I make sure I don’t get penalized on my taxes? How do I get around? What are my transportation options? How do I make those things more affordable? So that every hour that I work goes into my pocket and not paying for gas?” Those are real questions.
So my question would be, can we make transportation easier in the cities that we operate in? Can we make it more affordable? We’ve done partnerships with Zipcar because we don’t really have any other choices. Can we make healthcare more affordable for the individual and not just for the companies? The order in which healthcare gets cheaper, actually it’s cheaper as the companies get larger because the company is paying for that share. But if it is the case that half the people are going to be freelancers, that entire paradigm doesn’t work. And so we don’t want to walk away from that, we’re actually willing to support that. We want to subsidize, we’re already subsidizing some things right now. And we want to help pay for it, but we don’t have the ability to create the structure. The structures that are currently in place just fundamentally have to change.
Bradley: And again, how would you answer the critic who says, “Well, no, actually, you guys should be paying for it. You should act like a big company or a big employer and not move this to a public provision. Uber, which has a billion-dollar capitalization, Airbnb, why are you asking the public to pay the costs for you for these freelance economy platforms?”
Brown-Philpot: It’s not even about what it costs at this point. We tried to go out, when we got our million-dollar insurance policy done, it took us seven months to find a company that would insure us. We went to them and said, “Hi, we want to pay for insurance because things happen. People break vases. People drop things on the floor, floors get cracked. And we actually want to provide some insurance, if somebody falls off a ladder, that we cover the costs.” And people just sort of looked at us and said, “Well, our policies don’t cover that. We can’t help you.” And it took us seven months to pay for it. So I’m not going to say we won’t pay for it, we just need a way to create a structure that’s going to be safe, that’s going to work for our community, and that’s going to work for our workers, because our workers are choosing to work the way that they work on TaskRabbit. We’re not coming and saying, “Please, everybody work like you work on TaskRabbit. Please taskers come and don’t go get a full time job, come here.” They’re coming and they’re saying, “This is how I want to work.” If the structure exists and we can come up with ways to make it economically affordable, then we can pay for it.
Sundararajan: That’s actually a familiar story, the story that Stacy just told about spending seven months innovating to create the insurance solution for a need that didn’t exist. You hear this from Getaround and from RelayRides, and sort of inventing insurance for peer-to-peer car rental. You also hear it in sort of a different context from a lot of the platforms that are actively engaged in discussions with a wide variety of city governments towards trying to get their models to fit into the regulatory boxes that exist for sharing the analog way. And I think this is actually part of the solution to how do we create the new economic infrastructure for a peer-to-peer economy, which is that through individual platforms deciding that they’re going to spend their resources on creating new insurance solutions, lobbying for regulatory change, we’re actually creating a public good here, because the next TaskRabbit can now come along and point to the product that you have spent a lot of your venture capital creating. And that facilitates a much greater level of labor of the kind that TaskRabbit facilitates.
I was talking on my way from the airport to my Lyft driver. He has lived in Detroit all his life and he has been driving for Lyft not for a very long time. He’s a standup comedian on the side. I don’t know if he’s going to be watching this but I hope does. But he was talking about how wonderful Lyft is to work with because he was in Vegas last week doing standup and he’s proud of the fact that he’s contributing to the city’s infrastructure. He feels that Detroit doesn’t have the sufficient public transit that Lyft is providing, but that he’s doing it in a way that he otherwise couldn’t because he doesn’t have the ability to have a full time government job because it doesn’t give him the flexibility to pursue his standup career on the side. So I think looping back to what I think was your question—or what I’ve decided it’s going to be for the purposes of fitting my answering into it—I think part of this back and forth between the city and providing infrastructure and the platforms is that after we set a threshold, I think that the city’s public resources and the platform’s resources will feed off of each other, where TaskRabbit will have a better market in Detroit as Lyft has a greater footprint because they can get around from one place to another and as this footprint increases, the city can then build its infrastructure more reliably. So I think after there is a baseline set, there will be a synergistic co-creation of the kinds of infrastructure that a city needs.
Rinne: Can I just build on that? That is a great point, Arun, and a couple of things that I just wanted to tease out a little bit. One is also, in this evolution of the sharing economy, I’ve started hearing people say too, some of these companies were founded quote/unquote “to skirt regulations.” And I have to kind of pause for a moment here and if you look at any one of the better known companies or even the smaller companies, they’re typically founded to solve a problem, a very practical problem that maybe the founder him or herself has experienced. Then they start working and scaling and then all of a sudden find themselves in a regulatory box that doesn’t fit. And now we’re seeing, to Arun’s point as well, what makes me so excited, is to see many of these companies being very proactive about reaching out to whether it’s regulatory authorities or insurance providers saying, “We want to do our job better and we can’t.”
But to go back to the genesis of how these companies got started, it was to solve a practical problem, but they did so in a way that was ahead of their time. And now we’re having to do that balancing act between getting policy in line, which we know there’s always a kind of a disconnect and a lag, because policy changes when we can acknowledge that there’s been a deeper social cultural shift in attitudes and ways of transacting and so forth. But that’s one piece I really think we need to keep in mind moving forward, that we are still playing that two steps forward, one step back or sideways and so forth. But also, building on what Arun was saying around the degree to which these companies can, and I believe should, more and more, reach out to public sector authorities and how can we help—and you guys on the panel know that I spend a lot of time working with cities to help build their awareness and capacity. I would really like to see, from a policy perspective, a shift from being reactive around what is this, what’s going on, and spot instances of challenges with companies to seeing policymakers as being a proactive ally. They’re not the enemy, they can be the ally. And part of that also, and Gabriella talked about it this morning, in addition to what’s happening in the private sector, start looking at the assets owned by cities themselves and how many of those are underutilized. Ten thousand spaces in Mexico City alone that we could put into shared use. Think about the talent and time of 22 million people. Think about the number of vehicles owned by cities, their own fleets and so forth. And then we unlock a whole other world of opportunity where the private sector can play a role but also where the city itself becomes a beneficiary directly of these new concepts.
Sundararajan: And just building on what April’s saying, we’re all being really friendly here, we’re not disagreeing with each other enough. So I think that one of the fronts, certainly leveraging the existing asset base of a city and facilitating ways in which the citizens can leverage their asset base better, but I think another place where maybe you need the resources of a government, rather than a profit maximizing platform—and going back to a point that was raised early by both Stacy and April—is sort of making the gains from the sharing economy more inclusive. I think that there’s certainly an opportunity to inject public resources into that. So I’ve been doing research on the economic impacts of the sharing economy for awhile now and it’s a slow process. But later this month I’ll be releasing some first results, and I’m not going to say too much about them until I release them, but there is very clear evidence that the gains from sharing economy activity are being captured disproportionately by people on the lower end of the income spectrum than on the higher end of the income spectrum. And I see this as being very promising. However, I think that there’s a huge opportunity—and Jennifer, you and I have talked about this repeatedly over the last year, it actually came from a comment you made at Techonomy—
Bradley: Yes, last year.
Sundararajan: About how do we make the sharing economy more inclusive? There are particular models that will facilitate the sharing of things from people who have a lot of stuff to people who don’t. But that’s not necessarily going to happen naturally by just setting up a digital platform. Sometimes you need a physical space. Sometimes you need more than just the reputation systems to facilitate trust. And I think over there the city is being proactive and saying let us set up physical infrastructures and programs that will allow you to safely share your stuff with people who don’t have them, you know, camping gear or whatever. Because in that way we can reduce quality of life or life experience inequality without necessarily having to change at the same level of income or wealth inequality, people are consuming better stuff or living better lives than they can. So that’s certainly something where the business models aren’t going to be very sound and so this is the textbook example for which you want government to step in and inject resources.
Bradley: So we’re about to turn it over to questions, but before I do that, I’m going to let you, Stacy, bring this all together in the context of Detroit. So what do you see Detroit’s future, vis-à-vis opportunities and platforms for a new way of working, a collaborative economy? One of the things that I find so compelling about Detroit and it’s something that Arun heard also from his Lyft driver is that people here seem to be eager to participate in creating a new kind of Detroit, that it really does seem, the city seems to call upon its people in a way that many don’t to help build the future together. So knowing what you know about Detroit from growing up here, from your mom and brother in the audience, what you know about technology and these new platforms, what do you see as the best outcome for the future of Detroit and making Detroit a viable and rich peer-to-peer economy with an infrastructure where everybody can succeed on their own terms?
Brown-Philpot: You think about TaskRabbit, what we’ve done is actually we’ve restored trust in the community. And what’s happened is that neighbors really help neighbors. We succeed in urban, dense environments, where there’s collision between people from all backgrounds, all different ways of life, and if people are too spread out, that is not a successful market for us. So when I’ve been back to Detroit and I’ve come back and even this trip, there’s just an energy and a sense of purpose of there’s been a call to action and a request that we revitalize our communities, we rebuild our neighborhoods and sharing economy companies, that is how they thrive, that is how they survive. And so some of the things that I would like to see—I was having dinner with the mayor last night and he talked about creating community use properties in some of the abandoned lots and areas around the city of Detroit and I think that’s exciting. Because when TaskRabbit launched in Manhattan, Manhattan got really successful and then we branched out. And then Long Island was successful, New Jersey was successful. So when we launch in Detroit, which we will do, in the next couple of months—downtown is going to work for us and we know that. But what we need is the rest of the neighborhoods to be successful and the only way that’s going to happen is if we take some of these community use properties and use it to rebuild the community. So there’s groups like Caring and Enriching Hearts that are doing things for the homeless, but then there’s the entrepreneurship, there’s the individual who’s the tasker, who’s the microentrepreneur, then there’s the small business that’s going to revitalize that community. So I would like to see in addition to making some of these collisions happen by using the open space, where is the investment coming from the city to encourage people to invest in developing not just community space, but space for businesses to succeed and grow, because now you’ve got neighbors who are working on programs in their communities, building businesses, using their energies locally and now that expansion of what we do at TaskRabbit and what other sharing economies do can actually just get much broader. But that won’t happen without the infrastructure. We’ve already talked about transportation and solving the challenges of transportation and people use Lyft, people use Uber and some of those companies, those are the companies that are solving it for us right now, but there’s absolutely a role to play to make sure that not just the transportation is solved by companies, but also public transportation as well. So I’d love to see TaskRabbit be successful in Detroit, in the greater Detroit area, and not just in downtown, and those are some of the things that I want to see.
Bradley: Great, we have time for one or two questions.
Dillahunt: Hi, thanks to you all for being here. I’m Tawanna Dillahunt. I’m an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and I have a question just about the sharing economy and this new form of capital, reputation capital, and I think about some of the research that I’ve done in Detroit and I think, Arun, it was your article where you talked about discrimination in Airbnb, is that right?
Sundararajan: That wasn’t mine, but I’m very familiar with that.
Dillahunt: Yeah, you’re familiar with the work. So I’m bringing out this question, you have these platforms where you have your photo, you have people who are rating you and everything’s really built on reputation and I want to throw in issues of discrimination, specifically in this country, but I want to throw that out there, but I also want to understand, how do we equip those who need it the most, those who are unemployed and marginalized, how do we equip those for freelance work in the future? How do we look for opportunities to help them grow their portfolio, per se? And possibly deal with the issues that they could encounter when using these platforms? Issues such as discrimination?
Bradley: This is a giant question and we’re over time, so I’m going to ask my friends on the panel to give the pithiest answers that will perhaps set the stage for longer conversations and inquiries throughout the conference and at lunch and other sessions. So give your Twitter response, which is unfortunate because it’s such a powerful question, but then we can continue to have the conversation informally or formally until the problem is solved, which will be quite a long time.
Sundararajan: All right, so trying to be as pithy as a professor can, whenever I see an audience in front of me, I just feel like I should go on talking. I think you’ve raised two important points and I’ll try and address them really quickly. One is that we have created for the industrial corporate-to-consumer economy, that we are transitioning out of, a wide range of protections to prevent the kinds of behaviors, discriminatory behaviors that you pointed to. And I think that the study about Airbnb, while not establishing discrimination of any kind, raises the really important question that we need to think about ways to recreate and not lose all of the progress that we’ve made on this front as we move away from company-to-consumer and towards peer-to-peer. How do we recreate all that progress and preserve it in this peer-to-peer way? I do think that there is a significant risk of people being left behind as reputation capital starts to get important. I think it was Om Malik from Gigaom who coined the term data Darwinism, where he worried that the rich get richer but the riches over here are reputation and not just money. There are probably a wide variety of government, city and state government interventions that can be used to get people to bridge that gap between an individual who is used to not dealing with digital technology as part of their conduit to work, getting them on board, teaching them what it means to manage a reputation, maybe having collectives where people vouch for each other so that the digital by itself is not the only solution. I’d love to say more but I’ll pause here since we’re running out of time.
Bradley: Just one super quick question, and I’m very aware that David is standing right there and wants us to get off this stage. Do you at TaskRabbit have flags or protections or things that could alert you to discrimination in the system or bad actors?
Brown-Philpot: We do. We have a data science team that we run constantly to make sure we’re flagging and alerting human beings to actually go through and look at it. And we actually track data on what drives somebody to select a tasker and you can see all their pictures so you know what they look like, and the most important thing is a smile. That’s it.
Bradley: Which everyone has.
Brown-Philpot: Which everyone has.


April Rinne

Sharing Economy | Shareable Cities Expert, World Economic Forum

Stacy Brown-Philpot

Chief Operating Officer, TaskRabbit

Jennifer Bradley

Director, Center for Urban Innovation, The Aspen Institute

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