The Rise of the Sharing Economy – Yours, Mine, and Google’s

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share-button-on-keyboard-665x442Word on the street is Google is building a new service to help kickstart the sharing economy. The platform, called Google Mine, will function as a “sharing marketplace” for documenting and cataloging things that you own, things that you are willing to share with others, and items you want to borrow from your friends.

According to the Google Operating System blog (an unofficial blog that reports on happenings at Google) Google+ users will be able to enter information about any object they want to share and label those objects as “lent,” “given away,” “got it back,” “lost it,” or “had in the past.” You can also post a video about the object, write a review, add it to a wishlist or even sell it via Google Shopping accounts.

Imagine this. It is the morning of your 4th July BBQ party and you realize that your propane tank is empty and you don’t have enough lawn chairs for all of your guests. You log on to to Google Mine and search your friends’ directories, request to borrow the items, and viola! Crisis averted.

If we knew what the people around us had, and are willing to share, then maybe we would not need to personally own so much… stuff. I will never forget an alarming figure I read in GOOD once, that so perfectly captures the central failing of our hyper-consumerist culture:

“There are 60 million drills in the United States and each is used, on average, 10 minutes a year. Multiply that by blenders that sit in the back of kitchen cabinets. Think coolers, ladders, ski pants, air mattresses — an ocean of household detritus sitting uselessly in every home on the block.”

Although Google Mine might provide the necessary infrastructure for frictionless sharing and trading, it’s also another means for Google to collect more information and know more about our lives.

According to Rachel Botsman, an evangelist of the sharing economy, the consumer peer-to-peer rental market will become a $26 billion sector, and the sharing economy, in total, is a $110 billion-plus market, and so of course Google Mine would be a gold mine for data brokers, but the privacy concerns extend beyond just advertisers. Think about what insurance companies, or even employers, might have access to.

A recent post in PandoDaily brings up some interesting questions along these lines:

“Will users receive a barrage of ads for vacation rentals and home appliances based on the items listed on their wish list? Will data be sold to insurance companies looking to validate property loss claims following home fires or burglary? Will employers or political groups be able to determine sensitive information like gun ownership? And, if hacked, could criminals use the data to target home robberies?”

Janelle Orsi, director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Berkeley, California and an expert on the emerging law of the sharing economy, explains how as of data, sharing organizations like AirBnB and Lyft tend to operate “in a gray area between personal and commercial, public and private” and this is why “it makes it difficult to figure out how regulations apply.”

We sometimes forget it, but Google is very much a private company with specific interests — to reap the profits garnered from our personal data. In order for Google Mine to be effective and gain traction, it must be able to foster consumer trust. We also need to expand our legal system to accommodate for these new trends in collaborative consumption.

As Anya Kamatez of Fast writes:

“A legal framework that enables fair sharing benefits all of us: those who create these platforms, those who use them, and even those who don’t.”

About Sona Makker

Sona is a first-year law student studying technology law at Santa Clara University. She’s an advocate for online privacy, digital rights, and public access to the public domain. If she’s not arguing with her siblings over whether This American Life is better than Radiolab, you’ll probably find her whipping up vegetarian dishes, or attempting to do a headstand in yoga class.
Posted in: Business, Consumer, Culture, Society, Technology
  • Randy White

    Hi Sona, thank you for your article. My company Bright Neighbor has been competing in the Sharing Economy space since 2007 – before it was all the rage and we were seen as radical communists or something along those lines. I believe that Google will do wonders for creating awareness of using technology to drive sharing behavior, however they are now known as a NSA-data provider – and people feel snooped on enough already. So your point about data mining hits home, and I think other niche players in the sharing economy space will all benefit from Google’s move, either through partnerships (using their video and integrating platforms) or by staying separate and serving people who choose to NOT let Google have that information.