How to Keep Sharing Safe

The entire Collaborative Consumption community watches with bated breath this week as the hero of our burgeoning industry, AirBnB struggles to manage a customer support nightmare that has spiraled out of control under massive public scrutiny. The story began when EJ, an airBnB host, blogged about having her apartment trashed and her life torn apart by a traveler who stayed in her home after booking via the home-sharing site, AirBnB. Her story was picked up by Techcrunch, other industry blogs and the mainstream media as an example of what can happen when sharing goes wrong.

AirBnB has suffered much criticism for their slow response time, their apparent unwillingness to help the victim, and their complete unpreparedness to handle such a complaint. As I'm not privy to the inner workings of the AirBnB board room, I can't comment on any of that. I do know that by the time the truth finds its way to the public, it has often been wrung through the cogs of many machines each with its own agenda, and can often be rendered unrecognizable. This is a complicated issue to resolve and I do not envy AirBnB's burden to do it so publicly. Still, it is EJ to whom my heart goes out. She has suffered a real violation and continues to suffer as her character and even her existence are called into question by an audience eager for drama and intrigue. As EJ's story unfolds and AirBnB struggles to resolve the issues in their platform revealed by her tragic experience, it is time to ask the question: How can other sharing platforms learn from this example of what can happen when a transaction goes wrong? How can we learn from this incident and apply that knowledge to better protect the members of our own communities?

At NeighborGoods, building a safe and fun community for sharing is our number one priority. Our members are sharing over $3.5 million worth of their personal goods and we've facilitated thousands of transactions with no serious complaints or reports of theft or damage. That said, this week's events are proving the necessity for all sharing platforms to have a security system in place to protect their members. We've designed our entire system with the goal of building trust. Still, we have more to do. NeighborGoods connects people to share goods like tools, video games and sporting equipment. The majority of our members choose to share their items for free to help out their friends and neighbors rather than rent their items to strangers. The social tools we provide greatly lower the risk involved in sharing on NeighborGoods. Members can decide who has access to each of their items. For instance, my vacuum cleaner is available to anyone (upon approval of course) while my car is only available to my friends. When any member requests to borrow an item, he must share his phone number with the owner and we never restrict what information can be shared via our private messaging system.

We want to give our members all the tools necessary to feel safe sharing with folks they may not know. We also have an optional verification system and transaction-based peer ratings to help members build a reputation of trust in the network. In addition, members can request security deposits for extra protection. As with any peer to peer marketplace, it's impossible to remove risk completely. It's our job as sharing platforms to make sure our members are aware of the risks and have the information needed in order to manage the risk effectively.

AirBnB's new Safety Tips page provides clear steps for members to mitigate the risk of using the platform. We plan to follow suit with our own list of tips. As part of their response to recent events, AirBnB has also announced a new $50,000 guarantee to cover any loss or damage suffered by their hosts. AirBnB's guarantee program launches on August 15 and I'm eager to see how it will address the potential for fraud and other legal complications raised by insurance. We've been considering offering similar protections (though on a much smaller scale) for premium NeighborGoods members. What do you think about how AirBnB is handling this incident? What can we do at NeighborGoods to make you feel safer sharing your belongings with your neighbors? What are some effective ways other sharing platforms are helping their members mitigate risk? We want to hear from you!

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