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Riding the wave of the sharing economy

As a sign of the growing influence of technology on our daily lives, this year ‘sharing economy’ made it into the Oxford English dictionary for the first time, alongside ‘ridesharing’ and ‘vishing’, among others.  Its somewhat complex translation, ‘an economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either for free or for a fee, typically by means of the internet’, is a fair representation of this ‘catch all’ term.

The already mentioned ‘ridesharing’ – sharing travel arrangements – could be a good example of a shared economy, or Airbnb where you can share your home with someone you have never met before through an online arrangement.  Arguably, with the growth of sharing lifestyles and software, you could also put Gumtree and ebay in the same ‘sharing economy’ bucket, where a community of users buy from each other.

The commonality in all of these is the emergence of the internet and social media, where we are now so accustomed to sharing photos and experiences – with 2.2bn people, or 30% of the world’s population, active social media users.  However, although this sharing can be seen as charitable or cost saving (as in the case of Airbnb or ridesharing), or as sociable and fun (as with the likes of Facebook), this all comes at a cost – privacy.

Privacy on social media has been well documented, with individuals often walking the tight rope between ‘sharing’ their lives with friends and colleagues and disclosing sensitive and personal information, from photos, to location, to habits, to likes or dislikes, which can then be misused by others. 

There is however a control element related to this.  There is a major difference between uploading a video or image of yourself, by choice, onto Facebook and someone else doing the same, potentially without your knowledge.  This takes the ‘sharing’ concept to a whole new level and into murky waters. 

As the fastest growing communication medium on the planet and, according to Cisco, expected to account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2017, video opens up a new can of worms, both for consumers and businesses. With this kind of statistic, businesses are starting to really see the value in video and use it as their ‘go to’ tool to market the company and products, and better engage with their customers.  However, the cost of companies not managing and controlling videos and their usage properly, can be devastating.  This became apparent recently where the worlds of business and social media combined as HSBC’s now infamous mock beheading video in seconds moved from being an in-house prank, to a viral phenomenon, watched by millions on social media all over the world – to the detriment of HSBC and its staff’s reputation.  This is sharing taken to the extreme and demonstrates the embarrassment and insensitivities that can ensue when managed poorly.

Firms increasingly also use video internally as a compliance tool, to ensure safety in the office, to track staff movements, or to record sensitive company IP.  If that in-house, potentially highly confidential, footage then finds its way into the public domain, this can be hugely damaging to a company.

With more CCTV cameras than almost any other country in the world – The British Security Industry Association estimates there could be 5.9 million cameras around the UK – each person will find themselves on camera numerous times a day.  To help make our streets safer, to ensure compliance, to prove innocence – or guilt – this can be reassuring.  However, as in the case of the office, if this footage falls into the wrong hands, it can be dangerous and deeply destructive. Criminals being tracked by the police could be exposed and be forced into rash and evasive action.  All because of unwarranted sharing.

In an increasingly mobile and immediate world, where selfies and mobile videos are now common place, social media can mean an open forum, CCTV is a given, and Airbnb, Uber and other sharing mediums are the norm, this term ‘sharing economy’ is all encompassing.  No definition can ever quite do it justice but, what is clear, is that as our technologies keep evolving, security and discretion remain paramount.  Enterprises and individuals need to set parameters to ensure sharing remains fun, practical and economical, rather than inappropriate and distasteful.