Research Project

Ps2Share: Participation, Privacy, and Power in the Sharing Economy

A one-year research project funded by the European commission under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme.

The emergence of innovative platforms has extended the notion of online sharing to the vibrant new domain of sharing of material goods and services. We call this phenomenon 'the sharing economy'. 

With companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Taskrabbit, and Transferwise dominating the market, user numbers of sharing services have skyrocketed and expect to grow further, enabling ever new avenues of economic and social interaction to appear. Currently, the sharing economy is dominated by US companies, but European start-ups are increasingly exploring business potentials in the sharing space.

Online service start-ups create attractive work opportunities and contribute to smart and sustainable growth in the EU. The sharing economy, in particular, promises to provide more inclusive business opportunities for individuals of various skills levels and resource endowment. When discussing the sharing economy, the benefits of these platforms to society are frequently lauded: financial profit, interpersonal bonding, environmental sustainability etc. However, this public rhetoric of chances, growth, and inclusion frequently contrasts with the risks, concerns, disadvantages, and exclusion in the experience of a variety of users.

Given that these platforms often extend into the private and physical realm of their users - even into their homes - both the compound privacy risks and potential for exclusion and discrimination through ratings-based sanctioning present a variety of challenges which need to be addressed.

This EU Horizon 2020 Research Project: Ps2Share is thus concerned with questions of participation, privacy, and power in the sharing economy. With funding granted by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 Growth Strategy, this one-year research project will be conducted alongside a consortium of international researchers from Norway, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, and Switzerland.

Our overarching objective is to identify key challenges of new ICTs and improve Europe’s digital services through providing recommendations to Europe’s institutions (schools, companies, governmental and non-governmental organisations). We aim to foster better awareness of the consequences which technologies, networks and new digital media have on the way people behave, think, interact, and socialise as persons, citizens, workers, and consumers across Europe.

In our research, we include diverse stakeholder perspectives and sources of expertise, but also hope to facilitate public deliberation on desirable practices and policies. We deliberate on new and old responsibilities, remaining sensitive to all perspectives, not only the individual and social, but also the corporate and technological perspectives that drive these changes.We will overall contribute to research on responsible innovation, hoping to generate insights into future, culturally and technology induced changes to our sense of ownership, collaborative consumption, and privacy.

In constructing policy, we aim to provide steps toward more modern regulatory and policymaking approaches for our stakeholders, helping create a more balanced digitized economy that is socially acceptable to all. We derive practicable recommendations for European businesses and service providers in terms of policies, design, and management to ensure smart, sustainable, and inclusive business growth.We emphasise the importance of responsible design of sharing platforms in respect to participation, privacy, and power issues, raising corporate awareness of sharing providers’ and consumers’ rights and needs.

Participation

One of our key objectives is to investigate the social structuration of internet-mediated sharing and explore the social profiles of sharers and non-sharers.

Users are the crux of a sharing economy - they are simultaneously the producers, consumers, and product. Yet, we still ask: Who are the users? What level of inclusion is there? What are the obstacles preventing participation? What motivates sharing? What motivates a refusal to share?

In the Ps2Share project, we aim to answer these questions and gather knowledge on whether different demographics face different challenges through the sharing economy, ensuring that we bring under represented perspectives to the discussion.

We analyse the participation divide in the sharing economy and make conclusions on how to make a more level playing field in the European sharing economy.

Privacy

We explore the key opportunities and challenges of the sharing economy for consumers and their data. Through qualitative and quantitative research, we assess consumers’ privacy concerns when it comes to both data and physical shared places, as well as their self-presentation and their perception of power.

Further objectives within this package are also exploring the different forms privacy could take across different types of consumers, investigating the possible rise of cynicism or apathy around privacy topics, and studying self-presentational choices in both their constraining and empowering elements. 

Platforms

We want to enquire into the role of platforms in terms of participation, privacy and power. Are the platforms designed inclusively and intuitively understandable? Do they implicitly or explicitly discriminate against certain user groups? Are the settings employed to offer the services discriminatory and exclusive?

To address these questions we will used a mixed-methods approach, utilizing qualitative interviews and case studies. We furthermore intend to engage both corporate and privacy representatives/advocates in deliberating new voluntary practices to better cater to the consumers’ and providers’ privacy needs.

Power

It has become clear that sharing services have the potential to exclude certain population segments and increase social inequality by systematically disadvantaging and discriminating against underprivileged groups. These can include those living in remote areas, the unemployed, the impoverished, the disabled, the disconnected, or the elderly.

Sharing services may also be disempowering users by detaching them from their possessions and by relying on new forms of distinction such as arbitrary rating systems, where manipulation is easy and possibilities to challenge the ratings are limited.

In this project, we demonstrate, by way of examples, any such power imbalances in the sharing economy and measures to ameliorate their effects. We analyse the power and distinction mechanisms in sharing and make conclusions on how to make a more level playing field in the European sharing economy.