Startups like Airbnb and Uber mean exciting things for consumers and investors alike. But they raise a ton of questions, too. How can the government regulate these companies without trampling innovation? What does it mean for competition and consumer choice? What sort of risks do consumers take on by participating in the sharing economy? What’s the recourse? What about privacy? Are the reputation scoring systems used by these services really the best approach?
Now the federal government wants to arrive at some answers. On June 9, the Federal Trade Commission will hold a workshop dedicated to the regulatory implications of the gig economy, according to the Washington Post.
The workshop aims to explore things like consumer protections, competitive implications, and broader economic questions that arise in an era when anyone can become a part-time taxi driver or a run a pseudo-hotel out of their home. In advance of the workshop, the FTC is soliciting public comments in the hopes of fleshing out the discussion and hitting on the topics of most concern to consumers. Comments received by May 26, 2015 will be considered for inclusion.
The rise of these new peer-to-peer startups–an industry that’s estimated to exceed $100 billion in the near future–has already begun disrupting legacy industries like hotels and traditional taxis, but not without rubbing up against the law and creating controversies.
These companies’ tendency to classify workers as independent contractors–and avoid granting them the rights and benefits of proper employees–has, for instance, come under intense scrutiny. It’s led to Uber driver strikes, attempts to unionize, and more than a handful of lawsuits on behalf of workers.
As is typically the case, technology and business move faster than policy, hence the uncomfortable questions, which will presumably only proliferate as time goes on.
While the FTC’s workshop is more of an exploratory measure than one likely to yield immediate results, it can’t hurt to get a head start on figuring out exactly what the heck we’re doing.