“The technology is marvelous. The problem, at the moment, is that it is in the hands of for-profit companies”
Steven Hill is a writer, lecturer and political professional based in the United States with two decades of experience in politics. His latest books are Expand Social Security Now!: How to Ensure Americans Get the Retirement They Deserve (2016) and Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers (2015).
Interview conducted on the second of September at the PeerValue: advancing the commons collaborative economy Conference in Amsterdam.
Leila Ueberschlag: What is your position on Airbnb and Uber?
Steven Hill: Uber and Airbnb have added a service that people like, we have to acknowledge that there is something good there. However, both platforms have been taken over by huge financial venture capital interests, mainly interested in extracting the most out of the workers, not caring if they hurt the communities. In the case of Airbnb, independent studies have found that 40 to 50 per cent of its revenue comes from professional real estate. This is the real face of Airbnb, it is not the average person who is renting out a spare room on their own to make extra money.
LU: How do local governments and states react to this phenomenon?
SH: More and more cities are starting to realize that they need to regulate these new services. However, the regulations they are coming up with are not working well. Without the data from Airbnb – for example – there is no possibility for governments to know whether the sales declared by the company are correct or not. They cannot know if hosts are adhering to the rules, the laws that have been set, and if the company is paying hotel taxes; many companies are refusing to pay taxes at all. So far, the efforts made by cities, states and national governments have not been very effective. Eventually, we are going to get it right but it is taking a lot of trying.
LU: So regulations and laws constitute a response to this problem?
SH: Absolutely. You have Airbnb where people get injured, one Uber driver killed a 6 years old girl in San Francisco and Uber tries to say “we are not responsible because this driver does not work for us, he is an independent contractor”. The problem is that the service comes before the legal issue. We cannot let them get away with this corporate right. There are a lot of rules that need to be really thought through and, sometimes, it takes terrible things happening before we realize we need to address these issues. In the United States some people are very pro technology and there has been this reluctance to put regulations around these companies but now things are changing.
LU: Are there other alternatives?
SH: There are numerous ways to address this problem. One of them is the creation, by NGOs for example, of non-profit apps that help people in their lives. There are already some apps that connect somebody who produces too much food, like a farmer or a restaurant, with people that need food. The technology is marvelous. The problem, at the moment, is that it is in the hands of for-profit companies.
Find here the story – “Living and Dying on Airbnb: My dad died in an Airbnb rental, and he’s not the only one. What can the company do to improve safety?” – written by the journalist Zak Stone.