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Privacy in the Gig Economy

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Nealie and Andrew B. were in the midst of a 14-month trip around Europe with their family when they arrived at an Airbnb property in Cork, Ireland with their four children.

Upon arriving, Andrew, who works in IT security, scanned the house’s Wi-Fi network and discovered a camera, and subsequently a live feed.

From the angle of the video, the family tracked down the camera, hidden in what appeared to be a smoke alarm detector. According to Nealie, “It was such a shock. It was just a really horrible feeling.”

Next, the family called Airbnb, who initially was of no help over the phone. Then, Andrew called the owner of the property. When confronted with the family’s discovery the host hung up.

Later, the host called back, insisting the camera in the living room was the only one in the house, but the host refused to confirm whether he was recording the live stream or capturing audio.

Immediately, the family relocated to a nearby hotel and called Airbnb the following day. Ultimately, Airbnb’s trust and safety team promised to conduct an investigation and it temporarily suspended the listing.

However, two weeks later, the company told the family that the host had been exonerated and the listing reinstated.

Only after Nealie posted about the incident on Facebook and got coverage from local news stations, was the host was permanently banned.

In a statement, Airbnb said, “The safety and privacy of our community, both online and offline, is our priority. Airbnb policies strictly prohibit hidden cameras in listings and we take reports of any violations extremely seriously. We have permanently removed this bad actor from our platform.”

With the emergence and popularity of services like Airbnb and Uber, our gig economy has changed. Many people are picking up extra gigs to bring in more income and many of these people aren’t regulated to the same degree as a person who works for a major company.

Considering this, I want to share some ideas to help keep you safe if you are a regular user of these types of gig services.

Research. When participating in the gig economy, either as a customer or a worker, it’s clear that the amount of data that you share on platforms can have wide-reaching and serious implications if misused or unprotected.

In other words, if you are sharing a picture of your driver’s license, it might be a criminal looking to sell the information or duplicate your license.

Before participating with a specific platform, research your chosen platform’s history around privacy and data protection.

Also, even though its time consuming, you need to read and understand privacy policies and applications, because it’s important to make this effort when the risks can include personal information.

One of the things you need to check is that the platform isn’t sharing or selling your information to other parties.

Let your loved ones know. Whether you use Airbnb or Uber, users can improve their own safety by letting other people know where they will be traveling and by having emergency contacts at the ready.

For instance, with Uber you can share the information about your ride with your family members or even with your the folks at your destination so they know when you should arrive.

In addition, whenever you stay in a new place, familiarize yourself with the environment and make a plan for emergencies. For example, if you are staying in a new city have a plan of how you would evacuate during a disaster.

Do your own background check. While many side gig platforms claim to do background checks the reality is they aren’t in-depth. For this reason, I would do my own background check.

For instance, once you have the name of the host or driver of the service you can do a quick Facebook and Google search about them. With Google, you could search to see if there are any news articles about the person related to any crimes.

Now, if you are staying at an Airbnb you could search the county property records to see if the person listing the Airbnb is actually the owner of the property.

In addition, you could check to see if they are up to date on property taxes. Of course, reading the reviews on Airbnb is critical, but a general search of the address online could also reveal other pertinent information.

In the gig economy, workers and customers frequently rely on websites and phone apps to schedule, track and evaluate services. The data gathered through these platforms can contribute to convenience and the overall customer experience.

However, whether you access these platforms as a worker or a customer, it’s important to understand safety and security risks and how you can minimize these potential dangers.

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