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Participation, Privacy and Power in the Sharing Economy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Ps2Share (Participation, Privacy and Power in the Sharing Economy)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2017-12-31

The emergence of innovative platforms has extended the notion of online sharing to the vibrant new domain of sharing of material goods and services. The so called sharing economy has promised to provide more inclusive business opportunities for individuals of various skills levels and resource endowment. However, the public rhetoric of chances, growth, and inclusion frequently contrasts with the risks, concerns, disadvantages, and exclusion in the experiences of a variety of users. These platforms, extending into the private and physical realm of their users, also create compound privacy risks and increase the potential for exclusion and discrimination. In the face of ongoing growth across the sector, Europe is presented with a variety of challenges which need to be addressed in order to have a fair and inclusive sharing economy.

As such, the key objective of the Ps2Share project, ‘Participation, Privacy, and Power in the Sharing Economy’ was to identify key challenges of the sharing economy in Europe and improve Europe’s digital services through providing data-driven recommendations to the broad range of stakeholders involved. Our driving objective was therefore to conduct a thorough investigation into how issues of participation, privacy, and power interacted with the European sharing economy. To accomplish this objective, the consortium accordingly focused on three aspects in parallel, ensuring mutual collaboration and interaction: Participation, Privacy, and Power.

For participation, we aimed to investigate the social structuration of internet-mediated sharing and explore the social profiles of sharers and non-sharers. In addition, we wanted to look at obstacles to participation in terms of exclusion and discrimination, as well as the motives for non-sharing. We aimed to analyze current participation divides and make conclusions on how to create a more level playing field in the European sharing economy. For privacy, we wanted to explore the key opportunities and challenges of the sharing economy for consumers and their data. The sharing of personal data can leave users vulnerable to different harms, and high user privacy concerns are a barrier for participation. Since sharing comes with compounded privacy risks, extending beyond the informational into the physical realm, privacy risks are extensive. For power, one of our key objectives was to analyze the different forms of influencing and shaping occurring in the sharing economy and provide measures to ameliorate their negative effects. In particular, we aimed to look at the concepts of empowerment and disempowerment.

As a secondary objective, the consortium also wanted to provide a holistic overview of the sharing economy which took into account the role of platforms and the opportunities for designing a fairer, more empowered, and inclusive sharing economy. As such, the consortium aimed to enquire into the role of platforms in terms of participation, privacy, and power. Our goal was to assess whether platforms are designed inclusively and intuitively understandable, and whether they implicitly or explicitly discriminates against certain user groups. As such, we aimed to communicate design patterns that could be applied for a responsible design of sharing services.
As a first stage, the consortium conducted three intensive literature reviews to situate the topic within the broader academic and policy framework. With an eye to completing our overall objective, these literature reviews provided a first step of analysis as well as offering a foundation to the deeper analysis of how issues of participation, privacy, and power interacted with the European sharing economy.

As a second stage, the consortium conducted a series of focus groups. A total of 18 focus groups were conducted across Europe, including a total of 98 participants.

The focus groups were followed by a dedicated consortium-wide survey for the Ps2Share project. The objective of the survey was to provide empirical insights into the current state of the European sharing economy. The survey, which included 6111 respondents across 12 European countries was nationally representative and thus could stand as a reflection of the state of the sharing economy in Europe. The results of the survey were presented in a set of three reports, alongside a shared appendix of demographic details. These reports were disseminated to public and academic audiences, providing a second first set of data-driven insights as a complement to the focus group report.

The research was then used as a foundation for deriving data-driven recommendations for the variety of stakeholders involved. Three separate sets of recommendations were created, to act in parallel. Each set of recommendations, targeted at issues of participation, privacy, and power respectively, provided 5 recommendations for each of the following 5 stakeholder categories: providers, consumers, sharing economy platforms, educators, and policy makers. The consortium thus provided 75 recommendations in total, where each recommendation was accompanied by a discussion and more detail.

The consortium conducted a variety of empirical methods to develop design guidelines. Firstly, a literature analysis of design aspects was carried out, in order to identify the design aspects of sharing platforms. Insights from the focus groups carried out by the consortium were then included into the analysis. The design guidelines were then applied for an analysis of 124 sharing platforms operating within Europe, where the platform features were coded. The design patterns were accompanied by in-depth analyses of a sub-set of platforms, as well as interviews with company representatives.
The Ps2Share project has extended the research field on the sharing economy beyond the state of the art. The project provided a holistic approach based on the consideration of participation, privacy and power in the context of new work approaches such as the sharing economy. It relates new ICT enabled sharing environments to specific social and cultural challenges by providing not only insights about privacy, participation and power in the sharing economy, but also design concepts how to include them in sharing ICT platforms.

The project consortium created a range of dissemination activities that were aimed at maximizing the outreach of the project into both academic and non-academic audiences. The project produced a number of publications and contributions to scientific advancement. Findings from the project were presented at HICSS in January 2018 and are due to be presented at the ICA Conference in May 2018 as well as at the EGOS Colloquium in July 2018. By publishing and presenting the results of the project at both SSH and ICT related conferences, the project has attempted to increase relevance of the SSH knowledge created during the project for ICT R&I processes. The workshop „Corporate Responsibility in the Digital Economy” was held at Cass Business School in London on 10 November 2017 and organized by the CBS member of the consortium. Cumulatively, the working paper versions of the reports have been downloaded 998 times on SSRN as and read more than 7000 times across different repositories. More specific dissemination will occur at several of the partners involved, for example through teaching, practitioner events, consulting, and long-term collaboration.