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Protecting the freedoms of the sharing economy

Technology has always promised to give us the freedom to work where, when, and how we want.  And, in the past two years we have truly seen this become a reality.

We call it the sharing economy.  People are able to leverage their expertise or skill without the need for a traditional employer.  But old world cartels are trying to stop the new freedoms granted to us by this new economy.

{mosads}Ridesharing companies such as Lyft, Sidecar and Uber have allowed us to get a clean, safe ride with the tap of a finger on our smartphone.  And they allow entrepreneurs to use their own vehicles, develop a business without the need for a million-dollar medallion, call their own shots (without a boss) and leverage multiple ridesharing platforms to build a customer base.

But this new freedom is much more than just transportation services.  Platforms like TaskRabbit, RideJoy, and UrbanSitter allow the perfect matching of people in need of services with others looking for short-term job opportunities.

Some see this as a seismic change in how people earn a living.  However, more than 53 million Americans are doing freelance work.  And that is the key-word — freelance.  It is made possible by the new freedoms these services grant us.

Legacy industries see these new workers as a threat and are doing all they can to knee-cap the platforms allowing people to find work. Taxicab commissions, labor unions and old-world regulators are trying to use legacy legislation to put the shackles on the sharing economy. They are trying to pretend that when it comes to how and when we want to work it’s 1945 – not 2015.

Lawsuits have been filed by opponents of progress.  They want to force contractors using a platform to become employees of that platform.  But this reclassification just doesn’t make sense.  If I use UrbanSitter once a month to help me find babysitting jobs, do I become UrbanSitter’s employee? Does UrbanSitter now get to tell me when and where I must work? 

These assaults on the sharing economy go beyond battles over employment.  A San Francisco proposition would hold home-sharing platforms liable for statements published by homeowners.  This shifting of liability flies in the face of the laws that made possible the user-generated content revolution.

Perhaps it’s better to think of these sharing economy platforms as the 21st century version of the classified section.  Remember, when someone would leverage the newspaper’s distribution to advertise their service in order to garner customers?  The sharing-economy apps are merely a real-time technology solution that connect customers with people eager to work.

We are at a crossroads.  The 20th Century way of doing business can only be protected for so long.  If the legacy industry advocates get their way, the next time you hire a plumber, or use 1-800-LAWYER, you might need to be thinking about paying their social-security taxes?  Is this what we want?  Of course not.

In a hearing on Tuesday, leaders on Capitol Hill began tackling some of these critical issues.  Most lawmakers followed the lead of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in “recognizing the risk of stifling innovation with reactionary regulatory measures.”  We should maintain this focus on fostering innovative freedom for our future — not on protecting industry structures of the past.

Szabo is policy counsel for NetChoice, a trade association of eCommerce businesses and online consumers, all of whom share the goal of promoting convenience, choice and commerce on the Internet.


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