One of the very first safety tips I learned as a child was never to get into a car with a stranger. And yet everyday millions of us do it. We call it Uber. By 2020, more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be so-called contingent workers, according to a study by software company Intuit. That’s more than 60 million people.
The rise of this sharing or gig economy provides users with amazing on-demand convenience but at the same time exposes both sides to unprecedented new risks. The challenge is how to grow the economy of the 21st century and provide new ways to protect the safety of both users and the workers.
No one enjoys riding in a cab but the driver requirements imposed on the taxi industry go much farther to protect public safety while Uber and Lyft have finally begun to roll out criminal background checks for drivers while state and local governments struggle to agree on the best way to regulate without stymying innovation and earning potential.
Let’s not forget the other half of this transaction: the passengers. In 2016 Uber provided approximately 2 billion rides in 674 cities worldwide. And while the drivers are required to submit to background checks the passengers just need to download the app. Here the taxi cabs clearly have the advantage, most vehicles have been retrofit with safety glass between the front and back and many have cameras. In addition, Uber drivers aren’t dispatched by some nearby office that can provide assistance if needed.
Recently a friend of mine who drives for Uber shared her experience with a belligerent passenger. She didn’t want to risk her own safety by using her smartphone while driving which could’ve also have antagonized the passenger. She kept her Wearsafe Tag in the driver-side door and was able to discreetly press the button and alert her family and friends. She recalled, “Those five miles were the longest ride of my life but I felt better knowing I had backup plan.”
LA has many on-demand dog walking services but as the owner of two dogs this is something I’ve experienced personally. Oliver and Sophia’s bladders are agnostic when it comes to my personal safety which means I have to walk them after dark. One of the requirements for living in a big city like Los Angeles is you have to be prepared for the occasional character – mentally ill homeless, the intoxicated partygoer, a loose dog and yes, those who would do harm.
Sure I have my iPhone in my pocket but first, I can’t get to it and use it when I’ve got a leash in both hands and second, if I’m concerned about a potentially dangerous person, taking out my phone could escalate the situation quickly. This is why I keep my Wearsafe Tag in the basket with my dogs’ leashes. I can casually reach into my pocket, press the button and my husband and friends are alerted, can see my location, hear what’s going on and decide what next steps to take.
The New Social Contract
The sharing economy is all about supply and demand. One user has a need and another user fulfills that need, whether it’s a ride, a dog walk, someone to deliver groceries or put together something from IKEA. Think of it as the next evolution of the social media platform – social commerce. The catch-22 is that the same technology that peels away the layers of middle management to improve efficiency also removes the safeguards those layers have traditionally provided.
The solution? Combine a small, inconspicuous device like the Wearsafe Tag with the connectedness of a social network to help mitigate personal safety in a situation when reaching for the phone would do more harm than good.