How dormant devices can power a new digital sharing economy paradigm shift

Apple AirTags and Amazon Sidewalks’ shared networks are enabling us to generate, distribute, and consume digital resources. The question is: Do the benefits to consumers outweigh the possible risks?
puzzle pieces of the sharing economy - dormant devices that can be rented out
Keren Pakes
Keren Pakes | Data Collection Advocate
16-Jun-2021

In this article we will discuss:

What can the digital ecosystem learn from the ‘physical’ sharing economy?

The ‘physical’ sharing economy refers to disintermediated peer-to-peer asset sharing. A good example of this is Rentmywardrobe, an international peer-to-peer fashion sharing community that helps women ensure they never have to wear the same dress twice.

Some of the biggest societal benefits of successfully meeting supply/demand of physical assets on the consumer-to-consumer level include:

Being ecologically friendly by reducing the depletion of natural resources of our joint consumption (think gas, building materials, water-heavy fabric production as is the case with jeans).

Enabling increased economic access, and mobility to lower-income consumers who can now afford to enjoy goods, and services that were previously unavailable to them.

Although the sharing of ‘capacity-constrained’ resources (clothing, cars, apartments) is categorically different from ‘unconstrained-assets’ (e.g. wifi access), it can serve as a basis for the positive implications of ‘network sharing’. Here are two recent developments being put into action by two of the world’s largest tech companies:

One: Apple AirTags – Has identified the power of leveraging the shared resources of 1 billion global devices, creating one of the largest GPS / Bluetooth -based networks in history. By attaching these ‘tags’ to everyday items such as keys, users can utilize nearby peer devices in order to locate lost objects.

Two: Amazon Sidewalk – By utilizing small amounts of your Amazon device bandwidth including the ‘Echo’, and ‘Ring’, Amazon is creating ‘Sidewalk Bridges’. What this essentially means is that they are establishing a peer-to-peer network comprised of user devices which ensures that there is a consistently smooth internet connection for all participating devices, and people – referred to as a ‘network neighborhood’.

These socioeconomic systems enable large industrialized societies to generate, distribute, and consume digital resources in a way that is beneficial to all members of a specific consumer network (in this case Amazon/Apple device owners). The benefits to all members are intrinsic:

  • Increased network stability
  • Larger device span/reach
  • Improved ability to communicate with third-party service providers

Additionally, this poses benefits for the businesses which maintain ownership over the networks in question:

Captive consumer audiences who become further engrossed in the proprietary ecosystem of services, and goods that they are a part of.

– The ability to use interconnectedness in order to increase sales via personally anonymized behavioral data.

The importance of democratizing opting in, and out as part of leveraging ‘dormant resources’

There is another layer to the sharing economy which is seldom discussed – the issue of ‘choice’. Many corporate entities simply automatically opt device owners into their networks, shifting the burden of opting out onto users i.e. if you haven’t opted out you are opted in by default. Many people are not even aware that they have been opted in or that they have the ‘privilege’ of opting out. This is all considered legal, as many of the user agreements include sections detailing user rights, and consent. Many have raised the question of how far is too far.

Should a corporation be able to automatically include a user’s device in its network, and make use of a consumer’s digital resources before they have offered consent?

Also, If a service is beneficial to society should the choice of opting in be clearly outlined? Should it be explained in detail before automatically opting one in?

Should companies spend the time, effort, and money explaining why an economy developing in real-time requires shared resources in order to support it?, in order to win over consumer support, or simply make the decision for users?

The economy as we know it, moves from disruption to disruption. We live in a market where you are either a disruptor or being disrupted. Let’s look back for a second on past disruptions.
Over a decade ago, consumers were worried about the risks associated with cellular payment methods, whereas now they are accustomed to them and it has become second nature to most of us.

But what cell payment processing services understood was that users needed to first opt in of their own volition, and only then could they enjoy a wide range of services which benefited their lives (making payments easy, and accessible even when they forgot their wallets, for example).

On the risk end of things, there was theft, and fraud. Companies however, made accountability their priority, and worked towards mitigating dangers, and consumer concerns by:

  • Offering compensation
  • Vetting network participants
  • Having a preemptive security plan in place
  • Implementing operational cybersecurity governance
  • Performing ongoing network monitoring

All of these however, only came after receiving ‘consent’, much like how the plot of a novel can only develop after an adequately structured prologue.

We are now at the height of the cellular payment plotline, but still in the prologue stages of the digital sharing economy story.

Summing it up

The question we should all be asking ourselves (users, and companies alike) is:

Do the benefits of innovation outweigh the risks, should innovation be translated to immediate consumers opting in or should we all ask permission first even when the benefits are so significantly clear?

Keren Pakes
Keren Pakes | Data Collection Advocate

Keren Pakes is a data collection specialist at Bright Data. Formerly a content & storytelling director at Amdocs and an award-winning journalist at the BBC. She now dedicates her time to driving forward the data collection domain and industry.