Inviting someone to your home can be a signal of familial closeness, friendship, or sexual desire. Rarely do we let visitors into our bedrooms or onto our couches. We teach children to never open the door to strangers and to lock the door when their parents leave for work. At the same time, the sharing economy, with its focus on peer-to-peer service, often relies on unknown people entering the home of another unknown person to do things like cook (Kitchensurfing, now defunct) or sleep (Airbnb), or to clean, make minor repairs, or assemble furniture (TaskRabbit). Meanwhile, Lyft and Uber and other app-driven car services involve people getting into a stranger’s vehicle — violating one of the first “stranger danger” rules that many children learn.
In response to many people’s leeriness of strangers, sharing economy companies often promote their background-screening mechanisms. For example, TaskRabbit’s website notes that Taskers must pass an identity check, are screened for criminal offenses, and must attend an orientation. Uber drivers in New York City are required to undergo the same background checks and fingerprinting as taxi drivers. Drivers in other cities and states, however, may undergo only a background check that looks for criminal records within the past seven years; critics have alleged that even such minimal background checks have been easily sidestepped.
But while workers are screened to varying degrees, clients are not. The terms of service of most peer-to-peer apps ostensibly prevent clients from setting up more than one account, but as long as one has access to multiple email addresses and credit cards, it’s very easy to create numerous identities. Worker profiles are often much more complete than those of clients and include a photo and short biography. TaskRabbit, in particular, requires workers to supply additional information for their profiles before it allows them to “pass” orientation.
As a result, clients can generally rest assured that they have a fairly good idea of who they’re hiring or letting into their homes, but workers don’t…