5 Ways Uber (And Similar Companies) Are Messing Up The World
The gig economy has revolutionized the way we live, making it possible to rent out pretty much anything for a few bucks while also ensuring that we never have to get off the couch for too long. Can you believe our old hammers used to just lay around draining equity, when we can now rent them out on a tool-sharing app? But there are downsides to the sharing economy, like the fact that 40 percent of the people renting a hammer online are murderers on a budget. Also ...
You Can Hire Someone To (Unknowingly) Confess To Your Crime
Idle perverts of the early 2000s could only imagine John Goodman making out with the mole from Animal Crossing. Now you can have that whole scenario professionally written up on Fiverr, illustrated by a graphic designer on Upwork, and acted out by some confused carpenters from TaskRabbit, all while a man from Craigslist silently chews on your feet (you may or may not have requested that last one). And those aren't even the weird requests. Some of those could make you the unwitting accomplice to some maniac's crime spree.
Aspiring actress Samantha Field, who took a job through Fiverr in 2017, found that out the hard way. It was an easy gig -- she simply had to deliver a monologue to the camera, playing the part of a woman recording a video diary. The listing said that the script was an extract from an upcoming novel, and that the video would be played at the book launch. The novel was called "The Floppy Hat," and was nowhere near as cute as it sounds; it was all about fake anthrax attacks. Field took the measly $35 commission and read a few lines about sending baking soda to her many enemies in the Saskatoon area.
Months later, Field was shocked to discover that her picture was being distributed by Canadian police, who wanted to question her over a string of anthrax hoaxes that terrorized Saskatoon in 2017. They had in fact been carried out by a woman named Alexa Emerson, who targeted any business that annoyed her. When the police made her their key suspect, she went on Fiverr and hired Field. The "book extract" was actually a detailed confession to the crimes, which Emerson then sent to the police and media. In something of a mixed blessing for Field, the cops never considered her a serious suspect, apparently because they found her performance in the video to be unconvincing and "clearly scripted."
We can't imagine why.
Everyone's a critic.
You Can Use House-Sitting Sites To Rent Out Others' Homes
While concerns about coming home to a fully Saran-wrapped murder room usually top the list of Airbnb worries, some criminals are more subtle. It was pure luck that tipped off one San Francisco couple -- they were on their way to Burning Man when some friends emailed to say they were staying in their apartment. The friends had rented the place on Airbnb and realized they knew the owners when they recognized the photos on the walls.
What a fun coincidence!
Or at least it would've been, if the couple had ever rented out their place to start with.
They had used a site called Trusted Housesitters to match them with an "experienced sitter," who would take care of their cats and look after the place while they were gone. The sitter routinely listed the homes he sat for(?) on Airbnb for a double profit. Naturally, the couple were outraged. They wanted to pay a stranger to stay in their home, not have some strangers pay to stay in their home!
Airbnb is rife with similar scams. Some people rent your house for a few days, then list your rooms for long-term rent on Craigslist. The scammer holds a bunch of viewings, takes deposits from every college kid he can find, and then hands the house back over to you. Two weeks later, 40 dreadlocked white kids show up and start unloading minifridges on your lawn. Basically, there may be some security issues with allowing strangers to enter your home when you're not there. Please, try to contain your surprise. Continuing with this thread ...
You Can Steal Your Rental Host's Home With Squatter's Rights
In October 2015, UC Berkeley professor Elizabeth Abel rented out her home while she was away on a research trip to Paris. She used an Airbnb-like site called Sabbatical Homes, which provides rentals to and from traveling professors, reasoning that there is an "implicit degree of trust amongst academics." Feeling secure in the knowledge that she was renting to a fellow professor from Sarah Lawrence, Abel left the country.
Then the rent stopped coming.
When Abel returned home, she was prepared for a confrontation. What she did not expect was to find her house boarded up and its entire inside relocated to the outside. The tenant had planted his flag and refused to surrender, and there was nothing anyone, even the police, could do. Since he'd been there so long -- five months, to be exact -- he had established squatter's rights, and therefore a legitimate legal claim to the residence.
All Abel could do was move across the street and watch this creep live in her house rent-free. It took a full year before she could finally cross back over into her own home, but not before fighting a libel case that the squatter had filed against her in which he claimed that his character had been defamed by ... well, his own actions, we suppose.
So what class did the freeloading professor teach? "Ethics and Politics of New Technology."
Somebody please help the abstract concept of irony. It just fainted.
You Can Destroy A Carefully Planned Traffic System With Ridesharing
When ridesharing services first started up, the carless were ecstatic. "Finally, there's an alternative to the exorbitant prices and awful service of our local taxi company. Uh ... besides the bus, of course."
Maybe that's why from 2013 to 2016, the average annual revenue for a taxi driver fell drastically, from $88,000 to $69,000. But people lose jobs to automation and outsourcing all the time, right? The march of progress can't be slowed just because a few cabbies went from making three times the salary of your average teacher to only double, right?
Except in places like New York City, where taxi drivers need to purchase a medallion in order to operate legally. The price of these medallions once went over $1 million, but has recently come down a bit -- one sold for only $150,000. Taxi drivers have to take out huge loans just to get one, but now that people are mostly using Uber, that investment is starting to bottom out. Many drivers can no longer pay off those loans, and some have even resorted to selling their medallions at a fraction of the price, which still leaves them with a hefty loan to pay off, but now no livelihood.
And it turns out there was a good reason for those medallions. New York wanted to limit the number of taxi drivers in order to combat traffic congestion, hence requiring the purchase of expensive and finite certifications. Now, with the advent of ridesharing apps, traffic congestion has increased by 8 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but 8 percent in New York is like a billion cars, and they're all right in front of you, trying to turn left from the righthand lane.
You Can Donate To Crowdsourced Charities ... At The Expense Of Real Ones
We now have multiple crowdsourced charity sites to choose from, and surely that's a better system than traditional charities, right? One that cuts out the middleman and gets your money straight to the people in need. But here's something surprising: People who work for nonprofit organizations have their jobs for a reason.
Giving money to charity is a legitimately wholesome thing to do, nobody's arguing that. However, we aren't very good at distributing the funds evenly on our own, thus creating an inequity wherein popular pages rake in more cash than they need, even as others are ignored. Meanwhile, the Red Cross doesn't dole out blood based on numbers of retweets.
So when we use crowdfunding sites to donate to disaster relief, we are throwing more money at a problem that could be better solved by supporting established crisis efforts, while also creating an opportunity for scammers to abuse the system. And all because it makes us feel more personally helpful to click on somebody's name rather than send a quick text to some anonymous charity number. We aren't saying that you shouldn't donate to fundraisers, of course. But make sure you do your research, and don't forget to support charities for the other 85 percent of the year, when people still need help.
Follow Mike Bedard on Twitter @TheMikeBedard to stay up to date with all of his projects.
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