NewsNews-homepagePRIVACY and Sharing Economy: from a start-up to a multi-billion dollar giant thanks to data sharing

by Alessia Placchi


It is the economy of the future. The economy of sharing, realized by people for other people. No intermediary except the network, the Internet, where millions of users around the world share personal services and real estate services with other users – often complete strangers. The ‘shared’ assets can represent a substantial financial and intangible value not only for the economy of a country but, above all, for the economy of ordinary citizens who wish to “top up” their wages at the end of the month and for which this type of sharing on the Internet was initially been created.

The emblematic case is that of the hospitality sector, where the most recent ‘sharing apartments’ phenomena or even known as “short-term rentals” have in fact monopolized the sector to the detriment of the more traditional forms of tourist reception. In fact, almost 5 million are the announcements of rooms and apartments managed on the Internet by sharing economy platforms. The keyword is sharing: not just a place to stay, but a real experience among the people who really live the place you visit.

In the name of sharing and of personalizing the experience, these platforms collect a significant amount of personal information from their users, who are willing to share them – as some studies show – in order to benefit from the possibility that such platforms offer, to monetize some intangible assets.

What is often not known to users is the use that the giants of the web make of their personal data and the strategies that they implement to acquire them.

According to some European studies, there are three levels of sharing of personal data[1]: a first level is that of data provided voluntarily by the user to access the platform; a second level is that of sharing additional mandatory personal data necessary to provide or receive a product and/or service and which have the aim of anchoring the user’s digital identity to a person who actually exists offline and therefore create more empathy and sense of connection; and finally a third level represented by the technical navigation data of the user, his IP address, the location etc.

And so, while these sharing economy platforms are very popular, few are questioning the binomial ‘sharing-privacy’ and the consequences in terms of protection of personal data.

Returning to the example of the hospitality sector, in Italy the phenomenon of short-term rentals is producing an exodus of the inhabitants from the historic centers and, with the prospect of earning something more, many citizens have entrusted their apartments to agencies of real-estate brokerage that manage the ads on behalf – but also in place – of the real owners thus denying the very meaning of the sharing economy.

In the United States, many municipalities have managed to get themselves delivered by one of the best known platforms, the data of the hosts to be able to govern the phenomenon and also hit the tax evasion. In Europe and in Italy, these platforms hide behind the protection of their users’ privacy rather than sharing their actual hosts and their actual turnover data, thus continuing to shield their real profits in tax havens.


[1]Privacy in the Sharing Economy” – Report from the EU H2020 Research project Ps2Share: Participation, Privacy and Power in the Sharing Economy. Project EU Horizon 20202, research and innovation programme under grant agreement n. 732117.