The rapid growth of the sharing economy means that more and more of us are relying on goods and services that are provided not by companies, but by individuals. And as we increasingly rely on peer-to-peer goods and services in our everyday lives, trust is ever more elevated as one of the biggest factors in our purchase decisions.
But as individuals have less investment in brand reputation than businesses, how can we rely on the quality of what they are offering? While the sharing economy expands, how can we trust others with our belongings, services and time?
Sharing economy platforms are already stepping in to help reassure users that people are likely to be trustworthy. ID checks through government databases, address details, credit checks and more are being done upfront, so those accessing the platform are already vetted in meaningful ways.
Many sharing economy platforms build in more detailed ways to confirm that someone is who they claim to be: at easyCar Club we require video calls with users before verification. Social media profile analysis is another way platforms can take an extra step to filter their user-base.
Likewise, mechanisms are in place to empower users of these platforms to share their experiences. Peer-to-peer checks befit peer-to-peer platforms. Sharing economy brands all the way up to Airbnb and Uber user peer rating systems to let renters and owners, drivers and passengers provide feedback on each other.
Arguably, these may be more honest than reviews of traditional companies, as the ratings are a two way street. However, there are some concerns that this may be a blunt tool - reviews are pretty binary and are of course reliant on perceptions after the event.
And so trust remains the biggest obstacle preventing more people from joining and benefiting from the sharing economy. What the sharing economy needs is a tech-based way of building and maintaining trust, which can be built seamlessly into the whole experience.
One way to do so is to use emerging technologies that can help put people's minds at ease during the peer-to-peer transaction, and the Internet of Things offers many opportunities to build such an infrastructure for the sharing economy.
At the same time as the sharing economy is experiencing rapid growth and grappling with questions of trust, the full potential of the Internet of Things is still yet to be realised. Looking forward, the proliferation of sensors of all kinds in objects will help solve many of the questions of trust that peer-to-peer platforms pose.
Cameras and sensors that capture events in real time will give an extra level of performance review, helping ensure owners' objects are being looked after and thereby building greater trust between sharing economy participants. In this way, the Internet of Things will help build what we might call the 'Internet of Trust'.
There are potential concerns of course: we don't want to live in a panopticon under perpetual surveillance. But connected objects like dashcams that record on impact, alerts triggered by surges of energy usage in smart meters and other assurances from smart devices can provide greater certainty on exactly what happened in cases which could cause dispute.
In fact, psychological experiments show that we have a tendency to cheat when we can be reasonably certain of getting away with it. Recently the police released stats that showed the use of obvious police body cams cut the number of complaints against officers by 93%. Awareness of being recorded encourages more honest behaviour - and honesty breeds trust.
And, of course, it's not just one way - if there are problems with something provided by an owner the renter is more likely to get compensation if it's clear that the problem was not their fault.
As the sharing economy develops, customers will need assurances to get on board and fully realise its potential. Well considered, consensual usage of data from connected things will contribute significantly to building vital trust, furthering the better use of assets via the sharing economy.