The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
May 25th 2015 To: The FTC Working Group From: Lou Williams My daughter and I just sat around the dining table with two young men from Russia discussing their take on Putin, events in Crimea, and the Ukraine and the Russian vs the American personality. (Russians are angrier, they observe) Last month, a family from Paraguay, like many of my other guests, declared that walking the trail above Lake Hollywood with me and my dog and taking pictures of the Hollywood Sign was the highlight of their trip, which was otherwise filled with local amusement parks and restaurants, particularly those within walking distance which I annotated for them in my guesthouse guidebook. In March, five young British collegians, politely listened to my motherly lecture on the legal drinking age, the under 21 club within walking distance, the Lakers game via subway, and the folly of buying ANYTHING from strangers on the street, and they jolly well minded me! They loved the hike, too. The month before that, a wonderful pianist (age 12) created beautiful music on the lonely piano my daughter deserted years ago. In return, I taught him to build a fire. His sister and I discussed young adult literature, and I let her take home the YA novel that she started here. This family loved the Franklin Village restaurants I suggested. Besides making new friends of paying guests, I have my guesthouse to host family and friends that my own little house would not comfortably hold. My daughter's new in-laws, for instance -- a family of five! I can do all of this because of the income being brought in - less than a full time rental, but enough to supplement my retirement pay and keep up the maintenance on my house and yard. I am, therefore, vitally interested in the working group's ideas about how to appropriately shape this new form of municipal hospitality. I say "shape" rather than "repress", because this is a vital and beneficial complement to conventional modes of travel housing, one that brings welcome dollars to our tourist industry as well as to neighborhood businesses. It is at once as traditional as the custom I was raised with in Georgia of accommodating family, friends, and friends of friends and an exciting international movement that builds understanding and affection among people of different cultures. Old ordinances simply do not apply to this new paradigm! Certainly companies like Airbnb which perceived, provides, and profits from a need, provide a self regulating system suitable for the information age. They verify the identity of my guests, clarify expectations across language barriers, collect and disburse all monies and, through the user review process, allow both guests and hosts to publicly identify any who would misuse hospitality, a perfect incentive to provide the service advertised. New, more consistent and realistic guidelines or regulations would be welcomed only to the extent necessary to provide a reasonable tax income to the city services and infrastructure that our visitors enjoy and to prohibit disruption of community standards. But, there is obviously no one-size-fits-all legal framework that would serve every location in our diverse nation. My gut feeling is that municipalities are the most appropriate arbiter for issues related to home sharing because of the vastly different economic and cultural impact for the citizens of, say, Fitzgerald, GA and those of Los Angeles. Legislation recently enacted by some local governments can be studied as alterable templates for others. Most important, keep in mind that, in spite of fear mongering and manufactured horror stories, home sharing is working. It may need a few adjustment, but, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!