Why do we keep talking of the « sharing economy » instead of the « renting economy »?

Airbnb is just one of dozens of companies to describe itself as part of the sharing economy — the idea of using the Internet to create person-to-person, or peer-to-peer, marketplaces that empower everyday people. The enabler — companies like Airbnb — gets a cut of each transaction it facilitates. While some sharing economy platforms promote in-kind trades among members, others, like Airbnb, tend to exchange services for money. Other well-known companies in this genre include car-sharing services Uber and Lyft.

On the surface, « sharing » may sound groovy — hey, it’s San Francisco, after all. But this new economy is creating social dislocation and tension that’s near a boiling point. And, despite the kumbaya-like pronouncements of companies touting sharing services, there’s one mega-force driving them: cash.

And when will we begin to address it for what it is? Renting and not sharing!

Vexed in the city: The ‘sharing’ economy’s hidden toll on San Francisco – CNET.

Silicon Valley’s lobbying methods in India raise questions and look right out the Shock Doctrine playbook.

Now it’s time for Silicon Valley to profit from the new Indian ecommerce laws it helped shape | PandoDaily

I was surprised to find this long and well-researched article from Mark Ames on Pando on the new US investments in India’s e-commerce sector, and the hight stakes politics that are involved – disrupting and reshuffling the political demographics of the world’s largets democracy.

The question is to know whether it will be possible to allow foreign companies to invest in Indian e-commerce.

As explained, there is an investment war going on. India’s Flipkart.com recently raised $1 billion from global venture capital firms, the largest venture investment ever into an Indian Internet company, and 2014’s second largest investment round after Uber. But less than 24 hours later, Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon would invest $2 billion into building up Amazon.in’s operations, the largest investment to date by an e-commerce company in India.

With the help of US e-commerce corporations and their affiliated intellectual machine – essayists, entrepreneurs, think tanks, academics – the Obama Administration has been pressuring India hard to open up its market — failing with the previous government, but apparently succeeding with Modi.

The ruling center-left government already accused Omidyar Network and the Ford Foundation of illegally lobbying parliament – « one of the most brazen examples of Silicon Valley strategically meddling in a sovereign nation’s politics. » as Mark Ames puts it. Modi’s plans are now to open up India’s e-commerce market as one of his first major policy moves, with the help of representatives from eBay/PayPal, Amazon and Google.

But betting with Modi is a risky bet that, if it goes bad, could redefine just how catastrophic “disruption” can be. He’s portraited as a populist playing with racism and hatred with a role in the brutal anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002, which left some 2000 Muslims murdered, and hundreds of thousands internally displaced.

For indians, the risk of opening their market is to rapidly centralize and monopolize power over large sectors of their economy. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes could become « superdominant entities that would enjoy real cost advantages over real-world rivals. » Quoting Stiglitz, « the real harm will not be to the retail sector. That is not the real problem. The harm will be to the Indian supply chain going into the retail sector. »

But as Mark Ames nails it, « the disruptive powers of Silicon Valley e-commerce could be one of Modi’s most effective political weapons. » What could be the next steps after opening up the e-commerce market? Gutting labor laws, opening India to foreign insurance giants and allowing huge outflows of capital. It would be the end of India’s socialist-minded supportive political economy. It would be the victory of India’s booming tech sector, its entrepreneurial class, its financial class, the winners in the new retail sector, and of course India’s wealthy, whose billionaires overwhelmingly support Modi… a destroyed economy and a country full of deadly riots, pogroms and hatred.

As Mark Ames explains it well, the question is not progress versus tradition, it’s that we should all be worried to see giants like Google, Amazon or eBay resort to the strategies of the 60’s US multinationals, using their money and power to open up countries and industries with the aim of increasing market access and profitability, and removing protective mechanisms, regardless of the cultural or social costs, and usually contributing to the creation of debt, poverty, and wealth disparity, often to the benefit of a small elite.

All of this with the help of an intellectual machine – essayists, entrepreneur, think tanks, academics – that allow them to go way further than simple lobbying but ends up providing the ideas, the conceptual framework and the ivy-league educated personnel that will eventually lead the country to their wills and needs.

Have you heard of Indonesia in 1965-66 under General Suharto – if not, watch The Act Of Killing? The Ford Foundation was already there, financing university exchange to ensure that a free market-minded « Berkley Mafia » to fill the ranks of the new administration in the years to come. Estimates of those killed range from half a million to a million.

Now it’s time for Silicon Valley to profit from the new Indian ecommerce laws it helped shape | PandoDaily.

Wikipedia refusing to erase the Monkey Selfie is politically dangerous

The copyright case of the monkey selfie

In a case of ridiculous and typically geekish legal battle, Wikipedia refuses to remove a photograph that a monkey took of itself by pushing the button of the camera of David Slater, a photographer. 

People were quick to pretend that Slater has no right to the copyright to the photo.

The Gloucestershire-based photographer now claims that the decision is jeopardising his income as anyone can take the image and publish it for free, without having to pay him a royalty. He complained to Wikimedia that he owned the copyright of the image, but a recent transparency report from the group, which details all the removal requests it has received, reveals that editors decided that the monkey itself actually owned the copyright because it was the one that pressed the shutter button.

They came back from the idea that the Monkey owned the copyright to the photo – some Wikipedia users still think he could own it, but Wikipedia still pretends that the photographer has no right on it. They even pretend that it should belong the Public Domain.

The case seems pretty clear though. The creation was made without the photographer, but thanks to a bit of luck, and to a scheme that he organized, the Monkey pushed the button and took a beautiful picture. It looks a lot like an automatic creation – the vocabulary might be different under US jurisdiction – and copyright should thus be given to the photographer as the indirect creator of the picture. Just like when you setup a camera somewhere and allow it to take automatic pictures.

If it was only another stupid copyright case, there should be no harm. But I see dangerous trends here:

  • Wikipedia is putting the Public Domain at risk by overextending it to illegitimate things… it’s one thing to fight against the extension of Copyright terms, it’s another to try to get free access to the work of actual artists… They used to be more cautious on these issues.
  • Just like in the « right to be forgotten issue », Wikipedia chose a maximalist and libertarian interpretation to decide what norms should apply online, creating a dangerous conflict with our existing liberties and freedom… and showing little or no respect for the works and wills of those who don’t belong to the « community »

This is bad omen at a time when people have more and more questions about the bad sides of the digital world on our society. Companies like Google, Uber and AirBNB are under pressure everywhere. But the Wikimedia Foundation is a not-for-profit and a role model for many other projects. They should probably stay out of these political and commercial issues. It’s a worrying sight to see them on this road.

Via Kottke: The copyright case of the monkey selfie.

Can we still call « startups » multinational companies that adopt the worse lobbying practices from their predecessors?

« What Airbnb doesn’t explain is why it is staging protests against the friendly legislation it has been secretly co-authoring since at least January, 2013—or why the company’s demands have changed. According to emails obtained by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, an Airbnb lobbyist pushed San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu’s legislative aides to change the legislation, allowing hosts to rent their homes for up to 120 days per-year. But now Fair to Share’s « members » are lobbying for an 180 day allowance.

In a statement to the Examiner, Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas said « the company is proud of its part in the campaign » and home sharing is « making The City a better place to live. » »

Via Valleywag : Airbnb is Astroturfing Against Legislation They Helped Write.

Airbnb is Astroturfing Against Legislation They Helped Write