Coping with Surveillance Capitalism in the Sharing Economy

Abstract for the Reshaping Work Conference

Coping with Surveillance Capitalism in the Sharing Economy

Michael Etter

Center for CSR
Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark

Christoph Lutz

Nordic Centre for Internet & Society
BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway

Gemma Newlands

Nordic Centre for Internet & Society
BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway

Giulia Ranzini

Faculty of Social Sciences > Communication Science Communication Choices, Content and Consequences (CCCC) Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

499 words without references



In recent years, many observers have predicted that the future of work will be reshaped by the gradual spread of micro-entrepreneurship opportunities. Driving this trend, a range of commercial online sharing platforms such as Airbnb, Uber, BlaBlaCar, and Bondora have emerged, enabling the decentralized matching of providers of goods and services with potential consumers. These new forms of micro-entrepreneurship have been grouped under the term ‘sharing economy’ (Benkler, 2004; Botsman & Rogers, 2010; Sundararajan, 2016).

The literature has pointed to the benefits of the sharing economy (Benkler, 2004; Botsman & Rogers, 2010; Sundararajan, 2016), ranging from social aspects such as community building (Belk, 2007; Hamari et al., 2016; Möhlmann, 2015), economic benefits (Bardhi & Eckhardt, 2010; Bucher et al., 2016), and increased sustainability (Frenken, 2017).

However, recent scholarship has started to shed light on the darker sides of the sharing economy which might profoundly affect the future of work in as yet unforeseen ways. Questions have been raised regarding power (Newlands et al., 2017), algorithms (Calo & Rosenblat, 2017), information asymmetries (van Doorn, 2017), ratings (Fradkin et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2015), and the disruption of established industries (Bond, 2015; Zervas et al., 2016)

We use the lens of surveillance capitalism (Zuboff, 2015), which critically understands the use of data collection processes as a form of capital accumulation, to reveal a gradual normalization of the problematic data-centered aspects of the sharing economy. Focusing on control and privacy (Lutz et al., 2017), we discuss the role of sharing platforms in conditioning users – particularly providers as micro-entrepreneurs – to become comfortable with increased surveillance and quantification.


We conducted a total of 20 focus groups across 6 European countries (United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands). The participants were aged between 20 and 35 years and included both providers and consumers of sharing economy services. Participants were guided to discuss their privacy concerns and strategies of managing privacy boundaries while engaging in sharing economy services. A second focus of the discussions concerned power-related aspects such as algorithms, ratings, platform communication, and bargaining power.

Preliminary Results

In a first analysis of our data, several themes emerged that explain the relationship between users’ privacy concerns and surveillance. We identified an increasing awareness among micro-entrepreneurs and scepticism towards the surveillance and data collection practices of sharing platforms. We also identified a resignation among providers towards these practices. While some providers framed the data collection and privacy intrusion as an unavoidable part of doing business, others developed coping mechanisms related to cynicism, avoidance, and forms of resistance. Furthermore, our data shows how quantification through ratings and reviews facilitated practices of self-surveillance, as well as strategic oversharing as a way to

gain intangible assets, such as trust, or a privileged access to the platform. More generally we observe how providers experience micro-entrepreneurship increasingly as a sharing of self.


With this explorative study we contribute to a better understanding for how micro- entrepreneurs deal with contemporary and possibly future challenges of the sharing economy.


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