You can rely on the Age for quality churnalism. Yesterday it published a press release about a new Australian business in the sharing economy sector that mediates between property owners with spare parking and drivers looking to rent parking. Parkhound is not a new idea. It joins several existing competitors like Divvy, Find a car park, Parking rentals and Parking made easy. But the press release didn’t say that. It made it sound completely new.
What struck me when I looked at its website was the conspicuous absence of fundamental business information. There’s no ‘About’ page. The press release names the business’ founders but the site doesn’t. It contains no ABN or business address. It contains no terms and conditions and no explanation of their business model. For example, who pays them for the service they provide – the renter or the rentee?
I have seen this kind of obfuscation before with Incsub, who I applied to work for earlier this year. They attempted to deliberately obfuscate the legal jurisdiction of their business in an apparent attempt to avoid their obligations under Australian employment law. Their website was similarly lacking in the clarity and transparency required to generate trust, and my reading of it as suspicious was confirmed by their subsequent behaviour.
Then there’s the petty but obvious matter of misleading information and poor user experience. When you submit your email address to Parkhound to supposedly get a quick quote on the value of the space you have to rent they send you a confirmation email that then requires you to make a complete listing before you get any information. That’s manipulative and misleading.
Parkhound’s website fails to provide the information necessary for customers to evaluate the business as trustworthy. This is not a new idea. A quick search found this 2010 article about the concept, and it lists information about the company and policy information as key factors used by customers when evaluating business websites.
I’ve been online for more than half my life now. I consider the internet to be the most significant transformative technology to have emerged in my lifetime. It has fundamentally influenced my career and my life. But I retain a sense of caution and skepticism that seems to be lacking in many consumers who engage in the sharing economy, which was made viable by the internet’s capacity to efficiently manage information, in an naively trusting manner. They lack common sense.
I have never bought anything from eBay, for example. I will never stay in AirBnB accommodation. I don’t trust strangers. If the room does not meet the advertised standard, you can’t ask for another one, and that’s unacceptable to me. I had a poor London hotel experience a few years ago where my room had a broken bed and I needed another room. AirBnB can’t deal with such circumstances.
And I would never risk the liveability of my own home by renting it to strangers. The reward is insignificant. I’m asthmatic and chronically allergic to tobacco smoke. Imagine if someone smoked in my apartment for a week. When I returned it would be uninhabitable. Why would I risk that? Similarly, why would I risk doing business with Parkhound when it fails the most basic measures of business transparency and accountability? Trust can’t be taken for granted. It must be earned, but Parkhound makes no effort to earn it.