Culture

by Glyn Moody


Filed Under:
china, sharing, sharing economy



Why Does China Love The 'Sharing Economy'? Not Because Of Communism...

from the if-you-rent-a-cheap-bike,-you-may-be-the-product dept

Something strange has been happening in China. People have been going nuts about bicycles. Specifically, investors have gone crazy over startups that allow people to rent bikes for a fraction of a dollar per hour, and then leave them anywhere, rather than only at special bike stations -- what is known as "dockless" bike-sharing. And now that sector is in trouble, as Bloomberg reports:

In the space of 18 months, dockless bike-sharing has become one of the hottest investment trends in China, with the two biggest players each having raised over $1 billion in venture funds, respectively. That money has funded a revolution on the traffic-choked streets of Chinese cities, giving urbanites a low-cost, carbon-free means to get around quickly. What it hasn't produced is a viable business model. A little over a year into China's bike-sharing boom, the industry's future looks precarious.

Given the extremely low margins, that's no surprise. What is more surprising is that billions of dollars have been invested in these startups, and in similar ones based on renting out everyday objects for short periods of time, letting people pay by using smartphones to scan in QR codes. Other examples include companies offering umbrellas, basketballs, refrigerators, luxury handbags, phone chargers, and even sex dolls (that one didn't last long). An illuminating article in the New York Times has a plausible explanation for China's fascination with the so-called "sharing economy", even though it has nothing to do with real sharing:

None of China's bike-sharing companies are turning a profit yet. But even as they fight for market share, the data is the destination. "Collecting data is the first goal of the sharing economy," says William Chou, the head of Deloitte's telecoms, media and technology practice in China. Every time consumers scan the QR code on a bicycle -- or basketball, handbag, umbrella -- they provide information about habits, locations, behaviors and payment histories. That's invaluable not just to [Chinese Internet giants] Tencent and Alibaba but also to city planners seeking precise information about where to build roads, bridges and subways.

In other words, these "sharing" services are conceptually similar to Facebook or Google: they are provided (nearly) free of charge, but you pay with detailed information about what you do. In the case of Facebook and Google, it's data about your online activities; for the "sharing economy", it's about what you do in the physical world. That's highly prized by companies that want to sell something to people. In China, it's also of great interest to someone else -- the government:

what happens as this data filters into China's new social-credit system, which promises to rate every individual by her financial, social and political worth? In fact, Beijing has authorized Tencent and Alibaba to conduct social-credit pilot testing, and their bikes serve as the perfect vehicles. There are no walls of privacy. The government has the ability to access company data, good or bad, faster than you can scan a QR code.

The ability of "sharing" companies to capture, and governments to access, highly-personal data is an important issue for potential customers in the West, which currently lags behind China in the uptake of these kinds of services. However convenient some of them seem, it's worth considering whether you may be paying more than just the attractively-low fees when you use them.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2017 @ 8:54pm

    Pricing

    How much does it cost to buy a profile or dossier on someone in China? Is everyone the same price, or do some people cost more than others?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 11 Dec 2017 @ 9:21pm

    A number of these companies operate where I live, they are interesting to say the least. 6 months ago there were absolutely none, and now there are at least 4 companies with bikes in my neighborhood.

    They do work on some pretty cool technology, QR codes, GPS, remote controlled ring locks, and the like. The bikes generally are heavy single gear cruiser things that have to give more than a bit of the welly to get it down the road.

    They also spend most of their time parked. Or laying on the ground. Or dumped in a field. Or, as has happened, dumped in the river.

    if they are using them to collect data, they would seem to be a failure. Most people I see using them at this point are parents who want to ride next to their young children on the bikes their parents bought them. So their destination is, well, wherever a 5 year old can ride his new two wheeler with the training wheels still on.

    That, my friends, is powerful data.

    I will say the one thing these bikes do exceptionally well is get in the way. They crowd up the sidewalks, get dumped on the edge of the road, in entranceways, at the bottoms of staircases and escalators (yup, we have those outdoors). Frustrated maintenance people pile them up like cord wood in useless piles, and the companies themselves can't seem to be bothered to collect them even after weeks of not moving except for people kicking them as they walk by.

    If this is the future, please give me some past.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2017 @ 10:11pm

      Re:

      quote:
      I will say the one thing these bikes do exceptionally well is get in the way. They crowd up the sidewalks, get dumped on the edge of the road, in entranceways, at the bottoms of staircases and escalators (yup, we have those outdoors). Frustrated maintenance people pile them up like cord wood in useless piles, and the companies themselves can't seem to be bothered to collect them even after weeks of not moving except for people kicking them as they walk by.
      /quote


      that's stage 2 of the alien invasion: force insertion and distribution.

      stage 3 will be these things waking up and taking over the world.

      (and, obviously, stage 1 was fooling someone to buy them and bring them to market)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2017 @ 11:12pm

      Re:

      I thought you were happy when the NSA was doing it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2017 @ 1:23am

    What a goldmine...

    ...for stalkers, rapists, jealous ex-lovers, etc.

    Should we start a stopwatch to measure how long it'll take before the first crime is committed utilizing all this data?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SirWired, 12 Dec 2017 @ 3:48am

    Nothing especially sinister here, just a business fad

    Yes, data on location, purchasing habits, etc. has some value, but it's not enough to pay for all this "stuff". This is just a business fad, no different from wacky overcrowded trends here. I mean, seriously, umbrellas and basketballs?

    This sinister bit was just presented almost as a foot-note by some self-appointed consulting-company "expert", and should be treated with the proverbial grain of salt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MyNameHere (profile), 12 Dec 2017 @ 4:26am

      Re: Nothing especially sinister here, just a business fad

      Yup. I think they will also find that it's nowhere near as complete as checking credit card records, or cellular location data! :)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2017 @ 6:57am

    Not "carbon-free"

    Carbon is emitted during the manufacturing of these bicycles and the materials needed to make them. Aluminum production is famously power-hungry, and steel production uses a lot too. Vast overproduction, as is happening here, can hardly be called "carbon-free". Nevermind the food needed to operate the bicycles, and the resulting emissions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2017 @ 7:08am

    But then vans VPN and sharing. Guess it only loves the part of the 'sharing economy' that suits the bribed members of the government!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2017 @ 10:16am

    DNA is communist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sinan (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 11:22am

    CHINA

    THIS MAY BE THIS INCREASED CHINA ECONOMY. EVERY POINTS INCREASED, WHEN THE SAME TIME IS NOT ACHIEVED, THE EXPIRATION OF THE COUNTRY PROVIDES THE PROMOTION OF THE ADVERTISING WITH GOOD ADVERTISING.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 7:03am

    "it's worth considering whether you may be paying more than just the attractively-low fees when you use them"

    Unfortunately we aren't able to really even consider this.

    To me is a completely valid way to do business. The problem is there is nothing requiring this to be transparent to customers. Currently there isn't really any way to know whether companies will give or sell your data away or to whom. Just saying that because it is free or low cost they must be selling your data is not valid. There are some that are supported in other ways and unfortunately plenty of regular priced services also sell your data on the side because there is basically no downside as long as they can keep it hidden from customers.

    The practice itself isn't inherently harmful, but being deceptive about it is. We need to fix the environment so that companies need to be transparent about this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    istanbul Eskişehir Ambarı, 7 Feb 2018 @ 8:59am

    MY OPINION

    There are many reasons for the economic strength of the People's Republic of China. One of them is that the population is crowded. For this reason, they see the countries as a small world and produce beneficial goods to the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ankyra Günlük Kiralık, 9 Mar 2018 @ 5:52am

    thanks good post veryy nice

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ankara Butik Dershane, 10 Mar 2018 @ 4:40am

    thanks good post nice very mcuhss

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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