There’s no denying that Uber, Seamless, TaskRabbit and other “sharing economy” services have made people’s lives infinitely easier. By pushing a few buttons, we can arrange have a car sent to our exact GPS coordinates, a hot meal delivered our doorstep, or our groceries picked up and waiting for us at home.
Of course, there’s a flip side to these technological conveniences. Users of sharing economy apps provide their full names, photos, phone numbers, and locations to coordinate services with the company’s independent workers. While these individuals often only use customers’ information for its intended purpose of fulfilling orders, there are those who abuse this access to personal data, leaving consumers questioning whether the risk to their privacy and safety is worth it.
Take the case of Michelle Midwinter, a 33-year-old U.K. woman whose Just Eat delivery driver sent inappropriate messages after he dropped off her meal. Midwinter received unsolicited WhatsApp messages from the driver, saying he was “a fan” of hers, and that she should tell him if she had a boyfriend. He closed his string of suggestive remarks with, “Good night bby,” followed by a kiss emoji.
Midwinter told The Independent she was initially just shocked, but soon became “very uncomfortable” upon realizing this man had her name, address, and phone number.
Unfortunately for consumers, big companies don’t always address these invasions of privacy, so it’s important to be vigilant when dealing with workers who have your personal information. You’ll likely know right away if there’s cause for alarm: That feeling of being “creeped out” by someone is a natural and universal human response to sensing a potential threat. According to a study by professor Frank McAndrew of Knox College, some common traits shared by so-called creepy individuals include smiling peculiarly; talking too much about a topic (especially sex); laughing at inappropriate times; not letting someone out of conversation; and displaying unwanted sexual interest.
If you’re concerned about a service provider misusing your contact information, here are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
1. Download A Personal Safety App
Feeling creeped out in the car with your rideshare driver? There are numerous smartphone apps that allow you to quickly and discreetly let others know you need help. Simply input contact information for trusted friends and family members, and when you’re in a bad situation, you can use the app to send out a message or location-based distress signal to those individuals. SafeWise recommends SmartWatcher, Circle of 6, React Mobile, and bSafe.
2. Block The Number And Report The Incident
If the person you interacted with made you uncomfortable in any way before, during or after their service, immediately block their phone number after the job is complete and report the incident to the company. Depending on the severity of the offense and the company’s policies, you may be able to have the worker suspended or terminated for their actions.
3. Consider Home Security Options
Advanced home security systems can be a significant investment, but they’re worth the peace of mind you get knowing that security personnel can be instantly notified and dispatched when something goes wrong. It’s especially helpful if you’re concerned about being stalked by a worker who has your home address. While some security companies offer full-service packages with multiple cameras and third-party monitoring systems, those on a budget (or with a small residence) can simply purchase one or two inexpensive security cameras to set up and monitor themselves via their smartphone.
Although sharing economy companies often run a background check before allowing someone to work for them, they’re typically only looking for certain red flags – a history of tickets or accidents for a driver, for example. If you have the person’s name and phone number, you can run your own search using tools like BeenVerified, which allow you to comb through public records and potentially find relevant info from past addresses to criminal records.