Did Uber and Airbnb grow ethically? It's a great question and one I pose in the book. Allow me to wiggle out of a definitive answer and frame the arguments.
Both companies grew rapidly and broke or bent laws in many cities. Airbnb was illegal in places like New York where a 2010 state law did not allow anyone to rent their homes for less than thirty days. It wasn't even clear in the law that being "present" for the guest's stay mattered. Airbnb nevertheless grew quickly in New York and did not make a point of alerting hosts that they were putting themselves at risk with either the city or their landlords. In my book The Upstarts, I recount the stories of several hosts that paid a legal price as a result.
Uber also muddied the original legal definitions between black cars and limos that had to be prearranged and cabs that could be hailed on the side of the road. Then it tossed out professional licensing schemes altogether with services like Uber X, which it introduced around the world after Lyft and Sidecar had pioneered ride-hailing in California.
So if you're somewhat strict about these things, you might conclude these companies were lawbreakers and did not grow ethically. However its also fair to say that these were outdated laws that did not take into account smartphones or the Internet. And people loved Uber and Airbnb; when they started using them, they lobbied their lawmakers to update the old rules. These companies then became agents of change and have created new transportation alternatives, as well as given people new ways to make money and earn a living.
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