Unsharing in the sharing economy

It’s been a big year for the sharing economy. Numerous consumer services have skyrocketed to popularity by basing their business on the sharing of resources. Companies like Uber, AirBnB, or even SnapGoods, a service that lets people lend and borrow high-end household items, are ushering in a new era made possible by our constant state of connectedness.

Thanks to your mobile device and willingness to hand over payment and location data, these services can get you exactly what you need, exactly where and when you need it. The sharing economy empowers consumers to avoid waste by only paying for what they use, and others to profit from the resources they already have. But it is as much about the sharing of data as it is about sharing resources.

These same principles of sharing are bleeding into the broader economy; customers in various industries now willingly share their data in exchange for quality service with mobile access and the ability to pay only for what they use. Technology vendors are increasingly able to use shared customer data not only to meet those expectations, but also to refine and personalize the services they provide. It can’t be overstated that all this is only possible thanks to the customers’ willingness to share information. That sharing of proprietary, personal or otherwise sensitive corporate data is becoming an ingrained part of not only the sharing economy, but beyond that in the world of enterprise technology and security.

Data must be shared for business to happen, and it cannot be quarantined into a single firewalled network. Businesses that are tuning into the benefits of connectedness and personalization are able to do this because they are also learning how to unshare. It’s something of an abstract concept but it’s also an interesting way of talking about what people are after – they want to share without losing control over their data.

We’re seeing evidence of the unsharing movement in the increasing adoption of encryption and authentication – after all, if data is encrypted, you can unshare it any time by revoking keys. Research from Gemalto found recently that multifactor authentication usage grew from 30% of companies in 2013 to 37% in 2014. The same survey projected that number to grow to 56% by 2016.

The concept of unsharing also shows up in the world of cloud hosting and SaaS services. The big challenge of cloud security is that cloud is all about sharing – abstracting infrastructure and sharing space with other tenants. The fact that security has remained the chief hurdle to the adoption of cloud technologies shows us again that no one wants to share unless they are sure they still fully control their data.

Some vendors have overcome this. SalesForce, for example, has succeeded thanks to cloud delivery, but could never have done that without implementing an enormous amount of security at the application level, which essentially unshares information even as it sits in a shared environment.
Another example is the recent rise of workforce collaboration applications, with competitors ranging from Dropbox to Microsoft to Facebook, all looking to enable workers to more selectively share information within groups that are working together on specific projects. Some of these services even feature customer-managed encryption as a key selling point. The appeal is as much about the ability to unshare as it is about the ability to share.

You can’t do business unless you can establish trust. Customers are far more likely to share if they know it’s not a permanent transaction – that they can unshare it at any time. The influence of the sharing economy is creating an opportunity for those of us who make our living by managing and protecting information and identities. And, somewhat ironically, that means seizing on the momentum behind the concept of unsharing.

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